The 5th hole at Midland, has an interesting past. It has served as the opening hole, as a tough par 4 (no gentle handshake to open a round), was eventually converted to a par 5 for scorecard yardage, it played as a par 3 and had two greens for a period, and it acted as the driving range when the club lost the lease to the land across Hwy 280 and the current range hadn’t been built yet. But without a doubt, it now has an exciting future. A few things to notice in the two pictures below. First is the massive width and scale of the holes. In the second picture, taken in the late 1940’s, you can already see the corridors have shrunk, as trees have already been planted.
The decision by Jim Urbina to restore the hole back to a par 4 Maiden template was no surprise. Jim’s vision of how Raynor intended the hole’s strategy was clear. It’s the club that deserves a lot credit for making the change. To take a stroke, and yardage, off the scorecard, and eliminating a poor, push-over par 5, back to a stern uphill par 4 test and restoring Raynor’s intent, should be celebrated.
There were a few main objectives with restoring this hole. First, the tees needed to be moved forward, and lowered, closer to the natural grade. The old blue/black tee box was eliminated, and that area was reshaped to look natural, with Fescue grasses planted on it. While removing the old tee box, we soon realized that it was used as a dump site many decades ago, more than likely when the clubhouse moved. We also found the old fairway bunker on the original 2nd hole, as you can see below.
Dog leg bunker of the original 2nd hole.
Bunker sand exposed.
The unnatural chain-link fence was removed since there is no longer a need to protect the 5th tee from the 4th tee. This will have a significant impact on the look and feel of the front nine, improving the vistas, and promoting the scale of the SW corner of the property. These views will be evident on eight out of the front nine holes.
Even the view from 8 green to the SW is better with the fence removed.
Another objective was to restore the width of the fairway as much as possible. Jim could recognize the original landforms where the fairway was originally designed and maintained as, and over time, as trees were planted, they encroached on the corridors – subsequently a large part of the hole’s strategy was lost.
A part of the strategy of the Maiden hole is to be able to roll the ball onto the green with a long iron, from either side of the corridor. A major change to restore that strategy, was to widen the approach, and mouth, of the green. Most of Midland’s approaches fronting the greens, were pinched by rough. This was reversed on almost all of the par 4s and 5s during the project, but none as dramatic as on the 5th hole.
This change will give players the ability of players of all abilities to get the ball on the green. Shorter players with longer irons will be able to roll the ball onto the putting surface, and players who miss the fairway will have the opportunity for a recovery shot. One of the characteristics of the Maiden, is a wide green with a wider approach, as they were usually a longer par 4 that tested the players ability to control their yardages once the ball hit the ground, and rolled out. Removing the rough in front of the bunkers also brings them more into play for the aggressive player.
But the largest determining factor that makes the Maiden is the green itself. The original hole was the par 3 at Royal St. George’s, which CB Macdonald was critical of the blind tee shot, but admired the scale and back raised wings, or plateaus, on each side of the green. Seth Raynor went on to build some fantastic Maidens in his career, and Jim’s interpretation is that Raynor intended the first hole at Midland to be as such.
Below is the Maiden at Country Club of Charleston, played from the left side of the picture.
The green at Midland needed significant alteration in order to capture the Maiden characteristics. First, the front of the green needed to be expanded, so much so, that the current green is now over the existing bunkers. The shape of the green went from a pear to a square, and almost doubled in size. The process of building up the new green over the existing bunkers was a slow and technical endeavor. A remote-controlled compactor was used to properly pack the soil in small amounts, to prevent sloughing. It was also too steep, and dangerous, to use any other kind of equipment to complete the task, as the 8 foot bunker cavity was buried.
The next step to the process was to remove the “bowl” effect of the green. Sod had to be removed even further inside of the construction zone to lower the green, getting the surface slopes low enough to allow pinable areas. Below the shaper is creating a bathtub for greens mix to be added to the newly expanded green. (This area used to be the 8 foot deep right-side bunker). Notice the white paint inside of that area, marking where sod had to be removed to lower the green even more, to level off the surface and make the transition of the green expansion smooth. The mounding behind the green was also removed, promoting the infinity look from the player’s approach shot.
All of this sod was removed (on both sides of green), and the soil was lowered by less than 1 inch. Also notice the width of the new fairway in the approach.
The next aspect of construction to the green, was to a create the back two plateaus. The existing green already had subtle shelves in the back corners, but in order to accentuate them, Jim decided to lower the area between them. Again, we were tasked with executing a highly technical sodding technique.
Sod removed and starting to excavate down to accentuate Maiden feature.
Jim Urbina and shaper Zach Varty getting grades and percentages of slopes perfect.
Sod carefully going back down once subgrade was correct.
Finished product. A lot of work to make something look subtle and play correctly. It doesn’t look like much, but wait until you have to putt across it!
The end result is a green with a variety of pin locations and strategy, with endless fun. A lot of earth was moved at the tee and green, as this hole will play more differently than any other hole post-project. The focus of the changes to the hole were not based on difficulty, but engagement. With expanded short grass on the edges of fairways/removal of rough, the hole may be perceived as easier for some, but with that restored width, will come strategy of angles. Those that play the hole (and all others) from the incorrect tee box, based on driving distance, will struggle to get the most out of that challenge and strategy. But there is no doubt with these changes, that more Raynor character has been injected into the golf course, and the result will be increased enjoyment for decades to come.