The closing hole at Midland, which is not an original Raynor hole, is called Home. Remember, that when the clubhouse was relocated, and the driving range was built in its current location, the original 16th hole played down the corner of 18, and the back of the range, while the original 7th hole played across the current 1st and 18th hole.
The challenge of the current 18th has always been the driving range squeezing in on it, with a high number of trees planted for protection. This has created a slight tunnel effect, which is the opposite of Raynor’s design intent with Midland’s rolling topography. A lot of selective tree work has been done in the past to keep the protection, yet promoting the great topography as the highlight, because the greatest asset of the hole is the topography. Raynor routed those 2 holes on that land for a reason, with its rolling hills producing uneven lies.
When golf course architect, Paul Coates, found a way back to the clubhouse as a closing hole, he did a fine job with the task at hand. When the green and bunker were built, the soil excavated was piled up behind the green, and left of the bunker, in the form of mounding. The green itself, however, was without character, especially Raynor character. The Master Plan budget, and timeline, didn’t allow to start over with the green, so Jim Urbina had a difficult task to create something that would hopefully fool you into thinking this was an original Raynor. Jim had started visiting Midland in the summer of 2016. Over several years of site visits, he studied the hole. From the landing zones, to the green, to how the hole looked from inside the clubhouse. Jim looked at the entire property unlike anything I’ve witnessed before. Things that I had looked at daily for years, but never analyzed them collectively, and on multiple levels, is a good architect’s strength. His experience of studying the clientele (Midland), and its culture, resources, standards, and vision, was the exact reason we had hoped he would deliver upon. The club didn’t institute all of his ideas, and there was healthy discussions for many years before any decisions were made.
But 18 worried him the most. Most want that “championship” closing hole, where risk/reward was at its peak. Where birdie or bogey was looming given one’s aggressiveness. Some wanted the tees pushed back into 13 rough, some wanted a blind fairway bunker at the bottom of the hill, or a bunker fronting the entire green complex on an uphill short par 4. But Raynor wouldn’t have done any of that, and Jim was trying to give us 18 of the best holes within our means, that represented nothing but Seth Raynor’s architecture. The best architects sometimes have to protect the members from themselves, without them even knowing it. There was no magic that could be worked on 18 to make it an all-world hole. But the point was, it didn’t need to be. There is nothing wrong with a more gentle handshake to end a round.
So the idea was first to remove what is not necessary. A large part of this project was addition via subtraction. Less is more with Classic Golf Course Architecture. The first thing to remove was a few trees left of the hole. If someone finds their ball left, they would have to make an even more impressive shot with their approach, with the changes at the green. The second thing to remove was a large section of cart path that ran all the way up the left side of the approach. Walking up to the green, the cart path was part of the landscape. Maybe you didn’t notice it, but now that it’s gone from your view, you’ll notice the view is improved, but unconsciously won’t know why.
If Jim had his way, he would have moved the clubhouse and patio! But that was a big part of the club’s desire as a backdrop of the hole, so promoting a clean look from both sides was a major goal. The mounds behind the green were removed. This brings back a great infinity look to the hole from your approach, removing the feeling of having a safety bumper to keep the ball close to the green if you missed your yardage.
Instead of mounds behind the green, a trench bunker was installed. But the green itself needed major re-contouring, as before the entire back of the green was a bowl, that tipped inward. Jim wanted the green surface to be pinable all the way to the edge of the new back bunker. The green sod had to be cut 1/4 of the way back to find the point where the slope was under 2%, tie into that slope, and carry it back to the edge of the green. The right side of the green was also expanded, and new pin positions were desirable, for those that played up the right side of hole. This created a difficult approach shot over the mound that fronts the right side of the green, to a scenario where you can only see 1/4 of the flagstick. The back bunker will change the dynamic of the hole if there is a back pin, and choosing the aggressive play.
The bunker on the left was rebuilt, with it’s mounds removed as well. It was pulled closer to the green, and with a more extended, angled finger, that protects play coming in from the left side, which now will have to contend with the bunker behind the green as well. The 18th hole has always been about hitting one last straight drive. Now it creates more challenge if you hit it long, and crooked.
Back at the tee, the obvious change was getting the teeing ground aligned properly. The fairway grassing lines were changed, widening both sides. The results of the changes, created a hole that feels more Raynor, makes it easier for the shorter player off the tee to keep it in the fairway, as well as a wider approach to run the ball up onto the green, and at the same time, challenges the more aggressive player at the green. The hole has a cleaner aesthetic, and the view from the tee and from inside the clubhouse now feel more “classic.” Fescue was added down the left side of the hole, coming into play for only the longer hitters. This will naturalize, and promote the fantastic topography as well.
Notice below, if you play long and left, the short grass will bring the left bunker more into play. Also, notice if you play right, and are a shorter player, you can roll the ball up through the approach, and onto the green, using the short grass and mound to your advantage.
Finally, the chipping green bunker was rebuilt, 3xs the usable size of the existing bunker. Proper drainage and irrigation was added, improving the functionality. It now matches all of the bunkers on the golf course, in the Raynor style. This was the last bunker of the project built, an exciting day, as the snow fell in mid-November.
That concludes the five month virtual tour! It was fun to interact during the off-season, and create some anticipation. You only have a few days of waiting left to enjoy the back nine, I’m certain you’ll like it. There’s a lot of people to thank that made the project possible. The Midland BOD, who had the leadership to take on a project like this, in a time of uncertainty. Their courage, vision, and commitment was next level. Tim Ivory, who worked extremely hard, educating almost everyone at the club, in believing that this restoration was a wise investment, and would pay future dividends. He kept most of the “noise” away from my ears, so I could focus on executing the plan. Ryan Hanford, who had to explain the changes to players, before they even happened, became the central information center. He also created a fantastic distraction by using his social network with creating a reciprocal play plan for the membership. My staff, who was asked to endure, what I call, turfgrass construction Navy Seal Boot Camp. They executed everything we threw at them, with such precision, and with an attitude that was beyond impressive. My full time staff, who were one word; elite. Way too many days, they worked sun up to sun down, 7 days a week. Their commitment to keeping everything alive was an aspect that few will understand. Our equipment managers had incredible responsibility to keep hundreds of pieces of equipment operating, a lot of times, not even our own. Specifically my right hand ace, Mark Ries, did major lifting, managing complex logistics. He’s achieved Delta Force status. Our contractor, Hartman Construction was extremely easy to work with, changing direction on the fly, with the design-build process, which can drive a contractor into madness. Our shapers, Joe Hancock and Zach Varty were maintenance-conscious, not building anything that we could not maintain. Jim Urbina, taught me a lot about architecture, history, and the construction process. He was great with my staff, always praising their quality of work, spending time with them, providing many teaching lessons. He kept his patience throughout the entire process, as normally the process from initiation to implementation isn’t 5 years, like it was at Midland. As he said, sometimes good things need time to nurture. Most importantly, my family, who put up with endless hours of preparation, during home time, leading up to the project for more than a year, and then not seeing me for four months, all during a year of Covid, and distance schooling. My wife, while maintaining her own career, without a doubt, had more significant and important lifting than me.
To all the members, enjoy your “throwback”, new golf course. It’s been a labor of love for a lot of individuals!