Famed golf course designer Rees Jones shows off the course redesign to a crowd at the Alameda Gold Complex.
The renovation of the South Course should produce a national caliber golf course for all the people to play.
To look at it now, the Chuck Corica Golf Complex’s Jack Clark South Course is nothing more than mud, dirt, weeds, and pipes. But change is afoot. The renovation that began with its closure in 2014 promises to be a transformation of the vintage 1957 course into something new and challenging for weekend hackers and scratch golfers alike that could also put Alameda on the golf world’s radar.
Greenway Golf, the company that won the contract to run the golf course for the city of Alameda in 2012, has renovated and reopened the MIF Albright Par 3 course to much acclaim, while it also added a chipping and sand trap area and a natural grass practice side to the driving range.
But the Jack Clark South Course’s renovation will be the jewel in the crown at the golf complex once it’s completed in the fall of 2016. To design the redo, Greenway signed up world-renowned golf course architect Rees Jones, a man who has designed or redesigned 170 public and private golf courses in his career. Known as the “Open Doctor” because he has applied his skills to seven U.S. Open venues, seven PGA Championship courses, four Ryder Cup and two Walker Cup sites, Jones comes to the Alameda project with a commitment to public golf courses and the average golfer who plays them.
At approximately 6,900 yards, the par 72 renovated south course will be about 400 yards longer than the old course and will follow the same route with the exception of a few holes. But Jones’ changes will be significant.
For example, Jones has changed the first hole from a 358-yard par 4 into a 536-yard par 5 with a dogleg to the right, which will absorb the old par 3 second hole into it. There will be 14 bunkers where the old first hole had three, while the water hazard on the right side will be three times larger.
Jones has redesigned the course so it may be played on the ground as much as from the air with mounding and firmer fairways so the ball will roll farther than on the old course. There will be layup and bailout areas for amateurs, while pros will have opportunities to go for pins but face some punitive consequences for slightly missing the mark. There will be five sets of tees on all holes except the par 3s, and the new greens will be much larger. The number of sand traps will nearly triple from 31 to about 85.
Jones’ field commander, who is overseeing all of the design changes, is Marc Logan, Greenway Golf’s agronomist on the project. He has trucked in 750,000 cubic yards of dirt to raise the course height 3 feet on the average and make the course’s new contours. Logan said there will be rolled-curb golf cart paths on either side of the fairways from tee to green on all 18 holes, which will provide more safety, flexibility, and will help to protect the turf and native grasses.
Another key element of the new course will be its sustainability. “The grasses we’re going to use will require 60 percent less water,” Logan said. The new irrigation drainage system on the course will allow recycling of water, better conditions in the winter, and healthier greens that will offer more possible pin placements. A sand cap layer underneath the course’s surface will allow plants and grasses to have deeper roots, which will allow for faster drainage and less water needs overall.
The blend of grasses and weeds on the old course’s fairways will be replaced with Bermuda grass, bent grass on the greens, fine fescue for the approaches and rough, and kyrapi, a Japanese grass, which will be the ground cover around the water hazards and won’t need to be mowed or fertilized. “The old fairways had to be watered every night because the weakest grasses needed more water or they’d die,” said Logan.
Logan calls the multimillion-dollar renovation unique. “I don’t think anyone else in California is doing anything like this project with the environmental, aesthetic and playable standpoint,” he said.
Alameda Golf Complex Operations Manager Mike Winkenbach admires how Jones, Logan, and Greenway co-owner George Kelly have approached the project so it won’t turn off high-handicap players. “When they’re talking about the course, it’s not just about the top player; it’s about designing something that everyone can enjoy,” he said.
Logan agrees. “For a person who doesn’t hit the ball far, their ball will roll 30 to 40 yards further on the new course. They can chip, punch, or putt the ball along the ground. This way, the game is more fun to play,” he said.
Winkenbach said if all goes according to plan, the Jack Clark South Course’s renovations should attract players from everywhere and put Alameda on the professional golf world’s radar. “It will always be a community course, but when it’s done, the hope is that it will become a destination golf course to players from the Bay Area, the state, and the country. It will give us the ability to host large scale events such as the U.S. Amateur Qualifying for men and women as well as U.S. Open qualifiers.”