The Drawing Board: Memorial Park GC, Twin Dolphin GC and more

GCM’s quarterly roundup of noteworthy golf course development projects looks at the rebuild of a municipal facility in Texas, an MLB-tied course also in the Lone Star State, and more.


Twin Dolphin Golf Club
The eighth hole at the new Twin Dolphin Golf Club in Los Cabos, Mexico. The course is irrigated using non-potable water from on-site desalination and water treatment facilities. Photo by Evan Schiller Photography

Memorial Park Golf Course

Texas has been a bit of a hot spot for golf development in recent years, especially projects focused on attracting professional or major amateur events. There’s Coore & Crenshaw’s Trinity Forest and Steve Smyers’ Maridoe in Dallas; the first American Tiger Woods course, Bluejack National near Houston; plans to relocate the PGA of America to a new complex in Frisco on the northern edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area; and on top of all that, some quite significant projects at historic courses, such as Tripp Davis’ rebuild of Northwood in Dallas.

The latest of these projects is Tom Doak’s recently announced rebuild of the Memorial Park municipal facility in downtown Houston. Astros owner Jim Crane is heading a consortium aimed at protecting the Houston Open, and his team has signed up Doak — along with on-again, off-again world No. 1 Brooks Koepka as “player consultant” (when you have achieved Doak’s status, you don’t have to suffer the indignity of the “signature designer”) — to redo the golf course.

What they will do to the course is a matter of some interest in golf design circles. This is Doak’s first shot at designing for the PGA Tour — although, of course, the course has to remain a playable layout for the other 51 weeks of the year — and he has for many years been outspoken about the drive for longer and longer courses. Doubtless the architect will not be able to produce a 6,000-yard, par-69 course at Memorial — as is his goal for the third course at Wisconsin’s Sand Valley — but observers are looking for a few departures from the norm.

Twin Dolphin Golf Club
Los Cabos, Mexico

The Los Cabos area at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula has been a popular tourist destination for many years, and recently, the level of the region’s golf offerings has increased, with the completion of courses such as Diamante and Quivira.

Some knowledgeable observers think architect Todd Eckenrode and his professional partner, Fred Couples, might have produced the region’s best with the new Twin Dolphin course (Couples is billed by the developers as the designer; clearly Eckenrode doesn’t have Doak’s clout, but at least he is getting credit for his work).

Unlike Diamante, Twin Dolphin doesn’t occupy a dune site. In fact, the course is set inland, while an ultra-high-end housing development (only homeowners will be able to join the golf club) and the luxurious Montage Los Cabos hotel (which will have access to tee times) occupy the oceanfront land. But this isn’t to the course’s disadvantage. Eckenrode’s minimalist principles have led him largely to eschew drainage basins and to use the significant contours of the land to drain the golf course into the surrounding arroyos.

As such, the contours of the ground — whether left in their natural state or recreated by a hotshot team of shapers including Kye Goalby, Blake Conant and Clyde Johnson — are far more appealing than those on most similar projects. The course feels genuinely natural, even in its desert environment. This is helped by the quite magnificent landscaping by Ken Alperstein of Pinnacle Design, which uses only native species to revegetate areas disturbed by construction. It already looks great, and it’s only going to get better.

Bobby Jones Golf Club
Sarasota, Fla.

Richard Mandell has been hired to renovate all 45 holes of the Bobby Jones Golf Club in Sarasota, Fla. Valued at $16.7 million, the project was approved by the Sarasota City Commission in December and will include a new irrigation system, a new clubhouse, a golf development center, rebuilding all greens and expanding the driving range. “The facility is in such disrepair that we need to rebuild everything on the site,” Mandell says.

The facility includes two 18-hole courses — the 6,000-yard American and 6,700-yard British courses — and a nine-hole layout featuring six par-3 holes and three par 4s. The original 18 holes, which now make up the back nines of the two main courses, were designed by Donald Ross in 1925, while the other nines on the main courses were designed by Robert Bruce Harris in 1952 and Roy Anderson in 1965. Ron Garl renovated the American course in 1987.

Mandell is proposing to revitalize as many Donald Ross features from the original 1925 plan as possible. Ross’ original plan and many detailed drawings will serve as his road map for returning those 18 holes to how Ross originally designed them. With the exception of two green complexes, Mandell will be able to restore all the other greens in place.

“When the same style is conveyed 36 times in a row, a golf course — or two — cease to be interesting on a day-to-day basis or cease to be a destination for golfers seeking a special experience,” Mandell says. “Bobby Jones Golf Club should be that exact experience, and the Ross spirit will only enhance that even further. A Ross approach will attract new golfers and retain the locals’ interest on a daily basis as well.”

Texas Rangers Golf Club
Arlington, Texas

In another Texas development, architect John Colligan opened the Texas Rangers Golf Club in February. The course is a new design occupying the site of the former Chester W. Ditto municipal layout.

Believed to be the first partnership between a golf club and a Major League Baseball franchise, the club was inspired by the success of the Cowboys Golf Club, the first NFL-themed golf course, in nearby Grapevine, designed by Jeff Brauer. The Rangers play at Globe Life Park, only 2 miles from the new course, and the hope is the tie and the proximity will attract residents and visitors.

“One of the primary reasons for rerouting the course was to take advantage of the 55 feet of elevation change the site has to offer,” says Colligan. “The clubhouse is located upon the promontory of the property, with great vistas to the northeast overlooking the course and out across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The first tee sits some 45 feet above the lowest spot on the fairway.

“The five northernmost holes — 6, 7, 8, 13 and 14 — are all relatively level, with the par-5 13th having a 12-foot drop from the landing area to the green, allowing for a soft left-to-right shot to be rolled onto the putting surface.”

Adam Lawrence is the editor of Golf Course Architecture magazine as well as By Design, the quarterly publication of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.