By Art Stricklin
FRISCO, Texas – Famed architect Gil Hanse has done plenty of renovations at plenty of big time courses in America, but rarely has he been excited about a completed project as the one he just finished at Southern Hills Country Club.
Speaking at a PGA of America welcome event for its new headquarters in Frisco, Texas, 40 minutes north of downtown Dallas, just an hour south of the Oklahoma border, Hanse said he was thrilled with his completed work at Southern Hills which will be unveiled in early June and hopes to use some of the Perry Maxwell themes in the new PGA course.
“I think you saw a true restoration of the (original) Maxwell course at Southern Hills and you’ll see a lot of stylistic imports from Maxwell at the PGA course here,” Hanse said
Hanse spent several months working on the original Maxwell design at Southern Hills, getting it ready for a new generation of members and their guests along with a new round of major golf championships beginning with the 2021 Kitchenaid Senior PGA Championship.
There are only a few minor areas to touch up at the private Oklahoma landmark layout, which will be open for member and guest play in just about a month.
“I am really excited about what we were able to do at Southern Hills,” Hanse said. “I think we were able to restore it back to the Maxwell original. I can’t think of many courses in America that are as compact with more great golf as Southern Hills.”
As for his East Course at the new PGA facility in Frisco, which has already been tabbed to host 26 PGA Championship events in the next 14 years, including the 2027 and 2034 PGA Championship and possibility the 2040 Ryder Cup, Hanse said it will be tough and fair.
He has already found some surprises in his trips to the Frisco, Texas site near Panther Creek in the far northern half of the DFW Metroplex,
“The elevation was a surprise to me and Beau as we walked the land. I was expecting something pretty flat, but my eyes keep going up and up on the holes.”
Another less pleasant surprise was the hundreds of acres of thick clay which covered the golf course land.
“All you had to do was look at your boots after you walked on the property. We will have to move more dirt than we would like to, but we will also move the course in different directions to take advantage of the winds.”
While the world’s best players will get the headlines for their play here, the majority of the golf will be played by resort guests, staying in an adjacent Omni Hotel, and those who live in the North Texas area.
“You got to challenge the players, but the majority of play will be those looking to break 100 here so you have to have the correct level, the correct tee boxes and precision for every player.”
The two public golf courses, one by Hanse, now known as the East Couse, and a West course designed by Beau Welling, will be open for play by 2022 with an official groundbreaking later this fall.
The East Course will measure 7,603 yards from the back tees with a par of 72. Hanse, who crafted the first Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has recently redone courses at Pinehurst, No. 4 and is currently working on a complete renovation to former U.S. Open and Ryder Cup site at Oakland Hills GC. He has also drawn a routing plan to do some work at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, another Maxwell co-design
To make sure his dreams become reality, Hanse announced he will be moving to Frisco after the Christmas holidays along with his wife, Tracey, from his home outside Philadelphia to personally supervise the work and begin shaping the championship East Course in the first part of 2020.
“We’re empty nesters now and that’s our thing to move closer to important projects. We did it in Rio for the Olympic Course and did it in Pinehurst for No. 4 and the Cradle Par 3. I will still fly in and out to other projects, but I will be close here. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the PGA.”
He plans large amphitheater mounds around the greens at holes 16 and 17, a long par 4 and short 3, respectively, before a bruising par 5 finisher. It’s currently scheduled for 611 yards, where Panther Creek can come into play on three different shots including the finishing approach as the water tightly guards the green.
“You may not hear the roars you heard last week at the Masters, but I can promise you some pretty good noise as you’re coming down the home stretch of the course,” Hanse added.
In total, 26 PGA of America events are scheduled for the two courses over the next 13 years, not including the Ryder Cup which has not been officially awarded.
The public West Course, which Welling is doing along with a short course par 3, will be more user friendly.
“It will be a rustic course, but we want it to be fun,” Welling said. “I want to bring my mother who may not be as good as I am, but still have a fun time on the golf course.”