After a year-long restoration led by golf course architect Gil Hanse, the Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club will reopen to members in May of 2021.
The Lower Course has already hosted 10 major championships—four U.S. Opens, three U.S. Amateurs, two PGA Championships, and one U.S. Women’s Open—and after this restoration is ready to welcome its first KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2023 and its third PGA Championship in 2029.
Originally designed by A.W. Tillinghast, the Lower Course opened in 1922 as part of the New Jersey club’s historic “Dual Courses” initiative, the first contiguous design and build of 36 holes in the U.S. In keeping with the “dual courses” theme, the Upper Course will undergo a Hanse-led restoration in 2024.
Having undergone numerous revisions, large and small, in their near-century-long existence, the club wanted to return the purity of the Tillinghast design to both courses. Hanse was retained in 2018 to help prepare a long-range master plan that included the most comprehensive restoration to the Lower, with particular attention to restoring Tillinghast’s design features and shot values.
Every hole on the Lower Course was affected, with special attention paid to widening and twisting fairways, removing trees, and returning greens to their original scale and size. On some holes, fairway bunkers that had been removed over the years were returned, while other bunkers were eliminated to bring back the ground game that Tillinghast favored.
But the biggest change to the course, according to Hanse, was an overall lowering of the course’s features, returning Tillinghast’s preference for making the green the high point—and focus—of a hole.
“Over the years, bunkers and green surrounds were raised for framing,” Hanse said, “and it was our belief that the golf course would present itself more authentically if we removed these raised features. Now the course better fits the ground and our perception of how Tillinghast presented it.”
Lowering bunkers had another benefit: Making it easier for members to get in and out of them.
“We are extremely proud to have restored Tillinghast’s original vision for golf throughout the Lower Course,” said Matt Wirths, President of Baltusrol and chair of the master plan committee in charge of the project. The restoration also included substantial infrastructure improvements such as the installation of new drainage, an irrigation system, and a PrecisionAire sub-surface air system for the greens.
“Updating the infrastructure of the Lower will have a material impact on its agronomic health and our maintenance procedures for years to come,” Wirths added. “We feel like we have more control over the course’s health and playability going forward.”
Hanse also added new tees that will allow more players to enjoy the course. Several practice areas also were renovated.
Work on the Upper Course will be done in 2024 with reopening scheduled for 2025.
“The Upper Course has always remained much closer than the Lower to what Tillinghast originally designed,” Hanse said. “There’s still significant work to do to get the style back, but architecturally it’s a lot closer.”