Course builder Heritage Links has applied the finishing touches to three separate projects in the Northeast, where one club has undergone its annual round of upgrades, and two more are poised for their respective Phase IIs following major renovation projects.
At Liberty National Golf Club, Heritage Links returned to the shores of New York Harbor to prep the layout for this year’s Northern Trust, a FedEx Cup Playoff event held Aug. 19-23. Heritage Links built the original design in 2005. Starting in March 2021, the Houston-based construction firm completed upgrades to nine of the 18 holes at Liberty National, including additional tees, irrigation upgrades, bunker modifications and green adjustments.
Forty-five miles north, in the heart of Westchester County, Heritage Links assisted Rees Jones in reviving The Summit Club at Armonk, a rebranded, 18-hole club that had been mothballed since 2014. Thirty miles east of Armonk, Heritage oversaw Phase I of architect Lester George’s ambitious renovation of Aspetuck Valley Country Club in Weston, Connecticut.
“It’s pretty easy for course builder to get pigeon-holed regionally, but Heritage does work everywhere — including the Northeast, where the practicalities of renovation schedules frankly complement our work elsewhere around the country,” says Jon O’Donnell, division President of Houston, Texas-based Heritage Links, a division of Lexicon, Inc. “There’s no denying the efficiencies of having so many projects going in one regional location at one time. In the sharing of equipment and human resources, we can bring costs down and bid those job that much more competitively.”
Heritage Links is hoping for a return engagement at Aspetuck Valley, in the near future, after completing the first of a multi-phase renovation in July. The immediate scope of work included the complete rebuilding of 4 1/2 golf holes at this 1967 Hal Purdy design, the subject of multiple renovation efforts through the years. Heritage Links arrived in October of 2020, regraded the subject holes, then equipped them with new drainage, irrigation, bunkering and putting surfaces.
The members have been happily playing these holes since June, according to Doug Wright, vice president of strategic planning at Heritage Links.
“Through the years, the club had completed several renovation projects with varying results,” Wright says. “Because of that, there was a lot of pressure on the entire team to make sure this specific project was done well — and achieved the desired goals. Happily, the reopening of these new holes has been very, very positive. The club has already authorized Lester George to start work on the next group of holes. Obviously, the club got it right — the right architect and clearly the right builder. The golf course superintendent, Lucas Lownes, also did a fantastic job growing in the new areas, getting them ready for play in a short period of time.”
“Our goal,” George explains, “is to transform the golf course into a more strategic design, with bolder bunker styles and mowing patterns that aren’t so curvilinear. We’ve also got to make the turf situation more sustainable, and in Lucas Lownes, we have one of the best superintendents I’ve worked with. This was my first time working with Heritage Links, but they knocked it out of the park — while dealing with some terrible weather this winter and spring. Their shapers were fantastic. Their finish work: fantastic."
Another interested observer at Aspetuck Valley is the renowned course photographer Evan Schiller, who lives off the club’s 13th fairway. Schiller annually gets up-close, intimate impressions of top clubs around the country. However, his long-term, pandemic-aided exposure to an in-progress renovation job was a first. “It was a fascinating thing to watch,” Schiller says. “though I didn’t see much at first because they parked a giant pile of sand right in front of my house! My wife and I dubbed it Mt. Lester. And that was part of what struck me most: The massive amount of materials required for just four or five holes — all the sand, all the sod, all the piping and equipment. Then to see it all deployed and the holes grow in? An amazing process. The course is looking so much better already.”
Over in Westchester, the renovation exercise at The Summit Club was decidedly less traditional.
The Al Zikorus design opened for play in 1963 as Bel Aire Country Club. Eleven years later, the Mitsubishi Corporation purchased the property and renamed it The Canyon Club. In 2009, it was purchased again and renamed Brynwood Country Club. In 2014, the new owners closed the entire operation pending formulation of a redevelopment/rebranding strategy. Phase 1 of that strategy was set in motion this past winter. It concluded on July 26, 2021, when The Summit Club at Armonk reopened for member play.
“The golf course had been maintained somewhat since 2014,” says Jorge Huerta, the Heritage Links project manager at Summit, “but it’s an interesting process — reviving a course that’s been out of play that long, in one of the country’s most competitive private club markets. Phase 1 was mainly a type of facelift. We completed some interesting rerouting on the back, and created some new back tees. We rebuilt three greens and undertook a great deal of drainage work. But bunkering was the major part of this renovation, from a construction perspective. We created 90,000 square feet of bunkering. Most of that was rebuilding existing bunkers, but we created some and moved others.”
According to Rees Jones vice president/senior designer Bryce Swanson, the biggest structural changes came on the back nine: “The front nine has nice length to it, but the back nine was pretty short,” Swanson reports. “So we took the par-4 14th and got a permit that allowed us to clear a creek and create a 530-yard par-5. We also eliminated the par-3 10th, then took the par-5 17th and created a risk/reward par-4 that plays nicely along the shore of a pond. Then we went uphill to create drop par-3 to the original 17th green.”
For many years, the layout at Bel Air/Canyon/Brynwood had played just 6,300 yards. The Summit Club at Armonk now measures fully 6,700 yards from the tips.
Another noteworthy aspect of the Summit Club redevelopment is its housing component. Phase II includes construction of 72 luxury condominiums in six buildings located at the highest point on the property, with 20-mile views to the south and west.
“The housing element at Summit got my attention,” says O’Donnell, president of Heritage Links. “Here’s a private club that has been dormant for several years — and a housing element is clearly part of the business plan. That’s not something we’ve seen much of, not since 2006.
“Heritage Links just completed another course renovation job, this one in South Carolina, where we revived a golf course that had been dormant for a decade or more. The owner there is Toll Brothers. After all this time, some 900 new housing units are planned… For a long time, folks in the golf business shied away from housing-related projects: Everyone knows what happened in 2008. My crystal ball’s in the shop, but it may be that the pendulum is starting to swing back.”