Casey O’Callaghan has completed a renovation project at Newport Beach Country Club in California.
In 2012, under new ownership, the club hired O’Callaghan to complete a series of projects that needed to be done immediately. Three years later, O’Callaghan developed a master plan to address long-term maintenance and playability of the Billy Bell-designed golf course.
In autumn 2021, the first part of the master plan was completed – rebuilding the driving range. Attention then switched to the golf course, with work being completed in spring and summer 2022. “Completing work in two phases turned out to be a great benefit for the club from an economic standpoint and to create momentum among the membership,” said O’Callaghan. “We essentially compressed six months of construction into three months.”
During the project, O’Callaghan’s design brief evolved to enhance the course’s aesthetics, without radically changing its original character. The scope of work included rebuilding bunkers, tees, three new greens, four green expansions, cart path work and landscaping.
“The previous bunkers were small, which created access issues for members,” said O’Callaghan. “Many were located where they penalised average golfers but were not in play for the better players. One of the goals for the new bunkers was to have them in better harmony with the scale and broad movements of the property. Now, they are larger and have longer support mounding that complements the natural landforms.”
The architect has added and relocated bunkers, while some were removed, with the aim to create a course that is more playable for the average golfer, but more challenging for the better player.
The thirteenth, fifteenth and seventeenth greens have also been completely rebuilt. “Previously greens had multiple tiers and slopes that limited pin locations, and the character of these putting surfaces, which were rebuilt in the early 1990s, was not consistent with the rest of the Billy Bell-designed greens,” said O’Callaghan. “The new greens have been designed and constructed with long movements that emanate from the surrounding landforms and now allow for accessible and challenging pin locations.”
One green that has been relocated is the thirteenth. O’Callaghan shifted it 30 feet to the right to create better visibility from the tee. While at the seventeenth, the green has been slightly rotated to be closer to the lake and create a challenging back pin location. Greens at the first, fifth, tenth and fourteenth holes have been expanded to increase the number of pin positions.
The fifth has changed from a long par four to a short par five by pushing tees back 30 yards to a peninsula jutting into a lake, with the new back tee overlooking the third green and fourth tees. Three fairway bunkers were added to the first landing area, with more added to the second landing area and near the green.
The ninth was previously a dogleg par four with a stone pine in the fairway, which was in play for the average golfer. O’Callaghan removed this tree and replaced it with three bunkers on the inside of the dogleg to create a risk-reward shot from every tee.
The eighteenth was extended 27 yards and two stone pines near the front-right of the fairway have been removed. This gives golfers a clear view down the fairway to the clubhouse. Five bunkers now guard the first landing zone, and two bunkers guard the second landing area. “Hole eighteen is now a challenging, memorable and beautiful finish to the course,” said O’Callaghan. “The updates have allowed us to make the course more playable for the high handicappers while making it more challenging and strategically significant for the better golfers.”
Work on tees has included regrading many of the steep ‘walk-ons’ from the cart paths to create more accessible slopes. New forward tees have been added, while the course has also been lengthened from 6,613 to 6,821 yards. “This greater yardage was accomplished by making significant adjustments to the back tees on holes five, twelve, thirteen, fourteen and eighteen as well as some minor adjustments to a few other holes,” said O’Callaghan.
Significant cart path work has also been completed. Paths that were highly visible from tees have been relocated or removed. The architect says they now “fit” the open landscape better.
“Landscaping was added to many areas at the perimeter of the golf course to block views toward areas outside the property,” said O’Callaghan. “The intent was to maintain the layout’s parkland feel while screening many of the surrounding areas.”
The architect worked with a large team on the project. “General manager Robin Shelton, superintendent Scot Dey, director of golf John McCook and their staff did an amazing job,” said O’Callaghan. “Especially when coordinating with contractor Integrity Golf Construction on devising different golf course routings to allow members to play at least nine holes. Robin also has a good eye for design and the pulse of the membership, and these attributes greatly assisted in many of the new features on the course.
“Mario Hernandez, project superintendent for Integrity, did an excellent coordination job to meet the aggressive construction schedule. I also brought in Drew Littlefield, Scott Clem and Jarrett Frederick to assist with the shaping. Their creativity and style greatly contributed to the overall beauty and aesthetics of the golf course.
“And not enough credit can be given to the ownership, who are committed to making Newport Beach the best it can be.”