Echo Lake’s Substantial Renovation By Rees Jones Nearly Complete
Courtesy of New Jersey State Golf Association
Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield is in the final stages of a substantial renovation of its venerable golf course, which dates back nearly a century.
In a process that began in 2010, Echo Lake hired renowned golf architect Rees Jones of Montclair for a project that has touched nearly every hole on a course that includes holes designed by Donald Ross (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 17 and 18), Willard Wilkinson (6, 7 and 9) and Bob White 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16).
“Rees is one of the best in the business. He has spent a significant amount of time here since the renovations began in 2010. He has told me that he loves our facility and has enjoyed being a part of the renovation. It’s pretty rare that a club over 100 years old would do this much work to their property,” said head professional Pat Fillian, now in his third year at the club.
This past April, Jones spoke to 120 members in a question and answer format explaining the last and most invasive part of the master plan which broke ground on September 13.
For Fillian, who played golf at Sacred Heart University and grew up at the Jersey Shore, it’s been a revelation to work with Jones.
“I thought of it as a great learning experience. I figured I would never again get a chance to be part of something this drastic. Every day that Rees was here, I’d clear my schedule. We developed a nice relationship.
“With his credentials, he could have been dictatorial about the work. But he would ask me and other key people our thoughts on specific changes.
According to Fillian, one of the biggest changes that Jones suggested was to convert the fourth hole from a short par 5 to a long par 4. This would convert the golf course from a par 72 to 71. Fillian explained to the membership that 15 of the top 25 courses in the U.S. are par 71 or 70 and that he agreed with the change.
Part of Jones’s strategy for renovating the course was working it within the boundaries of Echo Lake’s 7,100-yard venue.
“We are a little land locked but thankfully we have a great driving range. We literally had to fit a square into a square, so we left it up to Rees to come up with a great plan,” Fillian said.
“The members are excited and chomping at the bit. We won’t open the first four holes until the middle of May. The rebuild will have such a positive impact to our membership and their guests. Everyone at the club is super excited.
“We also want to open our doors and host another Met Open and New Jersey State Open. The goal was to make this a Top 10 golf course in the state. I think the members will be very pleased when we open the full 18-Holes opens in May.”
Here’s a look at the renovation work impacting each hole at Echo Lake:
“The original plan was to softly grade the fairway. This plan changed as the time went on.”
“We started the fairway grading on Sept. 13. Rich LaBar’s construction company knocked down the hill and began moving dirt on the first and second fairways. We lowered the first fairway 15 feet to gain full visibility of the green. It’s no longer a blind shot.
“It took 30 to 45 days to lower the hill by 15 feet. It was very impressive to watch,” Fillian said.
“was a drivable par 4, a risk/reward hole. It was outdated and in the wrong part of the golf course. Juniors and ladies struggled with the hole. The old hole was fun and challenging, but not for everyone. It is now a 511-yard, par 5. It is combined with the former third hole. Rees Jones mentioned to me on several occasions that No. 2 would become the best hole on the property.”
“went from a 350-yard par 4 to a 140-yard par 3 with a newly built green. We gave Rees the task of building the best short par 3 in New Jersey and he we think he achieved it.”
“The work done on this hole was not in the original plans. It was a 480-yard par 5. As we took trees out, we were making the hole easier. When completed in the spring, it will be a 455-yard par 4 from the championship tees. And 435 yards for members tees. It is downhill, downwind. The concept was if we were going to spend money, to do it right,” Fillian stated.
“The fifth hole has a new green put there in 2014. The green was moved 20 yards back and to the right. The tree removal opened views from the clubhouse and patio.
“New fairway drainage and one fairway bunker was removed.
“Rees removed the pond in front of the green. He also added championship tees at 170 yards.
“Some 15 trees were removed to the left of the green to open up some vistas across the property.”
“In 2011, the fairway was realigned and more tree removal was done. It went from one of the worst driving holes to one of the best driving holes at Echo Lake.”
“A par 4, 415-yard hole. A lot of tree removal was done right of the green. They graded the right side of the green as well.”
A 535-yard, par 5. “It was relatively untouched. “
A 580-yard, par 5. “It was one of the first holes we worked on in 2010 and we added some serious length. There is a new tee complex and there were new fairway bunkers built.
A Par 4 450-yard hole. “We removed many dozens of tree. Our long time superintendent Chris Carson has said there is now better air circulation and he’s seen better growth in the rough. In my two years here, I’ve seen 25 trees removed from No. 13.”
A 250-yard par 3. “The bunkers around the green were reshaped and rebuilt. We also added a back tee to lengthen the hole.”
A 450 yard par 4. “New teeing complexes were built but relatively unchanged.”
A 425-yard, par 4. “The signature hole. There was tree pruning to increase the landing area for the tee shot on the left side. We did a small green expansion. Behind the green we raised the tree canopies. It created a great vista,” Fillian said.
“A new green was built in the fall of 2015. The old green was too severe and needed to be rebuilt. Only 35 percent of the entire green was cuppable. It’s the same size, but more playable. Now 85 percent of the green is cuppable. It’s more of a modern green and very fun to putt on.”
“A par 4, 425 yards. A new back tee was built but the hole was relatively untouched.”
According to Fillian, “The golf course renovation is not the only improvement’s that Echo Lake is making to their infrastructure. The club will undergo a major clubhouse renovation in the Fall of 2019.”