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Rees Jones, Inc.
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Rees Jones Redesign At Alameda South Taking Shape

Courtesy Pete Wlodkowski

South Course at Corica Park
The bunkers at Alameda South will provide plenty of drama – note the upcycling of worn out artificial turf.

Golf Architect Rees Jones led a recent walkthrough of the redesigned South Course, at Alameda, California’s Chuck Corica Golf Complex. At a reception that followed, someone asked the famed architect if he had a favorite among his many designs.

“As tough as this business is,” Jones quipped, “my favorite is the next one.”

The joke drew laughs, but also painted a stark picture of the realities facing a business where you hear about more closures than openings.

But the news isn’t all bad.

Take for instance golf design and operations firm Greenway Golf. The company was selected three years ago to take over the golf operations for Alameda, an island town abutting the San Francisco Bay. (Alameda residents once relied on a ferry to take them to San Francisco, before construction of the Bay Bridge).

At the crux of Greenway’s proposal was rebuilding the courses, starting with a par-3 layout known as the “Mif Albright” and the popular Lucius Bateman practice range, where an artificial grass fairway was replaced with a drought-tolerant variety of the real thing. (I couldn’t believe how much better it looks — there’s a lot to be said for hitting to a real golf landscape.) With both of those projects complete, and the South Course starting to take shape, residents are seeing the big picture, and looking forward to opening day, sometime in the fall of 2016.

All I heard in talking to employees and “regulars” were positive comments. One of those touring the course, Jane Sullwold, seemed especially pleased with the progress, and knew an amazing amount about the project. It’s no surprise given that she was the head of the Alameda Golf Commission who helped carry the ball over the goal line as the decision to go with Greenway’s plan was being considered.

Architect Rees Jones was all smiles as he led a front nine tour along with George Kelley, Marc Logan, and Ken Campbell of Greenway Golf. Jones long ago stepped out of his father’s (legendary course designer Robert Trent Jones) shoes and has developed a reputation not only as a designer, but also as the “Open Doctor” for being selected by the USGA to bring classic courses to U.S. Open standards. And while many of those designs are exclusive clubs, one of them — Bethpage Black on Long Island — is as “everyman” as they get. At 74 years old, Jones is spry and, as George Kelley noted, a team player who listens to, and even implements, the ideas of those working with him on the project. In Kelley’s case, at least two of those ideas are bunkers. When he pointed out spots he thought a bunker made sense, Jones agreed and designed them into the layout.

“If you get in them,” said Jones, “it’s your fault, not ours.”

You’ve got to love the perspective a golf architect.

South Course at Corica Park
Rees Jones (left) with George Kelley (right foreground) and Jane Sullwold.

Which reminds me to tell you about the playability of the golf course. It’s always a bit difficult to see the beauty while looking over acres and acres of dirt from afar, but things started to come into focus as we took the walk. The green complexes look amazing, with varied shapes and slopes, but without being too severe. And the bunkers, well, don’t blame Jones or Kelley, but bring your best sand wedge.

Having played the course many times before in the Alameda Commuters tournament helped me gain a perspective on the renovation, and I can tell you that Alameda South is undergoing a transformation from a fairly nondescript layout to a modern links design that’s going to make Alameda the best golf zip code in the East Bay. Like Harding Park across the bay, or Torrey Pines in San Diego, Alameda South is sure to rise to the top of the best “courses you can play” lists pretty quickly. And not just because Rees Jones’ name is on it.

On opening day, the scorecard of the new layout will look a lot like that of the old South Course, with subtle changes such as combining the first and second holes into a par-5 opener, retiring the old par-3 second hole. This should help with the flow of play and eliminate the par- 4/par- 3 start both nines shared in the past.

But as for the visual aspects, and the playability, it’s going to be nothing like the old course. Much of the investment is at the engineering level. For example, new drainage (25 miles of pipe worth) and irrigation systems, plus 6-7” of sand capping on each fairway will assure that the course is playable following even the heaviest of rains. In keeping to their name “Greenway” even the old artificial turf from the driving range has been recycled, in the form of bunker liners. Drought-tolerant strains of Bermuda grass on the fairways will reduce the amount of water required. Closely-mown areas around the greens and “run-up” ramps will make it fun for even those that don’t launch 300 yard drives and 200 yard 7 irons.

Kelley loves a short par-4, and there are several on the South Course that have him beaming, especially the 8th.

“It’s easy to design a great long hole,” he said. “But it’s really hard to design a great short one. I think this is one we’ll all be really proud of.”

In their heyday, the courses at the Chuck Corica Golf complex were second in California (behind Torrey Pines) in number of rounds played. Alameda Recreation and Parks Commission Co-Chair Bill Delaney summed it up perfectly in an email he sent me after the event.

“During my tenure, it was frustrating to see the courses begin to deteriorate and to watch the decline in tee times. It was obvious that the City of Alameda did not have the expertise to manage a golf complex. We have been fortunate to have Greenway take on the responsibilities of managing the complex. I’m looking forward to what it will be in a few years!”