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Remodel of Wanakah CC Continues


Work continues on an extensive remodel of Wanakah Country Club in Hamburg, a town near Buffalo, N.Y. The project is being overseen by golf course designer Chris Wilczynski, ASGCA, a former lead architect with Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest who recently formed his own practice - C.W. Golf Architecture - in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Over the years, Wilczynski has been involved in such award-winner courses as:

Red Hawk Golf Club in East Tawas, Mich., a fixture on multiple Top 100 public course rankings since its debut in 1998

Black Gold Golf Club in Yorba Linda, Calif., named to Golf Magazine's Top 10 New Courses You Can Play for 2001.

Wolfdancer Golf Club at the Hyatt Lost Pine Resort, Austin, Texas, named among the Top 100 Resort Courses in America by Golfweek magazine

Westhaven Golf Club in Franklin, Tenn., named by Golf Magazine among the "Best New Private Courses" for 2009.

"All of this work is my own, but it was done in collaboration with Arthur Hills and my colleagues at Hills/Forrest," said Wilczynski, 40, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects since 2005. "I went to work for Arthur Hills when I was 17, still in high school, then full time following my graduation from Michigan State University. No one understands the tenets of classic design theory better than Arthur, and I learned those lessons well. But the time was right, this year, to take all that I've learned and put it into practice below my own signature. My work at Wanakah is just the beginning."

Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Wanakah is one of the Northeast's oldest clubs. It was formed in 1899, and while Donald Ross is documented to have worked on site in the 1930s, Wanakah's design pedigree is not so straightforward. The layout Wilczynski first encountered represents the work of several designers, amateur and otherwise, all of whom put their stamps on the layout.

"The result is a design that had very little stylistic direction, no unified themes," Wilczynski said. "The green surfaces are actually quite good, but the bunker complexes that frame and protect those greens, and the fairway landing areas, were all over the map. So that was a focus of the work we did this fall, and it will continue to be a focus as we move forward in 2011."

Wilczynski had done a complete master plan for Wanakah back in 2005. It was shelved until 2009, when drainage issues course-wide forced the club's hand. Chronically soggy fairways were the impetus for updating the master plan in 2009, and for starting construction in the fall of 2010.

"The club sensed that it had to do something," said Wilczynski, who has executed a dozen comprehensive renovations from Florida (Forest Glen Golf & Country Club in Naples) to Colorado (Green Gables CC in Denver) to Arizona (Camelback Golf Resort, Padre Course, in Scottsdale). "This is a common series of events: A club identifies design goals over a period of years but it's something practical and immediate, such as drainage issues or a poa annua infestation, that obliges the club to pull the trigger and implement the master plan."

"The drainage issues at Wanakah were getting so bad that many sunny days, following rain events in the spring and fall, were routinely lost. We solved these issues on four holes this fall. We installed the drainage capability that's been lacking for 100 years by manipulating the fairway contours to create positive flow leading to these new drainage basins. This required real nuance. Wanakah is a relatively flat golf course and the contour we created had to look proper and natural in that context."

All the dirt exposed in 2010 was immediately sodded, so Wanakah will reopen these four renovated holes simultaneous with the other 14 come the spring of 2011. In the fall of 2011, C.W. Golf Architecture will tackle a new set of holes, along with bunker renovation and tee work.

C.W. Golf Architecture has a couple of other renovation projects elsewhere in the U.S.:

Forest Akers GC, East Lansing, Mich. - Wilczynski is collaborating with Arthur Hills on new master plans for the East and West courses at this 36-hole facility. Michigan State University, which owns Forest Akers, has resolved to comprehensively renovate and lengthen the championship West course, while providing more modest improvements to the East course.

Stoneybrook Golf & Country Club, Sarasota, Fla. - C.W. will direct a complete bunker renovation here in 2011.

"The Wanakah, Forest Akers and Stoneybrook projects are indicative of the work C.W. Golf Architecture is doing today. We'd all love to be designing new golf courses, but the market isn't there right now and I really enjoy the renovation discipline: addressing practical issues like drainage and bunker maintenance that help clubs with their bottom lines, while providing unified design themes that make the course more strategic, more aesthetically pleasing and, most important, more fun to play."

"During the past 15 years I have generated dozens of these master plans, for private clubs especially, and I've played a major role in getting them implemented. This is an art in and of itself: working with private clubs, boards and membership groups. I understand the renovation process, but I also understand the approval and implementation processes. A master plan is just a document unless you can get the project sold to membership."