Renovation continues through spring, at a safe social distance
MOHNTON, Pa. (31 March 2020) — LedgeRock Golf Club has broken ground on the renovation of its 17th hole, with plans to reopen the infamous par-4 by the middle of May. The project has been undertaken by superintendent Alan FitzGerald using in house crews, under the direction of architect Rees Jones, who authored the original design at LedgeRock GC back in 2006.
Notably, the work has been funded not via member assessment but via voluntary membership donations — one reason the work was authorized and ground broken with such speed.
“LedgeRock is a different sort of place. They aren’t much for lengthy meetings and drawn out procedures here,” says FitzGerald, a native of Ireland and the only superintendent the club has ever had. “People are really invested in this place. I suppose that informs the way things get done around here.
“I was in Orlando for the Golf Industry Show in late January and I was explaining to Rees Jones what we had in mind for 17. He said, ‘Well, I’ll be there as soon as you guys are ready to go’ — thinking that’d be months or at least weeks down the road. Well, I got home a couple days later, our General Manager Gerry Heller secured the funding authorization from our members, and I called Rees that first week in February: When can you be here?”
Most course renovation work in the Northeast is undertaken in the fall, allowing construction crews the opportunity to work until the snow flies. That schedule also allows seeded turf to mature all the following spring, once the snow melts. But Fitzgerald’s in-house construction capability affords him an extraordinary flexibility — to undertake renovation in February, for example, and have golfers playing the new hole by May.
FitzGerald was involved in the original construction at LedgeRock. The Penn State graduate also gathered considerable course renovation experience during assistant superintendent stints at famed Pine Valley Golf Club in Clementon, N.J., and the luxury Mt. Juliet Resort in his native Ireland.
“We had thought about trying to do 17 when we renovated no. 10, last spring, but for several reasons it didn’t make sense,” GM Gerry Heller explains. “One reason we pulled the trigger this winter was Alan himself. The work his team did at the par-3 10th hole was so well received (and under budget, I might add). Once we had gone over the project at 17 in real detail — to confirm all the numbers were solid — the members didn’t see any reason to wait.”
The weather has cooperated, even if the prevailing national health situation has not.
“We were well underway by the time the Covid19 situation hit home here in the U.S.,” Heller says. “But golf is one of the few sports where social distancing can be effectively maintained. After consulting with Alan, his crews, Rees Jones and his lieutenant Bryce Swanson, we continued full speed ahead. There are extra precautions to be taken. But outside, on your own, working a bulldozer is about the safest place to be these days.”
LedgeRock Golf Club opened in 2006, 15 minutes southwest of Reading, on 212 acres of terrain marked by striking elevation changes and riven by half a dozen roaring brooks. In today’s uncertain market — an average of 150 courses have closed each year since 2008, according to the National Golf Foundation — LedgeRock has thrived by doubling down on golf itself. There are no tennis courts or swimming pools here. Just its nationally ranked golf course and one of the Northeast’s most expansive practice facilities, which doubles as a sort of social hub — another clubhouse just down the hill from the clubhouse. Further down the hill sits Kohl Lodge, where national and regional members can stay the night.
The par-4 17th at LedgeRock has always been demanding. Its sharply uphill approach — over a cross bunker to a green nestled into a steep hillside — is one reason it’s the no. 1 handicap hole, the club’s most difficult hole.
“In many ways it has always played as a half-par hole, a tough par-4 for long hitters and a par-5 for shorter hitters,” architect Jones says. “And the cross bunker was an issue.”
Phase 1 of the renovation project, now underway, replaces the cross bunker with a single small bunker on the right, creating a generous lay-up area short and left of the putting surface. Jones also reimagined the green complex at 17. Where it had been flanked left by a greenside bunker, with bluegrass rough behind and right of the green, Jones artfully designed greenside chipping areas right and left, allowing players a variety of recovery shots.
Beyond the green, a wide fairway-cut swale has been created to catch approach shots that, in the past, would skitter over the green into thick rough.
“On a hole this long and this uphill, players naturally take a bit of extra club — to be sure they ‘get there’. But that downhill chip from the rough over the green at 17 was very difficult,” FitzGerald says. “Now they can putt from back there. They can putt from everywhere around the green, including short left. Better players chip, but that’s a tough shot off a tight bentgrass surface. The green surface has not been touched. But everything around it has been radically expanded, regraded and softened to give players the chance to recover, if they happen to miss the target.
“We made the decision to sod these renovated areas with bentgrass, to move things along schedule-wise. The plan was to get it open by May 1, but I think mid-May is more realistic. Either way, we’re only losing maybe a month of play on the hole.”
Phase II will be undertaken in October, on a more traditional renovation schedule. The design calls for significant widening and regrading the landing area on 17, which is flanked left by one of LedgeRock’s many babbling brooks. By widening the landing area, more golfers will be inclined to hit driver — which should shorten the length of the uphill approach shot.
“The grading on 17 fairway will accomplish two things,” FitzGerald explains. “We’re making the fairway more concave, so off-center drives will kick into more advantageous positions. But we’ll also be building up the left side of the fairway to add more landing area. When it’s done, that fairway will be one third large.” The sort of renovation/reinvestment taking place at LedgeRock is not on the radar at most private clubs in 2020. Berks County alone has seen a dozen golf properties shuttered over the last decade. Reading Country Club, just north of LedgeRock is operational but not as a private club. In the Harrisburg area, Blue Ridge CC, Wren Dale GC and Felicita GC have all been shuttered since 2012. “We do feel as if we have reimagined the traditional private club model here at LedgeRock,” Heller says. “Our national and regional membership programs are part of that evolution. Your golf course has to be truly top drawer to make that work, of course. But again, I have to credit our members for the attitude and atmosphere that prevails here. They’ve allowed us to streamline operations and decision-making. I’ve been in this business for 35 years. I’ve never seen a project approved in this way — with voluntary donations vs. a club-wide assessment — or this quickly.
“But you know what? Guess who benefits: The members do. They’ll be playing that new hole in May, instead of waiting till 2021.”
Renovation continues through spring, at a safe social distance