The crowd in Providence Country Club’s Carolina Ballroom in early January was standing room only for a presentation of the upcoming golf course renovation by architect Kris Spence, projected to re-open this fall.
The Wow Factor
McConnell Golf purchased Providence in early 2016 and immediately announced it would spend the next few years not only renovating the golf course, but also providing numerous other substantial improvements around the club.
The fun and playable golf course — originally designed by Dan Maples and tweaked in 2006 by Mike Gleason — sits on a relatively flat piece of property. While it has “good bones,” according to Director of Golf Kevin Reardon, there was “not a ton of character” to the layout. To illustrate, Reardon said members would sometimes hit the same club on all five of the course’s par-3 holes.
“The golf course needed more personality,” says Providence General Manager Howard Murphy. Spence’s comprehensive renovation project at Providence is focused on bunkers, new and expanded irrigation for better course conditioning, transitioning the green complexes to Champion Bermuda grass, along with fashioning new, dramatic views from the fairways.
“We’ll be able to keep the golf course much more consistently well-maintained,” says McConnell Golf VP of Agronomy Michael Shoun. “It’s a much-needed project that will help separate Providence from some of the other facilities in that area.”
Says McConnell Golf Founder and CEO John McConnell: “Spence has an outstanding reputation for providing quality work. He is a visionary in implementing new features and modernization when he updates an existing course.”
During his January presentation, Spence says the Providence golf holes were lacking “individual character.”
“Bunkers do not project angles and have poor visibility,” he says. “They’ll benefit from more variety and definition on and around the green complexes, while tree removal is needed for better sight lines and shade removal.”
Spence, who works dually as the architect for the project as well as construction manager, told the audience he plans to create a fun and interesting golf course, full of variety and added drama, through the introduction of his classic design principles.
“We’ll create interest and variety on green surfaces with subtle, twist-and-turn contours and the occasional plateau, shelf, swale, small knob or rolling undulation feeding in from the edges,” says Spence. “I’m very excited about it. We’re going to add a nice ‘wow’ factor to the golf course.” Spence says that unlike most of his restoration projects, Providence allows him to be more creative and diverse in the design of the bunkers in particular.
“I’ve done similar bunkering with a higher sand face versus the Ross grass faces most are accustomed to seeing me do,” he says. “While Providence won’t be fashioned in the look of Ross, I’ll certainly incorporate many of his design philosophies, as well as those by other golden-age designers such as A.W. Tillinghast.”
“Providence will have a unique style and strategy all of its own. The last thing we want is a course with multiple design styles. The overriding change the members will notice is the increased lateral movement of the holes around and between the bunker, and a stronger, more noticeable strategy to the course. Both bunkers and greens will be set with more angles that correlate strategically with one another. I’ll also raise the bunkers above the flat fairway grades to better speak to the players’ thought process when choosing a line of play.”
Ready for a Change
A neighborhood club with a younger membership, Providence has earned a reputation as one of the Queen City’s premier family country clubs. Providence’s extensive amenities include 14 tennis courts and state-of-the-art aquatic facilities with three pools, as well as a newly constructed outdoor bar and dining area with a fire pit.
With 800 families strong, Providence’s avid golfing membership played more than 28,000 rounds last year.
“Our course has always been fun to play,” says Providence member Ron Kirkpatrick, who has won the club championship eight times. “The greens are generally pretty large without a tremendous amount of undulation, although there are a couple of exceptions. We aren’t blessed with a lot of elevation change on the site, so texture plays a key role from a visual standpoint.”
Though the course will be closed until fall, Providence members can rest assured that their game won’t be affected. In addition to reciprocal access to 11 McConnell Golf sister properties, reciprocity has been established with 14 neighboring Charlotte clubs. It’s a great excuse to make the hour drive to Old North State Club, or retreat to the seclusion of Musgrove Mill near Clinton, S.C. With both offering on-site lodging, they’re a quick and easy road trip any time of year.
“Having the other McConnell courses that we can play is a tremendous addition for our member-ship,” says Providence member Adam Markin, who won the club championship in 2015 and 2016, as well as the senior club championship in 2016. “We have the benefit of other top-class McConnell courses within a 90-minute drive as we carry out the course renovation.”
Meanwhile, renovation work is also underway on the clubhouse. The club’s Culbertson Dining Room and Turnberry Lounge are being fully updated with new furnishings. In addition, there will be a new front entrance to the restaurant.
In the past two years, McConnell Golf has completed $1.3 million of renovation work on the Providence clubhouse — including an enlarged Fitness Center, renovated Golf Shop, a new bag-drop location and cart staging area, while the entire clubhouse back lawn received a major land -scaping makeover. Lastly, McConnell Golf added an all-new “Providence Playhouse” kids’ activity center.
With the golf course renovation and clubhouse upgrade, McConnell Golf will have invested more than $5 million in capital improvements to enhance the Providence membership experience.
Murphy says the relationship with McConnell Golf has been an ideal fit for Providence.
“It’s been phenomenal,” he says. “Members and staff have embraced it and Providence is flourishing. 2017 was our biggest year ever, not only in membership, but also in every single operating department. Providence was already a good club, but we are very excited about the future and what we’re building here. This is something very special.”