Musings from the Ledge: What’s the real difference between renovating and restoring?

By |  July 19, 2023 0 Comments

The golf construction industry has been booming for the last few years and it looks like there is no immediate sign of it abating. While new construction is on the rise, most of these projects are to bring a course back to its “original design philosophy,” or a more traditional aesthetic.

But what does that really mean? What point in time marks the so-called “original design philosophy”?

Whether it be from something as simple as tree planting by some good-intentioned president or greens chair, to moving entire holes to make way for a new highway, most golf courses have been tweaked since their creation.

I can safely say that I was guilty of this at LedgeRock. We have been “messing” with it from the day we opened in 2006. It is much better for it. It works better in areas where it lacked something. It is playable for more people. And the aesthetics have improved.

A new course only shows its flaws after it has been played for a while, which means some constant tweaking will get it to where it needs to be.

At LedgeRock, I made all of these changes with the approval of Rees Jones and his associates to make sure that we did not diverge from their original design philosophy.

So, what happens sixty years from now when the then powers that be want to bring the course back to its original state? What time exactly do they go back to? Do they just renovate what is there? Or do they restore the course back to a specific period?

Restoration vs. Renovation

What’s even the difference between a renovation and a restoration? Is there one? And if there is, how does that affect the state to which a course is restored? I love my analogies, so here it goes!

Think about the best albums ever. The ones where you know the name of the artist just by mentioning it: Abbey Road, Purple Rain, Dark Side of the Moon, Thriller, Nevermind and Led Zeppelin IV (ok that last one is a gimme).

A great “original” golf course is a seminal album — it leaves its mark on the world and every hole is a hit. At the very least, it has one or two big hits that are so good, they carry the whole course. These courses are the standard for what is good and set a reference point for others to follow and try to replicate.

Here is what I consider the differences between a restoration and a renovation, continuing that album analogy:

  • Renovation: The Greatest Hits album — The coming together of a lifetime of all an architect’s best ideas, and/or the best of the course’s iterations, and putting them together to take out as many weaknesses as possible.
  • Restoration: The Remastered album — A restoration of what was there before, just cleaned up and made crisper than it was before.

Following the current trend is only good as long it is fashionable, so it is a constantly changing target. Maybe it takes years of tweaking, but I like to think it just means that the club spent a lot of time in the studio perfecting their album.

One that is so good that future generations should only have to remaster it. So why not strive to be different, ignore the trends and take the time to create your seminal album, so that at the very least it will make it easier for future generations of golfers to pick the prime iteration?

About the Author: Alan FitzGerald

Alan FitzGerald is superintendent at Rehoboth Beach (Del.) CC.

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