Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Chat With Lester George About the Old White Renovation

When architect Lester George began work at the Old White Course that hosts this week's PGA Tour Greenbrier Classic, virtually everything original designers C. B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor left behind was gone, with the exception of the 8th hole, the Redan. There is much speculation as to when the alterations occurred and it might have happened as far back as the mid 1930s. Nevertheless, it was George's charge to reclaim as much as he could.

The course opened in 1914 and Raynor, with Charles Banks completing the work after Raynor's death, updated the course around 1925-1926.

Using aerial photos of the course taken prior to the modifications, George set about returning Old White to its original design as best be could, including using "Dragon Teeth" bunkering, sharp, cone-shaped mounds, that are clearly visible in the aerials and existed on the Redan.

Since no mounds remained on the fifth hole, (pictured here) named "Mounds," George put Dragons Teeth there as well in the locations they seem to be on the aerial.

He installed approximately 450,000 feet of drainage to help with water problems that, George surmises, date back to the inception of the course. He said it is readily apparent that Raynor created fairway contouring to channel water through the property.

Because of real estate encroachment on part of the course, George was not able to restore all of the holes, such as on nos. 14 and 16. The 14th was a Cape Hole and the 16th Narrows. Raynor moved a tee when he returned in the 1920s, making the 16th more of a Cape Hole. During the restoration, George gave Narrows qualities to the 14th.

He also reworked 17 so that it now has Road Hole feel to it. Surprisingly, Road was not part of the original hole designs at Old White, one of the few Macdonald-Raynor designs without one.

George said the greens and bunkers were all rounded off, when he arrived, and he's tried to reestablish the original sizes and shapes.

George marvels at the some of the movement in the holes.

"The seventh, Plateau, has a washboard fairway," he said. "No. 2 has a hog's back running down the length of the fairway."

Tees were added to holes 2,11,13,15-17 making the par-70 course 7,031 yards from the tips.

According to George, expect the leaders to eviscerate Old White.

"I think we might see someone shoot a 59," he said. "If it gets soft, they're going to go low, low."

The forecast is for thunder showers Thursday, warm and partly cloudy Friday and Saturday, with a chance of rain on Sunday.

With the front side a par-34, a score of 29 is very much a possibility. Both par-5s are on the home nine and are reachable for the longest players.

Even with the added tees, much of the Macdonald-Raynor strategy will be lost to the length of the Tour Pros but they still will have decisions to make on some holes. Flagstick placement will also play a role in defending the course. The par-3 18th at 162 yards, (shown here) with it's Horseshoe feature should be fun to watch come crunch time on Sunday.

No matter what the score, though, it will be a joy to know the work of Macdonald, Raynor and George will be seen on television screens across the country.

(Photos courtesy of Shannon E. Fisher)

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