March 12, 2021 By: Richard Humphreys — The Lower course at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, will reopen in May following a restoration by Gil Hanse.
The famous ‘dual courses’ at Baltusrol designed by AW Tillinghast opened in 1922 and since then the Lower course has hosted four US Opens, two PGA Championships, three US Amateurs and a US Women’s Open. Following Hanse’s restoration, the course will host the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2023 and its third PGA Championship 2029. The Upper course will undergo a restoration in 2024.
Both courses have undergone multiple renovations over the years so, with the appointment of Hanse in 2018 for a long-range master plan, the club sought a return of Tillinghast’s style to both courses.
Hanse’s restoration of the Lower has focused on widening and twisting fairways, tree removal and returning greens to their original scale and size. Fairway bunkers that had been removed over the years have been reinstated, while others were eliminated to restore the ground game.
According to Hanse, the biggest change has been the lowering of the course’s features, which has made greens the high point, and focus, of the holes.
“Over the years, bunkers and green surrounds were raised for framing,” said Hanse. “And it was our belief that the golf course would present itself more authentically if we removed these raised features. Now the course better fits the ground and our perception of how Tillinghast presented it.”
Hanse says some of the most dramatic changes were made to the fourth, seventeenth and eighteenth holes.
“The short grass that used to join the third green to the fourth tee was restored,” said Hanse. “The fourth green was significantly expanded to the right after old photographs showed the horizon line behind the green was dramatically different. So, we dropped the right side of the green to create a lower section.”
At the seventeenth, the ‘Sahara’ bunker complex was moved 40 yards down the fairway so that it is more in play for the bigger hitters while allowing shorter hitters to lay up. A narrow opening to the green has also been restored.
“The entire eighteenth fairway was raised, bringing it level with the pond so it feels more natural as it goes downhill. Bunkers were removed both along the right side of the fairway and in front of the green. And the fairway was merged with the eighteenth fairway from the Upper course, back to what Tillinghast had designed.”
The restoration also included infrastructure work such as installing new drainage, an irrigation system and a PrecisionAire subsurface air system for the greens. “Updating the infrastructure of the Lower will have a material impact on its agronomic health and our maintenance procedures for years to come,” said Matt Wirths, president of Baltusrol. “We feel like we have more control over the course’s health and playability going forward.”
New tees have also been added, providing golfers with more options, and several practice areas have been renovated.
Work on the Upper course will begin in 2024 with a reopening scheduled for 2025. “The Upper course has always remained much closer than the Lower to what Tillinghast originally designed,” said Hanse. “There’s still significant work to do to get the style back, but architecturally it’s a lot closer.”