Overlake Golf Club was originally founded in 1927 but it lasted fewer than ten years before closing. It re-opened as Overlake Golf & Country Club in 1952, with A.V. Macan designing the new course on the 132-acre property.
In Volume Five of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective compiled and edited by Paul Daley, there’s a chapter by Scott Stambaugh entitled ‘The Resurrection of A. V. Macan in the Pacific Northwest’ where the author examines how Overlake Golf & Country Club has managed to devise a masterplan to preserve the architect’s design intents. This is an edited extract of the published narrative:
Overlake Golf and Country Club outside Seattle, Washington, was designed by Frank James and opened in 1927 but it only survived for eight years. For the next 18 years, the property was used first as a horse farm and then as a cattle ranch. The club was ‘reborn’ in 1953 and Macan was hired to design the reincarnation.
Macan’s original routing still exists and the subtle characteristics and nuances of his greens remain on all but a few holes. With the ‘bones’ of the course still strong, the club’s green committee defined a set of goals identifying what needed to be accomplished with a new Masterplan. The major components would be:
‘The architect must allow the ground to dictate play.’ The original contours Macan created on, and around, Overlake’s greens are traits that can be found on all his courses: approachable in the front; slightly elevated; bold contouring – all design elements that demand a well-played shot to manoeuvre the ball close to the hole.
One of Macan’s design philosophies was, in his own words: ‘greens should not be flat but hogbacks, undulations and crowns should be incorporated to defy the backspin players’. The process of recapturing what has been lost through the years is quite easy: scalp; topdress; then repeat. Lost hole locations have been restored on over half of Overlake’s greens.
The reality of a bunker is that it begins its demise the day it is opened for play. The constant blasting of shots, poor raking, weather-related washouts are some of the ingredients necessary for bunker deterioration. Rebullding the bunkers will return them to their former intended state: bold contours and irregular; rough-hewn; somewhat undefined, with natural-looking edges.
Much like the green complexes, fairways and approaches had shrunk to the point where features on the perimeter of the course felt obsolete. And worse, the ‘ground’ game was no longer a practical method of play. Nearly five acres of turf has been recaptured to date, bringing many of the course features back into play.
Overlake is in the infancy of addressing one of the biggest issues on the horizon for older golf courses: serious tree issues with no management plan in place. Protecting desirable trees, planning for replacements and removing trees that are having an adverse impact on the design will preserve the essential character of the course.
The wall-to-wall manicured golf course is quickly becoming a thing of the past. And so the resurrection of A. V. Macan begins. It will be a constant journey and a learning experience. This exercise has left one lasting impression on the committee, plainly stated by Macan’s mentor, John Low: ‘Committees should leave well enough alone, especially when they have a really fine course’.