Frisco, Texas, United States: Fresh off a PGA Championship enhanced by a widely hailed golf course renovation, the PGA of America this week hosts another Major at a brand-new venue custom built to achieve comparable competitive and aesthetic results.
The KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship is taking place over the newly christened Fields Ranch East course at PGA Frisco.
Creating tournament pedigrees and traditions from scratch is difficult, but the PGA of America, along with Omni Hotels and Resorts, would appear to have pushed all the right buttons here, 30 miles north of Dallas.
First, they tapped architect Gil Hanse to create the purpose-built, tournament-ready East course. Then they hired a trusted construction firm – Houston-based Heritage Links – to build this testing, naturalistic design. Then they lined up an unprecedented schedule of championship events, 26 and counting, to put this track to the test.
“We’re about as ready as we can be,” said Roger Meier, Senior Director of Golf Maintenance Operations for the PGA of America, an Executive Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
“We’re as curious as anyone else to see exactly how the Fields Ranch East course holds up under competitive scrutiny. But I’m betting it will tick all the boxes – and only improve with time. For that, I tip my cap to Gil and the folks at Heritage Links. Their attention to artistic and practical details, on such a massive scale, continues to boggle my mind,” added Meier who, in 2019, left one championship venue, Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, to create another here.
Heritage Links President Jon O’Donnell, whose crews worked through the pandemic to get the course ready, has a slightly different take.
“I salute the PGA of America and Omni Hotels & Resorts for the imagination PGA Frisco required,” O’Donnell said, noting that Field Ranch East is the centrepiece of a 46-hole, 660-acre, US$550 million mixed-use development.
“There’s just nothing like PGA Frisco. Nothing of this size and scope has ever been attempted, certainly not during a pandemic, which could have derailed so many things. But Roger, Omni and the PGA never took their eyes off the ball. We’re thrilled to have played a role.
“Gil wanted a theme where the course features look as if they had been there for 60 years, whether it be a refined bunker or a natural bunker. (We’ve actually got some bunkers out there that are supposed to look like they’ve been abandoned.)
“The same themes apply to the wetlands, native grasslands and oxbows you’ll see out there. This was a former ranch, but we created, or seriously enhanced, much of what you see in those outlying areas. If observers find that hard to believe, well, we’ve done our job!
“As for the play corridors, we built those, too. But their performance and aesthetics are down to Gil and Roger and folks like Bryce Yates, the Managing Superintendent at PGA Frisco, and Nick Zickefoose, the superintendent looking after the East course. Those guys and their crews did an incredible job growing in and conditioning the golf courses. They never got distracted either.”
O’Donnell didn’t mis-speak. There are two golf courses at PGA Frisco, the Fields Ranch East and the Fields Ranch West, a resort 18 designed by Beau Welling that officially debuted, alongside the Hanse layout, on May 2.
What’s more, once the Senior PGA is completed on Sunday (May 28), the day-to-day golfing clientele at PGA Frisco will be primarily municipal.
The PGA of America holds a long-term contract as the on-site course operator and tournament host, as the new facility also serves as the PGA of America’s home base. The organisation recently moved its national headquarters here from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
The Frisco facility also features a massive practice area, a golfing lounge from Topgolf, a 75,000-square foot putting course called The Dance Floor, a 10-hole short course, and a 500-room Omni-branded resort featuring myriad food and beverage options and expansive meeting spaces. An adjacent 2,500 acres are slated for further development under a masterplan from Hunt Realty.
The PGA of America and Omni envisions a vast, multi-purpose, all-in-one golf destination – in the heart of Texas and, by extension, the country.
But the driver here has always been, and will remain, championship competition. The 2023 Senior PGA Championship comes first, followed by the KPMG Women’s PGA in 2025. The first men’s Grand Slam event, the PGA Championship, arrives in 2027. That sequence of tournaments will repeat starting in 2029.
“Everything that Gil [Hanse] created on the East course was championship driven,” said O’Donnell, whose firm has worked with Hanse Golf Design on a half-dozen previous occasions, including renovations preceding the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
“They can stretch this course to 7,850-plus yards. We grassed it with TifEagle on the greens and NorthBridge everywhere else. The decision to go with just two varieties means they can more easily tweak the fairway lines ahead of tournament events – or according to how they want specific hazards and bunkers to play. Or not! But the entire operation was created and remains uniquely equipped for maximum flexibility.”