Bunker Restoration at Golden Valley

By Craig Surdy, CCM

Bunkers on the Golden Valley Country Club have been masterfully returned to the original A. W. Tillinghast style. The overwhelming majority of comments received has been of excitement and support over the amazing transformation. The project has been a resounding success and will stand as an improvement to this great golf course in which the members of the Golden Valley can take great pride.


The Golden Valley Country Club had its start in 1914 when a group of golf enthusiasts built a nine-hole golf course on the present grounds. This original design was altered in 1917 and in 1919 was expanded to 18 golf holes. These holes were redesigned again in 1924. It was in 1926 that club members were successful in persuading Mr. A.W. Tillinghast to undertake a full redesign of the golf course. A.W. Tillinghast was then and still is considered one of the grand masters of golf course architecture. The Golden Valley Country Club is one of only two Tillinghast golf courses in the state of Minnesota; the other being Rochester Golf and Country Club in Rochester, Minnesota.

Tillinghast worked with the Golden Valley Country Club from 1926 until 1929 to complete his unique design. We are fortunate to have a copy of Mr. Tillinghast’s original drawing (shown below) which illustrates his master plan for our golf course. Also shown below is a copy of an old aerial photograph taken some time after Tillinghast redesigned the golf course. This photograph provides a good look at his deep grass-faced bunkers trademark. Note the lack of trees on the golf course and the land that Golden Valley city office buildings now occupy.


There have been many significant changes made to the original Tillinghast designed golf course. Most notable are the moving of the eighth green and the ninth tee, the addition of the pond on #17, and the significant bunker work.

The pictures of Golden Valley's bunkers on the preceding pages show that Tillinghast designed the golf course with deep sand traps displaying grass faces. The bunkers on the golf course today have lost much of the Tillinghast flavor. Most noticeably, the grass faces of the bunkers have all been replaced with sand. This change, made in the early 1960’s, was to improve the visibility of the sand traps from the approaching fairway. Sand faces did improve visibility, but also contributed to plugged and unplayable lies. In addition, rainwater often washed the sand off of the steep faces making bunkers unsightly and unplayable. Rain also added soil contamination to the sand and increased grounds crew labor costs needed to repair the damage.

Many of Tillinghast’s original bunkers have been altered in shape and size. Some bunkers close in proximity have been joined to form one larger bunker, as is the case on the right side of #4. The very deep bunkers have been partially filled in to facilitate easier entry and exit.

These changes occurred over time and during several bunker projects aimed at modernizing the golf course. Attitudes have since changed. More and more, golf courses around the country are realizing the mastery of the classic golf course architects, such as A.W. Tillinghast, and the true beauty of the original designs.


The most dramatic impact Mother Nature has on bunkers is in the quality of the sand. In time, all bunker sand becomes contaminated. Foreign particles are introduced from several sources. The major contributors being soil erosion from bunker faces and rainwater run off from surrounding areas. Decaying leaves, twigs, acorns and grass clippings have an impact as well. Poorly drained bunkers, which hold standing water, attract more debris and thus increase contamination.

Contaminated sand becomes inconsistent from bunker to bunker, depending on the quantity and makeup of the contaminants. Most often, contaminants bind with the sand and produce a hardened playing surface.

Contamination is inevitable but it can be slowed. Tillinghast designed the golf course with grass faced bunkers. This design technique aided playability and greatly reduced the soil contaminants in the sand. In addition, Tillinghast built subtle berms around the bunkers to keep rainwater runoff from entering the traps. Over time, weather and foot traffic wore these berms down so that they became indistinguishable.

Time and maintenance practices have contributed to the changing of bunker design. Turf grass encroachment into bunker areas, changing mowing patterns and golfer wear and tear has changed bunker shape.


The restored bunkers at Golden Valley have far exceed the original expectations of the Board of Directors, Classic Golf Course Architect Ron Forse, contractor Jeff Hartman, golf course staff, and the vast majority of the Golden Valley members. At the onset of the project we had an idea as to how we expected a restored A.W. Tillinghast bunker to appear. This idea was formed by old photographs of some bunkers that were taken before the original Tillinghast design was altered. These photographs are one-dimensional and were taken of only a few of the bunkers on the course. They were incapable of displaying the grandeur exposed when the bunkers on hole #1 were completed last September. It was then, standing looking at what Tillinghast had created some 73 years ago that we knew the Bunker Restoration Project was going to surpass our expectations.

A few old photographs and the expertise of one of the finest classic golf course architects in the country could not accurately predict how each bunker was to unfold. Each and every bunker was a story in itself. Architect Ron Forse would diagram the outline of each bunker to be restored using the topography of the land and his in-depth knowledge of A.W. Tillinghast’s style. Contractor Jeff Hartman would then open the ground and search for signs of the original bunker layout. It became clear from the layers of dirt and sand that over the years there have been three separate bunker projects that have altered the original design. In every case Hartman was able to find a layer of rich yellow sand used by Tillinghast in 1926 when he constructed the original bunkers. Hartman followed this sand, ignoring any preconceived ideas as to the bunker shape and excavated each bunker to the exact size and depth of the original bunkers. The shape and depth of many of the bunkers were easily predicted. However, a good number of the bunkers were complete surprises. Many had been moved several feet, some were far deeper than originally thought, others were much closer to the green, in one case even several feet into a green. Throughout the project the mastery of A.W. Tillinghast was not questioned. Each bunker was restored as it was when it was originally constructed.


At the onset of the Bunker Restoration Project we had but a few old photographs showing the original Tillinghast bunkers. In October of 1998 we were able to obtain a 1938 aerial photograph of the entire golf course which provided a good deal more information. The aerial photo gave us a very good reference as to the actual footprints of each bunker on the course but because the picture was taken at a high altitude it could not accurately depict elevations. We could not accurately determine bunker depths and mound heights. For these critical measurements we relied on the expertise of contractor Jeff Hartman.

Hartman approached each bunker more as an archeologist than an earthmover. He tediously removed earth a few inches at a time searching for the bottom of the original Tillinghast bunkers. The first bunkers to be restored were around the first green. Upon opening the bunkers Hartman immediately found the evidence of previous bunkers projects. Two separate layers of soil and sand were found on top of a layer of yellow sand that was identified as the sand used by A.W. Tillinghast in 1926. The fact that earlier bunker projects had not disturbed the original sand bottoms proved to be extremely fortunate. Hartman was able to follow this yellow sand to establish the exact outline of each Tillinghast bunker. The newly discovered outline was always very similar to what was expected because of knowledge gained from the aerial photograph. The few surprises occurred when determining the exact depth of the original bunkers. We knew from the old photographs that some of the original bunkers were deep but the exact depth of each bunker was a mystery until the original bottom was revealed. In nearly every bunker we were able to determine the original size, shape and depth and restore them as they appeared when Tillinghast crafted the golf course years ago.


The Green & Grounds Committee and Board of Directors are very happy with the quality of work performed by both Classic Golf Course architect Ron Forse and Construction Contractor Jeff Hartman.

Ron Forse is well known in the golf architect arena as a master with classic golf courses. He is presently working on three Tillinghast golf courses around the country. He has been retained by the Newport Country Club (one of Tillinghast’s finest) which is one of the five original founding clubs of the USGA. Ron is a frequent contributor, as well as being the subject for numerous articles in golf course trade journals.

Hartman Construction is a local firm, which has being doing work at the Golden Valley Country Club for many years. Jeff Hartman’s reputation is rapidly growing as evidenced by the amount of work he is forced to turn down from many out of town golf courses. Ron Forse, who has worked with countless contractors around the country, says that the quality of work done on the Golden Valley Bunker Restoration Project by Hartman Construction is the finest he has witnessed anywhere. Considering the source this is high praise indeed.

News of the fine work being done at the Golden Valley Country Club permeated the golf community and before long Ron Forse was receiving many calls from other Minnesota golf courses. Last September a delegation from Rochester Golf and Country Club toured the newly restored bunkers. Rochester is the only other Tillinghast golf course in Minnesota. Rochester was so impressed they immediately began a dialog with both Forse and Hartman on a possible bunker project of their own.

Understanding the qualifications of both Forse and Hartman it is still the end result, which speaks most highly of the quality of work done. We feel the members of the Golden Valley Country Club received an extremely high quality bunker restoration job that far exceeded our expectations.


The Bunker Restoration Project plan addressed five main goals in the spring of 1998, which were:

  1. Sand faces of all bunkers be returned to grass.

  2. Adequate drainage be constructed to carry water out and away from the bunker.

  3. Worn berms be replaced to steer runoff water away from bunkers.

  4. Bunkers be restored to the original Tillinghast style.

  5. New sand be placed in all bunkers.

These five goals provided the basis for the plan to rebuild each of the bunkers on the golf course. All five goals were achieved in the Bunker Restoration Project.


The Bunker Restoration Project was allocated a budget of around $400,000. This figure was the best estimate of time and materials needed by contractor Jeff Hartman to achieve the above goals. As the project progressed and more information became available (such as the 1938 aerial photograph) more was learned about the original Tillinghast layout. At times this new information revealed features not included in the plan. The Board openly endorsed these additions understanding that any omission would detract from the original Tillinghast design of the golf course. A list of the additional features is as follows:

  1. New tee on hole #8.

  2. Reinstate right front bunker on hole #2.

  3. Add berm to rear of hole #5.

  4. Drain bunkers on hole #6 to creek.

  5. Move right fairway bunker on hole #9.

  6. Reinstate two rear bunkers on hole #12.

  7. Restore left bunker on hole #15 to two bunkers.

  8. Add berm to left side bunker on hole #16.

  9. Add berm to right side bunker on hole #16.

  10. Add berm to bunker on hole #17.

The original plan stated that there were no plans to reinstate bunkers which had been removed from the golf course and there were no plans to return the bunkers to their original depth. The plan also stated that Classic Golf Course Architect Ron Forse would be consulted on additional changes needed to bring the bunkers back to the Tillinghast style. In preparation for the Bunker Restoration Project Mr. Forse prepared an in depth evaluation of the golf course. Having worked on several Tillinghast golf courses Forse said that our golf course was truly an exceptional effort by one of the century’s very best architects. He felt strongly that any deviations from the original design served to only weaken the integrity of a Tillinghast masterpiece. He counseled the club to return every bunker to the original depth and reinstate all bunkers removed over the years. The Green & Grounds Committee agreed with Mr. Forse that the bunkers should be restored to their original depth but felt that only a few of the removed bunkers should be reinstated. Bunkers that once existed on holes 1, 2, and 3 were not reinstated while the three bunkers listed above were replaced. The Board approved the Green & Grounds recommendation to alter the original plan and the project was altered.

The fact that estimates could not accurately determine the depth of many of the bunkers on the golf course became a factor in the overall cost of the bunker project. The vast majority of bunkers were completed in the budgeted time. However, when the original depth of several bunkers was discovered and they were far deeper than projected, Hartman Construction was forced to spend considerably more time to restore each one.

The original plan did not include the tenth hole because it had been remodeled during the Corps of Engineers flood control project in 1993. Once the first few bunkers were completed last September it became obvious that, if left untouched this hole would be glaringly out of character with the rest of the golf course. The Green & Grounds Committee recommended that the bunkers on hole #10 be restored in the same manner as the bunkers on the rest of the golf course.

The Green & Grounds Committee has addressed the entry and exit issues with regard to some of the steeper bunkers. Plans to install steps flush into the faces of the rear two bunkers on hole #4, the back face of the right hand bunker on hole #6, and the rear two bunkers on hole #12 have been approved. The committee has instructed Superintendent Mike Olson to mow the bunker faces to a height of 3" so as to cut down on the number of golf balls that may end up in the grass faces. Mike reports that once his full crew is in place in early June the bunkers will be maintained in this fashion. Mike also comments that in spite of the 5 inches of rain we received during a short period of time in May, the bunkers were always in play. Unlike our experiences with the old bunker design, none of the new bunkers washed out nor did any dirt from bunker faces wash into and contaminate the new sand. It is important to remember that the bunker project is not yet complete and the new sod placed around the bunkers is still taking root. Maintenance practices will evolve as we learn more about the playability of each hazard. Mike Olson and his crew will continually monitor conditions and playability issues of the new bunkers and adjust maintenance practices accordingly.

The Bunker Restoration Project met each of the objectives it set out to accomplish. The end result has given us a much more authentic A.W. Tillinghast golf course which is certainly something of which we all can be very proud. In giving the golf course back the heritage that was removed by earlier bunker projects we truly have taken a wonderful golf course and restored it into a magnificent golf course.