Golfing Magazine New England had a chance to chat with one of the rising stars in golf course architecture, Robert McNeil, whose company, Northeast Golf Company, is based in Saunderston, R.I. This is the first in a two-part series where McNeil discusses his work at several New England courses.
GM: What did you try and accomplish with the redesign and enhancement of what is now Mohegan Sun Country Club?
McNeil: At Mohegan Sun the primary issue was developing a solution to the water management issues on the property. Among other work, three new ponds were built to serve as retention structures. Four new holes were built/rerouted in concert with the lake construction; new tee complexes were built on all 18 holes providing enlarged surfaces, greater hole length variety and new angles of play; 65 new bunkers were constructed in a style and look that is now unique to Mohegan Sun; all of the remaining greens were stripped, re-contoured, drained and planted with T1 bentgrass; and cart paths were rerouted and constructed on 11 holes to improve circulation and aesthetics.
GM: Do you believe you were successful in achieving your goals at Mohegan Sun Golf Club?
McNeil: The improvements have had an immediate effect on the operations of the Club. First, uncommon in this challenging economy, the Club retained most, if not all, of its 200-plus members through closure and throughout the renovation. Second, within weeks of completion several new members were engaged and outing and special events were booked through 2012. The goal of establishing a self-sustaining water management system was achieved. The new interconnected lakes and water capture and transfer program are highly efficient and were touted as one of most sophisticated systems in the region. With the installation of a highly engineered system of slit and subsurface drains, the course is now able to maintain a firm playing surface and avoid closure following rain.
GM: Mohegan Sun Golf Club is a Geoffrey Cornish design, correct?
McNeil: Yes. In part, the reasoning for the initial purchase of the cub by Mohegan Sun was the overall soundness of the course’s lay on the ground, which should be credited to Mr. Cornish. But, over the years the features had worn and it became apparent that a new look was to be achieved.
GM: What was your roll at The Club at River Oaks in Sherman, Ct.?
McNeil: River Oaks opened in 2003 is an original Robert McNeil, ASGCA design. We were given an exceptional piece of property strung along a meandering stretch of the Housatonic River. One challenge was that a road system had been constructed on the site as part of a previous development, which the owner wanted to keep for future homes. This required a routing that captured the most interesting topography on the site for golf, while maintaining the road system. The results were exceptional and the experience at Club River Oaks offers an 18-hole string of holes with no two the same.
GM: What are you doing or have you done at Dennis Pines and Dennis Highlands on Cape Cod?
McNeil: At the Pines and Highlands courses in Dennis I have completed comprehensive master plans for improvements to the tees, bunkers, cart paths, tree management and drainage. We have completed phase one of the construction, the back nine at Dennis Pines, which included new bunkering, tees and specifically the introduction of a forward tee system that will both introduce many to the game and give the higher handicap player a more playable, comfortable experience.