What will the Belleair Country Club West Course look like after the renovation?

By: May 25, 2022

I am so happy that I can share with you this great news. Belleair Country Club – the oldest golf club in Florida – has got two Donald Ross-design golf courses. Now the club has decided to renovate its West Golf Course. This golf course will reopen in mid-November 2022.

Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design won this renovation project for the club’s 2 golf courses 5 years ago. The renovation of the East Couse and practice facilities were completed in 2020. Belleair Country Club is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

Belleair Country Club on an old postcard

Belleair Country Club Chief Operating Officer Ed Shaughnessy says

“The bunkers and greens definitely required reconstruction. That resolution led to several investigative, illuminating trips to the Tufts Archives in Pinehurst [N.C.], where we learned just how important this design is, historically, and just how much documentation we have from Donald Ross himself — regarding both his original design effort in 1915, and his redesign in 1924.

That information enabled us to make informed decisions culminating in a full and faithful restoration. That is what we’re producing.”

Jason Straka, a partner with Dublin, Ohio-based Fry/Straka, is collaborating with Ft. Myers, Florida-based Clarke Construction Group on the $8.8 million project.

All 18 greens are being rebuilt to USGA specifications and then restored according to Ross’ 1924 construction drawings. Straka and Belleair superintendent Andy Neiswender have chosen TifEagle ultradwarf for the putting surfaces, with Bimini bermudagrass everywhere else on the 120-acre West Course property.

Belleair Country Club Fry Straka golf architects

Most Florida courses are famously flat. The West Course, what Ross called the #1 Course, features some 30 feet of elevation change, set beside half a mile of frontage on Clearwater Bay.

That tableau, Ross’ detailed plans, and Fry/Straka’s nuanced approach have together enabled restoration of staggering accuracy and scope.

Jason Straka and his team found very detailed construction drawings. Thus Fry/Straka did not have to guess that much. He says

“What it allows, on one level, is the elimination of guess work. We basically took all the plans from 1915 and 1924 and turned them into modern construction drawings. So, if Ross had a cop bunker 7 feet high at no. 16, we’re building it 7 feet high.

Ross detailed a lot of ‘cop’ bunkers on this 1924 routing. These are mounds totally in play — what Ross called ‘the fair green’ — with sand faces covered in wiregrass. So that’s what we’re building, because Ross’ own cross-section drawings and notes tell us exactly how to construct them! 

Belleair Country Club 18 ross rendering notes

“It’s a pretty rich irony: Ross returned here in 1924 with the intention to make the West Course much more difficult, and I’m sure he succeeded there. However, in restoring that design in 2022, almost to the letter, we are making the course far more user-friendly.

Yes, we are re-exposing ravines and streams that had been filled in over the years. However, by following the Ross plans, these greens won’t be playing 6 feet in the air, and we’ll be expanding all the fairways back to their intended width — fully 50 percent wider.

Belleair Country Club no. 11 FS pans