The new incarnation of Union League National Golf Club

By: February 16, 2022

With 23 holes down and 4 to go, the new incarnation of Union League National Golf Club, designed by Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design, would normally be looking at a grand reopening sometime in late 2022.

Union League National Golf Club is located just an hour southeast of Pine Valley GC, in the storied Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. These 27 holes occupy the footprint of a 27-hole public course, designed by Hurdzan/Fry, which took shape in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But the golf course never fully closed, and architects Dana Fry and Jason Straka don’t anticipate their ambitious re-vegetation effort to conclude until 2024.

Union League National Golf Club par 4 2nd hole on the Meade Nine-resized

Dana fry says

“We phased our work approximately 9 holes at a time, so 18 of the 27 holes have always been open for play. Psychologically, that approach was more clever than we knew: Because the membership here watched The Big Fill slowly emerge, then completely transform their golf course property.”

Any discussion of Union League National (ULN) begins with The Big Fill, a large-scale earthmoving effort — more than 1.6 million cubic yards in scope — that Fry/Straka created at the center of this 268-acre parcel. It rises to 78 feet above sea level, 56 feet above the original grade.

However, its tendrils spread out hundreds of yards in half a dozen directions. The man-made ridgelines slowly but elegantly taper down, only to rise again and form new, smaller plateaus, from which other distinct ridge networks splinter off into the landscape.

Fry says

“By the time we finished with the major earthwork, the largest section of The Big Fill accommodated 8 tee complexes, 9 green complexes and parts of 7 fairways. It’s that massive: 78 feet high in places. It covers 45 acres!

In the same way an architect blends surrounding contours into a single green complex, we are blending an entire routing into the contours we created via The Big Fill.”

Union League National Golf Club par-4 8th hole-resized

Jason Straka says

“We specified 13 different species of native grasses, ground covers and shrubs, plus dozens of wetland plant varieties, to create a rugged Pine Valley look, and to control erosion.

Additionally, thousands of oak, cedar and pine trees were planted or relocated to connect the existing tree lines and those native edges to The Big Fill itself.

We worked very hard and conducted all sorts of site walks with ecologists, across southern New Jersey, to get these plantings just right. We even took the construction team to Pine Valley to ensure we got the look and plant management ethos just right.”

Union League National Golf Club will open in….

Fry/Straka expects the final 4 holes to be completed and playable by July 1, 2022

Most challenging issues for golf club owners

The latest ASGCA Market Trend report found the following issues as golf club owners’ biggest challenges in 2022:

  1. Length/difficulty of the golf course,
  2. Regulatory issues,
  3. Water and capital project costs and depts.
  4. Declining interest in golf*.

*I doubt it. The National Golf Foundation says

“The number of golf course closures in 2021 – 130.5 as measured in 18-hole equivalents – is down 53% from its peak two years ago, prior to the pandemic.

That’s less than a 1% decline in the overall U.S. supply, which totals 16,035 golf courses across 14,033 facilities nationwide.”

NGF’s participation research shows overall golf participation increased by 600,000 to 37.5MM in 2021 (+2%) with growth split evenly between on- and off-course. 

My concern is how we are going to keep up the increased demand for golf and retain all the newcomers and the restarters. Do we have retention strategies & post-purchase programs?

Photos by Evan Schiller.