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Donald Ross’ Last Design To Get Facelift

Raleigh Country Club

w/ Brad King

RALEIGH, NC (May 2020) — Raleigh Country Club, the final golf course designed by legendary architect Donald Ross, is undergoing a major renovation.

Earlier this year, McConnell Golf — owner of a dozen 18-hole, private golf courses, one semi-private and one nine-hole course throughout the Carolinas and Tennessee — announced to the Raleigh Country Club membership that golf course architect Kyle Franz would oversee the restoration.

Franz played a key role creating several of the most innovative and acclaimed courses built in the last decades, while also helping enact the restoration plans of several classic courses. That list includes a pair of North Carolina-based Ross designs: the highly profiled restoration of Pinehurst No. 2, where Franz assisted Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw prior to the 2014 U.S Opens, as well as his 2013 restoration work at Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club, which garnered “Best U.S Resort Renovation of the Year.”

Established in 1948, Raleigh Country Club is a private club located just outside of downtown Raleigh, at 400 Donald Ross Drive. Non-members/visitors who live at least 160km from the club location can get access through a unique McDonnell Golf Trail program.

In 2003, to help preserve the club’s history, John McConnell bought RCC and McConnell Golf was born.

Today, Raleigh Country Club is part of a McConnell Golf portfolio that includes three other classic Ross designs — Greensboro’s Sedgefield Country Club, which annually plays host to the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship, Country Club of Asheville and Holston Hills Country Club in Knoxville, Tenn.

RCC closed the golf course at the beginning of February and the plan is to reopen in early October. McConnell Golf estimates the cost of the project cost to be approximately $5 million. 

In a letter to the Raleigh Country Club membership, John McConnell said the focus of the project is to produce an improved course for all levels of players. “Many different ideas were discussed and reviewed with the architect, contractors and our staff to finally get to a design that was in our budget, would be a major improvement for the course and member play, and would benefit maintenance and turf conditions going forward,” McConnell wrote. “I believe that the plan being implemented keeps the integrity of the course that Donald Ross first designed and built, but allows more challenges for the long-hitting players in vogue today.”

McConnell and Franz presented RCC members an early project preview. Among the RCC course enhancements:

  • An entirely new irrigation system will be installed. New technology will be one of the major benefits in improving bunkers and turf conditions, while creating less erosion and eliminating bare spots near the tree lines.
  • Greens will be enlarged for more pin locations and improved strategic shot making. McConnell Golf plans on retaining bent grass greens, so the golf course will remain unique in the Triangle. “Our superintendent assures us that he can maintain these (bent grass greens) in perfect condition during the hot months of summer,” McConnell said. “Some green complexes, such as (hole) No. 5, will be softened, but the overall greens challenge that we enjoy today will remain.”
  • New tee boxes will be constructed on certain holes that will extend the course yardage to more than 7,200 yards. “With our rolling hills that will make the course play even longer,” McConnell said. He added that other new tee boxes will be beneficial for female, junior and senior golfers.
  • New bunkers will be constructed that provide greater visuals and improved play for golfers, as well as much improved drainage with the material used in the traps. RCC currently has 56 bunkers and the new plan calls for 78.
  • Approximately 350 trees are being removed. “So far, the course looks much better as we thin those out,” McConnell said. “The tree that we all love hanging over the eighth fairway remains as well as that awesome pine near the green on 16.”
  • Some of the cart paths are being rerouted or removed substantially on certain holes to give the course an even more natural feeling on how the land lies.
  • Native grasses will be planted during the next few years to give the course a very dramatic look. The new irrigation system allows for these new features. Many of the natural drainage areas across fairways will also be changed to help make the course better to absorb rainfall and create more strategic shot making opportunities.

“Our goal is always to create a member-focused club that is not overcrowded on our fairways or at the pool; and we will manage to that plan,” McConnell said. “Our architect has developed this plan with much attention to detail and has been on property numerous times to ensure that Donald Ross’s last gem will be elevated to a whole new level.”

There are no member assessments as this project is funded entirely by McConnell Golf. “We are all partners and together we can achieve greatness for our long-term club enjoyment and golfing activities,” McConnell said. “It is our belief that after the renovation we will have the premier golfing venue in the region and applications for membership will increase.”

While the RCC golf course is closed, the club’s practice facility will remain open. The golf shop is providing members with numerous reciprocal opportunities at local clubs, including all McConnell Golf locations. In addition, McConnell Golf announced that while the golf course is closed, the 12-round for cart fee limit at other McConnell Golf courses is waived.

“This year offers the perfect excuse to travel out of town and play some of the other fantastic courses in our portfolio that you may not have enjoyed before,” McConnell wrote in his letter to the membership.

McConnell added that Jerry Mangum, Jim Barnes, Don Parent and Robert Carroll would be the first members to tee off when the club reopens. “These are our longest tenured RCC Members (notice I did not mention age!),” McConnell wrote. “One of them deserves the opportunity to set the new course record when play resumes.”