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Giles' Kinloch gem receives touch-up

Hole No. 9 | Par 5. [Photo: Kinloch Golf Club]

A central Virginia gem is getting a shine

Kinloch Golf Club, a collaboration between golf course designer Lester George and amateur golf legend Vinny Giles, is undergoing a three-month renovation that amounts to polishing a Cadillac for the immaculately conditioned, perennial top-100 course. 

The course closed on July 5 and is set to reopen on Oct. 3. 

The alterations include enhancing the layout’s aesthetics, maintenance, infrastructure, sustainability and shot values. Based in a suburb of Richmond, Kinloch is located in an area where the course’s cool season bentgrass fairways and bluegrass and fescue rough not only thrive, but the strains have become extremely aggressive over the past two decades.

This dynamic has meant rough has been invaded by bermudagrass and bentgrass. The response from a maintenance perspective is to eradicate what Giles refers to as “the garbage grass” in the areas through the green. All told, 35 acres of grass will be killed and resodded with a bluegrass and fescue blend in the first and primary cuts of rough.

Other changes include renovations to all of Kinloch’s bunkers, along with adding, relocating and reshaping some of the hazards. The improvements to the bunkers will be done using the now-popular Better Billy Bunker method, a practice that significantly improves drainage and long-term sustainability. All told, the club will renovate 100,000 square feet of bunkers and enhance some strategic elements of the course.    

“We’ve moved several bunkers closer to the green,” said Giles, who won the 1972 U.S. Amateur Championship, the 1979 British Amateur Championship and the 2009 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship.

It’s no secret that some of Kinloch’s changes are in response to today’s power, “bomb-and-gouge” game. With the work, there’s an eye toward pinching in fairways by adding bunkers that will give power hitters something to think about to avoid trouble and, frankly, as aiming targets and directional framing.

Kinloch is hosting the 2020 U.S. Mid-Amateur and part of the alterations are intended to present an additional challenge for the better player. That said, the changes are not tied to the U.S. Mid-Am exclusively.

“We’re basically putting some fairway bunkers in that are, quite honestly, more geared to the guy that hits the ball 280 to 310 that are further down the fairway and come into play,” Giles says. “They won’t come into play for 95 percent of the people that play the golf course, but it will for the longer hitter. It is just the same nature of the game today and the physical prowess of the modern player. The game has changed — it is a big hitter’s game now.”    

The alterations are surgical enough for the club to hit some additional maintenance goals, without being so intrusive that they compromise the integrity of the design. The upscale, ultra-private club is four years into a masterplan and the alterations are part of checking the boxes, so to speak, in carrying out the improvements. In fact, the club is ahead of schedule in its rework phases.

“When we started looking at the major eradication of warm season grasses, we think the opportunity arises to knock out some of the things that are necessary such as the bunkers,” George says. “We are taking out bunkers that are not necessary, not as relevant as they were 21 years ago. 

“We’re not making wholesale changes to the golf course. It’s not like we are changing holes; we’re making sure it remains architecturally sound.”

Off the golf course, in the clubhouse, Kinloch is redoing its locker room and doubling the size of its kitchen. From a game-improvement perspective, the club is adding two more hitting bays and a state-of-the-art virtual putting green to its world-class training center.

All told, Kinloch, one of the premier all-around golf-centric spots in the country, just keeps getting better.

“The goal was to continue making Kinloch better—as best we can with these projects and enhancements,” said Jonathan Ireland, the club’s general manager. “We’re very excited about what we’re going to be able to accomplish this summer and the membership has been extremely supportive.

“This is the first time that the club has closed to perform any enhancements since we opened in 2001. To be able to take the opportunity to add the golf course drove the timeline. We took the opportunity, with needing to close the golf course, to really focus on some of the buildings as well. We feel like we’re making Kinloch more useful for the members and an even better experience for them in the long run.” 

Author Andrew Blair is a writer from Glen Allen, Va.

Email: ajblair@earthlink.net