Following a restoration by Gil Hanse, the Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club will re-open to members in May 2021.
The Lower Course, which hosted its second PGA Championship in 2016, will next welcome the 2023 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and then the 2029 PGA Championship.
Baltusrol has two A.W. Tillinghast courses on property, with the Lower Course and the Upper Course, which were contiguously built in the first such project in the United States. The restoration is part of a long-range master plan, which is focused on returning Tillinghast design elements and shot values to both courses.
Among the things Hanse did on the Lower Course, which opened in 1922, was add new tees, widen and twist fairways, remove trees and return greens to their original size and scale. Some fairway bunkers were re-installed where they had been removed in prior work. Some bunkers were removed to restore the value of the ground game.
Hanse’s overall vision was lowering the course’s features, particularly greenside bunkers, to emphasize Tillinghast’s greens, which were the key features in his designs.
“Over the years, bunkers and green surrounds were raised for framing, and it was our belief that the golf course would present itself more authentically if we removed these raised features,” Hanse said. “Now the course better fits the ground and our perception of how Tillinghast presented it.”
In particular, hole Nos. 4, 17 and 18 saw substantial changes:
No. 4: The short grass that used to join the third green to the fourth tee was restored, while the fourth green was significantly expanded to the right to create a lower section based on old photography.
No. 17: The great “Sahara” bunkering complex was moved 40 yards down the fairway to put it more in play for better golfers while creating a clearer landing area for lesser-skilled players.
No. 18: The entire 18th fairway was raised, bringing it even with the guarding pond to improve the flow of the hole, while right-side fairway and some greenside bunkers were removed.
In addition, the project included the installation of new drainage, an irrigation system and a PrecisionAire sub-surface air system for the greens.
The Upper Course will undergo a similar Hanse restoration in 2024, which the architect said will be less dramatic in nature.
“The Upper Course has always remained much closer than the Lower to what Tillinghast originally designed,” he said. “There’s still significant work to do to get the style back, but architecturally it’s a lot closer.”