Pete Dye may be approaching 90, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down. If he isn’t designing a new course, he’s renovating one of his older ones, like he just did at The Ford Field & River Club outside Savannah, one of only two designs he’s done in Georgia (Atlanta National is the other). What started as a way to improve drainage on the back nine turned into a major redesign that vastly improved the course, from new irrigation and wider fairways to new greens and bunkers. Dye made 14 visits and spent 28 days on site, often drawing his designs in the dirt like some sort of sandlot football game.
It was about time, too. The course had not received a major restoration since it opened 30 years ago. Says Dye: “We just tore the golf course apart and put it back together again.” But, importantly, the members financed the $7 million renovation without taking on much, if any, debt.
The front nine is a tree-lined, parkland-style course routed around 78 acres of freshwater lakes, while the back is more open and linksy as it traverses wetlands. The par-four 10th (pictured) serves as a real demarcation with Dye moving the green 150 yards to the right to bring Lake Clara into play. To help with drainage, Dye also raised the back nine, which took further advantage of the layout’s scenic Lowcountry setting by improving the long-range views of the marsh.
And while the course contains many of Dye’s trademark trouble spots, he also made it easier for the higher handicap by opening greens in front for run-up shots and offering alternate routes of play. For instance, on the par-three 8th a shorter hitter can lay up to the left side of the green while a better player has a 200-yard, all-carry tee shot over a pond.
The Ford Field & River Club takes its name from the auto magnate who once owned the 1,800 acres of land the community occupies and built the Greek Revival mansion that serves as the heart of the club. You get the feeling that master craftsman Pete Dye and Henry Ford would have hit it off pretty well.