There actually are a few details that connect the original John Bredemus-designed Rockwood Golf Course of 1938 with the revitalized pearl set to open in June.
One, neither was completed as soon as city officials had hoped.
But that’s OK. This is worth the wait.
What will be unveiled at a grand opening June 30 is not your father’s Rockwood. For more than a year, workers and architects have been moving land and reshaping the course into something the city is confident will be a bold business and political calculation that pays big for the city’s center.
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“This is really something else, something everyone has been dreaming about,” said Louis Ayala, 86, who has been playing at Rockwood for 50 years and is a member of the city’s golf advisory council. “Where is the best golf course near downtown to play? Only two miles away. It’s very, very handy.”
Officials are betting that many think as Ayala does about the $5 million renovation, part of a 2014 bond package along with proceeds of the city’s gas well interests from the boom days of the Barnett Shale that now seem so long ago.
At the heart of the new hoped-for golf market are visitors in town for convention business who want to get away for a quick round.
New tees, greens, bunkers, cart paths, irrigation and drainage, grass and “native lands” are all part of the update.
The course layout is all new. No. 1 is the old No. 9, and No. 9 is the old No. 1, going back up Jacksboro Highway. That’s the first thing old-timers will notice, but not the last thing. Among the features worked into the new design are picturesque views of downtown Fort Worth from the No. 5 tee box and Will Rogers Memorial Center’s Pioneer Tower from No. 8.
Instead of 6,350 yards, the course now plays at more than 7,000 yards from the tips.
There are similarities to the WPA project of 1938. The rock bridge that connected holes 11 and 12 on the old course remains.
Many of the greens have returned to their original shapes, thanks to an aerial photo of the course from 1941 that was uncovered by Trey Kemp of Colligan Golf Design, the architects on the project.
A blind man, Marvin Shannon, an attorney, shot a 100 on Rockwood in 1938. He could probably do it again with wide, expansive fairways, many of which curve inward to filter good drives, and big, collector greens, a sight for sore eyes of high-handicapped players who like a catcher’s mitt back there on approach shots.
“Golf should be enjoyed, not endured. It’s really true,” said John Colligan, whose dozens of other redesign projects around town include Hawk’s Creek and Squaw Creek and who is currently working on River Crest Country Club and Arlington’s Ditto.
“The game is hard enough in and of itself without tricking it up. It’s easy to make a golf course hard. It’s difficult to make the course challenging to the better player and fun for the higher handicap player.”
Two holes from the old blue nine holes have been incorporated into the new 18. One is the old par-3 No. 2 that required a forced carry over a Trinity River tributary that is now the par-3 No. 15. A short par-4 follows.
Designers also paid tribute to the blue nine with a par-5 at No. 4 that plays at 625 yards from the tips. The green hugs a new lake on the front that was formerly a low-lying area.
“When we went into the master plan process [with the redesign committee], everybody wanted a golf course that would play quickly and fairly,” said Nancy Bunton, the city’s director of golf. “It lends itself to a quick round of golf. Not a lot of force carries. Lots of bailout areas.”
The question going forward is how well will the city preserve its new landmark. That takes money and staff, but Bunton and Colligan have complete confidence in the course’s future.
Greens fees will initially be set at $25 for weekdays and $35 on weekends. Carts are an additional cost for the player. That will likely make the total fee closer to $40 and $50.
Those rates won’t scare off the regulars, Ayala said, “because they’ll be playing something they’ve always wanted to play. And there are other courses higher than Rockwood.”
The city has every motivation to ensure that the course is treated with the respect it’s due, starting with the initial investment made and the potential for more revenue. A new clubhouse that will sit behind No. 9 is planned. Its funding, Bunton said, will be part of a future bond program that the City Council will formalize and voters will need to approve.
“Let’s face it, this is going to be a great golf course,” Ayala said. “It looks great.”