Transforming rock into grass is a monumental challenge for even the best golf course architects.
There are endless issues when tasked with turning abandoned rock quarries into playable golf courses. Designing golf holes that don't feel too quirky or force too much target golf on a player are primary concerns. Architect Brian Curley, who has worked on at least three such projects with Schmidt-Curley Design, Inc., indicated that the steep rock walls common in quarries make it hard to build cart paths and cause drainage issues where water flows to the quarry floor, essentially like a "bath tub."
Covering all that rock with enough soil to grow grass is equally problematic. Florida-based architect John Sanford, the current president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, used 13 million tons of topsoil from Boston's 'Big Dig' in building the 27-hole Granite Links Golf Club in Quincy, Mass.
Curley indicated in an email that building the Oak Quarry Golf Club in Riverside, Calif., wouldn't have been financially feasible without the discovery of a large hill of leftover spoils from stripped topsoil remaining on the property. Curley, who worked with Dr. Gil Morgan and partner Lee E. Schmitt on the project in 2000, used that dirt to cap an extremely rugged site.
Solving the riddles quarry sites present tend to reward architects for their hard work. Most golfers love quarry courses, if they're done right. Rock walls make for dramatic backdrops and memorable holes with nice elevation changes.
"At my first visit (in Riverside), I saw a couple of main backdrops that would create crazy holes, sheer vertical faces with dropoffs," Curley noted in an e-mail interview from China. "The extreme, vertical-slope terrain is something you do not see often in nature. But at the same time, the older the quarry is, the more it has been eroded and becomes natural at the edges, so it looks less like the hand of man had the impact".
Sanford said working on unique sites is what he lives for in his job.
The quarry "gives the course its soul," he said. "That's what sets it apart and makes it interesting. Visually, the optics are better. It tells you where you are. I'd much rather have something like that than a (flat) site you might get".
I found more than 40 quarry courses in researching the latest Deegan's Dozen, a list of 12 of the world's best public courses built in quarries. Have a favorite of your own? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below:
EDITOR'S NOTE: Keep in mind, these selections are separate from the best public courses built upon old mines featured in this story.
12. Quarry Oaks Golf Club, Ashland, Neb.
The Quarry Oaks Golf Club, designed by John LaFoy in 1997, delivers views of the Platte River, a cemetery hole with gravestones near the fourth tee, the highest point in Cass County on no. 16 tee and a drop-shot drive that plummets 80 feet from the 17th tee box to the quarry floor. Golf Advisor user 'rpruck' praised the whole experience in his review, writing: "All the holes were amazing but the stretch that is along the Platte River were just spectacular". If you want more quarry golf, head to nearby Iron Horse Golf Club, a Gene Bates design from 2001.
11. Scotland Run Golf Club, Williamstown, N.J.
Architect Stephen Kay has done great work transforming old dumps (McCullough's Emerald Golf Links) and quarries (Scotland Run Golf Club) into nice courses throughout New Jersey. The back nine of Scotland Run has holes that weave in and out of rock walls. Some of the elevation changes are 25 to 30 feet. Golf Advisor user 'ccarey101318' gave it four stars, writing: "So many character building holes with small canyons and wild grasses in front of you on your drives!!! Great course!!! Want to go back!!!"
10. Quarry Golf Club, Canton, Ohio
Built on an old quarry dating back to the 1800s, the Quarry Golf Club (2006) consists of natural waste areas, 100-foot-plus cliffs, streams and deep water lakes. Local architect Brian Huntley tamed these unique features enough to create one of Ohio's best public courses. Golf Advisor user 'u558890807' noted in his five-star review: "Truly stunning elevation changes on the property and every hole keeps you thinking".
9. Ballyowen Golf Club, Hamburg, N.J.
The signature experience of the Crystal Springs Golf Resort, one of America's largest golf resorts with 90 holes, is Ballyowen a links-themed design by Roger Rulewich set on a plateau overlooking the Wallkill River. It features few trees, a result of the site's history as an abandoned sand and gravel quarry. Ballyowen is one of the few public courses in the state to offer caddies and one of the rare courses where a bagpiper serenades guests at dusk. One of its sister course, the Crystal Springs Golf Club, was also reclaimed from an old limestone quarry.
8. Oak Quarry Golf Club, Riverside, Calif.
Curley compares the extreme rock walls in play on certain holes to those found in the Yosemite Valley. Five star reviews outnumber other reviews almost three to one on Golf Advisor. "Used to go to the Quarry when we were in high school to jump off the cliffs into the water", wrote user 'u000005822848' in his review. "Enjoy it a lot more since they put in the course, first time back and it was a great time. The course is wide so it’s forgiving and the greens fast. We will definitely be back to play again."
7. Wild Rock Golf Club, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
Although the overwhelming theme of Wild Rock is that of a farmland course that diverts into forested rolling hills, its most dramatic stretch interacts with a quarry. Holes 13-15 offer great strategy, especially the short par 5 at no. 14. If you go for it, don't lose the ball right into the quarry. The tee shot over the quarry on the par-3 15th is the money shot of the day. Wild Rock Golf Club, designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry in 2008, ranked no. 1 in the state and no. 30 nationally by Golf Advisor users in 2016. Check out my review from a golf trip to Wisconsin earlier this year.
6. Granite Links Golf Club, Quincy, Mass.
Multiple quarries, landfills and wetlands made this project tough on Sanford, but it also gave him the experience necessary to land a key role working with Jack Nicklaus in developing the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point from a toxic dump site in New York a decade later. The construction process at Granite Links required 74 different permits. Sanford considers the finishing hole of the 'Granite' nine, a drivable par 4, one of the best holes he's ever designed. It incorporates quarry hazards off the tee and again on the approach for those who layup down the right side. People in the clubhouse above the hole can watch all the action unfold. The same can't be said for players on certain holes. Golf Advisor user 'u860065620' warns golfers of a few blind tee shots in his five-star review, writing the "Layout is a bit difficult with all the hills and quarries making for some blind spots when hitting. Having the GPS screens in the golf carts were very helpful when strategizing shots."
5. Quarry at Giants Ridge, Biwabik, Minn.
North of Minneapolis, Minnesota's "Iron Range" region gets its name from its past as a prolific iron ore hotbed, and it's now a red-hot destination for tourism and golf. The newer of two courses at Giants Ridge Resort, the Quarry Course, is set on one of the area's many defunct mining operations. The result for golfers is a 2003 design by Jeff Brauer that is bigger and bolder with more shaping, undulation changes and slopes than the original Legend Course. The massive Lake Embarrass, which is visible from the 18th hole and clubhouse, is 500 feet deep thanks to many years of mining activity. Local Minnesota Golf Advisor 'Ienjoygolfing75 gave the design a five-star review, writing "The patio area where you can eat your lunch between rounds is incredible. It looks over the old filled-in mine, just a huge lake now. And it is awesome. That is my favorite place that I have had food/drinks on any golf course. The course is great, a lot of elevation changes and tons of rock structures. The scenery is incredible and the course is a challenge."
4. Green Monkey at Sandy Lane Resort, St. James, Barbados
Only guests of Sandy Lane, an exclusive Caribbean retreat where Tiger Woods got married, can play the resort's 45 holes. In 2005, Tom Fazio crafted its best course, the Green Monkey, from a limestone quarry, where the exposed rock faces form a dramatic contrast with the lush playing conditions. No. 8 and no. 9 play along the rim of the quarry before the back nine dives right into it. Don't hit into the famous "Green Monkey" bunker on the par-3 16th hole.
3. Bay Harbor Golf Club, Petoskey, Mich.
It's pretty amazing to think the entire resort community, including the luxurious Inn at Bay Harbor, is a reclamation project after 100 years of mining operations and a massive cement plant scarred more than 1,200 acres along the Lake Michigan shoreline on Little Traverse Bay. Six months after the century-old cement plant smokestacks were imploded, an explosion in March of 1995 blasted away the barrier between Lake Michigan and a quarry. The water that rushed in from Lake Michigan created the new lake inlet that would become the Bay Harbor Lake Marina you can see from the third hole of the Links nine on the 27-hole Bay Harbor Golf Club. Bay Harbor, designed by Arthur Hills with input from Boyne Resort's Stephen Kircher, features holes carved from lakeside bluffs, an abandoned shale quarry and the forest. The Quarry nine is my personal favorite with four holes (nos. 3-6) in the quarry before the round finishes at two grand finales on the lake. Golf Advisor's Brandon Tucker agrees, writing in his five-star review: "The hole variety on the Quarry nine is second to none."
2. Quarry course at Black Diamond Ranch Golf & Country Club, Leconte, Fla.
Within the past few years, the private Black Diamond Ranch has opened up its doors for stay and plays. That's good news for golfers who want to play the highly regarded Quarry course cut by Fazio from an old limestone quarry in 1987. Once golfers enter the quarry at no. 13, the holes visually pop juxtaposed against 80-foot rock walls and crystal-clear lakes. Golf Advisor's Mike Bailey gave the experience five stars in his glowing review, adding: "The quarry holes -- 13-through-17 -- are nothing less than stunning, and the Tif-Eagle greens are among the best you'll play anywhere."
1. Chambers Bay, University Place, Wash.
Most golfers know the backstory of Chambers Bay, the host of a controversial 2015 U.S. Open won by Jordan Spieth. Pierce County charged Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his crew of Jay Blasi and Bruce Charlton to build a championship-caliber course on a 950-acre wasteland along the Puget Sound. The area first found use as a rock quarry stemming as far back as the Steilacoom Indian Tribe and the first European settlers in 1832. Over the years, the location was used for a paper mill, a major industrial center, multiple lumber companies, a railroad center, a sand and gravel mine, a bus barn, a regional wastewater treatment plant, a preservation and a recreational area. Golfers check in at a small clubhouse on the ridge, then ride a shuttle into the bowels of the property where holes mingle with manmade dunes and yawning waste bunkers. Chambers Bay, a no-cart facility, is a tough walk, so taking a caddie comes highly recommended. Reviews on Golf Advisor continue to be mixed as the course transitions from the problematic fescue greens to poa annua. That didn't deter user 'Bjsmith7533' from awarding Chambers Bay five stars in his review, writing "I watche(d) nearly every second of the US Open when it was at Chambers, so playing this course has been high on my list for some time. The layout of the course was spectacular. A great mix of shots, some tight holes, some that are wide open."