Proposal in the works for a Yale Golf Course restoration
Yale Golf Course General Manager Peter Palacios said that plans for a restoration of the 1920s Golden Age course are being drawn up. If approved and funded, the restoration would close the course for approximately 22 to 24 months.
Courtesy of Yale Athletics
Leaders at the Yale Golf Course have been developing a master plan for the restoration of the historic course, according to new administrators at the course and a local golf historian.
In an interview with the News last week, YGC general manager Peter Palacios said that the plan for a restoration of the course is in the process of being completed. Palacios said that if the plan is approved, the restoration would close the course, which was constructed in the 1920s, for approximately 22 to 24 months.
He added that the project has been on the athletic department’s radar for years, and plans include an upgrade of the driving range, a new entrance, a water conservation plan and a tree removal program. New course superintendent Jeffrey Austin said the project would involve both internal work and external contractors.
Mike Gambardella, Yale’s associate athletic director for strategic communication, told the News there is no official timeline or update regarding the restoration of the course.
“There’s a lot that has happened in the course of a very short period of time,” Palacios said in an interview with the News last week. “It just shows the commitment again of the University and the athletic department, primarily that the every intention is to move forward with this so that we can go through a restoration so that the pieces are already there.”
In late March, Connecticut resident, golf writer and historian Anthony Pioppi reported confirmation of the restoration after a discussion with Palacios: “Yale working on masterplan that will include course, clubhouse possibly maintenance area,” Pioppi wrote.
Palacios told the News that the question of funding for the project is not in his “purview” and instead falls to the athletic department’s development team, which is headed by Yale’s Associate Athletic Director for Advancement and External Partnerships Scott Lukas. Lukas was also on the committee that made the decision to hire Austin earlier this spring, according to Palacios. Lukas did not respond to a request for comment.
“Now we just have to go out and sell it, and I’m very hopeful that we’ll get those funds that we need once the plan is reiterated to all those donors,” Palacios said.
Palacios said that he has had multiple conversations with alumni who have expressed interest in contributing to the restoration. He added that it was important for alumni not only to see a restoration and restoration plan exist, but also a “post-restoration plan” that would ensure maintenance of the course’s quality after an upgrade.In an interview with News, Pioppi said Palacios told him that the plan for the restoration sets aside funds in perpetuity for the maintenance of the course. If funds for future maintenance are not part of restoration plans, then the course would ultimately revert to its current state, Pioppi thinks.
Palacios said that the restoration plans were not inspired by the state of the course last year, when conditions on the links were criticized after the course was shut down for an extended period of time. Instead, the restoration reflects a commitment to maintaining the course at the highest level while staying true to its original design.
“I think that one of the benefits of my body of work is that I’ve done projects in-house with limited budgets,” Austin, the course’s new superintendent, said in a phone call with the News this week. “One of the questions during the interview process was when do you know what can be done in-house, what can be done out of house. And I think that one of my strengths is that I understand when in a project the experts need to be called in and when also we could do something in-house.”
During the pandemic, Yale men’s golf head coach Colin Sheehan ’97 drafted a document with potential improvements to the YGC along with budget estimates. The plan included an itemized list of potential improvements that approximately added up to three million dollars.
The plan was only theoretical, a quarantine daydream, but it foreshadowed the real planning to come.
“What I did was just an exercise in the least amount of work that was needed,” Sheehan said in an interview with the News in March. “And that was just something I did in the early days of the pandemic to sort of ward of depression from exactly this time a year ago when the season was just instantly cancelled and the world was shutting down and my kids were sent home from school.”
When asked if he had seen Sheehan’s document, Palacios said that it was one of the first things he read when he started, but he said that Sheehan has not been formally involved in the restoration planning process.
According to Palacios, the water conservation plan would help reduce the outsourcing of water that the course needs in peak summer days. The plan would entail an expansion of water channels, a cleaning of the lake and an expansion of the irrigation area to hold as much water as possible. Palacios said that he walked with an arborist over the course last winter and identified the trees that have “reached their age” and are now a liability because large branches that could fall pose a danger to workers and golfers.
When it comes to architects for the restoration, Yale has several options. Golden age architect Seth Raynor’s original design of the course in the 1920s, along with architect Charles Macdonald’s consulting, makes the course an attractive potential opportunity for architects today. Palacios said that eight high-profile golf architects have reached out since he started in September, but declined to identify potential architects with whom he has spoken.
“You want to bring back the original intent of the original design,” Pioppi said about what he thinks the aim of the restoration should be. “I think you really have to get the bunkers back to the shapes and styles that they were that you can see in the 1934 aerials… Big greens, big fairways, [but the] rough really isn’t part of this. It’s about the angles, it’s about the bunkering, it’s about the size of the greens.”
In April 1926, the first nine holes of the Yale Golf Course opened.
Clarification, May 7: This story has been updated to clarify what Pioppi said about possible funding for maintenance for the course.