The Lonnie Poole Golf Course at NC State University has unique features that set it apart from other courses in the region. It represents the evolution in golf course architecture towards sustainability; a golf course that fits into and protects the natural environment. As with Bethpage Black, Bandon Dunes, Whistling Straits, and Pine Valley, it leans heavily on traditional Scottish designs while accommodating the natural landscape.
The Design. The Arnold Palmer Design group used features in the existing landscape as the primary cues for their design. Located on 250 acres inside the city of Raleigh, the golf course routing is dictated by large elevation changes. It meanders around large buffer areas that were left in place to protect streams and wetlands that are in the Neuse River watershed. The buffers provide protected habitat for wildlife and native plant species. Erik Larsen and Brandon Johnson, both graduates of the NC State College of Design, were the lead architects.
The Grasses. The course has well known turfgrass species as its heart - 419 bermudagrass on the fairways and an A1/A4 creeping bentgrass mix on the greens. The tee boxes are bermudagrass in full sun exposure and Zion or Zorro zoysiagrass if shaded. These are relatively new, fine bladed zoysiagrass types. The bunkers are outlined with El Toro, Zion, or Zorro zoysiagrass to provide visual definition and low maintenance edges.
The roughs are different, and a difficult place for errant shots. A mixture of four fine fescue species will be in place throughout the golf course. They typically take two years to grow in – some are mature now. Wild grasses Little Bluestem and Broomsedge have been transplanted into the fescue in localized pockets that will expand over time. The roughs will evolve into a mix of these cool and warm season grasses that are adapted to the North Carolina environment and will have low resource and maintenance requirements.
The rough areas establish a color contrast with the turfgrasses on the fairways and tees. In summer months, the mature fescue in the rough will be dominated by tans and browns compared to the vivid greens of bermudagrass and zoysiagrass. The reverse is true in winter, when roughs will be green and dormant bermudagrass and zoysiagrass will be tan.
Ryegrass was seeded in many areas during construction for erosion control. The ryegrass is especially heat sensitive and much of it will die out this summer. The fine fescues are growing in many of the ryegrass areas and will become dominant over time. Where needed, the fine fescues will be planted in the fall and spring. This transition will take time and require patience.
The Bunkers. One of the most distinct trademarks of a golf course is the bunker design. The bunkers at The Lonnie Poole Golf Course at NC State University have irregular shapes and jagged edges. Geometric shapes are rarely seen in natural landscapes. Islands and peninsulas with fine fescues intersect and blend with the roughs. Shots landing in sand will provide easier recovery than in the thick fescue, which often will requires a drop and an extra stroke.
The sand in the bunkers is stained by natural erosion from the edges. Again, this is by design. The course is located in the North Carolina Piedmont, which has clay soils. How can a natural setting be pure white?
Difficulty. This is an Audubon Signature golf course that is at the forefront of its time. Make no mistake, though, The Lonnie Poole Golf Course at NC State University is designed and built to be a championship golf course. Multiple tees allow anyone to enjoy the course, but every player will recognize the challenge it presents. It is time to elevate our games.