Catching Up on the Poppy Hills Renovation in One Post (Updated)
March 3, 2014
Note: The Poppy Hills Renovation Blog tracked the entire project, from when the course closed March 11, 2013, until it opened April 4, 2014.
Trying to catch up on the 13-month Poppy Hills Renovation? Here is your tutorial:
Why was Poppy Hills renovated?
Water Conservation. When the project was conceived in 2008, Poppy Hills needed to replace a dilapidated drainage and irrigation system. And architecturally, the artificial mounding throughout the fairways at Poppy Hills trapped water, preventing it from draining naturally. Throw in the wet and foggy conditions Pebble Beach can experience, and you have the recipe for a soft and wet course.
Since Poppy Hills needed to be dug up to replace the drainage and irrigation, it was appropriate to consider how else Poppy Hills could be improved.
How else was Poppy Hills improved?
Robert Trent Jones Jr. brought his design firm back to study the course he originally built in 1986. After an extensive audit, the NCGA and Jones decided to:
- Sand cap the entire golf course to improve drainage and foster firm, fast and fun conditions year-round
- Eradicate rough, promoting imaginative shot making both through the air and on the ground
- Renovate all teeing areas and relocate bunkers
- Re-design, rebuild and reseed all green complexes with bentgrass and softer contours
- Widen fairways and reduce angles of doglegs
- Soften contours to help the course sit more naturally into the site
- Add naturalized waste areas and pine straw throughout the course, bringing the forest more into focus while reducing irrigated turf from 82 acres to 62
- Reveal a natural creek that was buried during original construction
- Alter the yardages of par 3s to create more flexibility for setup
So there’s no rough at the new Poppy Hills?
The rough is gone. It no longer lines the fairways or surrounds the greens. The course will play firm and fast, and the architecture around the greens was designed with the ground game in mind. The only other course where RTJ II has incorporated this philosophy is Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open:
“I’m hoping that everyone will spend a lot of time looking at these greens and studying these green complexes,” said Bruce Charlton, president of RTJ II. “There are great shots to be had where you don’t necessarily hit it on the green here. You hit it outside the green and let the slopes do the work. We did that at Chambers Bay a lot.”
These firm and fast conditions were achieved primarily through sand capping, which is the practice of topping the entire golf course with a 5 1/2-inch layer of sand to enhance drainage.
“It’s going to be a completely different playing experience,” said Mike Gorman, project architect for RTJ II. “It’s definitely a cornerstone for the entire project.”
Water on the golf course will also be managed much more efficiently through Toro’s state-of-the-art irrigation system. There are 56 sensors on the course that measure climatic, soil and other evolving site conditions. The new sprinkler system is 20% more efficient that the previous version at Poppy Hills, and it will have 25% less turf to irrigate — thanks to the introduction of native waste areas along the forest floor.
- Learn about sand capping in the summer issue of the 2013 NCGA Golf magazine
- Find out more about the evolution of Robert Trent Jones Jr. in the winter issue of the 2014 NCGA Golf magazine
- Read the Water Conservation Case Study of the Poppy Hills Renovation
Was every hole changed?
Yes. Not only was every fairway plowed under, every tee and bunker rebuilt, and every green redesigned, but each hole was also rethought from a strategic standpoint.
Some of the more notable changes include:
- A lake fronting the fifth green was transformed into a fescue-filled native waste area
- A seasonal creek that cuts in front of the ninth green was revitalized, creating exciting risk-reward choices and shots
- A brand-new 11th hole was built, creating the shortest and most precise hole at Poppy Hills
- The sharp dog-leg left par 5 12th hole was converted into a spectacular straightaway par 4 with a stunning vista of the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz Mountains
See our comprehensive course tour of Poppy Hills for an extensive look at every hole.
You can also check out a great collection of before and afters of every hole at Poppy Hills.
What exactly was done to every hole at Poppy Hills?
You can read an overall synopsis of the seven key points of focus for the renovation here. They are:
- Sand capping
- Rough eliminated
- New bentgrass greens
- Wider fairways and softer doglegs
- Natural course elevation
- Native waste areas
- Course setup flexibility
For a rundown of specific changes and more great before and after photos from Poppy Hills, you can read our hole-by-hole breakdown and architect thoughts from Charlton here.
Are the greens really bentgrass?
Yep. Get ready for the purest bentgrass greens on the Monterey Peninsula. Not only have the greens been upgraded from poa annua, but the undulations have been softened, making them more fun to putt.
“We wanted to have at least 10 pin positions on every hole,” Charlton said. “When you do that, you create greens that don’t have those huge slopes, or else you lose a lot of green for hole locations. One of the key green strategies on No. 9 was to march hole locations all the way along that left edge, so it could feel like the flag was hanging onto the edge of the earth.
Below is an early sketch of the ninth green:
You can also see heat maps of every hole at Poppy Hills. The ninth green is below. The black dots identify potential hole locations, as any areas shaded in green is ideal. The orange-tinted portions of the green begin to get dicey. (3% is borderline, depending on green speed and the slope on the other side of the hole.) The red, pink and blue areas represent strong slopes between 4-10%, or sometimes even more.
How does the yardage, rating and slope compare to the old Poppy Hills?
Some notes about the new setup:
The new Poppy Hills gained 139 yards from the back tees, despite dropping from a par 72 to 71. The new 12th hole dropped 110 yards and a stroke to par while converting from a sharp 531-yard dogleg left to a downhill 421-yard straightaway par 4.
So where did Poppy Hills pick up the extra yardage? Check out the extra 235 yards on the first five holes:
- No. 1: 443-yard par 4 (30 more yards)
- No. 2: 202-yard par 3 (30 more yards)
- No. 3: 447-yard par 4 (41 more yards)
- No. 4: 629-yard par 5 (79 more yards)
- No. 5: 478-yard par 4 (50 more yards)
The front nine gained 266 yards (from 3,482 to 3,748), while the back nine lost 127 yards (3,381 to 3,254).
But in a rare occurrence, the rating and slope went down at Poppy Hills, even though the yardage went up. The rating slipped from 74.4 to 73.5, and the slope from 140 to 135. Ratings and slopes dropped for tees from all yardages.
This is primarily due to the elimination of rough (and widening of fairways) at Poppy Hills, as well as the simplification of bunkers. The greens are expected to play firm because they are new. The course will be re-rated in a year, once data from rounds is collected.
The No. 1 handicap is now the 629-yard fourth hole, replacing the first, which now ranks at No. 7. The fourth hole previously played as the No. 3 handicap. The No. 2 handicap also switched, as that distinction now belongs to No. 16 instead of No. 13 (pictured below):
The Champions Tour signed up Poppy Hills for the First Tee Open without seeing a shot played there?
Poppy Hills will co-host The First Tee Open with Pebble Beach from Sept. 22-28. The Champions Tour arrived at this decision at the 2013 First Tee Open, during a site visit when some of the renovated Poppy Hills was still in dirt form. The agreement was formally announced at the Poppy Hills Grand Opening on March 20. Poppy Hills will host through at least 2016.
“There are three things that come to mind about adding Poppy Hills,” said Champions Tour spokesman Dan Walker. “The relationship between the First Tee and Youth on Course is a nice tie. It’s great to have both courses for the event in the forest now. But the main thing is we came out to Poppy Hills during the First Tee Open while construction was going on to see the course. We were super excited about what we saw that week, and now to come here and see it finished is spectacular.”
Here’s a picture of the 10th hole in September:
What else did you renovate at Poppy Hills?
Everything. The rundown:
- Dining Room: Porter’s has undergone a complete transformation thanks to the addition of executive chef Johnny De Vivo (formerly of Casanova in Carmel), taking a farm-to-table approach with local and organic food cooked from scratch. Poppy Hills is baking its own bread and curing its own meats, revolutionizing what was once a frying kitchen into a bakery. There will be in-house pastrami and bacon, as well as croissants, muffins and an airy pretzel hotdog that will surely become a member favorite.
- New Dining Options: Poppy Hills now offers outdoor heated seating on the rebuilt deck that is protected by a high glass railing, which blocks wind without disrupting the view of the four holes below. In front of the deck is a beautiful landscaped patio that circles a fire pit, next to a new permanent snack shack. The patio holds up to 50 guests, and also features a Memphis-style smoker and gas-burning fireplace.
- Pro Shop: Behind glass doors awaits the new pro shop, designed to hold up against any in the nation. Glass windows overlook the 18th green, and the pro shop’s dark wooden décor gives off a rustic vibe inherent to this unique property in the Del Monte Forest.
- Course Signage: Each tee marker at Poppy Hills is made from trees that were permitted to be removed during the renovation (for rerouting and turf grass management purposes), and then branded with a poppy for a rugged, natural look. Directional signage on the course was also carved from removed trees, and shaped only with a chainsaw, sander and grinder. The tee signs were carved locally from fallen redwood trees in Eureka. As part of the permitting process, two trees were planted for every one that was removed.
- Practice Facility: Seven greens and four bunkers create a variety of challenging targets, and more than 1 acre of teeing ground ensures quality practice on grass year-round. You can practice out of a greenside bunker and a waste area behind the driving range, or utilize the biggest green on the course above the first tee to putt. There is also a short game area with tight lies and bunkers adjacent to the 18th green, on the opposite side of the clubhouse. For more help with your game, Poppy Hills has partnered with GolfDigest.com teacher Jeff Ritter.
- Maintenance Upgrade: With the area of fairway at Poppy Hills tripling to a massive 60 acres, as well as dramatic changes in playing characteristics throughout the course, it was necessary to overhaul the maintenance facility, modernize equipment and add staff.
- New Technology on the Course: Poppy Hills partnered with two new apps to help golfers get the most out of their round, while also aiding pace of play. The maintenance staff uses EZ Locator, a service that has heat mapped every green to the centimeter. After entering data such as the green height and stimpmeter readings, the program generates optimum hole locations, keeping in mind the slope of the greens and the wear and tear of the turf in that particular area. Daily hole location sheets will be available in the pro shop, and golfers can also look them up with the EZ Locator ePinsSheet app. Poppy Hills also teamed up with Best Approach to create an app that gives live GPS measurements on every hole, as well as yardages to key obstacles. Each hole can be viewed from a traditional yardage book perspective, or you can see a computer-animated flyover simply by titling your phone horizontally. The Best Approach app (coming soon) also allows golfers to order food on the course and conduct tournaments with live scoring updates.
Read our in-depth rundown here.
Who hit the first shot at Poppy Hills?
Robert Trent Jones Jr. Both times. Twenty-eight years after the original architect opened Poppy Hills with a drive in 1986, Jones returned to tee off the course he completely overhauled. Three other players joined Jones for the first shot:
-Brian Morse – President of the NCGA, the largest regional golf association in the country
-Derrell Biddy – President of Poppy Holding Company, which oversees golf operations
-Patrick Moran – An 11-handicap golfer representing the 150,000 members of the NCGA via a social media contest
Here’s video evidence:
There was also a cool hawk flyover:
To learn more about the Grand Opening, and to check out a flickr gallery of the day, click here.
You can also read more about Moran’s “epic day” here.
What is everyone saying about the renovation?
Golf Channel loves it. So does Golf.com. Read the reviews as they come in here, and watch the Golf Channel feature below.
I can’t tell you how excited I am that this is back. It brought Poppy Hills back to relevance.
Having played it now and seeing how much better it is … this is definitely a part of anybody’s itinerary going to the Monterey Peninsula.
-Matt Ginella, Golf Channel
How does the new Poppy Hills play?
Poppy Hills Renovation Blog editor Kevin Merfeld was invited to play the newest course in Pebble Beach on March 21. After tracking the course renovation for the past 13 months, he shared his thoughts about playing the new Poppy Hills for the first time.
It’s more fun. That’s your first takeaway when you play the new course.
The forest floor seeps into the course via pine straw, native waste areas and wood chips, and the simple detail that you can actually see the bottoms of trees (mounding and elevated greens previously obstructed those views) creates a new experience. You just feel a much better sense of place, and the serene and quiet forest setting is very comforting and relaxing. It feels like a special nature walk on a remote trail.
Certain holes remind me of the Northwest and Bandon Trails, while others have a tinge of the old Augusta National. The blanket of unencumbered green fairway running into the forest floor is one of my favorite looks in golf. But most of all, it just fits here. It’s a unique style that can’t be recreated anywhere else, because the beautiful blend of Monterey Pines and Gowen Cypress is exclusive to this corner of the Del Monte Forest. It’s even a different feeling than the inland holes at Spyglass Hill or Cypress Point or Pebble Beach or the Dunes Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.
It’s Poppy Hills.
What’s it Like to Play the Course You Built?
For more than six years, Bruce Charlton (middle) dreamed about the Grand Opening at Poppy Hills.
“There’s nothing more fun as a golf architect than to see the final product,” said Charlton, the Chief Design Officer for Robert Trent Jones II. “It’s a day that you live for.”
So what’s it like to play a course you understand so intimately?
“That’s kind of fun and frustrating at the same time,” said Charlton, a 9 handicap.