The Making of Beau Welling’s Latest Masterpiece at PGA Frisco
By Matt Adams
Just like a great sculptor can carve a masterpiece from a raw hunk of stone, a great golf course designer can create something special from a rough piece of land. In that respect, course architect Beau Welling is one of the finest artists of his generation.
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Over the past couple of years, Welling has been chiseling away at the PGA of America’s new home in Frisco, Texas, transforming neglected pasture land into a resplendent capital city for the golfing world with two championship courses – the East Course and the West Course.
The renowned Gil Hanse designed the East Course, while Welling oversaw the West Course in addition to his duties as the master planner for the entire Frisco project. In coming years the East Course will host marquee events such as the PGA Championship, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. The West Course will be reserved for smaller tournaments, PGA of America members and the golfing public.
The latter is who Welling had in mind as work progressed on the West Course. In keeping with his mantra that golf should first and foremost be fun, Welling focused on crafting a challenging layout that average duffers could also enjoy.
“The good player wants to be tested,” he said. “But for the higher handicap player it’s about survival. The goal is to not lose a lot of balls and not feel like you’re horrible.”
Many of the holes on the West Course have preferred angles of approach to the green that reward – or punish -- the better player who is willing to take a risk. At the same time the fairways are forgiving enough that the higher handicap player won’t want to toss his or her clubs into the nearest water hazard.
To achieve this goal, Welling and his team changed the West Course’s routing three times to improve playability. The ninth hole, for example, started out as a long Par 4 into a howling wind. That didn’t seem like much fun to Welling, so he made it into a short Par 5 that gives players of varied abilities a sporting chance.
Since the second part of Welling’s fun mantra is that a day on the links should be a social experience, Welling also designed his course to intersect multiple times with a food and beverage area situated on a scenic hilltop overlooking the property. In doing this he hopes to bring different playing groups together for some mid-round camaraderie, making the game about more than just numbers on a scorecard.
Along with being an immensely enjoyable place to play golf, the West Course is what Welling calls “an oasis in the center of urbanity.”
With more and more development happening around Frisco, much effort went into preserving and enhancing the natural landscape within the boundaries of the PGA of America complex, beginning with the portions alongside Panther Creek and its tributaries, which plays a large role in Welling’s design.
“There was some intentionality to how the golf course related to [Panther Creek],” said Welling. “We have turf up to the creek in places. In other areas we created wetlands where you’ll see birds and wildlife that you wouldn’t normally see in a suburban setting. The idea was to maintain nature in this quickly growing city.”
When Welling describes his newest work of art you can hear how proud he is, and rightfully so. But he’s equally excited by its anticipated influence on the game of golf’s broader evolution.
“PGA Frisco will truly become the home of golf in the U.S.,” he said. “All 29,000 members can easily get there from just about anywhere, and it’s going to be this hub of innovation. The members will take the lessons they learn back to their home courses, so I think the impact will be significant. It has the potential to affect not just Frisco, but people internationally. What the PGA has done is so bold and so smart.”