Arnold Palmer first made his mark on Hilton Head in 1969, when he captured the PGA Tour’s inaugural Heritage Classic on the then-brand-new Harbour Town Golf Links. Now, the golfing legend will add to his legacy on the island again by putting his Signature design stamp on the Wexford Plantation golf course.
In this dynamic pairing, a sporting icon will bring his architectural design talent and style to a unique and elegant, 525-acre golf, yachting and tennis community in the heart of the Hilton Head’s bustling south end. The 18-hole Wexford course was originally designed by Willard C. Byrd and opened in 1983. Featuring five sets of tee boxes that offered a short course of 4,800 yards up to 6,887 yards from the longest tees for a par of 72, the tight, tree-lined design of the golf course winds through the plantation and through the years has provided a meticulously maintained, scenic tour.
Wexford celebrated its first 25 years in the spring of 2008 and recently spent $3.9 million renovating its comfortably elegant, traditionally Coastal-style clubhouse. In April, the club will be shutting down its golf course for renovation with the plan to reopen as an Arnold Palmer Signature Course the first week of October.
Jim VanBuren, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer at Wexford, said Arnold Palmer Design Company (APDC) will immediately begin work on the Wexford driving range and golf practice area — mirroring the renovation of the golf course — by adding improved tee space and target greens, and improving visibility.
VanBuren noted that APDC has developed a worldwide reputation for designing golf courses that are all unique and special. The firm is not known for any particular trademark look; rather each golf course is compelling and authentic featuring its own characteristics — a trait that made the company particularly attractive to the Wexford membership owners.
“Wexford has a very diverse membership,” VanBuren said. “We have plenty of working families and 100-plus children, so our summers are busy. We want a golf course where three generations of members can play and have fun. We know that’s what the Palmer design team brings to the table, and that working with our golf course superintendent, Brian Murray, the golf course will be maintained at a championship level.”
At Wexford, APDC will oversee a complete remodel of the golf course. Without sacrificing its character, APDC will allow the Wexford golf course to fit the property naturally and provide the layout a more timeless feel and style. Palmer’s design company says it will transform the playing strategy, characteristics and look of the Wexford layout, while also incorporating design changes that will improve drainage and reduce maintenance costs.
“Our Wexford work will be a fun and imaginative renovation,” said Erik Larsen, Executive Vice President of APDC and current president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA). “We will reposition and reorient tee boxes — add a few bunkers and take many away — and we will add more character to the greens and surrounding complexes. The Wexford greens complexes will be a lot of fun with roll-offs, roll-ons and strong visuals.”
Larsen pointed out that the current Wexford layout has 160,000 square feet more bunkers than greens, yet many of the expansive sand hazards serve only to penalize and don’t add to the strategy. In addition, there are the tight confines of the current layout. “Those majestic oaks and pines are beautiful, but they can cause problems,” Larsen said. “So we will loosen the design up some. We will reposition, move and modify the bunkers, and change shape and size, allowing greater strategic positioning for modern golfers while putting the bunkers in more strategic locations for the better player. This will also allow more room for the higher handicapper to hit it off the tee.”
Since its inception in 1972, APDC has designed approximately 300 golf courses around the world that are acclaimed for their individually unique styles. In addition, the company is widely recognized among the preeminent experts in the field of renovation work, highlighted by its remodeling of world-renowned tournament venues such as Pebble Beach and Bay Hill. While Wexford will stand as the only Arnold Palmer Signature Course on Hilton Head, this will not be Palmer’s first design visit in the Lowcountry. APDC also designed Crescent Pointe in Bluffton, S.C., along with internationally renowned Old Tabby Links on nearby Spring Island.
“We are delighted to be back on Hilton Head and be able to put our brand on one of the great clubs anywhere,” said Larsen.