Courtesy Omni Hotels & Resorts
FRISCO, Texas – PGA Frisco golf architect Gil Hanse has never had any formal drama training, instead getting a masters of landscape architecture degree from Cornell University.
But in the first media preview at the new, unopened PGA Frisco public golf complex — which includes the championship East Course designed by Hanse and West course designed by Beau Welling — he’s produced one of the most drama-producing golf courses in Texas, or just about anywhere else.
The complex sits on 660 acres of former North Texas farm land, hence the official name: PGA Frisco at Fields Ranch. The East Course already has 26 PGA of America championships scheduled over the next 12 years, starting with the Senior PGA Championship in May.
The East includes a drivable par-4 on both the front and back nine, a nearly 300-yard par-3, (No. 13 from the championship tees) and the largest green on the course is followed by the smallest, just to confuse golfers’ already confused minds.
Then, for the closing act, there is a dangerous 141-yard par-3 17th, the shortest on the course, plus a par-5 18th with a large stream and a 10-foot earthen wall you’ll to hit over to reach the green after crossing Panther Creek for the final time.
“I think you could have some fireworks there,” Hanse said in a bit of an understatement in a fireside interview Tuesday with co-designer Welling at the Omni Frisco Resort.
While the public, which will get its first chance to play here in the spring of 2023, will make up more than 80 percent of the rounds (there is a small membership as well), Hanse designed the course to be player-friendly, but certainly not pain-free if you don’t hit the correct shot from the correct tee.
Hanse said one of the things learned from designing the Olympic Golf Course in Brazil, which was turned into a public facility after the Olympics left, is using a long set of “ribbon tee,” which is a continual path of grass, 100 yards long on some of the holes here.
The course can easily play more than 7,800 yards from the back ribbon, but PGA officials said the length will rarely, if ever, be used on a daily basis. But playing the correct set of tees will be critical to resort-player enjoyment for the rates which will be charged to Omni Hotel guests and general public play.
First-time players will be amazed by the elevation changes in the supposedly flat North Texas landscape and the extensive use of native creeks.
“Two of the most pleasant surprises since Day 1 was the elevation changes we had to work with here and Panther Creek, which comes into play several times,” Hanse said. “What we did was find some of the dramatic elements which we enhanced. My partner Jim Wager and I wanted to create drama here and we want to set up ways for players to win in a positive way. Not for ways for them to lose it.”
The first of the two drivable par-4s comes on the 7th hole, which measures just 330 yards from the back tees with plenty of trouble ahead. In fact, when Dallas’ Jordan Spieth got his first look at the new course, it didn’t take him long to envision the pro golf fireworks.
“With two pars-5s in the first three holes, Jordan said you certainly have a chance to get off to a quick start,” said Northern Texas PGA executive director Mark Harrison, who has toured Spieth, Scottie Scheffler and several other local PGA Tour players around the course.
The opening hole on the East Course is a par-5 with a dogleg right, which features some thick rough and the first appearance of native Panther Creek. There’s potential to lose your ball off the opening tee, as there’s trouble lurking everywhere on this course. In fact, when Tiger Woods opened his private Bluejack National outside of Houston, three hours southeast of here, he said he hoped most players could play his course with a single ball. If an amateur does that at PGA Frisco East, you might as well send ’em straight up to the Tour.
Hanse said one of the reasons for drama on his East Course layout is the number of professional and amateur tournaments already scheduled here, highlighted by the still unannounced but widely expected U.S. Ryder Cup, most likely in 2041. He incorporated that match-play excitement in his routing.
“If you look at past Ryder Cups, most matches are ended between the 15th and 17th holes,” he said. “So adding a drivable par-4 (15) and a short par-3 (17) here could be very exciting at the Ryder Cup.”
Hole Nos. 10-12, all par-4s, play in full view of the huge Omni Resort, making them prime spots for tournament watching, but players of all skill levels will have their full attention captured when they get to the par-3 13th hole.
Panther Creek cuts across the fairway and curls up the left side, but it will be one of the most attractive features on the back nine. Hanse and his team, along with the hundreds of workers on the course at any one time, strengthened a wall along the left side of the green to avoid erosion, but used a special texture which will allow natural vegetation to grow in and on the wall.
The par-4 15th is another drivable par-4 which is surrounded by bunkers to embrace the risk-reward factor. The par-4 16th features an elevated tee, the par-3 17th has a lake cutting into the right side, and the par-5 18th calls for two good but risky shots for pros to reach the green.
The fairway grass, known as NorthBridge Bermuda, can be mowed super narrow or wide enough to catch the worst tee balls. The greens are Tifeagle Bermuda grass. The course was finished in early 2022, giving it a season and a half to grow in and blossom into a firm and fun — and possibly explosive — playing field.
The PGA of America, which will operate the courses, owned by the city of Frisco and partly funded, managed and developed by Omni Hotels with a long-term lease, has big plans ahead, starting with the 2023 Senior PGA. Also included are two PGA Championships (2027, 2034), two KPMG Women’s PGAs (2025, 2031) and, the most anticipated event in North Texas golf history, a future Ryder Cup.
Let the drama begin.