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Winnapaug Golf Club to undergo makeover with eye toward future | daily-news-alerts

WESTERLY — The owners of the historic Winnapaug Golf Club are working with a design firm with ties to a golfing legend and a Providence-based architectural group to restore the course and design a hotel and suites for the property.

When the multiyear project is completed, the course, which was founded in 1922, should continue to draw golfers for decades into the future, provide accommodations and extended stay suites, and contribute more to the town’s tourism economy, said Nick Scola, who with his wife, Jill, owns the course.

“Our whole goal is to have it here for the next 100 years and we are working very hard to make that happen,” Nick Scola said during a recent interview.

The Scolas’ Winnapaug Golf Group announced in April that it is working with Nicklaus Design, the golf course design firm founded by legendary golfer and golf course designer Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus Design will focus on the restoration work of the classic Donald Ross design of the course. The firm has designed courses in 46 countries and 40 states over the past 50 years.

The Scolas purchased an ownership interest in the course in 2018 and became full owners of the property and the business about one year ago. The couple’s adult children, Nicole and Bobby, are assisting with the renovation project. Bobby helped design a new logo for the course.

“I’ve been a golfer since I was 16 and our kids were championship golfers. We spent most of our golfing days here and at the old Pond View, which is now Weekapaug Golf Club,” said Nick Scola, who is also a lawyer who practices in Connecticut.

George Buck, a previous owner of the course, has assisted the Scolas with the course’s water and well system. “We are a lot greener because of his help from him. We owe him a debt of gratitude,” Nick Scola said.

The 18-hole, par-72 course on Shore Road measures about 6,400 yards and provides remarkable views of Long Island and Block Island sounds and the Atlantic Ocean. The course restoration work will meet the exacting standards of both Nicklaus Design and The Donald Ross Society, an organization founded in 1989 to promote the recognition of Donald Ross, his golf architecture and the preservation and restoration of the courses he designed.

“In our discussions with the Scolas, we simply ask that the work in restoring the course be done correctly in accordance with the standards and quality originally espoused by Donald Ross,” said Michael Fay, founder of The Donald Ross Society, in a statement provided by Winnapaug Golf Group. “We understand that restoration and development are necessary for the 100-year-old course in order to remain functional and economically viable well into the future. Visualizing the course in 2022 as it was in 1922 is our wish.”

To help ensure Donald Ross’ vision remains central in the restoration, Chad Goetz, senior design associate for Nicklaus Design is working in collaboration with The Winnapaug Golf Group, course superintendent James Trichter and The Donald Ross Society.

Trichter, a native of Australia, was hired by the Scolas about one year ago. His most recent job of him was as an assistant superintendent at The Concession, a Jack Nicklaus Signature course in Bradenton, Fla. The project will include, Scola said, studying Ross’ original drawings for the course, which are stored at The Tufts Archives in Pinehurst, NC

Scola interviewed four or five design firms over about 12 months but, “didn’t find someone we loved.” On the advice of his children from him, I have contacted Nicklaus Design.

“At first I thought they would be beyond us financially and otherwise. It turns out they are just as interested in restoring a Donald Ross course as we are. This will be the first time the greatest architect of the 1900s is being reinvented by the greatest architect of the 2000s,” Scola said.

Courses designed by Ross bear a few signature traits. The courses tended to be unique, Scola said, because each one was designed to fit the terrain Ross was working with. The approach produces a natural feel with holes that build on each other and seem related, but also unique. Ross-designed courses continue to receive top rankings by various golf magazines and websites.

“He doesn’t have you do trick shots. He makes you think about every hole because every hole is different,” Scola said of Ross’ courses. “He gives you the chance to get warmed up in the first two or three holes and then by the fourth hole it became much more difficult.”

The courses also reflect a democratic approach. For instance, a dog leg left hole is often followed by a dog leg right — meaning both golfers whose balls curve to the left and those whose shots fade to the right find holes they like. And, Scola said, the Ross courses tend to feel playable for men, women and youth players, Scola said.

“They appeal to every golfer,” he said.

Still, Scola said, aspects of the modern golf game make careful updating of Ross-designed courses an occasional necessity.

“They are basically going to stand in Donald Ross’ shoes and envision what he would do today with modern clubs and balls,” Scola said.

The Scolas are committed to upholding the Donald Ross Society standards and, through their relationship with Nicklaus Design, have agreed to uphold that organization’s standards for at least 20 years.

In addition to the work on the course, other plans include a new clubhouse with a pro shop, a restaurant and banquet hall that will accommodate weddings and other events. Plans also include a hotel and one- and two-bedroom suites throughout the course.

The hotel and suites, some of which will be sold as “condotels,” will help make the golf course financially sustainable for the next 100 years, Nick Scola said. The condotel residents will be required to be members of the golf club — a common practice in Florida and other resort areas.

In another practice that is commonplace in golf hospitalities throughout the country, some suites and rooms will be sold on a condominium basis that will afford owners the ability to place them in a rental pool when the units are not otherwise occupied.

“If you have that membership, the golf course will never fail because it’s not on one person, it’s on 300 or 400 people. Spreading the risk of the development on a lot of people makes the course sustainable indefinitely and that is what we want. We want this to be here for a long time,” Scola said.

The concept, Nick Scola said, is similar to the Ocean House model of providing a mix of hotel rooms and privately owned condotels in the same property.

“Those condotel owners have a vested interest in making sure that property is going to stay beautiful forever,” Scola said.

The hotel and suites will also add much needed housing and boost the tourism economy, said Jill Scola.

“We feel there is a need for it,” she said. “I mean, you look at how the real estate has just blossomed here and people are interested in moving to this area. Unfortunately, so many people are priced out of some of the neighborhood and this will hopefully bring in a broader group of people who would like to also take advantage of this area.”

The hotel and the Villa Bed and Breakfast, another Shore Road amenity that the Scolas own, will offer “stay and play” packages and will help stretch the town’s tourism season beyond the traditional June-August expanse, the Scolas said.

The hotel and suites will be designed to fit into the surroundings, Nick Scola said. To that end he has hired Union Studio Architecture and Community Design, a Providence-based firm with a focus on New England coastal community projects. The firm has worked with the Scolas to develop proposed design standards that will soon be presented to the Planning Board and the Town Council for review. The council’s involvement is needed because, for the project to go forward, the town’s zoning regulations will have to be amended.

“We are willing to have a higher standard. These buildings will be beautifully designed,” Scola said.

The family has worked to put together a dream team of designers, lawyers, developers and other experts.

“We’re leveraging the intellect and experiences that those people bring to make sure this is thought out to make it really enjoyable and to create longevity. The breadth of experience and knowledge that they have has been incredibly impactful,” Nicole Scola said.

A celebration of the course’s 100-year anniversary has been put off until next year due to uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com

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