The star architect restarts the Interlachen Country Club

In a bag slung over his shoulder, the newly famous golf course architect Andrew Green carries an iPad downloaded with drawings, handwritten notes and photographs, all a hundred years old.

And some modern necessities too.

“Randimeter and sunscreen,” Green said, pulling items from his bag. “It’s all there at your fingertips.”

In his head and heart he also carries some of the spirit of Donald Ross, the prolific “Golden Age” golf course designer who died in 1948.

The hats that Green wears – ”I love my floppy disks” – protect him from long days of working in the sun. Indiana Jones’ famous fedora might be more appropriate for a restoration specialist who is part Bobcat-operated backhoe and part archaeologist.

Raised in West Virginia and now Maryland-based, Green supervises construction crews and shapes the land himself with skid steers and digital levels once or twice a week throughout the summer at the private, historic Interlachen Country Club in Edina.

Interlachen is where amateur Bobby Jones won the 1930 US Open en route to golf’s first and only “grand slam” season. He started a small tournament now called the Masters four years later.

It’s also where the US Women’s Open – last played in Interlachen in 2008 and heading to historic Pebble Beach for the first time next week – will return in 2030.

A major men’s championship – possibly a US Open in 2036 – is not out of the question if Interlachen has the necessary infrastructure and space.

Closed to member play this June through next July, the roughly $10 million course restoration will reclaim, rebuild, reshape and/or enlarge all greens, tees and bunkers. It will seed fairways and rough wall-to-wall with new bent grass varieties more resilient to Minnesota winters.

Interlachen officials hired Green three years ago to bring back a track that Ross built a century ago by horse and man, with shovel and pusher. He was mostly unknown to anyone but golf design geeks, though he just completed Ross-inspired restorations at Oak Hill in upstate New York and Inverness in Ohio—and Congressional’s original 1924 design near Washington, DC, too.

May’s PGA Championship crowned Brooks Koepka, but Green and his loving re-creation of Ross’ 1926 Oak Hill East course were the big winners in player and public opinion.

“I wasn’t sure what people might say or might think,” Green said. “It was definitely beyond my wildest dreams.”

Good as gold

Three days after watching Koepka win at Oak Hill, Green stood at 6:30 a.m. on Interlachen’s 12th green, near the highest point on a property he calls “just so spectacular” because of its topography and Ross’ hole routing.

In 1909, Interlachen’s founding members paid a farmer who lived on the land $12,000 in gold for 146 acres. They traveled by streetcar line and on foot in midwinter to seal the deal, then guarded the gold with shotguns overnight until the banks opened.

Green stuck a shovel into a green just removed from the grass and dug down a foot, revealing the course’s past layer by layer, from sandy top dressings to thick clay, old pea gravel to its original rich soil.

“The answers are in the dirt,” Interlachen boss Nathan Ollhoff said.

Ross lives on in the earth to some degree among the 400 courses he originally built in the United States and Canada over nearly 50 years, starting in 1900.

Scottish-born, Ross’ most famous work also includes his signature Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, East Lake in Atlanta and now most notably Oak Hill. He designed at least five other courses in Minnesota from 1912 to 1927.

At Interlachen, Ross birdied all 18 holes on a course built a decade earlier on wooded, rolling farmland 10 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Today, the used shovels remain stored in maintenance buildings.

“They have some patina, that’s for sure,” said Interlachen’s director of golf and grounds Brian Boll.

Respect for history

Some features from Ross’ original drawings — including a 262-yard, par-3 17th hole played in the 1930 US Open — have been lost to the mists of time. Others were altered beyond recognition by well-intentioned course inspectors and members of the green committees.

They bulldozed Ross’ grassy “hummocks” that defined the eighth fairway, shrinking the greens into egg shapes simply from routine mowing all these years. They also planted trees here, there and everywhere.

Work last winter removed selected trees, which open up sight lines and grow grass better by letting sunlight through.

When asked how many trees, Green simply says, “The right amount.”

“The only intention of this is to respect Interlachen’s history, its heritage,” he said.

That history includes Jones’ immortal “lily cushion” shot that skipped over the pond in front of the ninth green. World Golf Hall of Famer and LPGA founder Patty Berg learned the game at Interlachen. The Walker and Solheim Cups were also played.

The new old course will measure 7,172 yards at par 72, long enough depending on how deep the rough is cultivated. The USGA recently proposed scaling back the distance of the golf ball by 15 yards in elite competition, which could make golden-age courses like Interlachen more relevant in the modern men’s game.

A tray of beans

Whether it was fate or not, Green spread dried beans his mother used for soup on the living room carpet and plowed them with his toy bulldozer when he was 5.

“The black eye, kidney,” said Green. “I guess it’s all dumb luck, but it was better than bringing sand into the house.”

He grew up between two orchards, where he worked odd jobs making apple cider. He learned that he loved golf and working outdoors on the local country club’s maintenance crew in high school. He studied landscaping and lawn care at Virginia Tech.

Green then worked construction for years for McDonald & Sons, one of the country’s top track builders, before starting his own company in 2014.

It took him only 15 years to become an overnight sensation, noted a recent Links magazine profile.

Green completed these three plum restoration tasks before Interlachen officials finally reached him via Twitter direct message in July 2020.

“It’s both art and science,” said Interlachen general manager and CEO Joel Livingood, “but what these guys are doing is a lot of art.”

After Green received acclaim for his Oak Hill renovation defined by its dramatic bunkering, his phone kept ringing.

Now 45, he has only worked on orchards and golf courses.

“I’ve been very blessed,” he said. “It’s been a damn ride.”

Polishing a jewel

Ross’s original plans remain Green’s instruction and inspiration after all these years. Green calls the original design “as strong as any Ross track I’ve visited.”

Every shot, every hole “fits and flows” to the next across the land. With each slope that Green carefully measures, he aims to stay as true to Ross’ original work as possible.

“These are antiques, and you don’t paint an antique,” club historian Brad Sherman said in a YouTube video celebrating the restoration. “You are polishing an antique.”

Green considers polishing this Ross original as something that was meant to be. In college, he discovered a newly published collection of Ross’ “lost commentaries.” In a short chapter on diagonal bunkers, there is a vintage photo that captured his imagination because of its bold shapes and angles.

It’s the par-5 12th hole at Interlachen.

It was an unknown field at the time. It’s a hole he now knows so well from his copy of “Golf Has Never Failed Me”.

“There’s a certain destiny to it, for some reason,” Green said. “I have little post-it notes and arrows in my copy. It’s much loved.”

Interlachen’s restoration intends to challenge and satisfy both first-class players and higher handicappers, and provide its 400-member golfing families with better course conditions.

It is mostly meant to position Interlachen for the next 100 years, just as Ross’s original work did for the last 100.

“If we’re going to do this, we’re only going to do it once, and we’re going to do it right,” Livingood said.

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