Yes, it is finally time to lift a glass to Phelps/Atkinson Golf Design and the Spokane County officials who had the foresight and courage to make it happen.
They got the renovation of Liberty Lake Golf Course right.
Exactly right, in my opinion – which was solidified last week while playing the new-look course with PGA head professional Kit DeAndre and his two new assistants, Tim Morton and Kris Malley. And I’m quite certain the majority of local golfers will feel the same when their long-dormant layout is put back in play for the general public on Friday.
The front nine, while still vaguely recognizable, was altered dramatically during the $4.5 million facelift, which the design team of Rick Phelps and Kevin Atkinson so imaginatively mapped out prior to the closing of the course and the start of construction work in September 2008.
And while the changes made to the back nine were much more subtle, they add immensely to the aesthetics and playability of the golf course.
“The transformation has been amazing,” said DeAndre, who was an astute observer and consultant during the renovation project. “And now the goal for me and my staff is to provide the kind of service befitting such a great layout.”
That could be quite a challenge, considering the remodeled Liberty Lake course – once considered by many to be the ugly stepsister of MeadowWood and Hangman Valley, the county’s other two courses – suddenly seems destined to reach a status equal to, or greater than, that of the region’s best and most beloved tracks.
As part of the makeover, the once relatively flat terrain on which the course sits was mounded to create a more modern and refined look. All of the old greens were leveled to make room for 18 new bent-grass putting surfaces that average nearly 7,000 square feet in area – almost 2,000 more than the ones they replaced.
The new greens, along with their massiveness, also feature a devious assortment of humps, bumps and other contours that will challenge the short games of golfers at all levels.
And then there’s the water – lots of water – that was added, along with 28 sand traps and about 30 new trees.
The course features at least four sets of tee boxes on each hole and stretches to a formidable 6,607 yards from the tips, which is 234 yards longer that the old layout. The driving range was re-landscaped to mirror the mounded terrain of the course, and the inside of the clubhouse was also remodeled.
About the only thing the folks from Phelps/ Atkinson didn’t alter was par, which remains at an old-school 70.
Among the more welcomed aesthetic changes are the redesign of the difficult 445-yard par-4 second hole, which was shortened slightly, but now plays as a dogleg-right around a huge fairway bunker and series of mounds that hide all but the roof of the maintenance building that was such an eyesore in the past, and the removal of the unsightly pump house that used to sit along the right side of the fairway on No. 5.
As part of the redesign, three new ponds were added, and the existing one enlarged, bringing water into play on seven holes – eight if you heel your drive on No. 2 as badly as I did.
The third hole, which was a 150-yard yawner in the past, now measures 200 yards from the back tees and plays over the enlarged pond to an angled and severely sloped green.
And the 429-yard, par-4 sixth now features a green protected right and rear by one of the new ponds. That same pond also serves as a visually intimidating menace on the all-new par-3 seventh, which features another narrow putting surface sinisterly angled between a pair of gaping greenside sand traps.
As promised, the architects maintained the integrity of Liberty Lake’s best par-4s, including the 436-yard ninth that now requires a carry of more than 210 yards from the back tees to clear another of the new ponds, which can also swallow up errant approach shots on the first hole.
The holes on the back nine play much like they did before, although the 12th and 14th now share an hourglass-shaped double green with bunkers on both sides of its “waist.”
The true exception is No. 18, a once-benign finishing hole that now features perils aplenty – including a new pond that guards almost the entire right side of a fairway that slopes toward the water. The pond is in play on the approach shot, making the 18th a fitting hole on which to cap a truly memorable golfing experience.
According to DeAndre, the small contingent of golfers who have been fortunate enough to get an early look at the redesigned course have been united in their praise.
“I’ve tried to put my biases aside and just really listen to the feedback,” he said, “and I can honestly say I haven’t heard one comment as to, ‘Gosh, this doesn’t make sense,’ or ‘Gee, I don’t like this.’ Most of us knew how good this golf course be if the right changes were made to it.
“And, as far as I’m concerned, the right changes were made.”
To which I can only add, “Cheers!”