Lester George of George Golf Design completed a 2002 restoration of the historic Charles Banks-designed Cavalier Golf and Yacht Club, originally opened in 1929. While doing historical research for documentation of the original golf course design, George discovered an original sketch of Banks' routing and used that as a guide to the restoration. The restoration of the green complexes was a strict replica of the original designs, but no historical record of the original bunker designs could be found - until recently.
"We tried to find aerial photos, or any kind of evidence in the way of plans or ground photographs taken on the original course," said George. "No reliable evidence prior to 1970 could be found. We finally found an aerial photo in a museum that was listed as 'Cavalier,' but it ended up being a mislabeled aerial of the golf club across the bay."
"During the 2002 restoration, we had Charles Banks' hand-drawn master plan showing green and bunker locations, but we had no photographs to confirm what was actually built," said George. "The routing did, however, indicate that as many as 14 of the greens were still on Banks' original grades."
In George's restoration, those 14 original greens were cored out and rebuilt with a minimum amount of disturbance so as not to alter the 80-year-old contours, green surrounds and quirky walk-offs that remained close to the original routing after nearly a century.
When Cavalier reopened, it had a waiting list for membership for the first time in decades. George Golf Design continued to have a relationship with Cavalier Golf and Yacht Club following the renovation, consulting with club leadership as development surrounding the course continued to change. George never gave up hope of finding further historical documentation of the course.
In a stroke of luck, several years after the 2002 restoration, George ended up talking about his search for historic photos of Cavalier with an ex-government employee, Craig Disher, who worked as a photographic interpreter. Disher did some digging and managed to find a 1937 aerial photo in the National Archives that shows the bunkers as they were presumably built in 1929.
"Craig had access to photographs no one else could find, and I'm so thankful he took the time to search for a photo of Cavalier," said George. "Once he found the photograph, I framed it and took it to the club to surprise them with it. They were thrilled to have this evidence of the original design! When the time came to renovate the bunkers and install a modern drainage system, Cavalier decided to do a full bunker restoration to match the original design depicted on the 1937 photograph. This aerial photo was the guiding document for historical accuracy."
The bunker renovation is reducing the amount of bunkers on golf course by approx. 47,000 square feet - down to 85,000 from 132,000. The construction of the bunker renovation is being performed by Landscapes Unlimited, who also performed George's first renovation at Cavalier.
"We are proud of the Charles Banks heritage of Cavalier Golf and Yacht Club. After working for years with Lester, we knew he would be able to address all of our needs at once. We wanted to reduce our bunker square footage, create a more sustainable maintenance program, and retain our tradition of having a fun and playable Charles Banks golf course for our members," said General Manager John Milleson. "Lester is one of the leading architects in the country in restoring the works of Macdonald, Raynor, and Banks. His work here at Cavalier Golf & Yacht Club, as well as his seminal work restoring The Old White at The Greenbrier, has created a new level of expectation for clubs looking to restore these exceptional courses."
Golf writer and historian Anthony Pioppi said of the course, "Cavalier is unmistakably a Charles Banks golf course. It possesses the bold features that are a trademark of his style. The routing flows with the land and his holes test and beguile all levels of golfers. The sum total is that Banks produced an eminently enjoyable layout here. Lester George's ongoing work at Cavalier will restore the original intent of Charles Banks. George grasps the tenets of sound course design that guided Banks and Banks' mentor, Seth Raynor. The results will be nothing short of stellar."
"Historical records are integral to successful golf course restorations. It's exciting that this photographic evidence has enabled us to restore the golf course at Cavalier Golf and Yacht Club to Charles Banks original intent while meeting the modern needs of the membership and club," said George.
About Lester George
A Board member of the esteemed American Society of Golf Course Architects, internationally renowned golf course architect, Lester George, has quite a versatile resume. In addition to his award-winning new course designs, has developed a niche in renovating and restoring classic golf courses designed by some of the most revered golden age architects. He has worked on everything from plains to steep, rocky terrain to brownfield and environmentally challenging sites, including a course under which thousands of unexploded bombs were discovered once excavation began - and he has become somewhat of a master at designing practice facilities that offer a realistic experience for golfers. George's Kinloch Golf Club is the highest ranked golf course in the history of Virginia, having won countless awards. Ballyhack Golf Club is rated # 7 in the state by Golf Digest and was on several top ten Best New Course lists. The Old White Course at The Greenbrier was honored as Golf Digest's Best New Remodel and now hosts a PGA Tour event; the James River Course at The Country Club of Virginia was the #5 Best New Remodel; and Willow Oaks Country Club was one of Golf Digests' Best New Remodels of 2009. Most recently, Lester's renovation of Independence Golf Club was listed as one of Golf Digest's Top 10 Best Remodels of 2015.
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