How this week’s PGA Tour venue has changed in an important way since its last close-up

Sherwood Country Club, site of this week’s Zozo Championship, is no stranger to the limelight.

Since opening in 1989, the Southern California course has hosted a robust slate of high-profile events, including the Shark Shootout, the Chevron World Challenge and the Showdown at Sherwood, a primetime televised match between Tiger Woods and David Duval that was won by Woods under the lights. The course, in short, has been there, done that frequently enough that many fans tuning in this weekend will see a layout that looks familiar to them.

Looks, however, can be deceiving.

Meet the new Sherwood: same routing as before, but a very different course than it was the last time it appeared on TV, as the stage for the senior circuit’s 2016 PowerShares QQQ Championship.

The Nicklaus Design team made big, eco-minded changes to Sherwood. getty images

That same year, Jack Nicklaus, the original architect at Sherwood, returned to carry out a $10.5 million renovation, a project meant to accommodate not only changes in the modern game but also the effects of a changing climate. 

Among the modifications were agronomic improvements designed to cut back dramatically on water use.

“It’s the old form follows function,” says Chris Cochran, senior design associate at Nicklaus Design, in which’s parent company has an ownership stake. “Our first job is to get the course to be sustainable and playable for the long term. After that, we get to have fun with the aesthetics.”

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Along with rebuilding greens, renovating and reposition bunkers, and sharpening sight-lines, Nicklaus and his team sand-capped the course to improve drainage and planted new drought-tolerant grasses that weren’t available when Sherwood was first constructed. In native areas dotted with California oak and sycamore trees, invasive grasses had encroached over the years. Those were removed, and replaced with California fescue. A more targeted irrigation system now ensures that the course gets water only where and when it really needs a drink.

The cumulative effect at Sherwood has been a 25 percent reduction in water use.

Timely when they were implemented, the changes seem especially prescient in 2020, a year that has seen California ravaged by wildfires while drought conditions intensify around the West. Though the environmental implications extend far beyond golf, few issues are more pressing for the future of the game.

“Best practices are always front and center of everything we do,” Cochran says. “It’s especially important in a place like Southern California, where water is so precious and water quality is so poor. You need growing conditions that can handle it. The goal is to be a responsible steward, even as you’re working to create a wonderful place to play.”

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