LEXINGTON, Ken. -- They say you can't go home again, but course architect Drew Rogers disagrees. A University of Kentucky product, Rogers presided here at May's reopening of Champion Trace Golf Club following a home-coming renovation that included a greens regrassing, bunker refinements, fairway alignments, collar and approach extensions, tree removal and drainage work.
Completed in 1987, Champion Trace took shape as Rogers was attending the University of Kentucky. "I watched it being built," said the architect, owner and principal of JDR Design Group (www.jdrewrogers.com). "I remember driving out to the site, sitting there and on a traditional black horse-farm fence and watching the design take shape, week by week. It honestly inspired my decision to pursue a career in course architecture."
In 2014, a new ownership group engaged Rogers to consult on the resuscitation of Champions Trace, which had played host to an NCAA Men's Championship, the U.S. Senior Amateur and multiple Kentucky Opens. He was the obvious choice: Upon graduation from UK, Rogers was hired by the man who designed it, Arthur Hills. Rogers would eventually become a partner in that firm, before forming his own practice in 2010.
"Champion Trace sparked my interest at the potential of possibly working for Arthur Hills, ultimately a relationship that spanned 19 years," Rogers said. "So, it was an honor to come back and play a role in fine-tuning the course with its new ownership. The greens were a big issue and I respect that the owners chose to address that need first and foremost. They re-grassed with V-8 bent -- the same variety we used at Old Elm in Chicago. But we also made a number of thoughtful and strategic adjustments around the greens to allow the original design vision to effectively evolve."
Champions Trace owner Evan Mossbarger said that "thoughtful" doesn't begin to describe Rogers' approach. "What I loved about Drew was, he made suggestions but he also really listened to us," he said. "It's my impression that most architects come and say, do this, do that. Drew had ideas, of course. But he listened to our ideas, too.
"For example, Drew gets the fact that we can't grow this game unless we make these courses fun to play. I don't want some 15-handicapper out there shooting 110. He's got to feel good about playing here -- and Drew made this happen. He made Champion Trace more fun for the double-digit handicapper. For the single-digit handicapper, well, he probably won't even notice the changes because they don't affect him at all."
While Rogers was the obvious choice to rework the design of his mentor, he has also developed a broader reputation as one of golf's most trusted interpreters of vintage design. Having completed work at the Harry Colt-designed Old Elm, in suburban Chicago, he is now refurbishing two Willie Park Jr. originals (Pine Lake CC in Detroit; Sylvania CC in Toledo) and the Donald Ross-designed Kenosha (Wis.) Country Club. At the same time, in Florida, Rogers is directing comprehensive renovation programs at prestigious modern clubs on the East Coast (The Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens) and West Coast (Quail West, Royal Poinciana, Wyndemere CC and Audubon CC).
But Kentucky is where all this began. He and Hills would renovate the University Club of Kentucky in 2001. Their 2003 design at The Club at Olde Stone, in Bowling Green, is considered by many to be the state's best. Rogers is currently engaged at nearby Andover Country Club, while simultaneously revamping the practice facilities out west at the Country Club of Paducah.
"It's always a pleasure to come back and work in Kentucky," Rogers said. "The May reopening at Champion Trace was a pretty big hoo-hah. They had Montgomery Gentry singing on the patio and a terrific barbecue. They recognized me for my contributions but also the original developer of Champion Trace, Tom Heilbron, who remains incredibly excited about what we're doing here. It was great to reconnect with him."
Champion Trace is a unique private club. The owners -- Evan Mossbarger and B. Frye -- also own/operate Keene Run Golf Club, a track in nearby Nicholasville that Rogers co-designed with Keith Foster in 2007.
Mossbarger and Frye have cannily combined these two private clubs under one management banner. In essence, when someone joins one club, they receive membership in both. The single entity is called Keene Trace.
"I guess my connection to Keene Run is another reason I was brought in to guide the Champion Trace renovation. They certainly know me well enough by now," Rogers said. "But I think they're onto something big with this double club. So much of the club management business today is predicated on reciprocal access to multiple clubs. It's an expectation club members bring to the table more and more. Keene Trace combines the amenities of two local clubs that would otherwise have been competing with one another."
"The two courses had been cannibalizing the membership pool," Mossbarger explained. "B. and I just decided to combine them so we weren't fighting each other. No one else does this around here. We just felt it was a really unique experience -- to join one club but have two courses available to you, continually, because we close one on Monday for maintenance and the other on Tuesday. We've developed a real synergy for the two memberships."