While words like risk, reward, options and playability were being tossed about, Country Meadows' Grant Abrams said the renovation of the Heritage Harbour Golf Course comes down to one word.
Abrams, an avid golfer who belongs to Heritage Harbour's Practice Plus program, said golfers of all levels will enjoy the upgrades to the course.
"It is more fun," he said. "The condition is way better because they've done a lot of work. Everything is green and the course definitely has risen to another tier. It's turned into a resort course."
Mark Bruce, the golf club's managing partner, said one goal of the renovation was to give those who play a sense of accomplishment instead of a sense of defeat.
Bruce said the number of sand bunkers on the course remains about the same as before the renovation, but he noted the total square footage of the bunkers is considerably less. The smaller bunkers, he said, makes it more efficient to maintain.
Many of the bunkers were moved to make their impact less penalizing, and in fact some actually were placed in spots to benefit the golfers.
"When this course first opened (as Stoneybrook in 2001), it was built to be dramatic," Bruce said in a May interview. "It had big, deep bunkers that would penalize the golfer for a bad shot. That doesn't bode well for common golfers."
On hole No. 13, bunkers were placed in front of a water hazard that used to collect any balls hit in that direction due to the slope. Now instead of losing a ball, and a shot, golfers can get out their sand wedge.
On No. 15, two bunkers were again placed in front of a lake that would collect bad shots.
"We wanted to keep players away from the water hazards and wetlands," Bruce said. "Keeping their ball in play makes for a better score."
In some cases, bunkers were moved to give golfers easier access to the green they were protecting.
"No. 8 used to have six bunkers around it," Bruce said. "Now it has two. You don't need six bunkers guarding a par 3. And if you wrap six bunkers around it, every Tom, Dick and Harry can't play it."
The course was closed May 2 to begin the renovation. Golf course architect Nick Campanelli, who designed the renovation, said his focus was on strategy and playability.
"This is not going to be a punishing design," he said in May.
Local golfers agree.
Heritage Harbour's Ken Apple said the more playable course would lead to faster play.
"The sand traps had been unplayable for years," he said. "I think that is the biggest difference."
Raymond Rivest, who lives alongside No. 14, said he finds the renovated course to be a little bit easier.
"I think it will accelerate play," he said.
East County's Jay Romine, a 15-handicap golfer, said he likes that they made it a bit easier by moving many of the bunkers.
"The bottom line is to have fun," he said. "You don't want to play a course that beats your brains in."
Romine is very pleased with the overall renovation.
"It gives you options, and it also speeds up the pace of play," he said. "I am amazed at how nice the fairways are. It nice to have a cushion under your ball."
Abrams, who is a low handicap golfer, said he appreciates the job that was done around the greens.
"Every green used to be elevated," he said. "If you missed on a lot of the greens, you would fall down into a waste area. Then you couldn't get up and down. Now it's more fair.
"And they did a great job of moving the bunkers. They put them in places where now they are risk/reward. The Par 5s are very gettable now, but you don't want to miss into one of those bunkers."
The fairways and greens on all 18 holes were redone. Bruce said crushed shell bunkers were added to the course to create character in the fairways. Tree trimming and removal provided proper sunlight and air circulation to keep the fairways and greens healthy.
The bunkers now have collars, another aesthetic touch.
"This was an intense 6 months," Bruce said.
Scott McBroom's Westscapes Golf Course Construction of St. Petersburg performed all the Earth moving and construction on the course.
While the course is now open again, efforts to develop a 15-acre section of the course into a resort hotel and villas continues. The project runs basically where the No. 1 and No. 2 holes used to run along River Heritage Boulevard and Heritage Green Way. Bruce is negotiating with potential hotel and villa builders. He anticipates those amenities to break ground as early as 2023 and open in 2025.
The approvals by Manatee County have been for a 100-room hotel and 74 villas.
Heritage Harbour Golf Club currently has approximately 100 members and Bruce said the goal is 300 members.
The public can play the course for a daily fee. Various memberships are also available. Seasonal memberships are available for snowbirds.
Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.