By David Droschak
There’s something special about a son following in his father’s footsteps, or in the case of the Maples family its love affair with a special Virginia mountain retreat that now runs three generations deep.
Dan Maples remembers vividly his first job after graduating from the University of Georgia in landscape architecture, how he stayed close by father Ellis Maples, within earshot of every word during the elder’s building of the Olde Mill Resort golf course in 1972.
How ironic is it then that Dan Maples, 62, would get an opportunity to return to Laurel Fork, Va., over the last 18 months to restore and renovate one of his dad’s best layouts with son Bradley, who too is fresh out of college and diving head-first into the golf course architecture business?
It’s a rare opportunity for Dan Maples to help keep his father’s enormous design legacy intact at the 800-acre resort, and maintain subtle nuances at Olde Mill that other architects may have destroyed.
“Dad’s courses are such good, basic courses that you can throw a lot of money away working on one unless you know why certain things are there,” Dan Maples said. “It’s just like him being here with us. We can really massage one and take it to a different level.”
Maples also did an enhancement of his dad’s work at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina more than a decade ago, and the exclusive private club cracked the nation’s top 100 courses after it was completed.
“The stamp is the golf course, so you don’t want to go in there and change it,” he said of Olde Mill. “You want to go in there and improve things. There was one of my dad’s courses that shall go unnamed that wanted to change everything and when the architect they picked was finished they wished they had left it alone. Remodeling is a funny thing. It can be like taking your Rolls Royce to the Chevrolet place for service if you’re not careful.”
Maples was dealt a tricky set of marching orders when new owners came aboard at Olde Mill in 2007 and decided to improve the entire resort to the tune of $7 million. The veteran Pinehurst architect was instructed to make the golf course more playable for woman, senior and junior golfers, while having to add length to a course that was build 40 years ago and unable to withstand the latest equipment technology.
Maples pulled off the task with brilliance.
“One of the things that we wanted to do for the average player was to make this golf course a little more user-friendly,” said Hagen Giles, Olde Mill’s general manager. “But if you go back and play the back tees he’s made this thing a monster. Dan has taken it in both directions to accommodate the type of golfer you are.”
The facelift is nearly complete with Maples and his son still tinkering on some minor details, and finishing off a new 18th hole, which was converted from a par-5 to a long par-4.
The other major changes on the course have occurred on the tee shot and approach shot to the fifth hole, while Maples has offered golfers more risk-rewards on the ninth and 15th holes
“When Dan did No. 9 he was so thrilled I could see the chill bumps on his arms,” Giles said. “He said, ‘Hagen, we’ve got to go to No. 18 and make it just a spectacular as the front side.’ So we fixed what little problems that Ellis left, which weren’t many.”
On the 5th hole, Maples took out a bunker that used to wash out and some swampy area in front of the green and built a wall of boulders he unearthed on the property in front of a green that was already esthetically pleasing because of some sheer rock on the right side of the hole.
“It is one of the most beautiful holes in the state of Virginia now – absolutely gorgeous,” Giles said.
The restoration package by Maples and his son was total and all-encompassing. It included new carts paths where needed, 13 new bridges and the same sand used at Augusta National in all bunkers, which creates quite a white and green contrast against a mountain setting at 2,700 feet.