Kidd focuses on playability for bunker project at Tributary club

Golf Course Architecture  |  
April 2, 2024

David McLay Kidd has completed a bunker renovation at the Tributary club in Driggs, Idaho.

Formerly known as Huntsman Springs, Kidd originally designed the course in 2008 for billionaire Jon Huntsman. Its construction required a huge earthmoving effort, including moving around four million cubic yards of material, building 52 acres of wetlands and sandcapping the entire course.

“It was a major construction project, and after 15 summers and winters, the course has matured exceptionally well,” said Kidd. “The conditions have always been fantastic. Superintendent Guy Johnson has been there since the beginning, and he maintains incredibly good bentgrass greens, bluegrass fairways and fescue rough.”

New owners took over the club in 2017, bringing in a wealth of development experience and unveiling plans to enhance the luxury community in which the golf course is located. “Tributary has, like many, experienced the effects of the post-pandemic boom in golf,” said Kidd. “It has also seen more people wanting to buy a cabin the mountains. So, on the back of that success in real estate and golf, the ownership asked us if we could make improvements to the course.”

Kidd and Johnson identified the bunkers as the course’s weak link. The original build used sand sourced from nearby inland dunes on top of native gravel with a “lack of any sort of barrier in between”. This simple construction, combined with the region’s extreme hot and cold temperatures, led to stones coming up through the sand into the bunkers. Also, many bunkers had the bluegrass sod surrounds creeping into them, sometimes by several feet.

“The wind through the winter and summer months had scoured sand out of the bunkers or reshaped them,” said Kidd. “Sometimes we embraced those new shapes that nature had given us, and sometimes we didn’t. For our recent work, we took the opportunity to take a fresh look at the whole golf course and where bunkers were, where they weren’t and where they had grown in. The project has been a complete renovation, including the removal of some, adding new ones in, recutting every edge and installing Profile’s Flexterra solution for erosion control. Edges leading into bunkers have been cut back, returning bunkers to their original shape and making them easier to maintain.”

Tributary gave Kidd the brief of improving the conditioning and playability of bunkers, which he feels he has comprehensively achieved. “The course originally had around 150 bunkers, many of which had little strategic purpose other than the visual ‘ooh ah’ moment,” he said. “We took a couple dozen out, mainly the ones that were only penalising bad shots. And we made a few bunkers bigger… the ones that were guarding the tightest lines.”

The contractor, Ridgetop Golf, which has completed similar jobs recently, including at Bend Golf Club in Oregon – began construction in September 2023 and will finish outstanding tasks this spring. The course will reopen for its regular season in May 2024.

“We haven’t touched any other part of the layout… yet,” said Kidd. “Planning is underway on other adjustments and we’re also talking about building a Himalayas-style putting course and updating the practice facilities. Bunkers are the first step, but I don’t expect them to be the last. We’ll continue to improve this course. The club is garnering new members, selling real estate, and is really, finally hitting its stride.”

Kidd is expecting Tributary to receive a lot of attention once the course reopens, particularly as the private club is planning to host several events this year. Tributary remains a “sleeper”, according to Kidd, despite its high state rankings.

“The golf course has never been in better shape, never been more fun to play. It’s phenomenal,” said Kidd. “It’s a real sleeper because of its location, the fact that it is private and due to the seasons being so short in southeastern Idaho. It is consistently highly ranked, but very few people actually get to play it.

“I’m excited for more people to see it over the next couple of summers. It will surprise a few people. They will be shocked that it has been out here all this time, and they didn’t know about it.”