A carefully considered plan of action is critical to achieving first-rate results for golf course renovation or restoration projects.
First of a two-part article
Whether a golf course renovation project involves a comprehensive renovation of an entire course (or two), restoring a property to its past grandeur, or overhauling a specific golf course feature such as bunkering, properties need to invest months of sweat equity—as well as commitments for needed capital and management/member support—into the tasks at hand. Otherwise, the final results have little chance of success. But of all of the needed components for a proper result, perhaps the most critical hinges on research and input from the property’s golf course maintenance team, to help devise a well-planned course of action from the start.
|SUMMING IT UP
• The need for extensive golf course renovations—including regrassing, returning properties to their original designs, and restoring bunkers—can result from the passage of time as well as wear and tear on a facility.
• The success of any renovation or restoration project requires careful planning.
• Consulting colleagues who have been through similar projects, and conducting new, project-specific research, are the two most important steps superintendents should take as the planning process begins.
Director of Agronomy Tim Hiers recently helped The Club at Mediterra, a 36-hole private facility in Naples, Fla., make history with a $16 million re-grass and renovation of its North and South courses. With the completion of the project, Mediterra became the world’s first 36-hole, private, Audubon International-certified Silver Signature Sanctuary to re-grass with Platinum TE paspalum turfgrass. The regrassing of the Tom Fazio-designed courses included the tees, fairways, and rough areas, with Fazio helping to supervise the renovations as well.
The project at Mediterra began in 2015, and in May of that year, the property approached Hiers about joining the staff to help lead the renovation efforts, which also included new bunkers and a new irrigation system. Hiers has more than 40 years of experience in agronomy and golf course maintenance, and he recently won the USGA Green Section Award, which recognizes the recipient’s service to golf through his or her work with turfgrass, including research, maintenance, and other areas that have a positive effect on the golf landscape.
The planning of the renovation project at Mediterra, as well as the installation of a new irrigation system at one of its golf courses, had been completed by the time Hiers came on board. However, he has worked on renovation projects at other properties, in a career that has included agronomy and golf course maintenance positions at clubs including John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla., Quail Ridge Country Club in Boynton Beach, Fla., and Collier’s Reserve Country Club and Old Collier Golf Club in Naples, Fla.
Mediterra recruited Hiers because of his knowledge of paspalum grass (he helped to develop the Platinum TE variety), his experience with the climate and water conditions of south Florida’s west coast, and his leadership skills. For the Mediterra project, he oversaw the regrassing and bunker reconstruction of both golf courses, and an irrigation project on one golf course.
The Mediterra course renovations have improved the quality of play while also investing in the health of areas devoted to maintaining a wildlife sanctuary (the community offers more than 1,000 acres of open space, parks, and nature preserves). The South Course renovations were finished in 2015, while the North Course project was completed in 2016.
According to Hiers, however, Mediterra still plans to make more improvements to the property. The additional upgrades will include more drainage work, the replacement of some turf areas with indigenous plants, and renovations of the maintenance facility. Hiers expects to be heavily involved with the planning aspects for all of these projects.
“I will work with our greens committee and committee chairman to develop these strategies under my guidance,” he explains. “When completed, they will be submitted to the general manager and Board for approval. I will then solicit experts and contractors in each discipline, to ensure the plans are functional and budgeted properly. These projects will begin on a minor scale after August 1 of 2018, but will not begin in full until 2019-2020.”
Restoring a Treasure
At Kenosha (Wis.) Country Club, which features a 1921 Donald Ross golf course (one of only two Ross-designed courses in the state), the maintenance staff is in the process of restoring the property’s 18-hole golf course. Kenosha CC was founded in 1898 and moved to its current location in 1920, when Ross was commissioned to design 18 holes along the Pike River, a mile inland from Lake Michigan.
Over the years, however, the property had become overplanted with trees, which changed fairway and tee alignments, and bunkers had been grassed over and taken out of play. Like many 100-year-old greens, Kenosha’s have shrunk over time, and strategic interest had been lost through the decades. In addition, the smaller putting surfaces had become “uncuppable.” While original features of the golf course were still recognizable, they had slipped into disuse.
|Tips for Planning Golf Course Renovation or Restoration Projects
• Consult with other superintendents who have worked on similar projects.
• Find out everything you can about the original design of the golf course.
• Do your homework to find the right architect and contractors.
• Hire contractors who are easy to work with and can be trusted to start and finish on time and on budget.
• Communicate, communicate, communicate—both internally to staff as well as to members and other important outside parties.
• Prepare physically and mentally for what’s ahead.
• Don’t ever assume anything.
Paul Bastron, CGCS, arrived to be Kenosha’s Golf Course Superintendent in 2014, and the planning process for the restoration began that year and continued into early 2015. Bastron and golf course architect Drew Rogers took a leading role in the planning process and developed a master plan. As part of their joint effort, they determined the new locations of the tees and bunkers, and planned the tree-removal process.
“It’s a work in progress, and we hope a lot of it is finished in two years,” Bastron said as 2018 began. “I knew this was an old Donald Ross golf course, and I was excited to get involved with the restoration and planning.”
The restoration project includes expanding the greens and fairways to their original sizes and shapes, restoring bunkering, removing a significant number of trees, setting up new tee placements, redesigning the irrigation system layout, and permitting for several bridge relocations. The project, which is being done in phases, also features multiple fairway and approach realignments. In addition, surface reclamations and greens-collar expansions will affect all 18 putting surfaces, and bunkering has been taken out because of tree plantings.
“Even though the bunkering had been grassed over,” Bastron notes, “the mounding and depressions are still intact.”
Properties can make significant investments in upgrades to a single golf course feature as well. In September 2017, for example, Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club in Gold Canyon, Ariz., completed a five-month, $2.2 million renovation of all 180 bunkers on its two Jack Nicklaus-designed, 18-hole golf courses.
The bunker renovation was the second large-scale project that Superstition Mountain’s Director of Agronomy and Maintenance, Scott Krout, who also was involved with the original course design and construction in 1997, has undertaken at the property.
“The golf courses are 20 years old,” Krout says. “Over the years, the bunker sand deteriorates through time with dust contamination and silt and rain. The sand gets packed down and [becomes] hard to maintain.”
Because the entire property was built on a rock field, the maintenance crew battled rock contamination in the bunkers on a nonstop, daily basis, and it was difficult to keep a nice edge around the bunkers and maintain their shape.
Krout had an integral role in the planning process for the bunker project from the beginning. General Manager Mark Gurnow was also involved extensively in the planning and bidding process before the project got underway.
“Our bunkers are very integral to the design and playability of our golf courses,” Krout reports. “I had to look at it from both a playability and maintenance standpoint; I had to make sure it would last.”
While the project officially broke ground in April 2017, Krout notes, planning for the renovation began more than a year earlier, through a process that included many meetings with members of the Hladky family, which owns the property.
After receiving the go-ahead to pursue the renovation, members of the Superstition Mountain staff worked with Phil Smith Design and Nicklaus Design to evaluate all of the bunkers and their surrounding slopes on both golf courses. They also identified the landscape that would require adjustments for optimal playability and views.
In addition, after personally reviewing each bunker blueprint, Jack Nicklaus gave his approval or recommended alterations before breaking ground. “We needed to have his input to maintain the [bunkers’] integrity,” Krout says.
Talking It Up
Despite his extensive experience with golf course renovations, Hiers, who has focused on maintaining environmentally friendly golf courses throughout his career, doesn’t hesitate to make sure he always consults with other superintendents who have worked on similar projects.
“Ask them what they would do differently and what they learned,” he advises. “Being smart isn’t enough.”
Krout agrees. Before the bunker renovations at Superstition Mountain got underway, he asked other superintendents in the area which contractors they had used, and probed into what had worked and what didn’t.
“I got the opinions of other people I respect in the business,” Krout reports. “In our business, the best research we can do is talking to fellow superintendents who’ve gone through this process. They’ll tell you how it’s worked, how it’s holding up, and how golfers have received it.”
From groundbreaking to the project’s completion, the Superstition Mountain staff and membership were kept informed with weekly e-newsletters, and a dedicated website page tracked the progress of the bunker renovations with weekly project summaries and photographs.
The open communication reduced frustration and made the staff and members feel like part of the project, Krout reports.“The website was received very well,” he says. “A lot of our members aren’t here in the summer, but they could see what was going on from their homes in the Midwest.”
Doing Your Homework
Before the first shovel of earth is turned, however, superintendents need to conduct project-specific research, in addition to talking to their peers. As part of their research before the Kenosha CC restoration got underway, Bastron and Rogers secured the original Ross routing plans from the Tufts Archive in Pinehurst, N.C., as well as aerial photography of the course dating from 1937.
When they saw the original plans, they realized the strategy that Ross had originally designed into many of the golf holes had been completely lost when the tees had been moved. Trees had been planted on both sides of the fairways, further negating the strategic intent of the holes.
Once the figures have been compiled, the team members are in place, and a game plan has been established, there is one more vital component to getting a major golf course renovation project off on the right foot. “Prepare physically and mentally,” Hiers recommends. “The hours are long and hard—but it’s worth it when the dust clears.”
(Part Two of this article, focusing on the execution of course renovations, will appear in the August 2018 issue of C&RB.)