Renovations to the 18-hole golf course at the Tuxedo Park, N.Y. club, along with facilitated maintenance inputs, has
the property looking and playing its best.
As one of the oldest private facilities in America, The Tuxedo Club, in Tuxedo Park, N.Y. has a long and venerable history. Founded in 1886, the property has two campuses featuring two separate clubhouses, facilities for five distinct racquet sports, a swimming pool, boathouse, skating rink, and a Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed golf course built in 1957.
However, with no major renovations to the golf course since it opened, when construction of the New York Thruway required that the existing golf course be moved, the 18-hole layout was beginning to show its age.
Yet it was only fitting for the property, which originally introduced golf with a six-hole course in 1889, to have a course that suited its place in the game. After all, The Tuxedo Club is the place where a member first introduced the short-tailed dinner jacket, or tuxedo, to America, and it is the site of the country’s first inter-club match and the longest continuous interclub match in the nation.
In late May, the golf course reopened after golf course architect Rees Jones, who had been hired by the property in 2014 to create a master plan, and his Vice President and Senior Designer Bryce Swanson, led an extensive seven-month $2.2 million renovation of the property that Jones’ father originally designed.
“Overall, the bones of the golf course are still very much the same, but Rees Jones gave it a modern twist,” says Director of Agronomy Casey Klossner, who provided daily direction and oversight of the project.
Classic, Yet Modern
The objectives of the renovation were to restore the golf course to the original intent while modernizing the layout, giving the property a uniform look and feel, and to improve playability.
“Our goal was to make the best possible 18 holes we could on the property,” says General Manager Randy St. John, COO.
The Tuxedo Club had installed a new irrigation system in 2016, allowing the property to make the changes that the golf course needed.
“That was the first step in the renovation process,” says PGA Head Golf Professional Chris Muldoon, who has worked at The Tuxedo Club since 2011. “We had a single-row irrigation system since the 1970s or ’80s, and we have a multi-row irrigation system now. It’s largely three rows, but it’s not wall-to-wall.”
However, the impetus of the project was the condition of the bunkers, most of which were original to the 1957 design.
“Historically, the bunkers were a major complaint,” says Klossner, who joined the staff in 2013. “There’s no evidence of the bunkers ever being renovated in the history of the golf course. Some were about 100% rocks. They were contaminated, drained poorly, and their edges had broken down.”
The bunkers were repositioned and reimagined to make them relevant to the modern game, while restoring their character to the original Robert Trent Jones Sr. style.
“We removed some of the shorter ones and added them further down the hole to challenge low handicappers, but we still tried to keep higher handicappers in mind,” Muldoon says.
“It was rare that we put a bunker back in the same location,” adds Klossner.
The property also installed Better Billy Bunkers, adding new sand, new drainage, and new liners to improve playability. In addition, all of the edges and greens surrounds were resodded.
New greenside chipping areas provide more options for recovery shots, and the fairways were widened to tie them back to the bunkers and green complexes. New tee complexes also were constructed on Nos. 1, 2, and 6.
However, Klossner says one of the most important and most well-received renovations was the creation of a short-game practice area on the former ninth hole greens complex.
The short game area includes different bunkers, a large chipping area, rough, and short-cut turf.
“The new short game area is getting a lot of use,” Muldoon says. “It’s a nice area where people can get away. It’s close, but it has a feeling of seclusion.”
With the short game area occupying the former ninth hole, a new No. 9 was created as part of the project.
Klossner says everything, including the tees and the front of the fairway, was moved back on the ninth hole. A forward bunker and a USGA-spec green with different contours from the previous ninth green also were added.
“We only disturbed the ninth hole. It was the weakest hole on the golf course,” says Muldoon. “It gave us an opportunity to make the hole better and gave us a short-game area that was entirely lacking. It was a win-win for us.”
Other improvements included tree work, the creation of a new turf nursery, and changes to cart and walking paths for people with pushcarts. Of the property’s 17,000 rounds per year, St. John says about half of the golfers are walkers.
“It looks like a golf course from the 1920s. It has a classic, native feel to it, and it’s a great walk,” he adds. “The biggest hill is on the first hole, then it’s flat. It’s a gentle walk.”
The Tuxedo Club already is reaping the benefits of the renovations.
“There is a consistent look and feel throughout the property now,” says St. John. “It’s given us more options to set up for the modern game.”
New pin positions and angles can make the holes difficult, he adds, and golfers have to think their way around the course.
“It holds up to the best tournament players in the area, and this is only going to enhance that,” St. John says. “The course is playing great. It’s firm and fast.”
The renovations also enabled the property to improve drainage in the fairways and rough, as well as adjust the location of sprinkler heads.
“We increased the acreage of short-cut turf in areas where it made sense from a playability standpoint,” Klossner says. “We created berms with excess material to shield the shop.”
However, he adds, “I think the real conditioning and improvements will be shown next year.”
The renovations have changed the way the grounds crew maintains the golf course as well, and the new and improved inputs are probably most evident in the maintenance of the bunkers.
Before the renovations, Klossner says the grounds crew would spend two days trying to restore the bunkers after a torrential rain.
“The following day, we would close the golf course for half a day. The entire staff would be fixing bunker washouts on greenside bunkers. The next day, we would work on the fairway bunkers,” he says. “Other playing conditions would be sacrificed.”
However, after a few washouts in the spring, Klossner notes, “We just put the sand back, compacted it, and got back to business.”
On a daily basis, two people hand-rake the bunkers each morning, using the Aussie method with rolled faces and raked bottoms.
“It’s been a real pleasure seeing staff take pride and ownership in what they’re doing,” says Klossner.
If the golf course gets 2 inches of rain in two days now, however, the new and improved bunkers allow the staff to also tend to other needs, such as walk-mowing greens and changing cups.
The renovations also changed the square footages of the short-cut turf and increased the fairway acreage and the areas around the greens.
“All of our mowing lines have changed due to the construction and position of the new bunkers,” reports Klossner.
Staff members mow more often now. They mow the greens six or seven times a week or more, double cutting them for a tournament. They have continued to mow the tees three times a week as they did before the renovations, and they mow the fairways four times a week.
“We’re mowing fairways more often to keep them tighter,” notes Klossner.
After the renovations, however, he says the maintenance staff went through a learning curve to figure out how many people it takes to mow a surface.
Because of the trout stream that runs through the property, one aspect of golf course maintenance that has not changed is the staff’s attention to environmentally friendly inputs.
“We’ve always had that mentality at our property,” says Klossner.
Collaboration and Camaraderie
Another part of The Tuxedo Club mentality that Klossner, St. John, and Muldoon share is their ability to collaborate together as a team.
“I do not believe in silos. I believe in open, candid conversation,” says St. John.
Senior management meets twice a month, and St. John gets together with Klossner and Muldoon informally multiple times a week to discuss topics such as course setup to determine how to “put out the best product for our guests.”
Klossner and Muldoon began their working relationship when they worked together briefly at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., and Muldoon was on the search committee to find a new superintendent when Klossner was hired.
“We’re there to help each other and make sure members have a good golf experience,” says Klossner.
The two of them are in constant communication, usually through e-mail, but Klossner says they’ll call each other on the phone if necessary.
They set up events and make sure they are done quickly, efficiently, and under budget constraints.
“Casey and I are in contact on a daily basis,” Muldoon says. “We talk about cart path restrictions, outings, and I pass along feedback from members.”
They also discuss general golf course readiness as well as daily golf course preparation, and they prepare holes for shotgun starts.
Although they have a master calendar for events, Muldoon says, they still talk daily about them. Hosting almost every one of the Metropolitan Golf Association’s majors, The Tuxedo Club is the site of an impressive lineup of outings. The property is home to a pair of special tournaments—the 1894 Matches and the Quadrangular Team Matches—as well.
In 1894, the first interclub matches in the United States, were at The Tuxedo Club in a competition that also included Shinnecock Hills, The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and St. Andrews Golf Club in Westchester, N.Y.
When the matches were reinstated in the 1980s, Newport (R.I.) Country Club replaced St. Andrews. “It’s more camaraderie than competition,” reports Muldoon.
The Quadrangular Team Matches—the longest continuous match in the United States—are held the first Sunday in October every year, and they include Somerset Hills Country Club in Bernardsville, N.J., Morris County Golf Club in Morristown, N.J., and Rumson (N.J.) Country Club.
Klossner also has a good working relationship with St. John, along with the Board of Governors, Greens Committee, and Greens Committee Chairman.
The trio of St. John, Klossner, and Muldoon carried over their ability to work together seamlessly to the renovation project as well.
St. John was the facilitator of the team, making sure everyone had the management tools, money, and labor they needed. He coordinated meetings, worked with the architect and committees, and met with the team onsite every week or every couple of weeks.
Klossner, who has been involved with golf course renovation projects throughout his career, including one at Winged Foot Country Club, coordinated closely with Rees Jones Inc.
He ensured that the design features were executed properly, saw that the irrigation was in the proper location, and made sure the golf course could be maintained in the proper, but not necessarily the easiest, manner.
In addition, Klossner says, “My staff was responsible for adjustments to the irrigation system. We did it all in-house.”
Initially, the staff also did a lot of hand-watering to make sure the sod survived.
“It was a pleasure to work with the other professionals. We went through the project without any major issues,” adds Klossner.
Muldoon, who was in master plan meetings and committee meetings, also had a hands-on role in the project. However, he says, “Once we got into the project, none of us wanted to be an amateur architect. We let the experts in the field do their thing.”
While the architect had “carte blanche” on the project, notes Muldoon, The Tuxedo Club staff members felt free to express their opinion if they felt strongly about an issue.
He was there many days during construction, going out into the field and taking part in discussions about revisions to the project. As an indication of Jones’ commitment to the property, he also says the architect signed a copy of his father’s autobiography for every member of The Tuxedo Club.
Despite the number of racquet sports and other activities offered at the property, there is no mistaking the length of golf’s coattails at the facility.
“The golf course is the gateway to our club,” Klossner says.
He also believes the membership has had a favorable reaction to the renovations.
“It’s been really great to see people have that pride factor in their property,” says Klossner. “They’re anxious to see what’s next.”
Golf Course Operations
Annual Budget: $1.9 million
Staff: Nine fulltime and 13 part-time employees
Key Staff Members: Jeremy Oyer, Assistant Superintendent; Travis Garner, Assistant Superintendent; Daniel Rivera, Assistant in Training; and Annicq Groetsema, Equipment Manager
Irrigation System: Rain Bird, 2,000 heads
Water Source and Usage: Ponds; annual usage of between 12 and 14 million gallons
Equipment: Toro greens, tees and fairway mowers, rough unit, utility carts, and greens rollers all on lease. All other equipment is owned.
Technology: Rain Bird MI Series web-based control system for irrigation.
Maintenance Facility: We have two buildings. One is for equipment and chemical storage with a mechanics office and bathroom. The other building has a break room, two locker rooms, two bathrooms, three offices, and apartments on the second level.
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules: Aerify greens in the spring, summer and fall. Aerify tees, fairways, and approaches in the spring and fall.
Education and Training: Cornell University, Bachelor’s Degree in Turfgrass Science
Years at The Tuxedo Club: 9
Years in the Golf Course Maintenance Business: 23
Previous Employment: Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, N.Y. (West Course Superintendent); Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, N.Y. (Senior Assistant Superintendent)
Certifications: New York state commercial pesticide applicator
Honors and Awards: 2019 Metropolitan Golf Writers Club of the Year
The Tuxedo Club
Club Website: www.thetuxedoclub.org
No. of Holes: 18
Designer: Robert Trent Jones
No. of Members: 599
Year Opened: 1886
Golf Season: April 1 to December 1
Annual Rounds of Golf: 17,000
Fairways: Bentgrass/Poa Annua
Greens: Bentgrass/Poa Annua