Carmel CC turned a major disruption of its South Course into a striking renovation that not only features a neoclassic design by Rees Jones but has changed the property’s maintenance practices—and the way its golfers play the game.
By Betsy Gilliland, Contributing Editor
At most golf course facilities, installation of a 7,000-linear-foot, six-foot-diameter municipal sewer line that had to run 25 feet underground through the length of the property would be a major headache. At Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., that problem was seen as an opportunity for a complete overhaul of its 18-hole South Course.
Because the sewer line project was going to shut it down anyway, the disruption offered the perfect chance to upgrade the South Course’s design, notes Certified Golf Course Superintendent Bill Anderson, Carmel’s Director of Greens and Grounds. After approval to renovate the course was given, however, there was one more decision to make.
“The choice was to renovate small—or renovate big,” says John Schultz, CCM, Carmel’s General Manager.
Rather than merely adding some shaping to the course, rebuilding the greens and replacing cart paths for $5 million, Schultz reports, Carmel decided to go big. The club, which had first approached renowned architect Rees Jones about renovating the course in 2005, decided to give him carte blanche to essentially build a new course on top of the former layout.
“We decided to make it special, rather than just enhancing what we had,” Schultz reveals.
Ground was broken on the 18-month, $9 million project in October 2009, and it became the largest golf course renovation in the country in 2010. More than 200,000 cubic yards of soil were moved, and a total of 478 semi-truckloads of sod were laid everywhere except the greens.
When the neoclassical design reopened for play this spring, golfers found new bunkering, significantly increased grading, contoured fairways, square tees and open entrances to the greens. Grassed areas were increased from 143 acres to 157 acres. Some holes had been eliminated, while others were created on 14 undeveloped acres, to extend the layout by about 500 yards. Holes 1 and 18 were reversed, to take advantage of a new clubhouse terrace. Hundreds of trees were removed, and new ornamental and native grasses were planted.
Carmel CC General Manager
John Schultz (left) and Director
of Golf Jeff Nichols (below)
worked closely with the club’s
Course & Grounds staff to
plan, execute and keep each
other, and members, apprised
on the progress of what ranked
as the largest course
renovationprojectin the U.S. last year.
Fairways were dropped and landing areas were elevated on holes along McAlpine Creek, which runs through the property. A new irrigation system with more than 2,500 individually controlled sprinklers and an extensive drainage system was installed, to help maximize playability in all seasons, and all weather conditions. The end result is a golf course that players of all abilities can enjoy.
“You have a golf course that gives you options on every shot,” explains Jones. “You have options depending on what you did off the tee, depending on what tees you play, and depending on where the hole location is. This is going to be a very changeable golf course season-wise and wind-wise, and in cold and warm weather. This is a golf course that will be of never-ending pleasure.”
Anderson says the course is drier now after a rainstorm, and the new irrigation system allows the grounds crew to keep the turf healthy without over-watering.
“We also have newer high-tech, high-performance grasses that were not available 20 years ago,” he adds. “Golfers like the way the ball sits on these grasses. It’s almost like hitting off a tee.”
No Substitute for Experience
Anderson, who collaborated with Jones on reconstruction of the South Course tees, greens and fairway bunkers in the 1980s, worked closely with the architect and his team on the new project as well.
“Bill was integral as the project manager. He represented Carmel Country Club with the contractors on a daily basis,” says Schultz. “This project was exceptionally smooth in dealing with the contractors, because Bill took such an active role in coordinating their activities on a weekly basis. We also had to work with the city on installing the sewer line, and there was not a single dispute between any of the major subcontractors.”
As a member of the South Course Renovation Committee, Anderson, who has been in his position at Carmel since 1975, was involved heavily in the year-long process of planning, permitting, writing documents and getting them approved before the project got underway. He also drew on his experience with the previous reconstruction project.
“It’s a lot different in the field than just writing the specs,” Anderson reports. “During the construction process, I was the club representative in the field with the contractor and the architect. We had to make an endless number of small but important decisions, and continually make adjustments and solve problems to keep the process moving.
“We were on a tight schedule to get the grass down in time for the growing weather,” Anderson adds. “If you lose that window of growing weather, then you have to wait a year to get it back.”
Playability for golfers of all abilities was the primary goal of the renovation, notes Director of Golf Jeff Nichols, but some were concerned that the additional length of the course—which now measures 7,500 yards—would make it too hard for high handicappers. To alleviate those fears, the staff took members on daily tours of the project during construction.
“It was exciting for them, and we wanted them to be comfortable as the golf course was being built,” Nichols reports. “We could show them where they would be playing from. We have more high handicappers than low, and they could see that everyone’s demands were being met.”
Carmel also made a decision early during the renovation project to find ways to regularly give positive feedback to the people who were building the course. From offering workers golf balls and hats
“When the course was closed, we took the opportunity
to analyze what we were doing, and changed some
of our golf operations and practices.”
—John Schultz, CCM, General Manager, Carmel Country Club
with logos to taking them out to dinner, the facility showed its appreciation to the individual construction crews each month.
“Properties often wait until the project is finished to have a cookout and let everyone who helped build the course play a round of golf,” explains Schultz. “But by then, so many of them are already gone.”
Rethinking the Approach
After the South Course reopened this past March to rave reviews from golfers, Carmel’s golf operations instituted new practices designed to help keep the layout in top condition.
“When the course was closed, we took the opportunity to analyze what we were doing, and changed some of our golf operations and practices,” says Schultz.
The golf operations staff used that time to revamp tee times, play and tournaments. “Instead of having shotgun starts four days a week, we reduced them so the maintenance staff could get out ahead of the players, instead of working around them,” Schultz reports.
Carmel created a new bag drop and cart-staging area and added 50 new parking spaces “to enhance the experience as members arrive,” he adds. The property also set up computer stations in some of these areas and at the new turn rooms, so the staff will know which golfers are approaching.
With a $500,000 increase to its budget, the greens and grounds department benefited from the operational analysis as well. The grounds crew now mows the grass more frequently and the staff also spends more time maintaining the bunkers, which feature G-angle sand that decreases plugged lies and makes them more player-friendly.
“The bunkers are more striking, but they take more time, more people, more edging, more raking,” says Anderson. “We had to allocate more dollars to bunker maintenance—but since we got more money from the Board, we didn’t have to cut back anywhere else.”
To take advantage of a new clubhouse terrace, holes 1 and 18 were reversed in the
renovation.Because of the added demands from the makeover, Carmel CC’s annual
course maintenance budget was increased by $500,000. “We had something that we
thought was a gem, and we wanted to take care of it,” says GM John Schultz.
The new irrigation system, which Anderson selected, allows the crew to water the course more efficiently. “Some of the heads just water the faces and sand of the bunkers, and it keeps the moisture in the sand perfect,” he reports. “Or we can just water the fairways or the rough.”
The renovated South Course became only the second in the Carolinas to feature Zeon Zoysia grass, which was installed on the fairways, collars and chipping areas. The zoysia creates a nice color contrast with the Celebration Bermudagrass in the rough, Anderson notes, but the crew has to sharpen the mowers more frequently because of the zoysia.
Not that anyone is complaining about the new maintenance practices. “We had something that we thought was a gem, and we wanted to take care of it,” says Schultz. “It’s the little things that make a difference in the condition.”
Leading to Bigger Things
While play at Carmel used to be divided equally between the North and South courses, Schultz reports, now usage is heavier on the South Course, which gives shot makers a variety of ways to play each hole.
“The greens are relatively low to grade, so it gives the golfers options,” explains Anderson. “You don’t have to fly every shot over a feature or low area to get to the green. We used sand from the bunkers that were previously in front of every green to give a firmer, drier, more shot-friendly approach, and you can bounce the ball to the green. There might be a bunker on one side of the green, but it’s clear on the other side. The design is asking you to create the shot you’re most comfortable with.”
Schultz agrees. “There are multiple shot options,” he adds. “We brought back the ground game. Instead of hitting up to areas that will hold, a golfer can land the ball in areas in front around the greens that you can putt through and get the ball close.”
The 18-hole North Course, which still features a lot of front bunkering, requires golfers to play an air game, Nichols adds. However, he continues, the new South Course lets golfers use their creativity, from hitting a flop shot to a bump-and-run from the bailout areas.
“If you miss a green, now you can take your entire bag to the spot and decide what you want to play,” he adds.
The walkable course also includes a new lake and other aesthetics, and the ups and downs on the new fairways create more movement and more interest.
“People ask me if the South Course has a signature hole,” Jones says. “I tell them that every hole is unique; they combine to create a signature golf course.”
Carmel was the site of the 2006 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, and Schultz says the club is now starting to receive inquiries from the PGA and the USGA about holding bigger events at the property. But while the added length of the renovated South Course could attract major tournaments, Schultz is taking things a step at a time. “We want to wait and see how that fits into our mission for Carmel,” he says.
Anderson believes that all of Carmel’s amenities benefit from having a challenging, well-maintained golf course.
“Carmel is a large country club where swimming, tennis, social activities and dining are all important,” Nichols agrees. “But we’ve picked up 88 new members since the beginning of the year, and golf is of the highest importance to them. We have two different types of golf courses now, and that has been an asset.”
Schultz concurs. “Golf is the main reason that members join country clubs,” he says. “Other amenities are becoming more important, and the social element is a major driver. But it’s still about golf.”