The golf course, which was purchased by Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, N.J., last year, had been closed since 2015, and 50% of the putting surfaces had died. After a year of revitalization efforts, the golf course reopened on May 2, along with extensive renovations to the clubhouse.
After being closed in 2015 and 2016, 50 percent of the putting surfaces at Great Gorge at Mountain Creek in Vernon, N.J., had died, weeds grew like bean stalks around the bunkers and the course was strewn with brush and vastly overgrown, the Newton-based New Jersey Herald reported.
Now, a little more than one year since Mountain Creek Resort purchased the golf course, much of the charm of the George Fazio design that was built in 1970 to accompany the Great Gorge Playboy Club has been restored, the Herald reported.
“A lot of times we hear of golf courses closing and then being developed,” said Brad Sparta, who served as Superintendent before becoming General Manager in mid-July. “In the golf industry, you don’t ever really hear about a golf course closing for a time and then open up as a golf course again. I think it’s a real good feel-good story for the area.
“Industry-wide, golf has been on the decline, but this hopefully starts some revitalization for golf locally, as well,” Sparta said.
The task of getting the course back in working order was a daunting one. Before the course was acquired, a skeleton crew had mowed the fairways, teeing areas and greens to make sure the course did not become a fallow field. Everything was maintained at twice the necessary growing height for playing golf, and it took two aggressive months of maintenance beginning last September to knock it down to playing height, the Herald reported.
“There were times I drove around the golf course with my father in the fall, and my dad said, ‘What are you thinking coming in to try and do this job?'” said Sparta, who worked at Great Gorge from 1989-1996 before moving to other courses in the area. “It was a task. It was a challenge. But I was able to have good guys working for me and they continue to work hard and clean areas up.”
The greens were aerated twice last fall and two more times this past spring. Rather than traditional aeration, the Great Gorge maintenance crews dragged the plugs across the greens to spread the poa seed into the soil. For the roughly 20 maintenance crew members this year, the focus has solely been on getting all of the fairways, greens, tee-boxes and surrounding areas into great playing condition, the Herald reported.
The course reopened on May 2 with extensive renovations to the clubhouse, including a new horseshoe bar inspired by the mining history in the area. And the work continued outside on the golf course, where 15 bunkers were reconstructed across the golf course throughout the season, the Herald reported.
“A lot of it in the last two years has been the encroachment of trees and weeds and everything moving into the golf course surrounds, for the most part,” superintendent Dave Brubaker said. “We’ve also done some bunker renovations. The bunkers had weeds in them 5 or 6 feet high.”
Brubaker, who has spent more than 30 years helping maintain the course, was welcomed back in March to help with the re-opening efforts. He credited the Koffman family, which owns Mountain Creek, for helping provide the resources to make a restoration possible, and Sparta for giving him that opportunity, the Herald reported.
“I owe it to him (Sparta) for bringing me back, especially at my age,” Brubaker said. “He knows how much I love this property after the years that I’ve been here.”
Sparta, who remembers scooping up golf balls off the course as a kid, has reveled in the opportunity to try and bring back some of the course’s past mystique, the Herald reported.
With the maintenance efforts on the golf course under wraps, club management has shifted its focus to trying to spark the interest of the golfing public. Rounds have grown from 300 in the month of May to 2,500 in the month of August, largely by word of mouth. Advertising efforts have heightened over the last few months, the Herald reported.
The course did not host any outings this season, but will be looking to grow in that regard next year. They are also hoping to spur interest of a membership base at the club, the Herald reported.
Maintenance crews will continue working on the bunkers until 2019. The outdated irrigation system is intended to be replaced in two years time as well, finally opening the door for long-awaited cart paths to be installed, the Herald reported.
“To come back and be able to manage this place, I don’t want to sound sentimental, but it really is a dream come true,” Sparta said. “It’s something I really enjoy doing, but more importantly as a tax-payer in Vernon, you want to see a property like this survive and thrive.”
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