A golf course renovation and restoration project at Tequesta Country Club propelled the storied Florida property into the 21st century, while still staying true to its illustrious past.
Tequesta (Fla.) Country Club might be the second-oldest club in northern Palm Beach County, but it’s always been first in the hearts of its members. From its venerable history to its wealth of natural assets, the Tequesta golf course has been a source of pride and pleasure for its membership for more than half a century.
The golf course officially opened on December 12, 1957, and the grand opening included an exhibition golf match played by Jack Kurtz, Tequesta’s first President; Arnold Palmer; Dow Finsterwald, the property’s original Head Golf Pro and a PGA Tour player who won the 1958 PGA Championship; and Truman Connell.
Tequesta Country Club
Location: Tequesta, Fla.
Even the best of properties, including Tequesta, begin to show their age over time, however. A variety of mutations had infiltrated the Bermudagrass on the golf course, and grass was struggling to grow underneath trees. In addition, golfers had to contend with mud balls because of the heavy buildup of organic matter that had occurred through the years.
Even with all of this, though, the need to replace an aging irrigation system—along with the desire to become a more sustainable property—is what ultimately prompted a complete renovation and restoration of the golf course last year.
“Tequesta was a jewel that could be improved and enhanced with a new design,” says General Manager Mark Badertscher, CCM.
The property put together a strategic plan for the process, which took about three years from start to finish. Of the many decisions to be made, however, one was easy—the selection of renowned golf course designer Tom Fazio II to head the renovation project. After all, as a member of Tequesta, Fazio knows every inch of the property.
Keeping the Past Alive
The project began in April 2013 with herbicide applications to kill the grass. The entire course and the old asphalt cart paths were rototilled with a highway asphalt grinder, which got construction underway on May 1. The project was completed July 15, and the course reopened on November 1.
One thing Fazio had no intention of destroying, however, was the “old Florida” feel of the original Dick Wilson design, which sits on a 10- to 12-foot ridge of natural white sand. Fortunately, he was able to draw on institutional knowledge to help him keep the design intact. A committee of longtime members—along with Tequesta’s second golf pro, Ed Ficker, whose tenure ran from 1965 until 2006—was formed to offer details about the golf course’s past appearance, so the design team could preserve its history.
“Four years ago we had a vision of what the golf course and the area should look like—and probably did originally,” reports Fazio. “One of the things I love about Tequesta is that it is definitely a step back in time. A lot of people want to try to modernize and change that. We embrace it.”
The redesign restored the original natural areas of the golf course with the same sand on which it was built. Blending the white sand with existing organic matter in the fairways and rough at a minimum depth of 16 inches helped to improve drainage.
“There was a layer of organic matter six to eight inches deep over native, pure white sand,” Fazio explains. “We wanted to blend the sand with the organic matter to create the perfect bedding material.
“Our main design goal was to exploit what we had underground,” he adds. “For a golf course designer, the golf course was sitting on ‘white gold.’ ”
Education and Training: Associate Degree from The Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute
Areas of rough that were not growing grass successfully were replaced with native vegetation, white sand, and pine needles. This helped the golf course maintain its “old Florida” ambiance, while also making it better prepared to follow contemporary water-conservation practices.
To determine the proper vegetation to plant, the design team relied on a case study that looked at the native species within a five-mile radius of the property when Tequesta redid all 18 greens, plus two practice greens, four years ago. The team tested the viability of 15 to 20 varieties of scrub plants on the golf course to determine how they would grow, and how irrigation would affect them. Only about seven of those plants were deemed successful and affordable enough, however, to make the final cut for inclusion on the course.
While restoring the property to its past glory was an important component of the Tequesta project, the ability to adopt sustainable, 21st-century maintenance practices was a vital consideration as well.
“The native areas shrink the overall footprint of the golf course, so we can use less water and make it more environmentally friendly,” says Badertscher.
And the new, state-of-the-art irrigation system will play a large role in Tequesta’s sustainability going forward.
This component of the project began with the reconstruction of the pump house and the replacement of the existing wet well, flume, pump station, and electrical components in 2012. The property installed the irrigation system—which includes high-density polyethylene pipe, integrated controls and a variable-frequency drive pumping system—in the summer of 2013. The three-row system, with half-heads along perimeter grass lines, features 995 total heads.
“We added 300 heads compared to the old irrigation system, but we’re using 25 percent less water,” notes Brian Sunderhaus, Tequesta’s Golf Course Superintendent.
The entire golf course was re-grassed with TifEagle Bermudagrass on the greens and Celebration Bermudagrass on the tees, fairways, and rough areas.
“The Board and the Greens and Grounds Committee thought that if we were going to change the irrigation system, we might as well change the grasses, too,” Badertscher reveals.
TifEagle, which can withstand lower mowing heights, frequent verticutting, and minimal irrigation, has been successful in south Florida. Celebration, a blue-green grass that tolerates many types of growing conditions, chokes out weeds by creating a more aggressive, tighter canopy than common Bermudagrass.
|Course & Grounds Profile
Tequesta Country Club
Annual C&G Budget: $1.2 million
“It’s an aggressive grass with good color,” Sunderhaus says of Celebration grass. “It recovers better from divots, and it handles cart traffic better than other varieties.”
The new grasses, Sunderhaus reports, will likely prompt changes in some maintenance practices in the summer, such as aerifying more aggressively and verticutting and topdressing more often.
The addition of native vegetation in out-of-play areas—which reduced the amount of managed turf at Tequesta from 100 to 77 acres—gives the grounds crew more time to maintain the areas that come into play. In addition, Sunderhaus says the crew no longer edges the bunkers or mows the faces, instead giving them a thick “eyebrow look” around the tops to enhance the natural feel of the golf course.
As part of the renovation, low-maintenance trees also replaced high-maintenance trees, including any palm trees that were not self-pruning, and mulch supplanted pine needles on the property. The fairways, tees, greens, rough, and bunkers were regraded, and bunkers that had deteriorated through the years were reshaped. Some ponds were expanded, but not brought into play.
Tequesta’s grounds crew became well-acquainted with the renovated golf course during the construction process. Other than irrigation installation, grassing, and landscaping, the club’s maintenance staff performed all of the golf course renovation and restoration work in-house. Sunderhaus’ staff—which includes an assistant superintendent, an equipment manager and 14 crew members—built bunkers, drove dump trucks, and ran excavators.
“It was great,” reveals Sunderhaus. “[The crew] got good experience using their hands and running the equipment. It helped them build and develop a greater sense of pride in their work. We wanted to elevate our maintenance standards in the first place, and now they pay a little extra attention to details.”
Sunderhaus met with Fazio every morning during construction to go over the game plan for the day. “We were the guys on the ground,” he says. “We talked about things from a maintenance standpoint, and Tom took that into consideration.”
Head Golf Professional Chris Hayes was involved in the renovation process as well, attending all of the committee meetings during the project, including preliminary meetings to discuss the vision for the plan.
“I was looking at things from an average member’s point of view,” says Hayes, only the third golf pro in Tequesta’s 57-year history. “We have a lot of expert players at our course, but I was trying to keep the interests of the larger membership as a whole in mind.”
The Play’s the Thing
Tequesta’s course was never “tricked up” with a lot of hazards, Hayes says. Still, it was important to keep the golf course fun and playable for high-handicap golfers, while also challenging the PGA Tour and mini-tour professionals who regularly play the course.
Apparently, the design team aced that objective. While Hayes has been part of countless renovation projects during his 20-plus years in golf, he reports that “this is the first time I’ve had unanimous, positive feedback” about a project.
The Tequesta members “got their old course,” he adds, “but it’s got some continuity and flow to it now.”
The course now offers new design features that penalize or reward aggressive shots and give golfers different strategic options—an essential element for the property to thrive and grow, those involved with the project say. “If we didn’t start doing things to attract younger members, then the club was in danger of cannibalizing itself,” Fazio believes.
Fazio redesigned several holes, and three of the four par 3s were almost completely redone. Some of the greens, particularly on holes that were lengthened, underwent changes to accommodate new pin placements that require more strategy. The property now has a modern, short-game practice facility as well.
Hayes calls the membership a “special group” that enjoys spending time at Tequesta. “They really love their club. They take great pride in it,” he says. Of course, Tequesta’s management wants the membership to feel pride in the property whether or not a major project is underway. And from the Board and committee members to the staff, teamwork is a big part of those efforts.
“Brian [Sunderhaus] and I work together on a daily basis, from day-to-day operations to calendar events, to make sure everything flows smoothly,” says Hayes. “We discuss long-term plans and golf course setup for tournaments and daily play.”
The department heads also meet every Wednesday to discuss the upcoming week, and Sunderhaus says he’s in constant contact with Badertscher and Hayes. “Everyone is just a phone call away,” he says. “Everybody has the same goals.”
Since the renovation was completed, Tequesta has enjoyed benefits in all aspects of its operation, its managers report. Membership sales exceeded yearly projections in the first two months after the golf course reopened, and water usage has declined by 100,000 gallons a day.
With a higher handicap rating and a lower slope rating after the renovation, the difficulty of the golf course increased for golfers with lower handicaps and decreased for those with high handicaps—one of Fazio’s main goals.
And, while the golf course was closed for six months during the project, Tequesta’s social life remained strong. “Golf is one of many amenities that we have, but it draws new members and helps build camaraderie among the membership,” says Badertscher.
Sunderhaus and Hayes agree. “It’s not a complicated place,” Hayes adds. “We try to provide the members with the services and amenities that they want.”