By developing a prudent master plan, assembling a strong team, and garnering support from their memberships, superintendents can help keep golf course capital projects on track.
Sometimes, trying to fix one thing can lead to multiple changes. From aging bunkers to the need for a basic facelift, any number of reasons may prompt a club or golf course property to undertake a capital project, and then to alter it as it takes shape. When this happens, superintendents need to be flexible and prepared to adjust and expand their roles as needed, too.
Laying the Groundwork
A need to rebuild the golf course bunkers at the Country Club of Buffalo (CCB) in Williamsville, N.Y., prompted a $2.1 million construction project that started in August 2012 and was completed in June 2013. But the groundwork for the project, named Best in Show in Golf Inc.’s 2013 Renovation of the Year contest, had been laid years in advance.
|SUMMING IT UP
“There was immense planning prior to when the bulldozers arrived,” says Certified Golf Course Superintendent Jim Frank. “But as soon as the sod went down, we owned it.”
In 2007, the CCB Board of Directors approved the development of a master plan for the golf course (a 1926 Donald Ross design). The master plan was then deferred in favor of other projects, inclu
ding the construction of a short-game and practice area. Three years later, however, CCB Board members decided it was time to pick up the master plan again.
“The charge for our committee was to come up with a master plan to restore the course, but there was no expectation of actually doing anything,” explains Mark Bonner, Chairman of the club’s Long-Range Planning Committee. “We wanted to have the documents in place, if and when the membership would approve something like that.”
In 2011, a decision to move forward with a course restoration was passed by 80 percent of the membership. And where CCB had originally planned to implement the master plan in multiple phases over a number of years, it decided to take on 85 to 90 percent of it in one phase.
When the project got underway, in addition to re-installation of the course’s original bunkers, it also included drainage, irrigation work, greens and fairways expansion, fairway contouring and shaping, and reconstruction/installation of tee decks. “If we were going to do the bunker project, it was of significant size and disruption to do more,” explains Tim Minahan, CCM, CCE, the club’s General Manager/COO.
Additionally, the course restoration was undertaken simultaneously with a project to reconstruct and expand the men’s locker room.
Rebuilding for a New Building
At Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville, Ill., a suburb southwest of Chicago, plans to build a new clubhouse spurred golf course renovations. “In 2008 we looked at building a new clubhouse—but to make room for it, we needed to make some changes to the third hole,” explains Golf Course Superintendent Ben Kelnhofer. “That really got the ball rolling.”
A three-phase plan, which started with the clubhouse design, was devised in 2010. The golf course renovations got underway in the fall of 2011, and the semi-private course, which was closed to the public during the fall, re-opened for play in June 2012. The project also garnered recognition, with Golf Inc. naming it one of the top three public renovations in the world in its 2013 Renovation of the Year contest.
A much bigger reward has come in the form of new membership, which has increased by 35 percent at Mistwood since the renovation.
The green on Mistwood’s par-5 third hole was relocated, and the creek in front of it became a pond behind it. Five stacked-sod-wall bunkers were redone, and 15 more were added to the course. The bunkers—along with new stone walls around lakes and ponds—now give the course a distinctive Scottish look. Greens surrounds were re-contoured as well.
Much of the traditional rough was replaced with fescue grasses, which has decreased fertilizer and pesticide usage, lowered maintenance costs, and enhanced wildlife. “We created a lot of habitat,” says Kelnhofer. “We really took the environment into consideration. We condensed our bluegrass acreage and softened our fertilizer and chemical footprint.”
|Mapping Out a Plan
While superintendents have come to rely on modern technology to run their golf courses, the latest gadgets are just as helpful with or without turf on the ground.
“The GPS technology was crucial throughout the process,” says Golf Course Superintendent Ben Kelnhofer. “It really allows for a detailed plan of what you have done out there. I reference the GPS irrigation map all the time. Each sprinkler head has its own identification and individual controls for each head. We can water a high spot longer than a low spot.”
Vestavia Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. (pictured above) also used GPS technology to map out course features, including the irrigation system, greens, and tees, during the renovation of its nine-hole, par-3 course in 2010. “The outlines of the areas are integrated into our irrigation software,” notes Golf Course Superintendent Owen Coulson. “We can measure areas from our irrigation software.”
This can have benefits for more than just the golf course, Coulson adds. For example, the GPS mapping system came in handy when Vestavia held a mini-triathlon during which members swam in the pool, rode stationary bikes, and ran on the golf course. Coulson was able to measure the length of the cart paths with GPS, to map out a route for the running portion of the event.
Mistwood GC also reworked its flood plain and overhauled its irrigation system, which was installed in 1996, by redoing the entire pumphouse and upgrading the software. “Before, we couldn’t water the whole golf course in one night. We can do it now in seven hours,” says Kelnhofer.
A three-acre detention basin was converted to an eight-acre pond, which contains water and releases it to flow off the property, to alleviate flooding. “If we had four inches of rain, we would have to close for three days. Now if we have six inches of rain, we’re open for play,” Kelnhofer states. “The single most important thing you can have is good infrastructure.”
Mistwood also built a 5,000-sq. ft. performance center for golf instruction, and the 32,000-sq. ft. clubhouse is now under construction in the project’s third and final phase. The clubhouse will feature Scottish castle accents to complement the Scottish themes on the golf course and in the performance center. “We’ve created a golf village of three separate facilities that all work together,” Kelnhofer says.
Vestavia Country Club in Birmingham, Ala., renovated its nine-hole par-3 course, which was built in the early 1950s, in 2010 as part of a multi-faceted capital project in which the pool and tennis pro shop were updated as well.
“All three needed a facelift, and we got some momentum,” says Golf Course Superintendent Owen Coulson. “The par-3 course had never had anything done to it. We just kept it mowed, basically. It just wasn’t getting any play.”
The new par-3 course features MiniVerde Ultradwarf Bermuda greens and Tifway 419 Bermudagrass on the tees, approaches, and greens surrounds. Engineers also developed erosion-control plans, which are monitored regularly, for the property, which is built above upscale homes on the second-highest point in Alabama.
The budget for the entire par-3 reconstruction was $850,000, which included engineering, materials, and construction. To fund the project, along with future ones, members voted to start a capital dues fund into which they now pay $50 a month.
The work on the par-3 has added to the momentum at Vestavia for plans to renovate its 18-hole championship course; a Long-Range Architectural Golf Course Committee was first created in 2006 to steer the property through that process, and the master plan was completed this year.
“The irrigation system is 20-plus years old, and the greens are roughly 20 years old,” says Coulson. “At some point we’re going to have to do something.”
Forward and Backward Vision
Of course, to convince a membership to undertake any capital plan, properties need to not only have a clear vision, but an ability to make everyone see it.
CCB made effective use of the original blueprints of its golf course design, and of a 1927 aerial photo of the course. “We knew what we wanted to do, and we hired an architect early on to help us develop a master plan,” Minahan says. Before the membership voted on the project, the property displayed the architect’s rendering of the golf course restoration.
Sometimes the vision needs to take place in the field as well. When the Mistwood property was being graded, Kelnhofer had to visualize it as the finished product, to be sure his crew could maintain it properly.
“Everything always looks good on paper, but I tried to look at it from an everyday maintenance aspect,” he says. “How am I going to maintain that? How will it function every day? How will we get a mower on it?”
As a result, some changes were made during the construction process, such as softening contours, adding or extending drainage, and shifting bunker positions.
“You need to fix a problem before it becomes a problem,” says Kelnhofer. “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, you won’t have time to do it over.”
Preparation is also key to keeping a project on track—and drawing on history doesn’t hurt, either.
CCB had previously done some smaller golf construction projects, such as rebuilding tee complexes, constructing a practice facility, and repairing areas that suffered storm damage. A construction project on the CCB bunkers in the 1990s also helped to prepare Frank for the latest renovation.
Adjusting on the Fly
Open lines of communication with all key players in the construction process, including members, are also vital during a capital project. Frank coordinated with the Long-Range Planning Committee, architect, and contractor to make decisions. “If we felt we should be doing something that was not within the budget, the Long-Range Planning Committee chairman went to the Board of Directors to try to move the money to a higher priority,” he says. “Priorities were adjusted weekly.”
Others that Frank had to coordinate with ranged from the accounting department to his own maintenance staff. Crew members stayed late without being asked to get the job done. Their contributions included repairing contractors’ equipment, helping with irrigation installation, and loaning their equipment to contractors.
“There was always a premium of keeping the project moving along, but sometimes we had to pick our spots,” Frank explains. “It’s like being in a circular room with windows all around you. There was a lot of decision-making along the way.”
At Mistwood, Kelnhofer kept the membership informed about the construction process primarily with face-to-face communication. “It was tough on the membership, but you could go a lifetime and never be a part of something like this,” he says. “I think they wanted to be part of this.”
He had to communicate with the contractors and architects as well. While Kelnhofer focused on golf course infrastructure, owner Jim McWethy and the architect concentrated on aesthetics. Kelnhofer also had input on lengthening tees, along with their location, and bunker location. And with three different construction companies on site at times, he often acted as the owner’s representative during the process.
At Vestavia, Coulson posted photos on his blog and benefitted from having a membership that stayed especially engaged, because the property was upgrading several different amenities at the same time. “By doing a golf, tennis, and pool project all at once, you’re covering every base,” states Coulson. “It created an amazing, positive buzz.”
Keeping matters in perspective along the way, no matter what may occur, is perhaps the most critical contributor to the success of a capital project. “There are never problems,” Kelnhofer says. “Only solutions.”