While the golf course renovations at the Jackson, N.J. club left the original Robert Trent Jones footprint intact, maintenance of the 27-hole property was a major consideration in the project.
When the Korn Ferry Tour adds a new tournament to its schedule next year at the 27-hole Metedeconk National Golf Club in Jackson, N.J., the property will have a new look as well.
Although the pro golfers will compete for the Magnit Championship title on the property’s Tournament Course, which consists of the first and third nines, all 27 holes benefited from a 2 1/2-year, $2.5 million bunker renovation. The project, which began in the fall of 2019, was finished in the spring of 2022.
In addition, renovation of the tee boxes on the Tournament Course got underway in early November.
“The goal is to finish 18 holes this year and do the last nine holes next year,” says Golf Course Superintendent Andrew Mallick.
To bring the 35-year-old Robert Trent Jones Sr., design up to date, the property hired golf course architect Raymond Hearn to renovate the course, which takes advantage of the natural wilderness in the upper region of the New Jersey Pinelands. Inspired by the varied topography of the preserve, the original design featured tree-lined fairways, well-placed bunkers to maximize accuracy, and Jones’ trademark subtly contoured greens.
Extensive and multiple tee boxes—another signature Jones feature—give the holes unlimited flexibility. However, the aging of the bunkers, tees, and infrastructure prompted the renovation project.
“We were going to renovate the bunkers, so we decided to hire an architect to take a look at the golf course,” says Director of Golf Brent Studer, PGA. “We rode around the golf course and saw things that would match golf today.”
Bunkers, Tees, and Trees
The bunkers had fallen into a state of disrepair since the course opened in 1987, and the property launched construction by building a test bunker in the fall of 2018.
Under the project, Mallick says, bunkers on the three golf courses were repositioned, reshaped, and resodded with the Better Billy method. With this type of bunker installation, liners are replaced with a manufactured binder to hold in place a gravel blanket.
The renovation also included approach and fairway expansions that contribute to the shot variety, adds Mallick.
“We worked on the relationship between the bunkers and greens complexes,” the superintendent says. “We did at least four acres of sod flipping throughout the golf course.”
General Manager Derek Kopp says the bunkers, which feature capes and bays, were pulled out of tree lines to create a better relationship with the greens and fairways. However, they still maintained their original routing to keep the Robert Trent Jones look and feel of the property.
“We didn’t change anything with regards to the routing,” says Kopp, who served as the Head Golf Professional at Metedeconk for almost three years before assuming the General Manager position in 2021.
The bunker renovation also opened up views on some holes and widened landing areas on other holes.
“We pushed some bunkers back and moved some in the fairways to give golfers more options, angles, and shot value,” notes Studer.
Depending on their length and abilities, Kopp reveals, golfers can land their balls short of the bunkers or carry them easily.
“Bunkers are less penal for the average player and more in play for better players,” he adds.
With the addition of six to eight more yards to the front edge of the greens, Studer says, the average player now can hit a bump-and-run or an aerial shot.
As part of the tee complex renovations, the free-form design is being replaced with squared-off, long, expansive runway tees.
“We’re updating the turf variety to a full bent stand and putting in new drainage,” notes Mallick.
While the tees previously consisted of a bentgrass/poa mix, the complexes now will feature a Penn trio of bentgrasses. “It’s a strong variety that has withstood the test of time,” Mallick says.
The renovation project also has allowed Metedeconk to address its aging drainage and irrigation infrastructure.
“We’re replacing the irrigation system as we go within the existing footprint of irrigation,” notes Mallick. “We’re putting in new irrigation in and around certain tees. In 2009, 70% of the irrigation system was updated with the exception of seven holes. That’s where the majority of the irrigation upgrades are going now.”
Maintenance staff members also have contributed to the irrigation improvements, and Mallick believes their efforts have given them more ownership of their work.
“All of the major excavating was contracted out, but all of the irrigation upgrades, re-routing, and improvements were completed in-house,” he says. “Everything we’ve done has been successful. I think they take a lot of pride in their achievement.”
As part of the renovation, the property also underwent substantial, but selective, tree removal to increase air flow and sunlight on the greens.
“We started on the greens surrounds, and we’ve moved to other areas for safety reasons and agronomic reasons,” says Mallick.
“Everything needed to be done,” Studer adds. “It was past its lifespan.”
The 600-acre property also has broken ground on a four-bay performance center on its 55-acre practice area. The new facility is slated for completion by April.
One of the bays will offer year-round club fitting services; two bays will feature indoor/outdoor hitting; and the fourth will be a teaching bay.
Less Maintenance, More Playability
While the golf course changes have brought the three nines into the 21st century, the renovations have influenced golf course maintenance as well.
For instance, Mallick reports, the elimination of a couple of unnecessary bunkers has cut down on bunker maintenance.
The gravel layers and geo-textile liners of the new bunkers also allow stormwater to reach the drain lines without bringing sand with it, minimizing sand erosion and sand contamination from native soils during heavy rainstorms.
In addition, Mallick says improvements to the irrigation system have “helped out significantly during a drought-y season.”
Because the golf course is situated on a large property with a lot of growing environments and soil conditions, notes Mallick, the grounds crew does a lot of sectional maintenance to address the different needs of different areas.
Some parts of the golf course get early sun, he says, while others get late sun. Other areas receive more pressure from the wind.
The grounds crew also keeps the environment in mind when tending to the golf course.
“In the past five years, we’ve done a lot of controlled burns,” says Mallick. “It helps with animal habitats and natural plants that grow in the woods.”
After all, the nearby marsh and lowland pine forest throughout the property allow the occasional deer, fox, muskrat, or circling hawk to join golfers on their rounds.
Since the renovations, however, golfers can get much more out of their rounds besides a trip around the course with the local animal population. It really has the Robert Trent Jones flavor.
“It’s a much more interesting golf course,” Studer says. “We have much more variety, and it allows the average golfer a little more playability. We have changed the golf course for low handicappers or professionals. The average player has more options and angles from the tees.”
While this season marked the first full year of the renovations, he adds, the feedback from the members has been positive.
“They love that it still looks and feels like an RTJ, but it’s in better condition with better aesthetics,” says Studer. “The bunkers have jagged edges, and there are fescue eyebrows on the golf course.”
All-In Team Effort
In large part, the end results of the renovations were a culmination of the teamwork that went into the project.
Kopp and Studer looked at the changes from a golfer’s perspective – what it would look like and how it would impact play – with a golf professional’s eye. However, Kopp says, “There had to be a balance so that Andy could make decisions from an agronomic standpoint and consider maintenance practices. It was fun throughout the entire process to see the architect, contractors, and Andy in the field making decisions on how the renovations would affect golf course maintenance. There’s so much thought that goes into these decisions.”
While talking through changes, Kopp, who changed positions at the property midway through the renovation, also made sure the project stayed on track. He certainly had his work cut out for him.
“The first phase of the project was done in the winter of 2019-20, and we were impacted greatly by Covid,” notes Kopp. “We couldn’t get products or have workers on the course. Our architect was in Michigan.”
However, to work around the logistical issues, the property bought a drone to take aerial photos that Kopp would text to Hearn so he could make adjustments.
“We had to be creative to bring the work we had done to our architect for approval,” says Kopp. “Ray Hearn would mark up the pictures and send them back to us.”
Mallick’s duties throughout the project included organizing and staging equipment, staff, and materials; mapping irrigation improvements; and establishing seeds and sod. He made sure the construction team stayed on budget and on task to meet their timeline as well.
“We all definitely played a role,” says Mallick. “We met on a regular basis.”
Kopp and Studer also kept the membership up to date on the progress of the renovations.
“In close conjunction with the Board of Directors, we met with the architect and rode the golf course and prioritized all the changes that we were going to make,” says Studer. “I was more hands-on, talking to the membership and getting them excited about the project.”
He also helped determine where players would hit their drives, the location of fairway bunkers, and the landing areas for the average player.
“Ray Hearn used me as the playing eye to the golf course,” reports Studer. “Every time he was there, I was there.”
Kopp, Mallick and Studer held weekly meetings to discuss plans, and then they would go to the board to explain the issues.
Metedeconk sent out e-blasts about the project to the membership, as well.
“Throughout the renovations, we had some social media presence such as Instagram and Twitter to provide updates,” says Kopp. “We didn’t flood members with information, but from time to time, we’d send out an update.”
Many of the members live in New York City, the Jersey Shore, Princeton, N.J., or Philadelphia, and some live in Florida during the winter. However, even though the golf course is closed from mid-December until mid-May every year, those who lived nearby would make onsite visits to see the work that had been done.
“We’re fortunate to have a really good team,” says Kopp. “We’re all friendly outside of work. It was a full-on team effort between the three of us.”
Their teamwork on the construction project was an extension of the teamwork they practice every day to keep golf course operations running smoothly.
“We’re making decisions. We’re pitching the golfer’s perspective,” says Kopp. “Andy is pitching the golf course perspective. We have to balance what golfers want versus what the maintenance team can provide.”
After all, nothing trumps golf at the facility.
“The golf course is our number one asset,” says Studer. “We care a lot about our golf course and practice facilities.”
Kopp agrees. “It’s our entire operation,” he explains. “Even food-and-beverage revolves around golf. We don’t have anything else. This is a destination club.”
And with the forward-thinking renovations at the property, including those that have been completed and others that could be coming, Metedeconk is prepared for the next 30 years.
Metedeconk National Golf Club
Club Website: www.metedeconk.org
No. of Holes: 27
Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr./Roger Rulewich
No. of Members: 472
Year Opened: 1987
Golf Season: March 15-December 15
Annual Rounds of Golf: 17,500
Fairways: L90 bentgrass
Greens: 007, A-1, A-4 bentgrass
Education and Training: Associate of Science in Turfgrass Management, UMass Amherst
Years at Metedeconk National Golf Club: 9
Years in the Golf Course Maintenance Business: 22
Previous Employment: Southward Ho Country Club, Bay Shore, N.Y., 2009-2013; Country Club of Darien (Conn.), 2007-2009; Pine Valley (N.J.) Golf Club, 2004-2007; Stonybrook Golf Course, Litchfield, Conn., 1999-2003
Certifications: GCSAA Class A Superintendent; 16-year member
Golf Course Operations
Annual Budget: $3,172,776
Staff: 20 full-time, five part-time and 12 seasonal employees
Key Staff Members: Kyle Gigliello, Senior Assistant Superintendent (4 years at MNGC); Ted VanNess, Equipment Manager (9 years at MNGC)
Irrigation System: Toro Central Control; 2,500 heads, mix of Rain Bird and Toro
Water Source and Usage: Two wells and Metedeconk River; uses about 30 million gallons annually
Equipment: Full John Deere lease package including five fairway mowers, four tri-plex mowers, four 21-inch walk mowers, 14 18-inch walk mowers, eight ProGators, two 300-gallon sprayers, one 200-gallon sprayer, three rough mowers, four 36-inch trim mowers. Additionally own 10 Turf Gators, six Club Car “manager carts,” a 500-gallon hydroseeder, six John Deere tractors (model/age varies), and many other items.
Maintenance Facility: The facility includes an assistant’s office with an irrigation computer and accommodates four assistant superintendents with workstations. The superintendent’s office also accommodates the senior assistant superintendent. The equipment manager’s shop includes two garage bays with one turf lift and office space for the equipment manager and assistant mechanic. The main shop includes a locker room, lunchroom, bathrooms, and a cold storage area to house all utility vehicles. An additional heated storage area is located adjacent to the main building.
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules: The course closes in the spring (last week of April) to perform core fairway aeration and greens DryJect aeration along with necessary fertilization. The course additionally closes the week after Labor Day to core aerate fairways, greens, approaches, and tees. Other cultivation practices are completed in season.
Upcoming Capital Projects: Currently in the process of rebuilding and irrigating 18 tee complexes. The 2023-24 season will include nine additional tee complexes and possibly 3,000 feet of bulkhead construction.