A $3 million renovation has helped The Preserve at Verdae mark a milestone with a new name and a new look—which, in turn, have opened up new markets for the property.
There are any number of ways to celebrate a 20-year anniversary. The Preserve at Verdae recently chose to mark the milestone by looking toward the future while building on the past. The 18-hole golf course at The Embassy Suites Greenville (S.C.) Golf Resort & Conference Center underwent a $3 million eco-friendly renovation, which began in 2006 with the conversion of its greens from bentgrass to MiniVerde Ultradwarf Bermuda, to better preserve the balance between nature and golf.
Formerly known as Verdae Greens Golf Club, which served as the site of the PGA Nike Tour’s Upstate Classic for nine years, The Preserve at Verdae also marked its birthday by giving itself a new name to go with its new look and philosophy. The course closed for only two months at the beginning of the project when the greens were renovated, and it started doing business under its new identity, with signage in place, on Memorial Day weekend.
“We felt the new name best reflected what we wanted to accomplish, and tied us to our history,” explains General Manager David Nelson.
Quality Golf, Natural Setting
The Preserve at Verdae is now the only course within 60 miles of Greenville that features the drought-resistant MiniVerde Bermuda grass, which requires fewer pesticides and less fertilizer to stay green during hot summers and cool winters. The greens also provide a truer, more consistent roll of the golf ball.
By adding more natural grasses and landscaping and preserving and expanding existing habitats for local wildlife and birds, the renovation also reduced intensely maintained acreage by about 12 percent. With these no-mow zones, The Preserve has cut fuel consumption by about 500 gallons and water usage by about six million gallons in the past year. The golf course staff also plans to reduce maintained turf by 20 to 25 percent in the next three years, which will let the crew cut back even further on its pesticide, fertilizer, fuel and water usage.
In 2007, the property renovated the bunkers and put a new irrigation system in place. Earlier this year, the golf course repaired a retaining wall of natural stone along creek beds on the fifth hole. “Golfers say it looks like it has always been there,” says Nelson.
Birdhouses as well as native grasses and wildflowers have been added to the course, and the staff even planted crops, including corn, soybeans, sorghum and millet, on outlying, out-of-play areas, to provide food for animals such as deer, wild turkeys and hawks.
“It’s going to be a constant improvement plan that will be ever-changing in the next five to 10 years,” says Golf Course Superintendent Adam Charles. “Things will be identified and improved. Our goal is to create a more natural look and to provide quality golf.”
The changes to the course evolved naturally, Nelson says, when the staff started discussing long-term goals, which include reducing expenses and adopting sustainable golf course maintenance practices.
“The golf course is a living, breathing entity, and golf is about the romance of the game, the history of the game, and the experience of the players,” Nelson says. “If you’re not constantly trying to improve and make changes that are noticeable to your players, they’ll go elsewhere.”
A Different Dynamic
Apparently, the clientele at The Preserve at Verdae, which caters to golf and to hotel customers, is quite happy with the changes. Director of Golf Paul Albert says long-time members have told him the golf course has never looked better.
“They like the contrast provided by the no-mow zones, but the course still isn’t too challenging for most golfers,” he adds.
Course & Grounds Profile: The Preserve at Verdae
Annual Budget: About $650,000
The improved conditions, aesthetics and playability are attracting a different breed of golfers as well. “We have our own set of junior tees, so we’ve made it more accessible for juniors to play,” Albert reports. “Families can play together, and we still have a lot of corporate outings and charity events.”
Tournament inquiries have increased by 30 percent, notes Stacey Dawkins, the resort’s Director of Sales. In addition, she says, the renovations have created an opportunity for the property to target new markets, by including companies that want to partner with venues that strive to preserve natural resources and to reduce their impact on the environment.
“We have a lot of corporate groups and business meetings at the hotel, and a good portion of them have golf as part of their agenda,” reports Nelson. “We also have regulars that play a few nights a week and corporate leagues. Being attached to Embassy Suites, there’s a dynamic that other golf courses don’t have.”
The clubhouse has also been renovated, and The Preserve’s practice facility features a multi-level tee box, separate chipping and practice bunker area, and a large practice putting green.
The property, which is located in a 1,100-acre, mixed-use development that also includes businesses, homes, condominiums and a senior center, is the only hotel/conference center/golf resort combination within a 60-mile radius of Greenville.
To reinforce the resort atmosphere even further, buildings are visible only from one hole, even though the golf course is just six miles from downtown Greenville.
“This is one of the few Embassy Suites in the country that has a golf course, and about 20 percent of our total business comes to us strictly because we are a golf resort,” says Nelson. “We share a lot of guests with the hotel, and we’re tied at the hip when it comes to success. The same level of customer service you get at the hotel, you get at the golf course, and vice versa.”
The ultimate success of the property has been a shared investment as well. From course members to the grounds crew, nearly everyone involved has played a part in the changes—and resulting benefits—at the golf course. The property held a contest for members to rename the holes, and all of the new names are based on surrounding architectural and environmental features (“Sitting Duck,” “Wildflower,” “Valley,” etc.).
A member of the golf course maintenance staff—Irrigation Technician Ben Long, who has a B.S. in graphics communications from Clemson University—came up with the new name for the course, and also developed new logos and related artwork for the rebranding and renaming initiative.
Bragging rights are not the only benefit that the maintenance crew has gained from the eco-friendly efforts at the course, however. The cost savings resulting from reduced fuel and water usage have also let the staff turn its attention to other details, such as cart path repairs and laser leveling of tees.
“The quality of the golf course is a direct reflection of our ability to redistribute our resources,” notes Charles. “We can spend more labor hours on the playing surfaces.”
And these improved course conditions, in turn, benefit the golfers. “The MiniVerde has performed extremely well in the heat,” Charles says. “We haven’t had the turf loss or chaos that occurs with bentgrass in the transition zones.”
Superintendent Profile: Adam Charles
Education and Training: B.S. in Turfgrass from Clemson University
The turf has weathered winter conditions just as well. “About 18 months ago, we had one of the coldest winters in recent memory,” Nelson recalls. “There was lots of damage to other greens locally and regionally, but a Clemson agronomist came and asked Adam what he was doing differently. Winter and summer, our grass has been in amazing shape.”
In addition, Albert frequently shares positive feedback that he gets from golfers with Charles and his staff.
Nelson also says he works every day with Charles and Albert to make decisions, large and small. “Everyone has their own responsibilities, but we can bounce ideas off of each other,” he explains. “We all have different titles, but we work closely together to achieve a common goal.”
All three also work closely with the hotel sales staff, to ensure that the golf course in an integral part of the resort experience. As a significant recreational amenity with environmentally sound practices in a planned development, The Preserve at Verdae highlights the commitment to make the best possible use of land in an urban setting.
“You set goals for a golf course the same as you do for any business, and adopting environmentally friendly practices was the right thing to do,” Nelson says. “Golfers have a better experience on a better-quality, more scenic golf course, while at the same time, we’re able to save money.”
That’s a cause for everyone to celebrate.
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