With the grow-in and opening of its new championship Flying Horse North course this year, the Colorado Springs, Colo. property is on the fast track to enhance its status as a premier 36-hole golfing destination.
Talk about an understatement.
“It has been an interesting year,” says Wendy McHenry, General Manager of The Club at Flying Horse and Flying Horse North Golf Club in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Like other golf course properties across the country that have had to find innovative ways to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, The Club at Flying Horse has approached the challenges like a thoroughbred. In addition to coping with all of the demands brought on by the coronavirus pandemic for its existing operation, the property completed construction of a new 18-hole golf course, Flying Horse North, which opened in August.
Fortunately for McHenry, she was able to take a “hands off” approach to the golf course construction project and concentrate on running the rest of the operations at The Club at Flying Horse, which opened in 2005 with an 18-hole golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf. Instead, she was able to know that the new-course project was being ably directed by the team that included owner Jeff Smith, Director of Agronomy & Facility Operations Dan Hawkins, Director of Golf Jake O’Dell, PGA, and Managing Director Fredo Killing. The Flying Horse team also had a strong rapport with golf course architect Phil Smith, who was involved in the construction of the original golf course.
“The nice thing about working with Phil Smith and having a previous relationship with him was that we knew there were some things we would want to do differently [for the new course],” says Hawkins, who had worked on two other golf course construction projects before Flying Horse North. “Because of our past relationship, [the new course] got a lot of attention from him.”
Eye on the Prize
The property in Black Forest, Colo., a census-designated place in El Paso County where Flying Horse North is located, six miles away from the original golf course, had the attention of Jeff Smith as well. He had owned the property for seven or eight years before the course opened, and home-site sales on the property began in the fall of 2017. However, McHenry says he always envisioned a golf course on the land, and Phil Smith, who had started his own firm and for which Flying Horse North would be his inaugural 18-hole project, began walking the property in 2012 to ensure the proper placement of each hole.
At 7,600 feet above sea level with a lot of elevation changes on the course, Flying Horse North straddles both sides of the Palmer Divide, a caprock escarpment-style ridge that separates the Arkansas River basin from the South Platte basin. Lying in the thick of the dense woodlands that give the Black Forest its name, the first four holes are lined by tall ponderosa pines on both sides and have minimal undergrowth. Three of the holes are almost exactly the same length, but they play differently because of the dramatic elevation changes and prevailing winds.
The fifth through the 10th holes travel across prairie land, while Nos. 11 through 18 return to the forest. The golf course also offers views of the front range of the Rocky Mountains, Pikes Peak, and the Air Force Academy.
“It’s really a different look. The North Course just seems like it’s much bigger. It has a mountainous feel to it,” says Hawkins. “The wind can be an issue from day to day. It might blow from the north one day and from the south the next.”
The golf course even has a 19th hole—an 85-yard par 3 next to the 18th green—that can be used to settle bets. “Golfers don’t always use it as a betting hole, though,” Hawkins says. “People just want to play 19 holes and extend their round one more hole.”
Getting Out Ahead
Flying Horse began marking the land for the new golf course in 2016, and construction got underway in May 2017. Luckily, the coronavirus pandemic had little effect on construction. By the time Colorado shut down on March 13, only three holes were left to complete.
Golfers could not play for three weeks, and the property couldn’t staff golf operations or keep tee sheets. However, McHenry says, the health department allowed the property to continue to maintain the golf course. “We really tried to maintain a center-of-the-road approach,” she adds.
During the construction of Flying Horse North, Hawkins’ role was to hold the line on the budget, make sure “we got what we paid for,” oversee the inevitable changes that arose during construction, and relay those changes to the ownership.
With an eye toward minimizing the time and expense of maintaining the golf course in the long run, Hawkins had invaluable input on the design of the new golf course as well. For example, the property developed a tree-clearing plan around the green complexes on some holes and hired another outside contractor to conduct a shade analysis.
“Bunkering was another item we wanted to be sure to focus on,” says Hawkins. “We wanted them to look good and to fit into the landscape.”
Instead of long linear edges on the top of the bunkers, the Flying Horse North bunkers have “fingers,” planted with native grasses, that reach into the hazards.
“The design minimizes maintenance around the bunkers and aesthetically, it’s a good look,” notes Hawkins. “In the fall, they show color where native grasses go dormant.”
Other than mowing the native grasses around the bunkers once a year, the grounds crew will not have to maintain them. Flying Horse North has capillary concrete bunkers, an upgrade the property had made to the original course in the fall of 2018 as well. This bunker-liner system provides drainage control and optimal moisture levels to eliminate maintenance and playability issues such as washouts, soil contamination, and plugged ball lies.
Speeding up the pace of play, wide fairways reduce the amount of time golfers spend looking for balls in the rough.
Hawkins also had a lot of input into the type of grass on the new golf course—decisions that were driven by the Flying Horse North elevation. He chose the disease-resistant T1 creeping bentgrass for the greens and perennial rye grass for the fairways, tees and rough. He consulted with other area superintendents who have T1 bentgrass about its maintenance, and selected rye grass for the rest of the course because it germinates quickly.
However, he adds, the rye grass might be more susceptible to winter kill because of prolonged snow cover. At 600 more feet above sea level than the original course, he adds, the North Course will hold snow longer. In addition, he reports, because of the depth of the snow and the shading from the pine trees, the staff will have to watch for snow mold.
The topography of the two golf courses is different as well. The Club at Flying Horse course plays into the prairie, and more than 1,000 pine trees have been planted on the layout through the years.
“With two different designers, the two courses are very separate from each other,” says O’Dell, who was more involved with the marketing of Flying Horse North than the design. “We really trusted Phil [Smith]with his vision, which we all really liked. He and Dan have a great relationship.”
Business as Usual
Because the grounds crew also had to continue to maintain the original golf course while the Flying Horse North course was under construction, Hawkins says, “Maintenance-wise, we were pretty much business as usual.”
The two golf courses have separate grounds crew staffs, but Hawkins says the maintenance of the two properties is similar. He also says labor has been an issue this year.
“We usually have H-2B workers from Mexico, but we didn’t get them this year because of the pandemic. We’re working with local labor—high-school and college kids,” he reports.
Nevertheless, the staff has streamlined maintenance inputs. Growth regulators reduce mowing from three times a week to twice a week, and native areas around the tees create no-mow areas. “With the wider fairways, we have less rough to mow,” Hawkins notes.
Because the golf course is in a desert area that averages 15 inches of moisture a year, he adds, “Humidity is not an issue for us. Therefore, disease pressure in minimal.”
To meet its irrigation needs, Flying Horse North installed a state-of-the-art system that has single-head control and 60-foot spacing between the heads. The irrigation system has strong, flexible, lightweight HDPE pipes that are fused together with no joints. The non-toxic, corrosion- and chemical-resistant qualities of the HDPE pipe make it environmentally sustainable and durable as well.
“It will move and flex a little bit with frost,” says Hawkins. “If there were water in it, it wouldn’t break the pipe.”
Hawkins’ course-maintenance approach tries to “keep things on the dry side,” and he can set irrigation programs with a computer system so that the maintenance crew can water only where necessary.
“If need be, we can hand-water instead of running heads, so we can isolate dry spots,” he notes.
The property also installed a 12-inch magnet in its pump station to reduce mineral deposits in the water. In addition, the water penetrates the soil more effectively after running through the magnet. “You can also put [the magnets] on a hose and water,” notes Hawkins.
Because the tee boxes are smaller, the grounds crew has to do more maintenance, such as divot repair on the tees. However, Hawkins isn’t complaining. “It’s a good thing because people are using them,” he says.
During construction, the golf course construction company did the mass excavation of the property, finished grading the land, performed the drainage and irrigation work, replaced the topsoil and finished grading it, seeded the property, and repaired punch-list items.
“As soon as they grassed it, we took over the hole,” says Hawkins. “As each hole came on and matured, we would start mowing it.”
A regimented nitrogen program for the bentgrass helped it develop root mass. The course was fertilized every week, and topsoil was stripped off to create good organic matter.
“During grow-in, you spend a lot of time focusing on filling in areas,” notes Hawkins.
As the new golf course matures in the next two or three years, he reports, the maintenance staff will start a nutrition program. In addition, he says, the grounds crew will return to a more sustainable fertility program in the next 12 to 18 months.
“We will use more natural fertilizers in the coming years. We will back off of the fertility program and get down to one or two applications a season,” Hawkins says.
The crew also rolled the greens and used triplex mowers to minimize patterns on the putting surfaces. “We’ll change up as we see fit,” says Hawkins.
Because golfers and grounds crew members use separate carts now due to COVID, he adds, the maintenance staff has roped off immature grass on the North Course to minimize wear and tear on the turf. Hawkins also plans to rope off the greens during the winter, to lessen damage from a large herd of elk that travels the property.
Other guests – aka, existing and prospective members – were welcome to visit the Flying Horse North course during construction. They could schedule a tour with the membership group to see the progress of the construction project.
“We were here every day, and Phil [Smith] did site visits every 10 days. We walked the entire project,” says Hawkins. “He painted fairway lines. He took pictures and put a newsletter together each week and sent it to the membership coordinator, who e-mailed it to the members.”
After the grow-in was complete, but before the property shut down golf for the winter, the Flying Horse North course opened for a day in October 2019 to give the members a preview.
Membership personnel also took pictures weekly and posted them on Facebook and Instagram. They had another walk-through for the members on August 28, the day before the course opened.
Spreading the Word
The Club at Flying Horse has created a Signature membership through which people can belong to both golf courses. No one can join only the North Course, but members of the original golf course can upgrade to the Signature membership.
“Our club was fully established when we added the second golf course. The most logical way to go about that was to add another tier of membership,” says McHenry.
So far, more than 100 golfers have joined both courses, while 200-plus belong to the original course.
In addition to marketing it to current members to encourage them to upgrade their memberships, the property has used print and social media to spread the word about the new golf course.
“We are reaching out to neighboring states like California, Texas and Kansas,” says O’Dell. “Colorado Springs is a hot spot. There’s room for growth.”
Normally, but not this year, he adds, Flying Horse markets to small corporate groups,one of its key demographics.
Still, during June, July and August, the property had an occupancy rate of nearly 100% on weekends. The occupancy rate, particularly with groups, was high during the week this past summer as well.
Opening a second golf course has made Flying Horse even more attractive, the staff reports. “The golf course at the main club was the first amenity built. It was the catalyst. We wouldn’t have the club that we have without the golf courses,” O’Dell notes. “We want the members to be very proud of where they joined and what they belong to. It’s not just a resort experience. This is their home.”
The property has other amenities to offer as well, including a 50,000-sq. ft athletic facility with a fitness center, spa, full-size gym, and year-round pool; seasonal pools; tennis facilities; a 35,000-sq. ft. clubhouse and several restaurants; golf shop; and private event spaces. Accommodations include a 40-room, high-end lodge and four two-bedroom villas. Future plans include construction of an additional 64-room lodge, for a total of 104 guest rooms, and construction of a separate clubhouse at Flying Horse North.
Located an hour away from Denver and within driving distance of states such as Texas and Arizona, McHenry says Flying Horse has a “good driving market.”
“We’re a small private country club with a boutique resort,” she states. “This product doesn’t exist in our area. It sets it apart from everybody else.”
Even after dropping Monday outings this year because of COVID-19, O’Dell says, “It has been a record-setting year. Our rounds are up almost 25 percent. Golf has been a good reprieve.”
McHenry agrees. “We are one of the very fortunate businesses out there,” she says. “We have been able to find silver linings in this situation.”
FLYING HORSE NORTH GOLF CLUB
Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Club Website: www.flyinghorseclub.com
Golf Holes: 19
Course Designer: Phil Smith
Property Type: Private
No. of Members: 150
Year Opened: 2020 (soft opening)
Golf Season: May through October
Annual Rounds of Golf: TBD
Greens: T1 Creeping Bentgrass
Title: Director of Agronomy & Facility Operations
Education and Training: B.S. degree in Landscape Horticulture/Turfgrass, Colorado State University
Years at The Club at Flying Horse: 17
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Profession: 28
Previous Employment: The Ridge at Castle Pines (Colo.) North
Certifications: Qualified Supervisor, Colorado Department of Agriculture
Duties and Responsibilities: Oversee golf maintenance activities on two courses, Flying Horse North Golf Club and The Club at Flying Horse (an 18-hole golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf); create and review annual budgets with each superintendent; review, adjust, and implement agronomic plans; work with superintendents to create long-range plans on improving each property to stay current with new technologies in equipment, irrigation, chemicals and fertilization; help facilitate communcation with golf shop personnel and other property directors to ensure everyone is on the same page for how activities on the golf courses affect overall club goals and operations.
Course + Grounds Operations Profile
FLYING HORSE NORTH GOLF CLUB
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $1.3 million
Staff: 7 full-time and 10 to 12 seasonal employees
Other Managers: Mark Bietel, Golf Course Superintendent; Jordan Goldbrandson, Assistant Superintendent; Will Milton; Equipment Technician
Irrigation System: Toro 2-wire with Lynx central control, single-station control; all pipe is HDPE; Toro mapping apps allow communication in field via smartphone or iPad systems; 2,000 heads on 60-foot spacing
Water Source and Usage: Well water, annual gallonage TBD (due to grow-in phase just completed)
Equipment: Toro lease, includes Outcross, fairway, rough, surround, greens mowers, and utility vehicles
Technology: Entire course, features, and irrigation system are mapped and allow for the use of this data to accurately apply products and water where they are needed on the property. Spectrum Technologies 3 pup weather station
Maintenance Facility: Full 12,600-sq. ft. maintenance facility includes offices, lockers, bathrooms/showers, fuel station, washpad, fertilizer/chemical storage, breakroom, wireless internet, broadband, material bins, equipment repair and grinding rooms, cold storage for vehicles
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules: Future plans include regular aeration schedule on all turf areas; interseeding of turf will occur as needed
Upcoming Capital Projects: Began work in October 2020 on temporary clubhouse, parking, and golf cart storage