Tuesday, December 14, 2010

As many of you know, the green fumigation-reseeding methodology will require some alternative planning in the coming years. The use of methyl bromide to sterilize greens prior to reseeding has been the subject of increased regulation for a while now. The use of methyl bromide in hot gas applications will change considerably at the end of this year. Starting Jan. 1, 2011, the product label will require increased safety precautions for applicators and reductions in allowable rates (50% or more). These restrictions alone greatly reduce the product’s viability on golf greens. In 2012, restrictive buffer zones will be added. This will effectively end the practical application on golf courses in general – except for maybe those properties located in the middle of a cornfield with no human dwellings within several thousand feet!

So, here’s a piece of advice: If you think you may need to fumigate/reseed in the next year or so... no, actually if you KNOW you want to fumigate, look into it before the end of this year. It might still be possible to sign up under the old label. If you have the product sporting that old label, you can use it on those terms indefinitely.

But suppose you don’t? What options do you have? This is an interesting question going forward, and we’re interested to hear what folks in the industry are planning. The conversation starts here.

(See article on effective project communication, including more fumigation talk, at Golf Course Industry Magazine e-newsletter)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Re-branding to Save Face

In the current golf course climate, which reflects the overall economic climate, we see among our clients a heightened interest in using design and renovation to maintain and (re)build brand/reputation. This seems especially important for public entities which rely on their golf facility to anchor their recreation portfolio. Case in point: Poplar Creek Country Club, the sole golf entity for the Hoffman Estates Park District (Illinois). The course lends itself to more than just golf, hosting banquets, weddings, fundraising events, community outreach programs and other critical Park District functions.

So any threat to this facility threatens the district itself. Therein lies the problem, the course sits in a floodplain, surrounded by development. As that development has grown thicker, any sort of rain event wreaks havoc on the course; mulitple holes can be rendered unplayable for days at a time. The result is a bad reputation and a deterent to those looking to book the course for a golfing event or a simple round with friends. Without a viable golf component, the property would quickly become an unviable operation.

Instead of waiting for that demise, the HEPD hired us to help in turning about Poplar Creek's reputation, namely by reinventing its brand. With the help of The Bruce Co., we will expand the course's water holding capacity by creating a giant system of ponds, while lifting up those fairways that previous flooded. We did largely the same thing down the road in Wheeling at the Traditions at Chevy Chase, a course that - like Poplar Creek - used to be a tired, soggy muni. That effort, combined with a host of other brand upgrades, changed the face of their golf course.

What Midwestern courses strike you as most needing this sort of brand makeover? We'd love to hear some stories about similar efforts, good or bad.
For more on the Poplar Creek story, see article in the Golf Course Industry Magazine e-newsletter.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rebranding? If substantial, don't be ashamed

Design variety is important to architects. We’re always bending someone’s ear about how each of the 18 holes at a particular course are different (how we couldn’t possibly choose a favorite because they’re all so distinct!). But seriously folks, design variety should matter more to operators, especially those who manage multiple layouts.

Here’s an example from Kenosha, Wisconsin, where we will redesign/reconfigure 63 holes owned and operated by Kenosha County. Phase 1 is scheduled to break ground this spring.

When we got right down to it, the major design issue at 45-hole Brighton Dale Links was a lack of distinction between any of the five 9-hole routings there, plus the lack of a worthy practice area. Honestly: Why play there more than once or twice, why have so many holes on offer if all 45 are the same? That was the problem: Not enough people did. Our plan improves all 45 holes but creates new, higher levels of quality and challenge on 18 holes, while improving but essentially maintaining the character of 27 holes for those who liked them just the way they were.

Here design is a vital part of your marketing, in that it answers these questions: What does your course say to the golfers who play it? What does it say to the golfers who could play it, but don’t?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Here's a quote from Leon McNair at Links Across America (see previous post). I think he's got a point:

"There are a lot of reasons for golf's stagnant status but one reason is definitely affordability, and Links Across America is a big first step, a step forward," Leon says. "We just don't have affordability for kids and seniors. I'm a PGA member and there are a lot of programs out there, but they are primarily aimed at teaching people how to swing a club, period. That's Step 2.

"The problem is, we don't have Step 3, which is teaching people how to play golf. There are thousands of questions a new golfer has when he or she is playing golf: How to rake a bunker or why, where to stand, what to do with the pin on a green... We need someone waling around with them, or playing alongside them, so they can get answers to all those questions. When we get that piece, we'll be creating real golfers."

This is the role that dads usually play, but what do kids do when that's not an option? This is what makes golfer "creation" so difficult. You really need mentoring. Even adults who pick up the game in their 20s or 30s need a friend or colleague who performs this function.

How do we get around this?

Golf Outreach Bingo

Let's play "Golf Outreach Bingo," where we take turns naming a worthy non-profit program that grows the game. There are tons of these; every golf organization seems to have one. But how many of them really work?

Here's mine: Links Across America is part of The Wadsworth Golf Charities Foundation, philanthropic arm of Wadsworth Golf Construction. Basically, Leon McNair is head honcho and Links Across America (LAA) works with cities and park districts to identify facilities - usually short courses or nine-holers - that are worth saving and upgrading. Leon pulls in various golf industry firms, plus grassroots organizations like the First Tee and local YMCAs, to put together a plan for 1) operating these facilities independent of the municipalities; and 2) upgrading them so they can optimally serve the young and novice golfers we're targeting.

Randall Oaks West Range Teaching Facility, shown above, was our first collaboration with LAA. It will open August 2010.

Part of what makes the LAA model work is that Leon has assembled a stable of course builders, managers and architects (including Lohmann Golf Designs) who have agreed to provide services either gratis or at cost. Once the pro formas for upgrading and managing these properties are vetted, LAA and Wadsworth Golf Charities do their part by kicking in very generous grants to get these projects redesigned, built or operating. Here's how you get in touch: leonm@wadsworthgolf.com or check out the website at http://www.wadsworthgolfcharitiesfoundation.com/.

What, you have something better?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rethinking Renovation: Modified sand-profile greens are a cost-efficient solution

Here’s another reason 21st century golf course renovation is so damned expensive:

I hope you realize those push-up greens everyone wants to replace with USGA-specified models have, in many cases, lasted 60, 70 or 80 years. That’s pretty good value. Now, I would never recommend building old-fashioned push-up greens because native soils, especially here in the Midwest, are too clay heavy.

But we are proponents of the modified sand-profile green we just rebuilt at Butte des Morts Country Club in Appleton, Wis. We salvaged the existing sod and the layer of top-dressing that had accumulated on the green and replaced it after the green was reshaped. It was supplemented with a slit-drainage system, along with a 7:2:1 mix, so we ended up with about 8” of sandy material on top. The sub-soil was native, so “push-up” in nature. If we can re-use the existing top-dressing layer and eliminate the gravel layer in the green, we can reduce costs — perhaps by as much as 25 percent over the course of 18 green renovations.

Is there a reason you wouldn’t want to build something similar, with the same efficiency, if you thought your course or club might get 50-75 years out of it? You tell me.
Photos courtesy of Butte des Morts Country Club

Why do renovated bunkers cost so much?

Why has course renovation outpaced the rate of inflation?

Here’s one reason: Bunker construction. All these great liner products — and most of them are great products, because they do exactly what they claim to do — have significantly driven up the cost of rebuilding bunkers. So have the choices in sand type – some costing upwards of $100 per ton delivered. In the old days, supers largely rebuilt bunkers on their own, using local materials. When an architect was brought in, it was usually to make a strategic design change, but it was fairly straightforward and cost-efficient.

Yes, these state-of-the-art liners keep sand on the bunker face and free from migrating dirt, like gangbusters… That white sand is eye-catching, especially when it reflects the sun’s glare!

But is that worth the money? Does that flashed, white sand face affect course strategy? Is that eye candy worth a 90% increase in bunker costs? Does a pristine sand surface really meet the requirements of something that’s supposed to be a hazard?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tree Removal & Slope: Is there a connection?

The tree situation at Westmoor CC (we removed some 500 during our recent renovation) typifies the complicated anxieties attached to significant removal. Most acknowledge that courses this old (Westmoor’s original routing dates to the 1920s) were built on land that was originally treeless, or sparsely forested. Most agree that tree encroachment hinders play and steals sunlight/soil nutrients from turf. But still… removing those trees after 80 years in play remains politically delicate.

At Westmoor, all those anxieties were joined by one that surprised us: Members thought removing so many trees would make their slope rating go down — the secret fear of club members everywhere.

However, John Warren of the Wisconsin State Golf Association (WSGA) walked the course when it reopened and his findings surprised and delighted the Westmoor faithful: It went up! He explained that WSGA raters look at 10 different obstacles when rating a golf course, trees being just one of them. We had added considerable distance to the course, especially from the back tees. We also added considerable challenge in the landing areas and around greens with the new bunkering. Mainly we removed trees that didn’t affect the immediate strategy of the golf course.

We’re curious: How would tree removal and non-removal really affect the difficulty of your course?

Soil-Matching, drainage and regrassing

The drainage scheme and soil profile-matching measures we enacted at Westmoor were very enlightening.

In the spring, before we regrassed the greens, Stuart, Fla.-based XGD Drainage removed 2-inch strips of sod on each green before digging 15-inch drainage trenches spaced every six feet in a modified herringbone design. XGD then laid down 2-inch drainage tile and refilled the trenches with a 7:2:1 mix of sand, soil and peat — an attempt to match the greens’ existing push-up soil profile. The sod was then re-laid and members played these greens up until Aug. 1, when the course was closed. This is the drainage we would have done in the fall, when the course was closed. Doing it ahead of time, in the spring, gave us more renovation time in the fall — before the snow shut us down.

When the course did close, the existing putting surfaces were killed via fumigation. Samples of the soil profiles underlying these greens were sent to a testing lab to determine their characteristics.

This was an extremely important phase, because when this course reopened, we wanted all 18 greens — the four we rebuilt, and the 14 that weren’t rebuilt but were regrassed — to be cared for in a reasonably identical manner. What the lab recommended was a
7:2:1 construction mix of topsoil, sand and peat, the same mix used for the XGD drainage backfill. It’s a dirty mix, as they say, not a USGA mix. But it closely matched the existing profile and that’s what we used on the four new greens.

We had to go this extra mile because it made no sense to put the same grass on 18 greens that, underneath, didn’t have the same soil profiles. Of course, we could have rebuilt all 18 greens, but that would have been a far more expensive prospect.

Share with us your soil profile stories: Do you know if they’re consistent green to green? If they are (or aren’t) how does this affect their upkeep?

Putting USGA agronomists to work for your club

Sometimes we all need an impartial broker.

Our renovation project at Westmoor CC in Brookfield, Wis., was in danger of not passing a membership vote. So superintendent Jerry Kershasky and I invited some special guest speakers to a club-wide meeting and let them make the case, alongside Jerry and me. We brought in the big guns: USGA Green Section North-Central Region Senior Agronomist Bob Vavrek; Dr. Joe Vargas, the legendary Michigan State University agronomy researcher; and Dr. Tom Nikolai, another distinguished MSU agronomist.

Nikolai talked about the different approaches to managing putting surfaces for consistent green speed, something A1 enables. Vargas discussed A1’s ability — due to its extreme density — to compete with and ultimately rebuff poa annua when properly managed. Vavrek offered more anecdotal stories from clubs across the upper Midwest, and shared his experiences working just south in Chicago, where several clubs have converted to A1 greens with great results. Vavrek also discussed how many facilities in neighboring Michigan had developed reciprocity programs with nearby clubs, so members would have somewhere to play while their club was closed during replanting.

The combined expertise of the panelists helped sell the renovation proposal to the members, who backed it with an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote.

The USGA is a great resource; you can put them to work in just this way. Sometimes it just means more coming from them. The turfgrass departments at dozens of reputable universities across the country can serve the same purpose — maybe you can make alumni points by enlisting them to educate your membership in a away that advances your club’s agronomic goals.

Superintendents don’t often deal with members en masse. What are your experiences in this area? Positive or negative?