Master planning successes: Tupelo Country Club

Master planning successes: Tupelo Country Club

Nathan Crace, ASGCA, describes how working in phases and closely with a respected superintendent is helping elevate a Mississippi club.

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November 20, 2017
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Most people who live beyond the southeastern United States think of one thing when they hear of the city of Tupelo, Mississippi – it’s the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Although my parents’ neighbor when I was growing up in Indiana was an Elvis fanatic – she had easily cornered the market on velvet Elvis paintings in her home – and I graduated from Mississippi State University in Starkville (only an hour south of Tupelo), I had never spent much time there. That changed nearly 10 years ago when I was contacted by Jim Kwasinski, CGCS, the superintendent at Tupelo Country Club. Jim wanted to know if I could make a trip for a site visit to give the North Mississippi club ideas on how to best utilize approximately 30 acres of out-of-play rough that Jim had to maintain, eating up valuable man hours and resources.  

On that first visit, I immediately noticed three key factors about TCC: it was an established club with a great membership base, an impressive stable of good players called the club home and it had plenty of room to grow, one luxury older clubs of that era no longer have. That same excess land that Jim had to maintain provided the perfect opportunity for the club to grow and update the course to meet the needs of the modern game as well as current and future members. While we discussed creative and cost-effective ways to better utilize the out-of-play areas, the idea of developing a master plan for the golf course arose. It made sense for the club because they were not desperate to tear up the entire course and start over. Jim’s greens (while aging) were known for being fantastic putting surfaces and the overall condition of the course was second-to-none. But, as is often the case with older clubs, there had come a time to invest in capital improvements to not only update the club, but also attract new members, retain existing ones and differentiate the club from other options in the market.

As a general rule, I like to develop a master plan in such a way that our clients can phase-in portions of the plan if needed. The TCC plan was no different and allowed the board to prioritize different phases of work over any number of years to best suit the needs of the club. For example, Phase I was the creation of what many have said could be one of the best private club practice facilities in the Southeast, with an expansive practice tee, multiple target greens, a new putting green near the golf shop, a new short game green with approaches and bunkers, and the most unique feature of all – a “wander and play” short course for members that was born out of my collaboration with Jim.

On one of my site visits while preparing the master plan, Jim and I stood on the seventh tee and looked out over a large area of scrub and brush behind the driving range. When I asked him if the club owned the property, Jim stated that they did and had once entertained selling it to a developer for condos. It’s a good thing they held onto it, because that area of roughly six acres behind the range now features a large meandering expanse of fairway accented by rough, two double greens and a triple green. An added bonus? There are no tees on the short course. In addition to lightening the load on the maintenance staff of having to mow separate tees and moving markers every day, I thought it would be better for members to use their imagination to play any combination of holes. This way, they can spend time with their children, work on their game or just kill some time in the late afternoon. It is the perfect place for the large junior golf program the club has developed and the short course has been one of the main selling points for new members who have joined the club since.

In 2016, the club decided it was time to address some drainage issues, failing lake banks and a leak in a levee on the small lake fronting the green on the par-3 eighth hole. As a result, Phase II was completed earlier this year and included a completely new eighth hole from tees to green, lake bank renovations throughout the course, and a stream bed restoration that crosses three holes and drastically improves drainage. The beauty of our Tupelo CC master plan is that Phase III could be the renovation of the rest of the course, one of the nines, some tee complexes, bunkers, or any combination thereof. 

I tell my clients that a proper master plan should address the maintenance issues of the superintendent as well as the desires of the members and/or golfers and we have a great team in place at TCC including Jim, the general manager, the pro and the renovation committee. Having those parties involved is a critical key to success because a master plan should not only be a “road map” to the future of the club, but also a flexible instrument developed through a thought process that allows the club to do what is best when the time is right. TCC now has a long-range plan to address needed capital improvements without the headache of changing wishes of new board members or committing the club to a financial burden. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Tupelo Country Club.

Nathan Crace, ASGCA, is the principal of Watermark Golf/Nathan Crace Golf Design.