If great power is indeed accompanied by great responsibility, then the golf course equivalent sees great beauty coupled with, well, a whole lotta’ sweat, toil and TLC.
From the grandeur of an oceanside setting in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to the lush privitude of a South Carolina sea island alcove, a pair of premier properties handle daily course challenges with creativity, flexibility and a love of the labor.
Meeting the high expectations of member clientele sees the brass and brawn of Quivira Los Cabos and Haig Point on Daufuskie Island rise each morn to ensure that their grounds stay true to the distinct allure of their respective settings.
Quivira Golf Club
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Deservedly-dressed with ample accolades upon its 2014 debut (including a nod as “Best New International Course” by golf resource of particular note), the Jack Nicklaus Signature design at Quivira Golf Club is an aesthetic stunner.
Powerfully staged beside the Big Blue, Quivira routes, rises and ebbs through a mosaic of terrains on the tip of the Baja California Peninsula, ambitiously steering the player across beachfront, desert, dunes and granite-lined cliffs.
Open to club members and owners/guests of the adjacent Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spas, the native routing across 175.5 acres of golf course requires some serious manpower to not vibe a playing surface contrived in appearance.
Armed with a crew of nearly 40 course workers, the daily duty is ensuring that the beauty of Quivira isn’t just pretty for pretty’s sake.
“We embrace the rawness,” says Antonio Reynante Vega, director of golf at Quivira Golf Club. “It looks rough, and we want that – we don’t want a perfectly-manicured course. Now, we do want it to be perfectly-playable, and the turf should be in ideal condition and the greens should be in perfect shape. But the look of the course should be rough; it should be raw.”
Exampling the balance of appearance, Vega says: “The 12th is a long, downhill par-5. It’s a huge, natural dune. And so, according to the designer, the transition between the sand and the perfect turf, it needs to have rough vegetation in-between to make for a logical transition. In the end, the whole point is to make the golf course look as natural as possible. If you have nothing but sand and perfect golfing turf, it looks awkward.”
“If you have nothing but sand and perfect golfing turf, it looks awkward.”
Quivira’s desert rusticism and adjacency to the Pacific are met with an ongoing host of nature’s challenges.
“It’s a very interesting and special land,” Vega continues. “And the Baja is a desert, along with being beside the ocean, with lots of wind here on the Pacific side.”
Thar she blows. “The wind can be a huge challenge, because we get a lot of salt and silt,” Vega says. “The wind brings a lot of sand; we get a number of holes topdressed across the year, and we have to work with that. We gain level on the fairways and some greens can lose some grades. It’s continually keeping track of that, which is also a huge challenge.”
Constantly watering the salt tolerant, tee-to-green platinum paspalum (irrigated with reclaimed water) is a measure of calculating sport and science. “We have to take care of sand getting on the tee boxes and fairways, to mow the grasses sometimes twice a day,” Vega says. “Our water has a lot of nitrogen, so this grass grows very, very fast. And because it’s a desert, you can’t skip a day of irrigation.”
Vega is also seemingly well-served by studying the lyrics of Bob Seger. “To preserve the natural environment of desert vegetation, the irrigation system has to be very well calibrated,” Vega says. “And here, again, the wind is a challenge. In the summer months, when it’s especially windy, we have to make sure that, most of the time, the sprinkler heads throw the water against the wind and let that wind work the water for us.”
While Vega, a former pro, may be able to help corral the askew balls of Quivira guests, there’s nothing he can do with the savage swing of Mother Nature. In August of 2017, a storm of hurricane proportions brought 38 inches of rain in nine hours to the grounds, washing out several holes and incurring damage to Quivira’s extensive rise-and-fall of cart paths, along with an assault on the grounds’ irrigation systems, pipes, cable and software.
“For a place made out of dirt and grass, water is the worst enemy, not wind,” Vega says.
Working tirelessly to restore the course to full order and playability in prep for Cabo’s high-season, Vega and his crew appear to have successfully achieved the task in less than four months’ time, a task which also included a shift of the home hole’s green 50 yards inland.
Making life a beach for the guest is a palate of pleasing the player while staying true to a luminary’s distinct vision. “Mr. Nicklaus integrated the native environment into the golf course, which I think is a beautiful set-up,” Vega says. “So, the grass, dune, desert and ocean combination make a truly unique experience.”
Haig Point Club
Hilton Head Island, S.C.
While existing on the Down Low in contrast to its famed Hilton Head neighbor across the Calibogue Sound, the narrative of diminutive Daufuskie Island, S.C., reads like a page of a famous book.
In fact, it was the setting for Pat Conroy’s “The Water Is Wide.”
Just five miles long and less than three miles wide, Daufuskie is small in size but long in historic value, with the island’s unique yarn spinning back 9,000 years to its original inhabitants, the Cusabo Indians. Subsequently a European settlement and later home to the “Gullah” people (post-Civil War freed slaves), today’s island life remains an eclectic (and artistic) throwback, with no cars and accessible to residents and guest only by water taxi or ferry.
Getting there for exploration and relaxation? Sounds fun. Getting there for work? Maybe not such a gas.
Among the country’s most exclusive residential communities and private clubs, Haig Point on Daufuskie is a primo, 29-hole property with its Rees Jones-designed course annually recognized among the best plays in golf-rich South Carolina. The 364-member club tracks its dues among the top 5 percent in the nation, and fields just about 12,000 rounds per year.
Not that a dearth of play eschews the tall task of operating a premier club on an island. While inclement weather is an annual concern, the “L & L challenges” (labor and logistics) present a continual test for course managers.
“Everything we get comes by barge, and that barge comes once a week . . . if he feels up to it,” half-laughs Scott Hamm, director of golf course maintenance and grounds at Haig Point.
And if the barge pilot doesn’t feel “up to it?” “For example, we ordered 20 tons of starter fertilizer for my overseed; the barge got delayed, so it took us two weeks to get that shipment,” Hamm adds. “So, we need to plan everything out at least a month in advance; so, all my topdressing sand I need to do that by hand this time of year (fall). We get it bagged, palletized, delivered on a flatbed on the barge; then we go pick it up, put it on another truck, drive it to the maintenance facility and unload it. So, we touch that sand five times before it gets on the ground.”
The island commute requires constant pre-preparation and planning for a host of course duties, which is why Hamm and staff go so far as to make their own fertilizers (150 gallons at a time). “And we keep enough preventative fungicides on hand for the greens because, in order to get product over from the mainland, it could take two days,” Hamm says. “And if there’s an outbreak of Pythium, in two days, you’re done.”
Working the turf, the Haig crew experiences only minor salt water issues on its nine-hole Osprey Courses, and sprays calcium to help combat the salts.
Situated on a 1,100-acre property, surrounded by the Calibogue Sound, Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, Haig’s spread is relatively flat, low country terrain, with tree-lined fairways spread with oaks, maple, and giant magnolia and Spanish moss. A round is generally paired with playing partners ranging from alligators to bald eagles to myriad deer.
Akin to Quivira’s concerns, Haig Point is on constant weather watch. “The weather in the low country ... I’ve been here just over a year, and we’ve had three main storms since then,” Hamm says. “So, one of the biggest challenges in that respect is not only growing grass, but keeping the facility cleaned up. With Hurricane Matthew, we cleaned millions of cubic yards of debris off the property. Literally, every street was piled up almost 20 feet on both sides, so it was like driving through a tunnel going down the road.”
In designing the course, Jones wisely implemented two No. 8s and two No. 17s. “The reason they did that is because if we get a really bad hurricane and wipe these two greens out, you still have 18 holes to play,” Hamm says. “The back of those greens are literally 20 or 30 yards from the Calibogue Sound, so it makes sense.”
Maintaining a beautiful, natural setting rarely makes life a beach for those charged with meeting high expectations. From a sea island charmer on one end of the continent to a potent Pacific play 2,500 miles away, the portraits may be different, but the day-to-day challenges of manning the perfect paints are equally palpable.