MacCurrach Golf Construction CEO Allan MacCurrach calls them “while-you-are-here” projects. The Ford Field & River Club took the concept to a startling level.
While MacCurrach’s company, along with a renowned golf course architecture cast consisting of Pete Dye and Tim
Liddy, spent time on a property once owned by Henry Ford, the private facility experienced a major metamorphosis.
The revamped course reopened Oct. 1 after undergoing a $7.2-million Dye-led restoration. The Richmond Hill, Ga., community raised its gates to visitors, including Golf Course Industry, during a showcase event Nov. 7-8.
The renovations stemmed from some major infrastructure failures. Two inches of rain would cause the links-style back nine, which includes sections resting below sea level, to close for two days. Director of golf course maintenance Nelson Caron says the back nine lost close to 60 play dates per year because of failing drainage. The irrigation system had not been replaced since the Dye-designed course opened in 1986.
“The golf course maintenance staff ended up being a construction staff,” Caron says. “We turned our attention and focus away from applying turfgrass maintenance to a staff that was manning a ship, a ship that had holes in it. By 2011, and in 2012 in particular, we had all of our hands in the ship and it was going down. It was time to make some changes.”
The membership started devising wise to correct the problems in 2009, when Dye and Liddy visited the club and walked the 18-hole course twice. The duo consulted with Caron and evaluated the course, leading to the creation a master plan.
Greens chairman Dr. Bill Thompson worked closely with Caron, Dye and Liddy and served as a liaison between the trio and the club’s more than 250 members. The plan encountered what current club president Paul Wickes describes as “serious opposition,” especially considering a $35,000 assessment was attached to the upgrades.
Through a club vote, the project was ultimately approved by more than 75 percent of the membership. Construction started on Oct. 1, 2013. Dye spent more than 40 days at the course during the construction process.
“I was really, really enthused with the enthusiasm he had for this project,” says McCurrach, who has worked regularly with Dye since construction started at TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in 1980. “I was surprised actually. He would come for a site visit and I would say, ‘See you next month.’ And two weeks later, he would call me and say, ‘I’m on my way.’ Then, I would say, ‘I will see you in a month.’ And two weeks later, he would say, ‘I’m on my way.’ He just kept coming in, coming in. He wanted to be here. For the whole job to get its energy from an 88-year-old was pretty amazing.”
While Dye, who turns 89 next month, was there, The Ford Field & River Club received 58 miles of new drainage and irrigation, an advanced storm water system that handles 16,000 gallons of water per minute, 304 extra course yards, different looks on every hole and 1.7 million square feet of Celebration Bermudagrass sod.
“Over the past 10 years, there have been very few major renovations such as this occurring in the industry,” says USGA Green Section Southeast director Patrick O’Brien. “This is by far the biggest I have seen in the past decade in the Southeast Region.”
Dye returned to Georgia on Nov. 8 to inspect his work and chat with members. He received an abundance of positive feedback. “You hope it works out,” Dye says. “Fortunately, very fortunately, everybody seems to think what we have done is OK.”