|Jeffrey D. Brauer||
"We live in the world's most technically sophisticated society, yet we are now right back where we were three thousand years ago, praying for rain." – Garrett Ward, Texas Drought 1997
The last year may have turned more Texans back to religion than an evangelist, with many praying for rain. In 2010, we were praying for less rain and fewer floods. Texas in known for its extreme weather, and we have proven it again. It's hard to believe the heat wave of 1980 – in which I recall watching news clips of Texans frying eggs on the hood of cars while I was building a golf course in relatively cool Wisconsin, was cooler than this year. Or that the legendary "Dust Bowl" which inspired books and movies was less severe than this year.
Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of Texas experienced drought conditions, with 97 percent experiencing "severe drought." The luckiest 0.83 percent of the state had it easy – they only experienced "moderate drought." Crop and livestock losses total $5.2 billion, with home and real estate losses also estimated in the billions. Parts of the Trinity Aquifer, running west of the DFW Metroplex and supplying much of our water, have fallen nearly 80 feet, also a modern record. Most golf courses are facing watering limits, either local or state mandated Stage 1 or 2 drought restrictions. Worst of all, some predict it will be a multi-year drought, worsening conditions.
Golf course superintendents here didn't need to watch the news to know the severity of the situation. Most golf courses suffered. From a technical side, superintendents and conditions conspired to show us just how little water golf courses could survive on, even if few of us really wanted to know this in anything other than theory.
Golfers, surprisingly, accepted it as a part of nature. If brown wasn't beautiful to them, at least brown golf was better than no golf, as long as the superintendent was able to keep at least greens and tees in decent shape. Slightly off color fairways were also accepted. This may end up being a great "teachable moment" to golfers convinced that green is the only acceptable color for golf.
Texas superintendents are also using it as a "teachable moment." They have used their local GCSAA chapters for public relations efforts, based in large part on programs developed by Georgia's superintendents, who experienced similar conditions a few years back and launched a multi-pronged program to educate golfers in accepting current conditions, and with legislators to influence the future condition of golf. I foresee a watershed moment in the role of golf organizations to become more legislatively and less fraternally oriented. It's not that we didn't see it coming, but it takes memorable events like this drought to crystallize our direction.
Our "take away" from this year is that keeping courses viable will consist of a mix of many small details rather than one "pat" solution. Besides banding together at state and federal levels, it will also mean individual courses will accelerate all efforts to prepare water management and contingency plans, and to tune their golf course designs, irrigations systems, maintenance practices for water savings whenever they can find them. Next month, I will share some specific tips irrigation designers and golf course architects have passed on to save water.
We had a tough Texas summer in another way. Former North Texas Golf Course Superintendents Association President (2004) and 2010 A.C. Bearden Superintendent of the Year Award recipient Stephen Best passed away on Oct. 16, 2011 after a long and exhausting battle with melanoma.
Bearden maintained an unbelievably upbeat and positive attitude and used his experience to motivate and inspire other Texas superintendents to take care of sun protection, which is a valuable reminder for all outdoor workers in golf, as well as golfers themselves.
He also reminded us often that health, spiritual and family aspects of life should take precedence over the problems you face every day in your profession.
>> A club manager’s guide to superintendent speak
By Bob Lohmann
There's an advertisement running on national television from one of the telecommunications companies where a young man, presumably of Italian descent, has gone back to the old country to explore his roots. He's standing on the street in some small town trying to communicate with an older gentleman. He speaks into what looks like a phone, "My grandfather was born in this village," or something like that. The phone magically translates the sentence into Italian and the old fellow breaks into a big welcoming grin.
I have no idea if this technology actually exists, or if this ad just hints at some capability that phones will someday have. But it struck me and several of us here in the office as something that, with a little tweaking, could be really useful.
For example, what if the phone featured the capability to translate not just what we say, but what we really mean? This gizmo would have a million and one uses, with our sons for example (On prom night we'd say, "You be careful tonight," into the phone, which provides a translated version of what we really mean: "Don't get anyone pregnant!") – or maybe our spouses ("I can't believe were getting into this again;" phone translation: "You're right, honey"). Now there's a smartphone we could use.
Board members, course owners, club managers and directors of golf could use them, too – perhaps to get a better understanding of what their superintendent is really trying to tell them.
We all know that superintendents look after the most important asset at any daily-fee facility or private club: the golf course itself. But the downside to this reality is, superintendents also preside over the most expensive asset, and, on occasion, they must argue for additions to what is already the largest budget item at any course facility.
This can make communication with the head pro, the owner or board, and the golfers themselves an extremely delicate exercise. Club managers and course owners want candor, but superintendents must be extremely politic in the way they handle certain issues. Speaking their minds might just put them in a real awkward position, might put the club in an awkward position.
I hope to dissect the communications issues we all encounter in trying to do our jobs, on and off the golf course. Let's assume that board members, course owners, club managers and directors of golf had one of these futuristic, translating smartphones for the superintendent to use – so that management types could understand what the super is really trying to tell them without having to actually say it.
Complaints about hole locations. Longtime golfing members complain to the board that hole locations don't feature enough variety from week to week. They also hint that the greens seem slower than in years past. In turn, the general manager or the board goes to the superintendent with this grievance.
As architects, we see this situation all the time and, more often than not, a diplomatic superintendent will respond with something like this to the board, club manager or course owner: "Look, the greens are running as fast as they can – we're rolling and double-cutting because the members have made it clear they want them fast. But we have to be careful not to over-stress the greens, and we need to keep the pins where they are playable and where, eventually, the ball will stop rolling."
That's a reasonable response. But suppose the superintendent said this into one of these wonder phones. Here's the translation, what he really means: Listen, we're cutting these greens within a millimeter of their lives. They're a ticking time bomb. At this rate, by mid-summer they'll roll like table tops because they'll be dead. And tell me how the greens can be slower when we're mowing at .08 of an inch? The greens aren't slower, we just have to use the flattest parts or you'll be 4-putting all day. If you want fast, consistent speeds and ample pin locations there's only one answer, that is to rebuild. Otherwise you better change your expectations.
Let's be real. That's a hard thing for a superintendent to say and it may not be what the higher-ups want to hear, but it's the truth. Basically, he's telling his superiors they've got to spend money or change their thinking to solve the problem – and it's a widespread problem we see all over the country.
This is part of the point I'm trying to make: Architects are uniquely qualified and positioned to serve as a superintendent's smartphone. We can say things more bluntly to management than they can, because our day-to-day survival doesn't depend on being quite so diplomatic. We've seen it all and, of course, we bring the perspective of having actually rebuilt and recontoured greens to accommodate modern green speeds.
The board takes a course maintenance tour and the superintendent gets grilled. The board puts the superintendent on the spot about poor turf quality in an outer rough area, near the tree line. Here's how he responds, "Well, this is a popular place for carts to drive and soil around these trees is compacted. The turf also has to fight the tree roots for nutrients and drainage could be better. Maybe we can thin them out a bit and cut back the roots."
If he said this into the smartphone – hey, let's call it the Smarchitect Phone – here's what the translation would say: These trees need to come down. It's a simple fact: You can't grow healthy turf without good sunlight or air circulation. The trees are compromising our maintenance standard, and quite frankly they ruin what could be a great hole. You have a thousand freakin' trees on this property, you won't even miss these, especially once the turf is healthy.
Okay, maybe we dial down the Smarchitect phone on the last part, but odds are 50-50 that these trees don't add a thing and do hurt the hole. Taking trees down is another expense, no doubt, and many golfers –especially private club golfers – have formed unnatural attachments to way too many trees. But the truth is, everyone – including the turf around said trees – would benefit from getting rid of them. If the super doesn't feel comfortable saying it, an architect can and will.
Golfers complain that the tees are beat up. The superintendent is confronted with this complaint and says, "Well, we rotate the markers as much as we can in the given space, without going too far forward with the blue tees or too far back with the whites – and the senior men prefer to be back here, by the whites, rather than up by the reds. We've been trying to use the transition areas on off-days to give the main tee a rest without angering the members."
If the superintendent had been speaking into the Smarchitect phone, the translation could frankly go a number of ways: a) We need much larger tees and a dedicated set of senior tees; or b) Why the hell can't we put all the tees forward on certain days? What's wrong with some variety? Half the members who play the blues are way over their heads anyway, and isn't the PGA promoting "Play It Forward"? Why aren't we? or c) These tees are surrounded by trees 60 feet tall, they don't get sun till 1 p.m., and the trees block the use of the entire left half. Maybe the trees, not the tees, are the problem.
The politics of tee-marker placement is well known, especially in the private club sector. Golfers are creatures of habit, they get used to certain things and it's hard to introduce new ideas sometimes – like the simple movement forward of a tee to account for wind conditions on a given day, or the notion that money should be spent on tee expansion. We can understand why the superintendent is often reluctant to say so, especially in these trying economic times when every aspect of the day-to-day budget is being scrutinized.
But one way or another, these conversations have to take place. These wonder phones aren't on the market yet, so think about using a mediator like your friendly neighborhood golf course architect. Otherwise, maybe it's enough that board members, GMs and owners do a better job of listening to their superintendents – and reading better between the lines, especially in situations that sooner or later will require investment of some kind. Otherwise, it seems we're just kicking the can further down the road.
Bob Lohmann, ASGCA, is founder, president and principal architect of Lohmann Golf Designs and a regular columnist and contributor to GCI.
Improve your conversations
If you're having trouble communicating or getting your point across with coworkers, superiors or customers, business coach and author Sharon Sayler says your nonverball cues could be blocking your message.
"True communication goes beyond words, and great communicators use every tool they have to deliver their message," says Sayler. "When you have control of your nonverbal language, you can communicate confidence with passion, persuasion, credibility, and candor—factors that will help you soar above your competition in the business world."
Sayler provides some useful tips:
Don't fill the air with um, uh and you know. It's natural to pause when you speak. What's not natural is to fill the silent pause with sounds.
Use hand gestures systematically. When we use only words to convey our message, we make it necessary for our audience to pay very close attention to what we say. Using gestures systematically, especially when giving directions or teaching, makes your audience less dependent on the verbal part of the presentation.
Don't put your hands in your pockets. Thumbs hanging off the pockets and hands deep in both pockets both say,"Geez, I hope you like me." Hands deep in the pockets jingling change say "Geez, I'm nervous and hope you like me," or, "Geez, I'm so bored. Is this ever going to be over?" Break this habit by being comfortable with your hands straight down by your sides — after all it is the natural place for them to be.
Remember, the eyes have it. The eyes are the most expressive and really are the window to thoughts and emotions. Little or no eye contact is often thought to be associated with lying, lack of self-esteem or interest.
>> A superintendent’s guide to club manager speak
By Dennis Lyon, CGCS
I am sure we have all walked out of our boss's office, either not fully understanding what was just said, or thinking we understood the conversation only to find out later we had it wrong.
The truth is many of the problems a superintendent encounters on the job relate to a lack of effective communication.
For the sake of this article, let's assume we have access to a gizmo which will interpret what club managers really mean. Let's call this gizmo a boss-ilator. Let's assume in the situations below the boss-ilator will interpret Club Manager Speak (CMS) and describe what our club managers really mean when they communicate with us.
The superintendent is called into the club manager's office and informed by the manager the club has decided to do a benchmark study on the maintenance budgets of comparable courses. The purpose of the study is to ensure this club's budget is not out of line.
Club Manager Speak (CMS) translation: Someone with a measure of power feels the maintenance budget is too high. There is a good chance your budget will be cut next year using this benchmark data as justification.
The club manager asks the superintendent if the rough mowing schedule can be adjusted on Ladies' Day so the ladies won't complain about the mowers interrupting their event.
CMS translation: I am getting very weary of the ladies complaining about the rough mowers on their event days. Make this problem go away!
The club manager comes up to the superintendent on the putting green and says the pro told him he has not seen him up at the golf shop in quite a while. The manager says he wants to make sure everything is OK between the superintendent and the golf professional.
CMS translation: When you were hired as the superintendent I made it clear you were expected to maintain good communications with the golf professional. I am concerned you are falling short in this area.
The club manager informs the superintendent that club board member Mr. Smith is hosting his corporate outing next week and is hoping golf course staff can polish the course up a little for this event. The manager goes on to say, he will check on the superintendent's progress later in the week.
CMS translation: Mr. Smith wants the course in as close as possible to "member guest" conditions by next week. I will be monitoring your progress on getting the course ready. Preparing for this event needs to be priority number one.
The club manager tells the superintendent the board would like to rebuild the front nine bunkers next year but funds are going to be very tight.
CMS translation: Plan on rebuilding the front nine bunkers next year, in-house, using existing staff with a minimum budget.
The club manager comes down to the maintenance building to find the superintendent. He tells the superintendent he has had a lot of positive feedback on course conditions the past several weeks and wants to pass along the good word.
CMS translation: I have had a lot of good feedback on course conditions and want to let you know. Sometimes our bosses tell us exactly what they mean, no translation required.
In the real world we know the boss-ilator does not exist.
Our bosses, including club managers, may at times try to be politically correct or sugarcoat the message because they do not want to hurt our feelings or want to avoid conflict. As a result, they may use Club Manager Speak which can stand in the way of effective communication. Wouldn't the superintendent in situation #3 have been better off, if the club manager had been more direct and said he had a concern with the way the superintendent and the golf professional were communicating? Or in situation #4, if the club manager had clearly stated his expectations from the beginning on the corporate outing, wouldn't the superintendent have had a better chance of meeting the manager's expectations?
So how can superintendents better deal with club manager speak? Based on my years of experience, here are what I believe to be the keys to success:
- Listen intently to what is being said. Ask as many questions as necessary to ensure you fully understand the message.
- Don't be afraid to ask the "next question." This could be the question or situation your boss may be trying to avoid.
- Create a relationship of trust and openness with your club manager. Work to make effective communication a mutual priority.
- Your manager will be more likely to avoid CMS if you can accept bad news without becoming defensive. The goal is to communicate and fully understand the message. How you and the club manager deal with the message is another issue.
- Listen with empathy. It may be easier to understand the message if you look at the situation from the club manager's prospective.
- Remember that maintaining effective communication with your club manager or boss is the best way to avoid being surprised down the road.
Hopefully by using this superintendent's guide to club manager speak we will be able to more fully understand what our club managers really man when they communicate with us.
Dennis Lyon, CGCS, is a GCSAA past president with more than three decades of experience and a columnist and contributor to GCI.
At a time in golf where the sound of courses falling over keeps many industry people awake at night comes a skin-of-the-teeth escape for one mom-and-pop owner. A bankruptcy judge is yet to rule on every aspect of Fred Leonard's battle for survival at Taberna Country Club in New Bern, NC, but he was clear on the one that really mattered. Leonard – who, like many of his ilk, grinds it out for love as much as any living he makes – gets to keep his golf course.
The drawn-out legal battle has affected his health and his family. Leonard's wife, Gretchen, runs food and beverage operations at the golf course and a 13-year-old son works in his spare time in maintenance. Their daughter is a college junior. "When people threaten to sue you personally it can get pretty scary," Leonard says. "I've had some anxiety issues dealing with it all. Life's been a bit touchy around here for awhile."
At its simplest, the court ruling early July seems true to the principals of natural justice. In five years, Leonard had never missed a payment on his loan nor ever been late with a payment. Even today, in the murky backwash of the recession, he continues to keep the club's financial nose above the water line. Although, "it's a battle," he says, citing the nearly $200,000 – or about 40 percent – he has cut from the golf course maintenance budget since 2005. "But then again it's tough everywhere."
So when the lender moved to foreclose in September, 2010 Leonard's earthy sense of right and wrong was deeply offended. The fact that his bank was one of the biggest in golf course lending rubbed further salt in the wound. If the lender was a Goliath, Leonard surely saw himself as David.
He grew up outside Raleigh in a small town where his father worked for the railroad and his mother was a schoolteacher. Like many young men in eastern North Carolina back then, he spent time toiling in tobacco fields. "There was a golf course right alongside where I worked and it didn't me take me long to decide life looked a lot more interesting over there," he says.
Leonard could play some and so headed down the path to becoming a club professional. He completed the PGA's business schools and found his way to the pro shop, eventually serving as director of golf in the '80s. Leonard found the hours behind a desk and counter wearing on him. He preferred being outside and knew few people in the game spend more time on the course than the superintendent, so he switched. "Besides, I knew superintendents got to play a lot more golf than the golf pros," he laughs.
After several years in golf course maintenance, Leonard moved to Taberna Country Club and there the lure of ownership presented itself as the next step in his career progression. He recruited a small team of investors and paid $4.7-million for the private club with 400-plus members within an 850-home development. Then the recession hit and the simple story became far more complex, as investment money dried up and lenders everywhere became spooked.
When Leonard's note for $2.7 million became due in 2010, instead of a loan review, adjustment and renewal that had pretty much been the industry norm for years, the lender balked. "The lender I was dealing with was closing their golf course lending division," he says. "They had no interest in extending my loan for a length of time that would give the economy time to improve and allow me to secure alternative financing."
Leonard was not exactly shocked by the news. He wasn't blind to what was happening with the economy and so had already been knocking on doors. But try as he did, he couldn't find anyone willing to take on the loan in a golf economy in reverse. Then as Leonard threw his books wide open in an attempt to convince the existing lender to reconsider, an alarm bell went off. And this time he was shocked.
About a year earlier, one of the original investors had apparently confused investing with lending. He hadn't bought part of the business, he felt, but instead had lent Leonard the money to do so. He threatened to sue. To appease the "investor," Leonard consulted an attorney who drew up papers giving the investor a second lien. Problem solved, until the lender's legal team discovered the second lien and cried foul.
"They decided I was in default per my original documents," Leonard says. "This was true, as it turned out, but in those 50-plus pages, I never saw the wording preventing any further lien, and my attorney at the time didn't say anything about it. He should have known not to let me further encumber the property. I am a golf course superintendent for heaven's sake, that's why I hired an attorney to begin with."
Not only was the lender now using the second lien against Leonard as a breach of contract, it also instituted penalty interest payments of an additional $365 a day. All the while, on top of his existing duties, Leonard was wading through paperwork and working the phones looking for a solution.
"After some early negotiations, the lender was willing to extend my loan if I could give them a large sum of money and have the investor holding a second lien sign a subordination letter," he says. "Well, I didn't have the money and the guy wouldn't sign anyway."
That wasn't the first time Leonard felt like he was "dead in the water." But the pressure became a full on punch when, in late February, a foreclosure notice was filed leaving Chapter 11 reorganization as the only hope. Such a step differs from bankruptcy which effectively says the well is dry and everyone loses out.
With Chapter 11, the courts oversee a restructuring of terms that provides for stakeholders to get their money back, but over a longer term. Leonard says, "That only works if you can show to creditors and/or a judge that, based on solid historical data, there's enough income to survive, service debt, and function normally as well as continue being a positive business for the community in which you're located."
Leonard was able to do all of that but at significant cost, and not all of it financial. Two visits to the witness stand – one for three hours and then for four and a half – were draining in and of themselves. But the almost daily mountains of legal documentation and hoops that had to be jumped through, on the back of hefty attorney's fees, were most taxing.
Even now, with the judge's ruling in Leonard's favor on the record, opposing counsel continues to seek modifications to the outcome.
The experience has done nothing to taint Leonard's love or devotion to the industry – he is current president of the Turfgrass Council of North Carolina and his left shoulder bears a tattoo incorporating the logos of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association. But it has soured his outlook.
"I think that in this 'corporate' lending world we live in, the days of the mom and pop businesses are numbered," he says. "The 'bank' we have been dealing with didn't care about the 52 employees we employ, the 217 acres of green space we maintain or the community we're in. Now, if the course couldn't service its debt any more, that is one thing and completely understandable."
Instead, Leonard believes he is just one of too many single course operators who are being squeezed – "beat up on" – when they are most vulnerable paving the way for corporate or bank takeovers.
"If the course is still making its payments, chances are the people that work there have a lot of sweat equity and time invested in the facility," he says. "It's unfortunate that sweat equity can't be put on a balance sheet somewhere. The operators of golf courses that are not corporate are generally doing it because they love the game, or the people, or the community. I can tell you, it's not to get rich."
They say what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger but they might get an argument from Leonard just now.
Although he does admit he's learned plenty over the past year. Asked to identify the single biggest lesson, he says aside from hiring the best attorneys you can possibly afford, prospective owners should, know all of your business, not just one aspect.
"I am a Class A golf course superintendent," Leonard says. "I completed both PGA business schools and have been a director of golf for several years. My wife runs food and beverage as well as member relations but we both were unsure of some important things when it came down to it."
Trent Bouts is a freelance writer in Greer, S.C. and a frequent GCI contributor.
The distinctive S-curve of the Red River that tightly hugs the southern and easterly boundaries of Fargo Country Club offers spectacular views along the picturesque fairways as golfers and fans make the trek toward manicured greens, in a quest to secure a birdie, or, on a very special day, the coveted all-elusive eagle. The river comes into play on six holes of North Dakota's first golf club, and has claimed more than a few Titleists, Calloways and Slazengers since the club constructed nine new holes back in 1963.
This scenic ambience of the Red River comes with a price, however. Nearly every year – or more often of late – when snowpack that has accumulated over the brutal North Dakota winter months finally succumbs to warming spring thaws and rains, the once hibernating, frozen river awakes in a torrent of water. During the three years since Aaron Porter has been superintendent at Fargo Country Club, the Red River has inflicted its wrath on the course a staggering nine times. But with each invasion, Porter, along with the most-capable assistance of his 23 dedicated grounds crew members, has spearheaded recovery efforts in amazing fashion.
"I arrived here in the fall of 2008, and was on the job about a month when the first fall flood in Red River Valley history struck," Porter says. "It affected holes 1, 2, 14, 15, 17 and 18. Luckily, water receded fairly quickly so there was little damage. But the spring of 2009 was quite a different story. That was the all-time record flooding event here in Fargo. All the lower holes were under more than 22 feet of water. My first spring here was spent literally rebuilding the golf course."
The rebuilding process following the record flooding of 2009 took several months. With the rebuilt course looking good and scheduled to reopen on June 20 of '09, the unthinkable happened.
"As luck would have it, on June 19, an area to the south of Fargo received six inches of rain overnight," Porter recalls, "and I was looking at my third flood in less than a year. The river rose 25 feet overnight and again, the course was under water and pretty much everything was killed. We reseeded and opened the 2009 season on August 7. The club was in pretty good shape by then … even better later in August, just in time for the 2009 North Dakota State Open."
A native of Altoona, Iowa, Porter competed in just about every sport except golf while attending Southeast Polk High School. His knowledge of turf and grass was limited to mowing the family yard and occasionally schlepping hoses with an attached sprinkler. Then, during his junior year, while attending Iowa State University in pursuit of a business degree, everything changed.
"My college roommate played golf at Iowa State and he got me interested in the game," Porter says. "I had never played golf until then. I had buddies who played in high school, but when my mom found out how much a set of golf clubs cost, I was relegated to remain with football, basketball and track. When I started to golf with my college roommate, the game came pretty natural for me."
That same year, an ad appeared in the Des Moines Register, placed by Wakonda Golf Club – rated the top course in Iowa at the time – in search of grounds crew help. Porter viewed it as an opportunity to be out on the course, learn more about the game, and, of course, the free golf wasn't a bad perk either. Porter landed the grounds gig, and in less than a week of working outdoors, being on the course, mowing, fertilizing and tending to the greens, Porter knew his career calling was about to change.
"I didn't even realize there was a turf management major," Porter says. "The superintendent at Wakonda told me Iowa State had one of the best turf programs in the country. And that's all it took. I just had one semester left to graduate with a business degree when I made the change to turf management. I continued working at Wakonda for 3 more years, and completed two internships there, all while studying to get a turf management degree. It took two additional years, but hey, now I am living my dream. Mom and my family thought I was sort of crazy but everything seems to have worked out."
|Red River has inflicted damaging blows for Porter and his crew so often since he became the grounds superintendent he actually has to pause a bit to recall the details of each one.|
Porter has more than 10 years of experience as a grounds specialist for private golf and country clubs. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in horticulture and turf management from Iowa State University in 2000, is a member of the North Central Turfgrass Association, currently serving as vice president, and was a finalist for the 2009 Superintendent of the Year award. Prior to joining Fargo Country Club, Porter was head superintendent of the north course at Des Moines Golf and Country Club in West Des Moines, Iowa, and assistant superintendent at Stoneridge Golf Club, Stillwater, Minn.
Red River rage … repeatedly. Spring flooding has become a way of life for residents along the river; however, in recent years, Red River Valley dwellers have also dealt with summer and fall flooding. It goes without saying that these frequent floods can be frustrating. But just like the good folks of the Fargo community who deal with Red River rage repeatedly, Porter and his crew don't back away from challenges. "Restoring the course after a flood requires some effort," he says. "But we have always been able to recover."
The record flood of 2009 called for drastic measures to save the city of Fargo, and Fargo Country Club was selected as the site of a massive barrier construction project in efforts to stave off the rising waters. Assisted by National Guard troops, the Corps of Engineers installed HESCO Concertainer barriers at many locations on the course, using more than 40 pieces of Bobcat equipment, including loaders and telehandler machines donated by Bobcat to the flood-prevention efforts. Every hole on the course was damaged; some underwater for more than six weeks and were left with more than 6 inches of silt after the water receded.
"The silt is like gum and takes a long time to dry out," Porter explains. "The club would have had to wait for the silt to dry out before removing it and planting new turf. We rented a Bobcat T864 compact track loader to push the silt off the course and back into the river. The tracks give the machine good flotation in wet and muddy work areas and saved us at least three weeks in the cleanup and recovery efforts … time we should have spent waiting for the silt to dry. After that, the club bought one."
Red River rage has inflicted damaging blows for Porter and his crew so often since he became the grounds superintendent that he actually has to pause a bit to recall the details of each one. "I get confused sometimes … all the floods have started to run together," Porter says, "especially those when the water receded more quickly."
After a summer flood in 2006 caused extensive damage to what Porter refers to as the bottom holes – those lower in elevation and closer to the Red River, club officials decided something needed to be done.
They hired soil experts and a team of architects and engineers to provide a recommendation. The plan called for raising the elevation of holes 1 and 2, along with holes 14 through 18, in addition to building an alternate hole.
Porter was just coming on board when the $2.5 million renovation project began, a project of incredible scope that included – among raising several holes up to six feet in height (fairways included) to an elevation of 30 feet – building new cart paths, retooling all the bunkers and enhancing drainage and irrigation systems, all as components of the master plan.
"The club is very proactive," Porter says. "The members embraced the 10-year capital assessment project because they knew something needed to be done. The Red River wasn't going anywhere, but neither was the 113-year location of North Dakota's first golf club."
The 2011 setback … another miraculous recovery. The club reopened on July 7, 2010, after nearly a year of rebuilding. Much to the delight and relief of Porter, the Red River remained calm for the remainder of that summer. But the feisty river just couldn't behave through another spring, and in March of 2011, the rage of Red unleashed another post-winter fury – the fourth highest on record, with water levels rising to 38.6 feet, leaving portions of the course completely submerged for up to seven weeks.
"Raising holes 1, 2 and 10 really helped this spring, because the water didn't remain on the fairways and greens for very long," Porter says.
"The reseeding on those holes was minimal. But the bottom holes : 14, part of 12, and all of 15 through 18, were under water for 39 days," he says. "When that water started receding in mid-May, we began the restoration process all over again, starting from scratch. We reopened the entire course … once again … on July 6. It probably goes without saying, but I haven't really had a break. Along with the regular maintenance that it takes to maintain the 27 holes of the course, we've had to deal with additional, ongoing challenges here."
Golfers and fans attending the 2011 Bobcat North Dakota Open will be hard-pressed to find any evidence of Red River rage as they traverse the immaculate, scenic fairways and manicured greens of Fargo Country Club.
As you make your way down the tree-lined fairways and soak up the scenic ambiance that is Fargo Country Club, pause for a moment and visualize the same place, less than three months ago, submerged beneath 20 feet of water, floating logs and other miscellaneous debris. Then, join the members of Fargo Country Club in giving a special shout out to Porter and his crew.
They may not be swinging the golf clubs this week, but their mowers, trimmers and compact track loader will be out in full force, as Porter looks ahead to the next major event – most likely a flood. Perhaps there should be a trophy created especially for them.
Randy Happel is a features writer at Two Rivers Marketing, which represents Bobcat.
A championship golf course designed by a master architect, impeccably manicured fairways, smooth-rolling greens, the best bunker sand money can buy and a well-trained staff dedicated to its customer base – all are important keys to a successful operation.
In a perfect world, with these components working in harmony, an owner can sit back, watch one foursome after another head off the first tee and count the money at the end of the day. But what happens when Mother Nature rears her head and opens the skies for a morning of rain? A course with poor drainage is going to suffer that day, and possibly feel the ramifications far into the future.
Golfers are not going to pay to putt through puddles, search for plugged balls and avoid bunkers-turned-water-hazards. And if they do, they will not be happy and quite likely won't return, regardless of how beautiful the course looks or plays in ideal conditions.
Add excellent drainage to that list of keys.
Salish Cliffs Golf Club, the newest amenity of Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton, Wash., received a lot of hype and notoriety in the months leading up to its scheduled unveiling. Owned and operated by the Squaxin Island Tribe, the grand opening of the Gene Bates design had to be pushed back several times due to an unrelenting spring of torrential rain.
In October 2010, the team at Salish Cliffs first discovered the existing drainage wasn't sufficient for the western Washington rainfall, which annually comes in at approximately 65 inches. Something had to be done.
According to Bob Pearsall, a 23-year veteran superintendent with the last 15 months spent at Salish Cliffs, the initial step was to consult an engineer to devise a plan to reroute the original drainage. Craig A. Peck and Associates of Tacoma was called upon for the design.
|Without the proper drainage, an otherwise perfect course can see plenty of downtime after a heavy rain.|
First things first, however. Considering November and December are traditionally the wettest months for Shelton, a temporary fix was put into place.
"We put drainage above ground to move the water off site, so as not to lose more sand ... keep erosion down," Pearsall says. They also strategically positioned bales of hay and straw waddles where needed. "Every time the weather would zig, we'd zag."
Work was done in-house as well as by George Travis Construction and Bar D Construction, which is owned by a tribal member. Considering the rave reviews being heaped upon Salish Cliffs, the team seems to have addressed all concerns.
"The finished product is great. The feedback has been extremely positive," Pearsall says. Of the golfers: "They love both the playing conditions and the layout of the course."
At the opposite end of the age spectrum is the Yale Golf Club in New Haven, Conn. Designed by esteemed architect and United States Golf Association co-founder Charles Blair Macdonald, and opened in 1926, the course has a long and glorious past, but also has fought drainage issues from the start.
According to Scott Ramsay, who has been superintendent at Yale Golf Club for eight years – 25 years total in the profession – Yale is "an old course that was blasted out of ledge and the course is routed through the low areas. Surface runoff and side-hill seeps all end up draining to the playing surfaces."
Also unlike Salish Cliffs, which only had drainage problems on a few holes, driving range and warm-up area, most of Yale Golf Club's holes were negatively affected. Fortunately, golfers in the Northeast are a hearty lot and rounds lost were nominal, says Ramsay.
"We just route play around the areas and rarely close," Ramsay says. "So we lose minimal rounds."
|Water isn’t just a hazard for players. Proper drainage ensures that it stays in the feature and off the course.|
Ramsay sought the help of turf-drainage consulting engineers John Kelly and Steve Ami out of Pointe-Claire, Quebec, Canada, who, in addition to being recognized by the USGA, regularly teach a GCSAA seminar. They were charged with formulating a master plan and overseeing construction.
Once the design was submitted by Kelly-Ami, an open bid was put out for the installation.
"K/A can recommend contractors for bidding," Ramsay says. "We also involved local excavating companies to bid. The smaller jobs, local companies can compete. As they get larger and more involved, regional outfits with previous experience typically win the bids.
"The materials used aren't typical of drainage work usually undertaken by superintendents," he adds. "K/A has highly specified styles of pipe and only uses sand as a drainage medium. And they are highly selective as to the sand type, too."
According to Ramsay, they are roughly halfway through a 10-year drainage-overhaul process.
"Each hole takes between 10 and 14 days," he says, adding cost varies significantly. "At Yale Golf Club, it is between $10,000 and $80,000 per hole, depending on the severity of the issues."
As for the impact on golf and golfers, of course there is disruption, but Ramsay says they get creative by closing the hole for short periods of time or make the hole a par 3 for the work day.
"We get an occasional complaint," he says of his golfers, but nothing too bad. "Mostly we have informed everyone ahead of time so they understand. It is a huge difference once the drainage is completed."
While Yale Golf Club is in the midst of its decade-long project, just down the road in Oxford, Bryan Barrington and his team at The Golf Club at Oxford Greens took care of a developing drainage problem in under a week.
"This wasn't a big project, but was certainly one that was, at the end of the day, just as impactful," he says.
|Before superintendent Bryan Barrington took on the replacement of bunker drainage, he considered how much the work would disrupt play and what his possible labor and costs would be.|
Barrington has been a superintendent for 12 years – the last seven at Oxford Greens – and places great importance on good drainage.
"I have built two golf courses in New England and there is no question that drainage is the most important aspect to a successful growing environment and playability," he says. "There is a wide window of why, how, how much and where to use drainage, what's the objective for the drain? Is it to capture surface water? Sub-surface ground water? Understanding the source and reasons why drainage is needed will lead to a successful project."
For the current project, two areas on Oxford Greens were affected: the 10th fairway and bunkers on the second fairway.
"Our drainage issue was one that a fairway complex of bunkers was no longer draining like the others," he says. "This had occurred because of contamination over the years from washout. Really impacted for about half a season."
According to Barrington, no rounds were lost, rather, just some player annoyance if there had been a rain event and water was in the bunker.
The same held true during the drainage overhaul. The project lasted four days, with most of the time spent removing the sand, the old drain and stone.
Before any work was done however, Barrington weighed his options.
"How long would we be disrupting play?" he asks. "What are the labor and material costs?
"I had already communicated the project to management," he adds. "I was looking at a relatively new drainage product, which was the ADS pipe wrapped in Styrofoam peanuts. This would allow me to not have to use peastone to surround the pipe, which would lead to material and labor savings in the installation."
As is the case with many projects, the actual installation goes much differently in practice than as it's being done.
"To my surprise, the drain stopped in the bottom of the bunker and made two 90-degree turns before it exited the bunker," Barrington says. "We removed it and continued the bunker drain straight out."
This "straight-forward" project was affordable ($1,000 for material; $1,800 in labor; $700 in new bunker sand) and has garnered rave reviews from the golfers, who, after seeing the results, want the club to renovate more of the bunkers. If they get their way, the actual construction may be slightly different, however.
"This was basically by the book, although I'm not sure I would use the wrapped drain pipe in a bunker again, just because it's round and you lose the surface of the trench due to the cylindrical shape versus the square trench," Barrington says.
Whether the course is new or old, problem minor or major, project extensive or minimal, proper drainage is certainly important from playability to aesthetics to the health of the turf.
Rob Thomas is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.