Transformation via renovated bunkers
Courtesy of Joel Purpur

Transformation via renovated bunkers

Illinois superintendent Joel Purpur offers perspective on a recently completed project and other course enhancements at a 114-year-old club.

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October 26, 2020

Park Ridge Country Club in Park Ridge, Illinois, recently completed a bunker renovation. The work involved the installation of 1,860 tons of new sand inside bunker, and 284,400 square feet of bluegrass, 26,100 square feet of tall fescue and 85,000 square feet of bentgrass sod around faces.  
 
Veteran superintendent Joel Purpur, CGCS, offers insight on the project and other work around the course. The club formed in 1906 and its primary golf course designers include H.J. Tweedie, Tom Bendelow and William Langford.    
 
The decision to renovate
The sand at PRCC’s course was past its expected life and wasn’t draining well, and bunker technology and construction methods had changed, offering bunkers better performance and less maintenance.  We also wanted to freshen up the design features of some of the holes. The sand was changed to a whiter color, the Better Billy Bunker construction method was used, and the shapes of the bunkers were re-designed.
 
Don’t forget about your old sand
One step of the bunker renovation that shouldn't be taken lightly is to have a plan for what to do with all of the old sand, which was over 2,000 tons. In our case, we found several people to take some of it, as well as re-purposed it by acquiring a large screener and spreading it throughout the course as topdressing.
 
The results
The visual impact of the new bunkers is outstanding – the sod and sand lines are stunning. The sand is a lighter color, which is visually appealing, and the sand granular is angular in shape which is better for playability of the typical bunker shot.
 
A water feature also changes
The rock work on the 12th hole was begun in order to correct the erosion on the pond bank created by round rock boulders. We chose to use a ledge type of rock instead to stabilize the bank. Also, during a pre-construction meeting, we discussed the ongoing issue we had with algae and debris collecting in the stagnant water at the narrow area by the bridge. The recirculating pump now feeds two pools, with each having two spillways creating gentle waterfalls. This helps to keep the area cleaner and beautify the area as well.
 
Progress report
Growing in the vast amount of sod during all of the heat and dry periods has certainly been a monumental task, and the need to lower the irrigation reservoir lake for the rock work limited the irrigation draw down amount which added to the challenge.

The new sod is still growing roots and not very drought tolerant yet. The height of cut is also lower on the course than the sod farm, so it may go a bit off color from time to time. However, soon the cooler temperatures and needed rainfall will promote root growth and plant health. Kentucky Bluegrass also goes dormant in extremely hot temperatures and we have experienced almost double the average number of 90-degree days for a typical summer here in the Chicago area.

August rainfall was well below average, almost 4 inches below what we normally expect. Without our improved irrigation system, the course would have the entire rough look like straw. As the time between rainfalls lengthens, the variances in irrigation coverage versus water demand magnifies. This means areas in the sun demand more water than areas in the shade, so irrigation run times need to be identified and changed constantly. With over 1,000 irrigation heads in the rough, this is a large and ongoing task.
With the cooler weather approaching and course construction completed, golf at Park Ridge Country Club is the best it’s ever been.
 
More on timing 
As far as timing for the project, spring and late fall for construction projects can be iffy as wet weather produces conditions not favorable for shaping soil so time tables get stretched out from lost days due to wet conditions. Conversely, summer is usually great for dry working conditions, but keeping new sod watered and alive during hot and dry conditions is another challenge with no room for error.
 
And about labor
If your crew is going to help out with certain aspects of the projects, make sure the directors of the club know where the labor is coming from in terms of what manicuring is not going to get attention or what intervals of maintenance are going to be stretched.