Seven years ago this month, my wife and I were somewhere in the middle of Texas, four states and 20 parks into a road trip to visit and write about every full-season, affiliated Minor League Baseball team in the country. We drove by day, wrote by night, survived on too much fast food and too many ballpark hot dogs, bunked in so many Walmart parking lots.
I was back in Texas not long ago, joined this time by Golf Course Industry editor Guy Cipriano, for a far less epic but no less interesting trip: Inside a pair of packed days, we visited three clubs, talked with dozens of folks, snapped hundreds of photos — and managed to find some pretty delicious burnt ends in the process.
I started my first GCI trip at Trinity Forest Golf Club, home of both the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Southern Methodist University golf teams, in south Dallas. The course is still new — it opened in the fall of 2016 — and has gained a reputation: Michael Jordan and George W. Bush are among its limited number of regulars. It is also essentially a links without shoreline, its turf fast and rolling, its expanses opened to the sun and the wind of Texas springs and summers. Gusts tend to average around 10 or 15 mph, according to Kasey Kauff, the director of grounds, but they whipped around 30 when we walked the course. I might have lost my cap more than once.
Guy and I were on the grounds for about 10 hours — not quite a full day for most superintendents, assistants and crew members, but more time than most folks, I think — and talked with Kauff and his crew for a long story that starts on page 30.
We traveled the next day to the new Texas Rangers Golf Club in Arlington, a municipal course operated since 1982 as Chester W. Ditto Golf Course and reopened earlier this year as the only Major League Baseball-branded course in the country. Arlington native John Colligan worked through the renovation with his Colligan Golf Design partner, Trey Kemp, and the civic pride in his voice during a cart ride over its 55 feet of elevation change was wonderful. He lives just miles from the course. He wants it to be loved even more than he wants the Rangers to win a World Series.
Superintendent Brick Scott wants the course to be loved, too, and I’ll dive more into his perspective in a story that will run in the magazine later this summer — maybe around the time the Rangers surprise everybody and gain some ground on the powerhouse intrastate rival Houston Astros.
We ended our Texas three-step that afternoon at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas, the former home of the AT&T Byron Nelson, where Anthony L. Williams, the legendary director of golf course and landscape operations, and superintendent Cortland Winkle are working on something special. The course is as beautiful as ever — even without 15,000 fans packed high on risers overlooking the 17th green — and they can take much of the credit.
We’ll have more on Williams, Winkle and the latest chapters in their stories soon, too. For now, though, a pair of quotes to sum the first of many trips to track down and share stories with you about courses and, more important, people:
The first: “I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.” Davy Crockett said that not long after losing his Congressional reelection bid in 1834, and it captures the pride of every Texan, native or adopted. Crockett had served his home state of Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives but narrowly lost his seat to a former state senator named Adam Huntsman. Crockett did go off to Texas. He was dead less than two years later. We all know that story.
The second: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” That quote is attributed to Mark Twain, but odds are he never wrote or said it. The sentiment remains, though. Get going. Do things. Maybe visiting 122 ballparks in 153 days isn’t your perfect road trip. Maybe you’d rather hit a new course every day for a winter, or test gear for a year, or bum through Scotland.
Whatever your dream — personal, professional, other — carve out the time and go do it.
And remember that Walmart parking lots are almost always open.
Tartan Talks No. 34
If you enjoyed reading Jeff Brauer in Golf Course Industry over the years, you’ll savor this month’s Tartan Talks podcast.
Brauer makes his anticipated debut on our airwaves to discuss a variety of subjects, including how somebody from Arlington Heights, Ill., established a golf course architecture firm in Arlington, Texas, and the impact Dick Nugent and Ken Killian had on his career.
Brauer spent 15 years authoring the monthly “Game Plan” column and his final regular contribution runs in this issue (page 26).
The conversation with Brauer, along with our other Superintendent Radio Network podcasts, can be downloaded via iTunes, Google Play and PlayerFM. They are also available via www.golfcourseindustry.com and biweekly Fast & Firm enewsletters.
Addition by (Agronomic) Subtraction at The Phoenician
By Judd Spicer
Tyler Rasmussen has a new toy.
Rasmussen took over as the head golf superintendent at the fully-renovated Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January, two months after the iconic resort’s on-site course reopened following a 10-month renovation by locally-based architect Phil Smith, which took the grounds from 27 to 18 holes.
The overhaul of the Troon-managed course was part of the final phase of a three-year, $90 million resort makeover that includes a new spa, sport courts, athletic club and pool area.
From a turf take, keeping up with the impressive new slew of luxuries comes with a scale of reaction.“When I see how great the new, state-of-the-art amenities are, it does put more pressure on the golf course to match the other amenities,” Rasmussen says. “But at the same time, as personally-driven as we are to do our absolute best, it can also take a little pressure off the shoulders to drive all the profits. They spent a lot of money to renovate and to match the renovation work done at the resort. So it’s our job to match those two worlds; to make the course an unbelievable amenity for the resort. That’s the expectation.”
While player reaction to the new layout is fast finding positive traction for a more seamless routing through the Sonoran Desert, the turnaround time puts an onus on the grounds to find full fruition. As of mid-March, the rework continues to mature into its vision.
“It was a pretty quick turnaround, 10 months,” Rasmussen says. “But I’m lucky that I came in to new irrigation, new greens. It’s a new course, it’s great, but there will be challenges.”
Rasmussen will implement aggressive cultural practices in the early phases of the maturation. “The biggest challenge looking forward will be the spring transition; going from the rye back to Bermuda,” he says. “Given the short construction time, some of the final holes that sprigged, they were overseeded 30 days later. So was that turf fully established to a point that it’s gonna come back good in the spring? There will be areas that will be thin, so it’s our responsibility to be on top of all the cultural practices and push that transition early.”
Included in the renovation are new TifEagle greens.
“They’re two different stories right now,” Rasmussen says. “Some of them were sprigged, but as the timeline became tighter and tighter, some of them were sodded. So, it will probably be two different types of cultural practices, as far as core aerification, and how much material we’re moving from the sprigged greens to the sodded greens.”
From a macro vantage, the Phoenician golf philosophy of adding more with fewer holes is an impression undoubtedly shared by myriad high-end club and resort properties. The course downsize removed 45 acres of turf which, in concert with the new irrigation system, is already bringing returns in water conservation. In turn, published reports suggest that the former golf land will eventually be repurposed for houses and condominium sales.
Seeking to engage and attract members and guests with more non-golf amenities, luxury brands around the country are actively investing respective attentions (and dollars) into re-routing sport and leisure time.
While the Phoenician’s golf re-work saw a reinvestment into a solvent and popular facility, the decrease of holes to present an improved play and more focused course canvas may well represent the newest of high-end property trends.
Not that addition-by-agronomic-subtraction is a bad thing.
“I think that’s more where golf is going,” Rasmussen says. “I once worked at a different property in Arizona with 45 holes, and that was a lot. It was too much almost to take care of, considering the amount of water and resources needed for the operation. Factoring in the price of equipment, the price of labor, I can definitely see a trend where places with multiple courses or 27 holes, they’re gonna start reducing down to 18 holes.”
Another quarter, another acquisition for Troon, which recently added OB Sports Golf Management of Scottsdale and its portfolio of more than 70 courses and clubs to its roster. OB Sports will join Troon Golf, Honours Golf, Troon Privé, CADDIEMASTER, Troon International, True Club Solutions, Cliff Drysdale Management and RealFood Consulting under the Troon umbrella, and will continue to operate within its own brand.
Less than a week before winning his fifth green jacket, Tiger Woods and his TGR Design company were unveiled as lead architects for the Makaha North Course at Makaha Valley Resort on Oahu, Hawaii. Gil Hanse, who has designed the Black Course at Streamsong, Pinehurst No. 4 and the Olympic Course in Rio de Janeiro, will develop the Makaha South Course in concert. Both projects were commissioned by Pacific Links International.
Rees Jones is keeping busy, thanks to a pair of renovations announced just weeks apart. Jones and his associates are at work now renovating a pair of holes at LedgeRock Golf Club outside Reading, Pa. — a course of his own design that opened in 2006 — that should be finished around Memorial Day. He’s also overseeing a $7.5 million renovation of the South Course at BallenIsles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., originally designed in 1964 by Joe Lee and Dick Wilson, that should be finished by December.