Golf Course Management


Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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72 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 09.16 In a move that may have been a courtesy but proved to be vital — and a move I would encourage any club considering a project of this sort to replicate — the club included me in the interview process for hiring an archi - tect. As part of that process, I gave tours of the course to each candidate, which allowed me to see the course through the different designers' points of view, and to get an idea of their work styles and personalities. This approach also made clear to the candidates that the superin - tendent would play a major — not marginal — role in the project. Cool, calm, collaborative Jim began by asking a lot of questions. I got the sense that he wanted, respected and valued my opinion, and during much of his time on- site (which was considerable), I accompanied him. In order to foster trust, and to finish the project on time, Jim and I were in constant communication. If we weren't meeting face to face, we were emailing, calling or texting each other. We strived to keep our discussions open and honest — another key to the success of the project. Early on, I'd been concerned that decisions that might affect maintenance would be made without my input, but with Jim, that was never the case. I was never sur - prised, circumvented or undermined. A project the scale of the Bob O'Link Cen - tennial Initiative requires the involvement of several professionals — architect, shaper, course builder, irrigation contractor, drainage contractor and more — and, because of that, the interaction of several different personali - ties. Each contributor has a valuable perspec- tive, but no one likely cares as much about the finished course as the superintendent. After all the bulldozers and dump trucks are gone and the opening-day party is but a hazy mem - ory, the superintendent is the one responsible for the quality of playing conditions day in, day out. There were inevitable rubs, but I resolved early on that my job and the job of our agron - omy staff would be to iron out conflicts, not create them. For example, the subject of grass - ing lines was a continual debate. For the most part, Jim and I were on the same page. I un - derstood what he was trying to achieve with respect to playability, and he understood how grassing would affect our maintenance prac - tices. In almost all cases, Jim deferred to me, but together we pushed the limits of what we thought we could accomplish with bentgrass. Drainage was also an ongoing discussion, specifically the grading necessary to facilitate proper surface drainage. We'd been given a very explicit directive from membership to improve the course's drainage. In fact, when Mr. Valenti and green committee chairman Joe Burden had pitched the Centennial Initia - tive to the membership, better drainage was one of the main selling points. The club had also hired consultant Tom Shapland to help manage the project and give input on drain - age. Jim would have probably preferred not to Golf course architect Jim Urbina uses paint to map out new bunkering on Bob O'Link's fifth hole for (from left) club president Joe Valenti, treasurer William Andrews, head golf professional Dan Watters, and superintendent Matt Leinen. the greens to examine the surfaces, and what we found wasn't good. Like many Midwest - ern courses with Poa annua, Bob O'Link suffered significant winterkill on greens, tees and fairways during the harsh winter of 2013- 2014. We experienced up to 80 percent turf loss on six of our 18 greens, and all 18 had been damaged. I notified club leadership of the bad news: It would likely be June before we could support play, and, even then, put - ting conditions would probably be very poor. The board of directors had begun looking into addressing the root causes of the course's conditioning problems back in 2013, but now, facing the reality that the greens needed serious attention, the time had come for a broader solution. The club took bold action, announcing in spring 2015 a sweeping, $10 million overhaul dubbed the "Centennial Initiative." The effort would encompass improved drainage, new ir - rigation, new subsurfaces for the greens, new turf throughout, a tree management regimen, and the restoration of Alison's trademark green complexes. Board president Joe Valenti described the end goal as "An exciting golf course relevant to the modern game and sym - pathetic to the genius of Charles H. Alison." The scheduled completion date: early summer 2016. In order for such a massive undertaking to be finished on such a tight deadline, the membership would have to sacrifice a full golf season in the summer-starved Midwest. It was one of the biggest decisions the membership had ever had to make, and although there was some pushback, members overwhelmingly bought in. Club leadership doubled down, enlisting a team that included irrigation con - sultant Mike Kuhn, golf construction consul- tant Tom Shapland, engineering consultant Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd., and irrigation contractor and golf course builder Leibold Irrigation. For the design work and restoration of the superb Alison green complexes, the club hired Jim Urbina Golf Design. Jim, who in 2010 was named Co-Golf Architect of the Year (along with Tom Doak) by Golf Magazine, co-de - signed the acclaimed Old Macdonald course at Bandon Dunes, and was behind recent restora - tions at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif., and Garden City (N.Y.) Golf Club. He's also done standout work at San Francisco Golf Club and Yeamans Hall Club in Charleston, S.C. For Bob O'Link, Urbina was charged with bringing back the distinctive and strategic elegance of the original Alison design.

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