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It’s a hard decision for course owners, club managers and golf course superintendents.
Installing new greens is a process that doesn’t happen overnight. The whole course (or at least nine holes) must be closed for several weeks or months. There is disruption of play and lost revenues. Dues-paying members must live with fewer tee times during the renovation process. Instead of teeing off in the morning, they sometimes must play in the afternoon.
Carolina National is starting the renovation process this summer and with 27 holes, disruptions will be minimal. The Egret Nine makeover will start June 5, followed by Heron on July 31. The Ibis Nine will be done in 2014.
“Our greens have been compromised for the last several years,” said Steve Beecroft, general manager of Carolina National, which is owned and operated by Traditional Golf Clubs of Virginia. “Our L93 Crenshaw bent grass greens were installed when the club was built in 1998. Year by year, summers got hotter and wetter and bent grass hates that.
“Last year, we lost two greens on Egret and then one on Ibis. We needed a change. We listened to our members and we surveyed them during the decision-making process. We wanted good conditions year-round and, with Champion Bermudagrass greens, we’ll have that.”
Golfers today are subject to what Steve calls “The Augusta National Syndrome.”
“Years ago, the only great photographs of golf courses were on the covers of magazines,” he said. “Today, everyone who watches golf on their HDTVs sees courses that are magnificent. These golfers look at their own course and say, ‘Why can’t we look like Augusta National?’ It’s tough today to be a green superintendent or a club manager because golfers expect their courses to all look like Augusta National or Pebble Beach.”
During the renovation process at Carolina National, each nine will be closed in turn as new greens are installed. Tee times have been adjusted to accommodate both member tee times and outside play. Normally, with 27 holes in play, there is no need to double-tee golfers, but now, during the renovation, double tees and crossovers after nine holes will be standard.
Tom Dedrick, the golf course superintendent at Carolina National, is delighted with the upcoming changes.
“We are very excited,” he said. “Every summer we have had problems with our bent grass greens and we’re hoping those difficult days are over. Instead of working hard to keep the greens alive during the summer months, we’ll be working to make them better.”
The course will play differently when the new greens are installed, according to Tom and Steve.
Tom explained the course was designed with bent grass in mind, so the architects (Gene Bates and Fred Couples) took that into consideration when they planned approach shots to each green. Bent grass greens are soft so a ball will stop quicker and even spin backward.
Now, the new greens will be harder and faster, and those who play regularly at Carolina National will have to learn new techniques.
“Lob wedges will become very popular here,” said Tom. “Until they adjust, our golfers may find themselves over the green on their approach shots.”
Champion Bermudagrass has a different feel to it because it is a different kind of grass, Tom explained.
“This grass is sensitive to air temperatures and grows rapidly in a horizontal direction,” he said. “It’s called a stoloniferous grass because it spreads by lateral stems called stolons that creep over the ground. Bare spots fill in quickly with Bermudagrass, and the Champion variety can be cut low for fast putting.”
Sometimes when a course with severe ridges and undulations on their greens converts to the newer hybrid grasses, putting becomes impossible, according to Tom.
“You barely make contact with the ball and it rolls right off the green; sometimes there are 8- and 10-foot breaks. Luckily for us, our greens are not severely mounded and the new grass will be just fine,” he said.
Tom is married and is the father of two children. He has worked for 20 years as a superintendent on golf courses with bent grass greens.
“Each summer I was totally stressed during heat waves,” he said. “My crew and I spent hours syringing the greens and cooling them off by spraying water. My family hardly saw me during July and August and into September. Bermudagrass thrives in heat and humidity. I’m looking forward to spraying Roundup on our bent grass to get the process started. The whole crew is counting the days.”
Most golf courses in our area have Bermudagrass in the fairways and rough, and many have converted to Bermuda for their greens also. Bermuda goes dormant in the winter and loses its color so many courses overseed greens, fairways and rough with rye each fall because tourists do not want to come to the “Golf Capital of the World” and play on brown grass.
Carolina National will not be overseeding its new greens next fall. Instead, it will paint them so that they look green during the dormant months.
Superintendents have found overseeding is not the best thing for the primary grasses. In the spring, when the rye dies down and the Bermuda greens up, the turf becomes patchy. The same thing happens in the fall as the rye takes over and the Bermuda dies down.
The fairways and rough usually respond to the change easily, but greens can be a problem during the transition.
“We’ll keep our new greens cut low and fast during the summer months,” Tom said. “Then in the fall, as the growth rate slows down, we’ll let them get a little longer and keep them that way during the winter so they’ll winter well.”
Growing turf and keeping our courses green and beautiful year-round is a science. Most of our golf course superintendents have college degrees in agronomy. They send out dozens of soil samples for analysis during the year. They consult with college professors at prestigious universities and they take classes to keep their certification up to date.
“Superintendents share information with each other all the time. We talk to each other and say, ‘This worked for me, maybe it will work for you.’ We’re all in this together and we help each other out,” Tom said.
Carolina National has always been one of my favorite tracks, especially since it became an Audubon Certified Golf Course several years ago. Birds and other wildlife abound there; wild grasses and flowers thrive and there is minimal use of chemicals.
Golf Gab groaner
If a lot of people gripped a knife and fork as poorly as they do a golf club, they’d starve to death. (Sam Snead, submitted by Barbara Poepping.)
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.