Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Golf Course Plans Before Quinnetucket

Made my latest post about Quinnetucket Golf Course at CtGolfer.com. This is an expanded version that doesn't tread as lightly when it comes to the routing of architect Al Zikorus.

Sometime in the 1970s, the city of Middletown had the idea to build a golf course on part of what is the proposed Quinnetucket Golf Course site. The 18-hole Zikorus design ran from the south side of Bow Lane - where the Quinnetucket clubhouse and practice area would be located - south to property that is now part of Middlesex Community College, including up to one of the Connecticut Valley Hospital reservoirs. The clubhouse site was at the corner of Cedar Lane and Reservoir Road. The design was a par-72 and 6,607 yards from the back tees.

There are also two other rudimentary routings that are on file in the city's planning and zoning office. Both of those 18-hole courses were jammed into essentially the same four parcels that make up the nine-hole Quinnetucket layout, and had an overabundance of short par-4s. I can find no information the architect's identity or when the routings were created.

As for the Zikorus plan, it isn't apparent if it was a final drawing or merely a proposal. Since it only shows one set of tees, I'm guessing it is a preliminary attempt. What it does show, even in that form, is that Zikorus chose to take golf holes up and down a steep ravine that is located on a narrow parcel resulting in greens and tees being wedged together. He made almost no effort to work with the land and gradually traverse the slope. Admittedly, at some points the topography is so extreme that tact would have been impossible.

Zikorus was giving the city what they wanted by drawing up a routing but if the layout had been built to his plans, the course would have had a number of uncomfortable holes that either ran straight up or down severe grades. The worst example is the par-3 9th that would have played 190 yards from the back tee and risen 70 feet. The hole would have been a driver for virtually every class of player, all of whom would be hitting to a blind green. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the 533-yard par-5 first hole that dropped 120 feet from tee to putting surface.

The severity of that part of the property that Zikorus chose to incorporate was unusable to Silva and me. We preferred to create a nine-hole layout that works comfortably with the land, rather than an 18-hole design that fights it.

I can't say I'm surprised by what the drawings show. From the Zikorus courses I've seen, he had a modicum of talent. His renovation of the Hunter Golf Course in Meriden, Conn., my home course, resulted in a series of boring and disagreeable holes that punish the the high handicap player and shorter hitter. There is rarely a time where playing to a specific side of a fairway reveals the best route for an approach to the green. Timberline Golf Club in Berlin, Conn., is one of the most boring layouts I've ever had the misfortune play. He also displayed little talent when it came to adapting new holes to existing layouts. His one green complex at the Donald Ross-designed Cohasset (Mass.) Country Club fits in like a white horse in herd of black cows.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Greenbrier's Old White Course Becomes a TPC

Here is excerpt of the press release on the surprising alignment between The Greenbrier resort and the PGA Tour.

"The PGA TOUR announced today that The Old White Course at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, is now part of the TPC Network of clubs as part of a licensing agreement for the property. One of four championship layouts at the historic Greenbrier, the newly named The Old White TPC serves as host site of the TOUR’s Greenbrier Classic, which will be played July 25 – 31, 2011.

"Included in the TPC relationship is management consultation from PGA TOUR. As part of that, 30-year golf industry veteran Burton Baine has been hired to be on property to advise the owner regarding day to day golf course operations."

Interesting that the press release does not mention that Lester George renovated Old White, a 1924 Charles Blair Macdonald design, prior to last year's tournament. A link to my interview with George about the course and his work can be found here.

The press release gives a slight tip of the cap to the original architect but fails to mention Seth Raynor, protege of Macdonald, also did a major upgrade that was completed after his death by his partner, Charles Banks.

"Macdonald, a dominant figure in the early history of American golf, took advantage of the topography’s undulating terrain to create a challenging and visually stunning layout that pays tribute to some of the most famous European holes in golf. The Old White TPC’s No. 8 hole was styled after the Redan at North Berwick, No. 13 after the Alps at Prestwick, and No. 15 after the Eden at St. Andrews."

Other courses at The Greenbrier are the Dick Wilson/Bob Cupp-designed Meadows Course and the Greenbrier Course, which was originally designed by Seth Raynor and re-designed by Jack Nicklaus in 1977, as well as The Snead, a private membership layout designed by Tom Fazio.

(Photo by Stephen Szurlej)

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Machrie Doubles Size of Green Staff with Addition of Noted Mower

Simon Freeman, head greenkeeper at the Machrie Hotel and Golf Links, emailed to say he was allowed to double the size of his staff so that there are now two employees, including himself.

"I got my first assistant, Ewan Logan, back to help me. Ewan has worked out here for 25 years, so to have someone with his knowledge and experience back is an absolute bonus for me. Quite apart from his level of expertise, he's the fastest hand mower operator on the West Coast!"

Freeman went on to write that an early spring has the layout ahead of schedule.

"The golf course is looking good for the time of year, we have had some excellent weather these last few weeks and have good grass cover pretty much everywhere and the greens are coming into the season in good health. The turfing jobs that I managed to do over the winter are knitting in well."

(The accompanying Freeman photo was taken this past winter.)

Freeman also passed along that the hotel is closed but that there are limited services for golfers.

"The shop is open to sell green fees from Monday- Friday from 8am to 4pm, and Kate is available between those hours to help with inquiries that potential visitors might have. Because the front door and the corridor are open, there are toilet facilities for all guests, and a changing room area which visitors can utilise as long as they pick up their belongings before 3:30pm."

There is no official word on the asking price for the Machrie but after talking with people involved with golf on that side of the ocean, the number appears to be 1.75 million pounds ($2.8 million.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Machrie is Open for Business, Green Fees Reduced

Head greenkeeper Simon Freeman is the last man remaining on the green staff at The Machrie Hotel and Golf Links, but the fantastic layout is open for business while it is up for sale. Since there are no irrigation heads anywhere on the property and the nights are still cool, Freeman's mowing schedule is not as intense as if the layout was artificially watered or it was the dead of summer.

Freeman has also taken to posting regularly on Facebook to keep golfers apprised of the situation.

"Despite going into administration, the Machrie is absolutely open for business as usual, and the more people we can persuade to come and make use of the facility this year, the more money will be made available to us to spend on the course for the benefit of everyone," he wrote.

Freeman also posted that because the restaurant is closed and there are no changing facilities, green fees for April will be reduced to 40 pounds.

KPMG continues to mana
ge the property and look for a buyer.

I played The Machrie last year with Keith Martin, the head greenkeeper at Machrihanish Dunes, along with his assistant Kevin Smith. It's an absolute joy and easily worth the ferry ride to the Isle of Islay.

Freeman has also had the time to post some fantastic photos of the course on Facebook, two of which I've included here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Day at the New England Regional Turfgrass Conference and Show

Spent Wednesday at the 14th annual New England Regional Turfgrass Conference and Show held at the Rhode Island Convention Center. It ran from March 7-10.

I've attended every year since 2000 and I thought attendance was down from last year. Superintendents and exhibitors I talked to agreed with me. Wednesday was the first day the exhibition hall was open the entire day.

There appears to be three reasons for the lower attendance.

First, superintendents continue to feel the pinch of the sluggish economy on their budgets and are not making purchases beyond necessary items.

Second, the Golf Industry Show was held Feb. 7-11 in O
rlando, Fla. An East Coast venue for that event always means New England superintendents are more likely to attend than when the GIS is held in California. In 2012, the national is scheduled for Las Vegas and falls after the NERTCS.

The third likely reason was the fact that rains and warm temperatures in the days leading up to the NERTCS wiped away large amounts of snow on many layouts. Superintendents that weren't sure when they would be calling seasonal help back to work just last week now had had a contingent of workers out on the course that needed directing.

The NERTCS is not just for the golf industry. Education classes and products are also offered for sports and grounds, landscape and equipment technicians.

I don't think shrinking attendance is indicative of the value superintendents see in regional shows. In fact, I would not be surprised to see attendance at the GIS decline over the next few years as regional shows entice superintendents with an increased number of exhibitors while provide more and better education seminars, all for a much lower cost. There also appears to be much more business done of the show floor of the regional events than at the national.

This year in Providence lecturers carme from universities in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Two superintendents also spoke: Jeff Carlson of the Vineyard Golf Club in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and John Garcia of the Patterson Club in Fairfield, Conn.

The USGA Green Section was represented by Director David Oatis and Northeast Regional Agronomist Jim Skorulski.

This year's keynote address was delivered Tuesday by Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team.

The highlight of my day in Providence is always the chance to talk with people from around the Northeast that I only see at this show or when I play their golf courses. This year was no exception.

My second favorite part of the day this year was lunch at Eddie and Son on Dorrance Street in the Financial District. Rather than eat at one of the many establishments around the convention center, Keith Angilly and I decided to wander downtown. Keith is a Rhode Island native and superintendent at Mill River Country Club in Stratford, Conn.

We hit the jackpot with Eddie and Son, which as you can see from this link gets rave reviews.

I opted for meatballs and American cheese on a torpedo role with a side of fries while Keith went for sausage, peppers and provolone on a torpedo role, also with fries.

Eddie's has been around for over 65 years. It seats perhaps 30 at both counter and tables. The food was fantastic; some of the best marinara that I've had in a long time. The service was quick and pleasant. We had our meals less than two minutes after ordering. Eddie and Son is really worth a visit if you are in downtown Providence looking for breakfast or lunch. If I'm at the NERTFCS next year, I'll be back at Eddie and Son.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Brief History of Quinnetucket on CTGolfer.com

My latest installment at CtGolfer.com will be of interest for anyone who is not entirely familiar with the history of the Quinnetucket Golf Course project.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sorry to Say, Frank Nobilo Already in Midseason Form

Listening to Frank Nobilo talk about architecture and maintenance while announcing golf on television is enough to make me turn down the volume permanently out of fear that I might accidentally stumble onto one of his infuriating statements.

When it comes to agronomy, Nobilo - like nearly every one of his announcer brethren - have no idea the harm and problems they can cause with what they take to be an a mere aside. Those in the business of growing grass, though, are all too aware of the power the mouths have.

Case in point. Here's a Facebook post from a well-regarded superintendent watching today's coverage of the Honda Classic.

"To my golf business friends - Nobilo just said that the greens were rolling at 11, which is not 'overly fast.' So, apparently 11 is just kind of average. sigh..."

Can't wait to hear what Nobilo will be saying come August.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chronicling the Quinnetucket project on CtGolfer.Com

After an invitation from Bob Samek, the guy who runs, Ctgolfer.com, I'm blogging regularly on the site about my Quinnetucket Golf Course project. The first post was last week. Most of what I'll be writing about for Ctgolfer.com has been covered in my posts here, but will give those who are unfamiliar with the project a chance to catch up.

CTgolfer.com is a wonderful site that is easily the most comprehensive when it comes to what's going on and where to play in regards to golf in Connecticut. Besides Bob and me, there two other bloggers I know well. Paul Sabino, superintendent at the Farms Country Club in Wallingford, Conn., who I worked for in the fall of 1998, writes about the world of course maintenance. There is also Bruce Berlet, former longtime golf writer for the Hartford Courant covers the happenings of players and courses across Connecticut.

In addition, Sue Sawyer chronicles topics pertaining to woman while Pete Asadourian is the guy for golf and fitness tips.