By Mike Jiggens
By David McPherson
Doug Erwin and I chatted in the late fall, approximately 200 days until some of the world’s best amateur golfers from the Americas will tee it up on a renovated Angus Glen South Course, which the greenkeeper believes has “more teeth.”
The head superintendent of Angus Glen’s two courses and the Stollery family’s sister course (Goodwood Golf Club), hopes Mother Nature cooperates before the snow arrives, so he can finish off a few bunker projects and put the trio of courses to bed for the winter. Then, he can rest, after what has been a busy two years.
Erwin was hired as the assistant superintendent on Angus Glen’s North Course in May 2001, serving in this position until 2006. He then moved to Goodwood Golf Club to supervise the construction and grow-in and stay on as superintendent. When the position at Angus Glen South became available in 2009, Erwin talked with the owners and together they decided to create a new head superintendent position for all three courses.
As soon as Erwin arrived back at Angus Glen, the greenkeeper knew the course needed to make some changes. Since he was there last, the economic environment had changed; yet, the club was still a slave to its shotgun schedule. (The South Course at Angus Glen hosts more than 120 shotgun tournaments each season, most full with 144 players). That schedule has been the norm since the course opened in 1995. This heavy traffic makes it a challenge to have consistent and regular maintenance practices and also to find time for capital improvements.
Even before the idea of hosting the 2015 Pan American Games golf competition was on the club’s radar, they prepared a long-range plan—starting the process of looking at the course within its unique schedule.
“At the time, rounds were slowing down, not necessarily from corporate golf, but from public golf,” Erwin explained. “We needed to find ways to operate with less money, but still maintain the same value for money our guests expect.”
First, Erwin assembled a team. Next, he worked with the owners and various consultants. In 2010, Angus Glen hired John Bladon of the Chimera Group and the Canadian Turfgrass Advisory Group (CTAG), as project consultants. The team started by looking at the efficiencies of the inputs they were making to the course and determined they needed to spend their capital better. The first change was to its fertility programs, specifically mowing and maintenance practices.
“I stopped walk-mowing the greens and switched to the Triplex mowers,” Erwin said. “It was an evolution from that moment forward, figuring out how we could staff the way we needed to with minimum wages going up every year. That was definitely a challenge. We are basically trying to make the business more sustainable both ecologically and economically.”
Head to the sand
The bunkers were one of the most pressing issues facing Angus Glen. After rain events, the sand traps on the South Course did not drain well and customers were starting to complain.
“After a serious rain, we would have puddles out there for days and shotguns coming out and we did not have time to run bunker pumps,” Erwin said. “The perception that our bunkers were less well kept than they should be was there … we needed to address this.”
So, late in the 2011-2012 season, the course embarked on an ambitious bunker project.
“The bunkers were outdated in terms of location with the increases in driving distance of players from the tee,” he explained. “Many of the fairway bunkers were no longer in play. We also needed to add new sand and new drainage.”
The course brought in Dave Empringham and Bryan Smith of KCM Golf Construction, who had already done some minor renovations to the bunkers at Goodwood Golf Club. The bunkers are now the best quality possible—a blended Ohio white signature sand, similar to ProAngle, and they drain really well.
They also brought the sand higher and put in a bentonite liner to protect the sand from contamination. To further reduce labour costs, they removed 50 per cent of the fly-mowing areas around the bunkers.
“The original design had really high faces, and the grass came right around the faces of the bunkers,” Erwin explained. “It added a visual look, but I would rather push sand up every other day, than put four or five people out to fly-mow them. That was getting more and more difficult. In 2003, I could afford to have 50 guys out there, but now I’m lucky to have 36-38 for both courses.”
Also figuring prominently into the project’s success was general contractor NMP Golf Construction, headed by Simon Poirier, which shared the workload with KCM.
Once Erwin and the owners decided they had to close the course, they figured it made sense to get some more improvements to the course done. The question was how they were going to tackle this task within their unique shotgun schedule. The next focus was improving the performance and consistency of the greens on the South Course. Erwin had done a lot of testing and infiltration rates were very low.
“There was a lot of organic matter at the surface that had built up mostly due to the fact because of our shotgun schedule and number of rounds we could not aerate the greens as frequently as we would like,” he added.
Working with the consultants, the project team came with a process to tackle the greens. They decided to core them out, start from the gravel base up and redo them from that point with a different style of root zone that Bladon and Erwin designed to increase the infiltration rate, and keep the firm and fast greens customers expected within the course’s unique shotgun schedule.
“Because of the way our business works, we could not affect our corporate tournament base,” Erwin commented. “I wanted the golf course on Aug. 1, so I could seed the greens, but the owners decided to close it Aug. 31, so I had no choice but to sod. That was an expensive decision for them to make, but it made sense in the long term because you don’t want to upset too many tournaments, or lose them, because that’s our bread and butter.”
Greenhorizons supplied what Erwin calls “an amazing product” and he said that’s a big part of this renovation success story. The sod was three-quarters of an inch thick, which Erwin requested, and it had been topdressed throughout the season with the club’s root zone.
“It was almost like we had seeded with three or four weeks of growth,” he said.
Once the sod arrived, the process had to be quick, and it was. The club sodded all the greens in less than 30 days, starting the first one on Sept. 13, 2013 and the final one on Oct. 11.
The new greens have much more movement and are designed to increase the number of pin positions.
“When the greens got too fast, it was often hard to get any fair pin positions,” said Erwin. “We addressed that by taking away a lot of the two-tiered greens and now have at least a dozen pin positions on all of the greens.”
After the bunker work and green renovations, the project continued to grow. They decided to reuse all the old greens mix and redo the tees.
“That was more of a labour cost as opposed to bringing in more material,” he explained. “Then, we looked into the sustainability of the amount of water we have available for our use and if it was going to cost us money to pump water. We wanted the site to sustain itself season to season, so we incorporated a very large lake onto the 11th and 15th holes, which added about seven million gallons of storage.”
Now with the two courses combined, Erwin said they have more than 35 million gallons they can draw from as well as their wells.
Fescue to the rescue
Finally, to save labour and add a new look to the South Course, the club decided to add a lot of fescue. When the course was designed in 1991, it was meant to be bluegrass from fence line to fence line, but rising labour costs was making that ideal more difficult to maintain. It did not make sense to fertilize all of this grass in the rough and mow it frequently. Over the years, Erwin had let some of these grasses grow, but bluegrass does not look right when it is let go to six inches or longer; it starts looking unkempt. Erwin had a lot of experience growing fescue at the Goodwood property, so it was an easy transition.
“We took about 40 per cent of our mowable bluegrass areas and turned these acres and acres into fescues,” he says. “Then, we put in a new irrigation system because it was getting old and designed the irrigation system to suit all of that fescue. We decreased the amount of area we are irrigating, fertilizing and mowing. The biggest impact of fescues is around the tee decks.”
Ready for Pan Am
The final touches were adding about 19,000 cubic metres on No.11 to raise the tee complex and another 11,000 cubic metres were added to the opening hole, so the pond next to the green and the landing area can now be seen.
This fall, the course had a test run when it hosted the World Junior Girls Championship event. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Next up is the Pan Am games in 2015. Erwin and his team, which includes assistant Dan North, are ready to host the world’s best amateurs next July with golf making its return to the games after 112 years.
“It’s just going to be long hours,” he said. “I don’t see any challenges with the golf course preparing for Pan Am. Weather, as always, will be the biggest challenge. You and I can only guess what it will be on July 12, 2015 when they start!”
“We’ve hit a home run,” he concluded. “I’m excited for the club. We have a good name. We’ve been around a long time and are recognized by the industry. We deserve to continue that. The family deserves to have something like that that they can be proud of.”
For more information on the Pan Am games, visit http://www.toronto2015.org/golf .