By Mike Jiggens
A derelict Canadian resort golf course will soon be seeing the light of day once again following an infusion of capital to resurrect it to its former glory.
The former Talisman Mountain Resort, located in Ontario’s Beaver Valley near Collingwood, closed its doors in 2011 after racking up millions of dollars in unpaid taxes. The once popular ski resort was also the home to a nine-hole golf course which had consequently fallen into disrepair over the past four years.
Under the direction of a new ownership group, however, work got underway in July to whip the golf course back into shape in time for a proposed May 1, 2016 reopening.
Dufferin Outdoor Maintenance of Mulmur, Ont. was hired to tackle the immense job of not only cutting the overgrowth of weeds and grasses which had rendered the golf course unrecognizable, but grooming the greens, tees and fairways into a playable state.
Greg Landriault, president of Dufferin Outdoor Maintenance, said with the exception of a couple of cuts, the property was left untouched since it closure. In the meantime, grass and weeds had grown to heights surpassing 21/2 feet. The neglected property had become a haven for deer, wild turkeys and other wildlife.
He said he had neither maps nor aerial photographs to guide him in his search for the nine greens, tees and fairways, and relied instead on the recollections of local people who had once played the course, plus some pure luck.
“As we were cutting, we were learning,” Landriault said. “We didn’t even have a scorecard.”
A flagstick left behind helped with the immediate location of one green, but the golf course’s other features would have to wait until the overgrowth of vegetation had been slashed sufficiently enough to identify the former tees, greens and fairways.
During the first month of the resurrection process, two tractors worked six days a week to beat down the grass to a reasonable height.
“It’s just a slow process,” he said. “You start out with two feet of grass, then you cut it down, cut it down, cut it down. You mulch the heck out of it and pulverize it until it’s like dust.”
During the process it was apparent that previous cuts of about one foot from the top had been made years earlier.
“We would have pancaked grass, and we actually had to physically go out and rake it up and pick it up by hand. We couldn’t get it up any other way.”
As of mid-September, the abandoned greens were looking like greens again, even though they were a little spotty.
“At first, we had to clean them and rake them and cut them down incrementally, and then we aerated them,” said Richard Cvik, who was hired on as course superintendent. “There was a little bit of turf on them, but not very much.”
In conjuction with the aeration process, the greens were seeded in mid-August to Dominant Extreme bentgrass.
“Now they’re starting to come along,” Cvik said, adding plans were to slit seed them by mid-September to help fill them in. “After that, it’s just the maintenance of them.”
Although an irrigation system had been in place on the property, it, too, had been neglected. It was deemed inefficient when tested, prompting hand watering to grow in the greens. The inefficient system is also labour-intensive, and installation of a fully-automated system may not be realized for a couple of years.
“As it stands right now, we’re still hand-watering all the greens,” Landriault said.
It was also planned for mid-September to begin rebuilding all bunkers. Expectations were to complete the bunkers in October.
Fairways were starting to come back in early September and were being cut at seven-eighths of an inch from an original height pushing three feet. Fertilizer was applied for the first time in early September.
“We’re just waiting for a bit of greenup on them and will be cutting them again today,” Cvik said on Sept. 10.
Fairways are more of a native grass with a blend of poa annua and native bluegrass.
“There’s a myriad of things yet to do,” Cvik said. “We really haven’t approached the tees yet. We’ve cut them but haven’t cut them down to playing height yet.
“We’re still trying to locate some more equipment. As things progress, we always need more equipment because even a nine-hole course needs the same equipment as an 18-hole course. It gets a little exhaustive trying to purchase all this equipment at one time when you don’t have all the funds.”
Cvik said the strategy was to proceed slowly and simply get everything ready for an early May opening. Plans were to address sunlight penetration issues later this fall which will mean some tree pruning and perhaps the outright removal of other trees.
Many of the golf course’s accessories, including signage, benches and tee markers, were retained and put into storage when the course closed four years ago. To keep costs down, these will be polished up and reutilized in the spring.
For legal reasons, the property’s new owners will no longer be able to use the Talisman name for its acquired facilities. A new name has yet to be disclosed.
Brian Ellis, a partner in the real estate company Florida Home Finders and a member of the new ownership team, said the former Talisman course originally opened in the 1970s and was regarded as a successful executive-length course in the region. The course itself is part of an entire package which includes a hotel, spa resort and convention facilities. There are no plans to revive the former ski hill.
The hotel had also been left to decay and was on the verge of having to be razed, but timely intervention enabled it and other buildings to be salvageable through extensive renovations.
Ellis said he has been impressed with the job Landriault has done on the golf course itself.
“Considering what Greg has been up to in getting this place back, it’s almost actually a miracle that we’re at this stage,” he said. “It’s looking amazing.”
Ellis credited both Landriault and Cvik for their efforts to restore the course to its original natural beauty. At the outset of the project, it was only the two individuals operating mowers. Throughout the course of the summer, others were hired to help with mowing, maintaining turf and cleaning up gardens.
“It’s a golf course that was basically abandoned for four and a half years,” Ellis said. “It was literally just abandoned. There were a lot of issues to be dealt with, and we continue to deal with them. Even when we get it up and running, it’s not the end of the story. There are still things that will have to be done to bring it back to function well as a golf course.”
Hopes are to model the resurrected resort after nearby Collingwood’s Cranberry Resort, albeit without skiing but with top-notch golf opportunities.
Work began in mid-September to construct a new clubhouse for the resort.
Landriault began Dufferin Outdoor Maintenance two years ago after realizing there was a need in the Mulmur, Alliston, Mono and Shelburne area for snow plowing and sanding. He had worked as a network cabler for about 20 years prior to founding his new company. As the business grew—helped considerably by a snowier-than-normal first winter—he saw the opportunity to expand into lawn maintenance.
Not only does Dufferin offer commercial and residential customers snow removal and lawn maintenance services, it also provides tree trimming, eavestrough cleaning, window cleaning, brush removal, deck painting and pet waste removal services.
Cvik has been involved in the golf industry for about 30 years, getting his start on an old course his father had purchased in 1984. Following 25 years there, he moved on to ClubLink and has worked in lawn care in more recent years.