Turf & Rec

Features Profiles
Golf course undergoes dramatic rebuild, addresses drainage issue


March 10, 2014
By Mike Jiggens


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On the verge of celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Tsawwassen Golf & Country Club has undergone a full makeover to the extent that it is now a completely new golf course.

Its new look has come with a brand new name: Tsawwassen Springs Golf Club.

Originally open for play in 1967, the existing 18-hole public golf course in British Columbia’s lower mainland was closed for play in November of 2011 to make way for a longer, more challenging track that would be part of a major condominium and residential housing development.

Tsawwassen Springs enjoyed its first full year of play in 2013 and is beginning to win over golfers in the area as the golf course matures that much more.

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“The old course was kind of on its last legs,” superintendent Gord Olson said. “We could have kept it going a little while longer, but the irrigation was so bad and there was no sand or anything and it turned into mud in the winter.”

The original course, which measured about 4,500 yards and played to a par of 65, was outfitted with a single-row irrigation system which proved inadequate during times of summer drought and failed to provide consistent uniformity.

The brand new course is about 1,000 yards longer and plays to a par of 70. Designed by Vancouver-area architect Ted Locke, the new layout is split into two sections—a north and south side—which envelops new residential development. One high-rise condominium building has already been completed and is fully occupied while work continues on further residential units.

The golf course was purchased in 2007 by local businessman Ron Toigo, managing director of Vancouver-based Shato Holdings Ltd., who also owns the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. Other notable investors in the golf course resort development project include former Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks coach Pat Quinn and Grammy Award-winning crooner Michael Bublé.

Toigo envisioned a greatly improved golf course that would co-exist with new and modern homes.

Perhaps the most notable improvement to the golf course since its reconstruction is its drainage. During heavy rain events, the former course couldn’t keep up with heavy precipitation and would leave standing water for lengthy periods of times. Incorporating large amounts of sand into the new course’s construction has since addressed the issue.

Olson said miles of drainage have been put in. The north side was provided with a foot of river sand from the nearby Fraser River while the south side received about half that amount.

“That’s really key,” he said, acknowledging that the river sand still requires a little bit of time for water to percolate through following a deluge. The south side of the course, which is flatter than the north, will still pool in some areas, but, overall, the addition of so much sand has been a marked improvement for Tsawwassen Springs’ drainage capabilities.

Sand began to be hauled onto the property in 2010. Olson said the improved drainage didn’t involve any special technology. It was simply standard drainage with a lot of sand.

“It’s amazing how dry it stays out there.”

The golf course rebuild was Olson’s first experience with a grow-in project. He was involved with Locke throughout the consultation process and managed to persuade the architect to make one significant adjustment to his original plan. Locke wanted the putting surfaces to be poa annua, suggesting the greens would eventually become annual bluegrass anyway. Olson said he preferred they be bentgrass and managed to get Locke to alter his plans at the last minute.

“The bentgrass has been great, but they really didn’t like the cold snaps we had. We’ve had two cold snaps this winter, and the greens just go yellow. About a week or week and a half later, they look oh so bad. But they come back.”

The first freeze occurred in December, forcing the course to shut down for a couple of weeks, while another followed in January, leading to a second brief closure.

Olson seeded his greens to 007 bentgrass at a rate of 11/2 pounds per 1,000 square feet in the fall of 2011. In general, the new USGA-specification greens grew in to his satisfaction although one suffered some desiccation at its higher points shortly afterwards because of freezing temperatures and high winds, and another was hit by fusarium.

“In the first year of seeding the greens, we had quite a bit of disease coming in because they were so young and we weren’t really able to put the fungicide down on them.”

The original course’s pushup greens were always a concern for fusarium invasion. Olson said he’d typically begin spraying for fusarium in October on a monthly basis to prevent the disease from devastating his greens. With the exception of the one isolated case, fusarium has yet to be an issue with the new greens.

Take-all patch has been his most recent concern, especially with his new bentgrass greens.

“We’ve done pretty good with it and kept it in check with a bit of fungicide.”

Contributing to the problem of take-all patch is the fairly high pH level of Tsawwassen’s greens. At a level of 7.3, Olson has been applying ammonium sulfate in an attempt to lower the pH.

He said the 007 greens are relatively easy to maintain as long as they receive sufficient sunlight. This has meant the removal of some trees from the property to ensure the larger-than-average sized putting surfaces get ample sun.

Several trees died during the reconstruction process and have been removed along with those which restricted much-needed sunlight to the greens.

“For the most part, the trees we’re removing are dead.”

Smaller, ornamental trees have since been planted about the property.

During the winter months, during which golf continues to be played, greens are mowed once every couple of weeks and spelled off by rolling them. By late March, its normal mowing regime will begin with aeration slated for early April.

“We haven’t cut the rough or surrounds or anything since probably November.”

Both fairways and tees are a mixture of four ryegrass cultivars and a touch of Colonial bentgrass. The bentgrass was added to the mix to give the fairways a mottled look so that they wouldn’t be a one-colour monoculture. Keeping the seed moist to prevent drying out and washing away or eroding was a trying exercise.

Out-of-play areas have been grown to a ryegrass and fescue mix which not only give the golf course aesthetic appeal, but help to reduce the costs associated with mowing, fertilizing and irrigating.

A number of water bodies which were a part of the old course have remained intact, and some have been expanded. Two years ago, one pond was beset by hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant.

“It’s horrible, and we never had it on the old course.”

Olson said hydrilla wasn’t an issue last year.

He said he hopes the course’s new irrigation system can eventually draw its water from the adjacent delta ditch system, a source used by neighbouring farmers to water their crops.

“It would be really good if we can do that.”

Fed from the Fraser River, the ditch system water would potentially present a salinity issue, but Olson said Kings Links by the Sea, a neighbouring course in Delta, uses the system for its irrigation purposes and simply uses city water occasionally to flush out the salt.

“It’s just something you have to be aware of.”

The amount of rainfall experienced during the winter months would naturally flush out any salt, he added.

The new course has almost doubled the number of bunkers it had on the old course. With more than 30 bunkers in all, their maintenance has become a full day’s job for a staff member during peak season.

The larger property has allowed Olson to bolster his maintenance staff. While a crew of about seven looked after the old course, the number of workers has increased to 11 during peak season.

Remaining on Olson’s wish list is a new turf maintenance facility, but it’s currently not in the cards. For now, efforts are focused on the construction of a new clubhouse which will feature underground parking. The original clubhouse has since been bulldozed.

Construction of the planned 35,000-square-foot clubhouse, which overlooks the 18th hole, required more building space than was initially projected. Consequently, an adjacent practice putting green that had already been sodded was shelved. Another practice green as well as a driving range are located on the new course’s south side.

Tsawwassen Springs’ ongoing residential development, which is projected to reach 490 homes by 2016, has forced Olson to abide by mandated noise bylaws as several residences are now occupied. He has since acquired several pieces of newer, quieter electric-powered machinery, including mowers.

So far, the number of rounds played since the new course’s opening in August of 2012 hasn’t reached the same levels played at the former course, but much of that can be attributed to the unfinished clubhouse, Olson said. Golf this winter has been steady, however, and he figures that once the new clubhouse opens and word of the newer, more challenging course begins to spread that the course will be busier than ever before.

“This course is a lot better in almost any respect you can think of.”

While the old course was fairly straightforward and relatively easy to play, the new course offers golfers a more challenging golf experience. It still features some shorter par four and par five holes, “but they’re tricky. You have to think about playing this course as opposed to the old course.”

The majority of golfers who have played both courses agree the new layout is a big step up from what previously existed. Some, however, say they miss the old course.

“Nothing of the old course exists,” Olson said, adding there may still be a hole situated in the same approximate location. “You might recognize some trees that are in the same area, but the hole will be different.”

The expectations of both golfers and the ownership are higher than before, but Olson said he’s up to the task of fulfilling their wishes.

Among the improvements that have been made to make his job easier are a series of paved cart paths throughout the golf course that not only reduce the amount of traffic on turf areas, but which permit continued cart use on wet days, allowing the club to generate additional revenue.

Temporary tee mats were placed at a few of the shorter par three holes during the winter months to ensure tees would be near pristine by spring.

“They just can’t sustain the divots.”

Olson said he has been satisfied overall with the new golf course’s development.

“You’re going to go through a lot of adjustments. Even with a new course, you’re learning all the time.”