Greens resurfacing project coincides with coming centennial anniversary at Medicine Hat Golf & Count
By Mike Jiggens
Golf courses ready to celebrate an important milestone in their storied
histories, as a rule, wish to do so with their grounds at their
absolute best. After all, the publicity generated by such a notable
anniversary draws added attention to that course, putting it more in
the public eye.
Such is the case with the Medicine Hat Golf & Country Club which next year marks its 100th anniversary. Coinciding with the event is a major greens resurfacing project, but it wasn’t the anniversary which triggered the undertaking. Rather, it was the impact of the winter of 2010-11 which left the club’s greens and fairways in dismal condition, necessitating the project.
Superintendent Mark Begin, whose first year at the Alberta course was spent dealing with that disastrous winter, said snow mould accounted for 60 to 75 per cent death in his fairways while six of his greens suffered setbacks of 30 to 40 per cent, with an especially bad one at more than 50 per cent.
In general, the course was “devastated,” he said.
The following winter was much milder by comparison, but, with five or six freeze-thaw events taking place during those months, keeping the predominantly poa annua greens alive posed yet another challenge.
“From the outside golfer looking in, I think they thought this was a very mild winter, but it was extremely challenging with the freeze/thaw events,” Begin said. “Thankfully, everything melted each time and we were able to get everything completely clear.”
Snow was removed on all greens during each of the freeze/thaw cycles to ensure the mainly poa surfaces could survive the winter.
The horrendous winter from the year before and the uncertainties associated with the freeze/thaw cycles so typical of that geographic area prompted Begin to propose a greens resurfacing project that would give the course a better chance to survive future winters.
He said funding at the club was tight in 2011, but enough money was set aside to tackle one green to show what could be done. Begin was able to tap into his previous experience at greens resurfacing from his previous tenure as assistant superintendent at Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club, where he had resurfaced 37 greens. The work involved removing the top two inches, adding root zone as required, and resurfacing with sod.
The resurfacing of the demonstration green at Medicine Hat was a successful enough venture to garner 73 per cent approval from the club’s membership to proceed with another nine greens.
“It definitely needed to be done. With the current setup of our greens, we’re rolling the dice every winter.”
The resurfacing of the earmarked nine greens was broken up into two phases. The first phase was accomplished this past fall with the designated greens stripped, root zone added, and roughed in. The project’s second phase will begin in the spring with final shaping and sodding to T1 bentgrass.
A complete turnaround in the club’s financial fortunes last season enabled the necessary funding to greenlight the project.
“Everything we wanted to get done (in the first phase), we were able to get done,” Begin said. “We’re going to try to maintain the current undulations of the greens. We want to maintain the perched water table as best we can. At the same time, surface drainage has to be achieved.”
He estimated the project’s first phase would come in close to $ 150,000 while the second phase should be between $ 250,000 and $ 300,000. Three of the greens require complete rebuilding, including subsurface drainage and additional irrigation necessities.
The work will give the golf course a much better chance to combat the expected freeze/thaw cycles common to the area. Improved surface drainage, including an additional five feet into the collars, will ensure water tapers off from the putting surfaces.
“Iâ€ˆthink that going ahead with this greens project is going to set things up for success in the future,” Begin said, noting bentgrass has a much better chance than poa annua of surviving extremes in temperature and the length of time it can withstand ice cover.
Plans are to have the T1 bentgrass sod laid in early April which will delay the opening of the front nine holes by five or six weeks. The back nine is expected to open for play on schedule for its usual early April start.
Sod is being grown at a farm in Idaho. Its nurturing will be aided by one of the best irrigation systems Begin said he has ever seen.
“I’m actually still blown away by how good the irrigation system is here. It’s unbelievable.”
The system has been in place for about 10 years. Begin described the irrigation system he left behind at Priddis Greens as a “Cadillac,” but said he’s come into a system at Medicine Hat that is on par with a “Lamborghini.”
An irrigation system as modern and efficient as that is imperative in Medicine Hat, he said. Situated in a semi-arid region of Alberta, its growing season is longer than that of Calgary and its temperatures are generally two or three degrees warmer. Extended periods of 30 degrees Celsius or warmer are commonplace during the summer. He said temperatures can soar to 35 degrees in the peak of summer, and strong winds up to 50 kilometres an hour, which are typical for the area, can dry up the course quickly. An “exorbitant” amount of water is needed to keep conditions healthy and playable, and a dependable irrigation system is necessary to deliver it.
The Saskatchewan River serves as Medicine Hat’s irrigation water source. The course is elevated high enough from its banks that flooding is not an issue.
“My challenges are the freeze-thaw events in the wintertime and the heavy winds in the springtime and late fall (which can pose a problem when trying to put down green covers).”
Once the initial designated greens have been resurfaced, Begin said the plan is to skip a year and then tackle the remainding putting surfaces.
“I think we’re going to be really lucky with the way we’re doing it. The greens that were on the front nine had more poa in them. I will be prepared to try to have the front nine behave the same as the back nine.”
He admitted it will be a challenge to establish consistency between the newly-resurfaced front nine greens and those on the back nine which have been left untouched. Mowing heights and cultural practices may differ somewhat from the pure stands of bentgrass to the surfaces that are still poa-heavy.
During the two golf seasons that Begin has been at Medicine Hat, he’s experienced ideal weather which has given him a chance to ensure the golf course rebounded from the devastating impact of the winter of 2010-11.
“In two years, we’ve really improved course conditions. I’m very happy to say that. From where we were to where we are now, we ended up really good this year.”
The fairways, which became “kind of thin,” saw their density improve with growth regulators and foliar feedings administered at strategic intervals. Golfers appreciate the ball being able to stand up on the fairways where before it would lay down on the ground under tight lie conditions.
“There have been big improvements on the fairways with playability and conditioning-wise, and with greens as well.”
Although the putting surfaces are being redone, their conditioning and playability underwent significant improvement leading up to the resurfacing project.
Medicine Hat played host to the Sun Life Financial Alberta Men’s Amateur Championship in July, and golfers said they were “really impressed” with the conditioning of both the fairways and greens.
Greens were stimping between 10.5 and 11 and offered true ball roll.
“The golfers really enjoyed how well they rolled,” Begin said. “We consistently kept it at a good pace and still had good, healthy turf as well.”
Once all of the greens have been surfaced, the golf course will look at putting in some strategically-placed fairway bunkers, Begin said.
“When they built the golf course in such a tight and intimate nature, they didn’t put in any fairway bunkers, and that’s always been a wish of the members to see some fairway bunkers.”
Although the club first opened in 1913, the golf course has been at its current location since 1934. It is regarded as a classic country club design, with some tee decks situated side by side.