Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Disastrous Winter for Courses in the Northeast

The winter of 2013/14 will likely go down as one of the most devastating in recent memory for golf course owners and superintendents.

Here in Southern Ontario, many courses continue to be closed due to widespread turf damage and for some clubs, the wait will continue for weeks, if not months.

Within a half hour of where I live, two of the top courses in the country were affected to the point where ALL of their greens will need to be stripped and re-sodded and it will be June before their members will finally get the chance to pull out their putters again.

My friend Robert Thompson wrote a wonderful, detailed article on the issue and I urge you to read it in order to better understand the dilemma facing so many great clubs in the Northeast.

Ontario Courses with Poa Greens Struggle to Deal with Cold Weather Carnage - By Robert Thompson

My home course, St. Catharines G&CC, located just outside of Niagara Falls, Ontario, was very fortunate to escape relatively unscathed by the harsh winter conditions.

St. Catharines Golf & Country Club, in a photo taken just prior to opening day this year (April 16, 2014)

Our grounds crew has been aggressively overseeding with bent grass for almost nine years now, both on fairways and greens and while Poa always flexes its muscles in the hot and humid summer conditions, this continuous program put in place by our superintendent ensured that winter damage this year was minimal. We have winter kill in spots around the greens and a few fairways but playability has been fine and all areas will recover with the appropriate care and continued application of bent overseeding throughout the year.

That said, we didn't escape completely unscathed, as the December ice storm brought our driving range posts and netting down for the second time in less than five years, leaving us without appropriate protection for adjacent fairways and the need to go to an "irons only" range set up for the near future.

Still, I know that we are one of the lucky ones and I just hope that better days are ahead for those still suffering from the effects of this horrific winter.



Monday, April 21, 2014

Open for Business Again!

It's been awfully quiet here at Now on the Tee lately and for that, I apologize.

Simply put, this has been the longest winter I can ever remember and we once again got hit with a couple of inches of snow a week ago today. This was one day after we were basking in sunshine and 20+ degree Celsius temperatures.

Thankfully, that snow has melted and I'm *hoping* the snow is done for now. My home club, St. Catharines G&CC, put the pins in the greens on Wednesday last week for the first time this year, likely one of the latest openings we've ever had. I was able to get out twice during the Easter long weekend and despite my game being a bit frosty, coming out of hibernation, it was very exciting being back out on the course.

That said, it wasn't the first time I've played in 2014, as I was able to get in a few rounds down south a couple weeks ago. The reason?

I was lucky enough to win Masters practice round tickets in their lottery draw!

I decided to book some golf around the Masters practice round and flew down to lovely Charleston, South Carolina with my friend Terry on Sunday April 6th.

We got in our rental car and headed immediately to Augusta, Georgia and a date with Augusta Country Club, a gorgeous Donald Ross designed course that borders famous Augusta National!

The stately clubhouse at beautiful Augusta Country Club

The pretty downhill par three 6th hole at Augusta Country Club, with the bermuda grass coming out of dormancy

I had reasonably high expectations for this course that sits within the top 100 Best Classic golf courses by Golfweek magazine and those expectations were exceeded! Strategic bunkering, lovely aesthetics and incredible green complexes combined with the superb topography to give us an unforgettable experience. We had a wonderful dinner that night in Augusta as well to top everything off.

The next day was the biggie...Augusta National Golf Club and attending a practice round at The Masters!

I've waited all of my life for this day. I've always dreamed of walking those fairways and hearing the roars in person and we finally were there!

Newly svelte Darren Clarke hitting some bunker shots at the Tournament Practice Facility

Looking back down the wonderful par four 10th hole from back right

Amen Corner, with a look at the 11th (foreground) and 12th (background) greens

We built our entire trip around the Masters practice round and you can imagine how devastated we were when the storm sirens went off only 40 minutes after our arrival on-site. High winds, rain and lightning were in the area and we retreated off the course to the safety of our cars, hoping that the storm would soon pass.

It wouldn't.

As we contemplated our next move, including the option to buy scalpers tickets for Tuesday, I started getting texts from friends, saying that the Masters would be refunding all ticket holders while also guaranteeing tickets for the 2015 event. Now THAT's class!

It truly stinks to get to walk through the gates of "heaven", if only for a short time but I'm elated to get the opportunity to go back again next year.

So we decided to grab some Mexican food for lunch and on the way, made a quick stop at a certain PGA Tour pro's RV, parked at the neighborhood Hooters Restaurant!

Singing in the rain with John Daly on Washington Street just down the street from Augusta National

Good ole J.D. was signing merchandise for his fans out in the pouring rain while his lovely wife was taking in the money. I bought a truckers hat for my son and Daly was kind enough to personalize a message for him while his wife took the photo above. Fun times! I can't imagine the money J.D. helps bring in for that Hooters - there was a two hour wait to get in from what I heard, certainly helped by the fact that the Masters was shut down for the day.

The next day, Terry and I were booked to play in Charleston, South Carolina at The Club at Briar's Creek, a private course designed by Rees Jones. However, the rains we dealt with in Augusta the day before followed us all the way to the east coast and we were once again rained out.

Not to be denied, we drove back to the west until we found clear skies and that took us to Aiken, South Carolina and the historic Palmetto Golf Club.

The very unique short par three 7th hole at Palmetto, with a green benched into a hillside

Palmetto is one of the oldest clubs in North America, founded in 1892. It's a private club but they allow some public play one week a year and thankfully, that happens to be Masters week! I made a quick phone call and the staff was very accommodating on short notice, giving us a tee time later that afternoon.

It's a very sporty test, not long but there is great rolling topography that makes the course play at least 300 yards longer than the scorecard indicates. And the club has a wonderful vibe to it - so much history there.

For our final day, we had a date with Kiawah Island's esteemed Ocean Course!

The beautiful par five 2nd hole at the Ocean Course

The par four finishing hole at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, with the clubhouse in the background

We were smart enough not to go all the way to the back tees and even at a more modest length of 6800 yards, the course is a brute! How Rory McIlroy put together scores like he did during the 2012 PGA Championship is beyond me! There is plenty of width off the tee, much more than you think but the designer, Pete Dye, puts a premium on the accuracy of your approach shots, with smallish, elevated greens and plenty of short grass run-offs allowing for creative short game play.

The Paspalum grass is also relatively unique to me and the playing characteristics of the turf took some getting used to. I've played on that surface only one other time and that was in Florida at the Hammock Beach Resort's Conservatory Course.

What a great experience it was to play on the Ocean Course and I hope to return someday. And the lunch was superb too!

I'll have writeups on all three courses in the near future. It was a wonderful trip and I'm looking forward to heading back down to the area next year! Hopefully, I'll get a full day at the Masters in 2015.