Geeked on Golf

A Celebration of the People & Places that Make Golf the Greatest Game


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 18 (Annual Volunteer Recap)

‘Tis the season for giving thanks.  My geeky heart is filled with gratitude for all of our volunteers who come out and give their time and labor to polish up this community golf gem of ours.

Our primary focus in 2017 was on the south end of the property – the Metra Loop.  We continue to bootstrap pilot projects to attempt to give our players and the community a sense of the potential for Canal Shores.  We realize that we are only scratching the surface relative to a full-scale renovation, but the progress and camaraderie that come from the work is tremendously rewarding.

More than worth the effort.

2017 PROJECTS AND VOLUNTEERS

Reclaiming the Ridgeline on the 15th

We kicked off the season wanting to complement the new bunkering and grass lines on #15 with a clearing and cleanup of the invasives along the ridgeline above the canal.  The Colfax Street neighbors came out in force and helped us knock out the entire project in one day.  They have been among our most active and supportive neighbors and we couldn’t appreciate them more.

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16th Hole South Bank

For the second straight year, a group of students from North Shore Country Day School made Canal Shores the subject of their senior service project.  Henry, Pierce, Will and Briggs carried on the tradition of making a difference by working with Steve Neumann on community outreach as well as diving in to clear the south side of the canal bank on #16.  They worked very hard and made a big difference.

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North Bank on the 16th

When my sons Jack and Henry learned about the work of the NSCDS dudes, they wanted in on the action.  Jack grabbed his friends Matt, Luke, and Charlie, and with an assist from Matt and Luke’s dad George, we cleared the north bank.  The goodness of these kids never ceases to amaze me.  When the work was finished, for the first time in years, the water and the entire 16th green were visible from the 16th tee.  A greatly enhanced experience for our players.

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The Stone Wall on the 16th

Our neighbor and volunteer John McCarron advocated for a clearing and repair of the old stone wall that borders the base for the train line.  The golf geeks, including members of the GolfClubAtlas community, got together and took care of the clearing, with an assist from Nels Johnson on the larger trees and stumps.   John then reached out to the Union-Pacific railroad, who agreed to repair the wall so that this special feature of Canal Shores remains intact for decades to come.

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16th Hole Finishing Touches

Our friends at the Northwestern University athletic department once again came out en masse for their community service day, and did the detail work on the south bank and along the wall.  They weeded, raked, picked up debris, and spread mulch.  After their hard work, we were able to seed along the wall and grow new turf, giving the approach a beautiful look.

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Behind the Green on the 16th

The golf geeks also cleared away the brush and invasives behind the 16th green, opening up a view to and from Noyes Street.  With help from the Evanston Forestry Department, trees were cleared and thinned bordering the sidewalk allowing for the removal of the old, chain link fence.  A donation from the Honorable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers allowed us to have our friends at Fenceworks install the wood round-rail that is now the signature look of our property border.

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The 16th Tee Path

Members of our Grounds Committee got out with volunteers and re-routed the walking path between the 15th green and 16th tee.  Not only did the end result look much better, it also directed commuters and other walkers to enter the property in a much safer spot than their traditional route of heading straight out in front of the 15th green.

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Clearing and Path Building on the 14th and 17th

The ETHS Boys Golf team brought out a huge crew of players, coaches and parents that took on clearing along the ridgeline on #14, clearing behind the 16th tee, and path building between the 16th hole and 17th tee. They did great work and took further ownership of their home course.

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14th Hole Bunker Rebuild

Another group of golf geeks, including Tony and Graylyn from Links Magazine, Andy from The Fried Egg, Peter from Sugarloaf Social Club, and Coore & Crenshaw shaper Quinn Thompson, joined our volunteers for a rebuild of the greenside bunkers left of the 14th green.  A great morning of work by kindred geeky spirits with a final product that adds flourish to the start of the Metra Loop.  Special thanks also to our Super Tony, Assistant Super John Lee and their crew for assisting with the work, and for keeping the sod alive.

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Reclaiming the Ridgeline on the 14th

We end the season where we began – taking back space above the ridgeline from invasives, this time on the 14th.  Our neighbors, volunteers and the golf geeks continue to assist in this effort, which in certain spots is extending down onto the canal bank.  Chilly temps, short days, and snowy skies have not deterred our army of buckthorn warriors from continued progress.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of the contributions made during 2017.  Our volunteers, donors, staff, Board of Directors, and committee members worked tirelessly on many fronts to move Canal Shores forward.  During this season of thanks, I am grateful to be a part of this special movement.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 16 (Super Changes)

There is only one constant in life – change.  Life at Canal Shores is no different.  The course continues to evolve, as do our plans for its future.  This season, those plans changed when we learned that our team was not going to be the same.  Tom Tully, our Superintendent, decided to relocate to Colorado.  He will be missed.

After a brief moment of panic, the search for Tom’s replacement began.  Our Board President Chris Carey and Grounds Chair Steve Neumann shoulder the work, and scored us a winner – Tony Frandria.  Tony is a highly experienced Greenkeeper, who was most recently at Glen View Club.

I am excited to be collaborating with Tony and wanted to learn more about him.  In the midst of getting prepared for the season, he gracious agreed to a GoG interview.

Before getting to the interview, there is more change news to spread – the Canal Shores Grounds Committee now has its own blog that will have frequent updates on course improvements, volunteer opportunities, master planning and more.  Check it out here.  I will continue to write about golf geeky aspects of the Canal Shores transformation, but for the full story, the G&G Blog is the place to go.

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Our volunteer Jeff Hapner created multiple headers for the blog and this one didn’t make the cut.  It was too good not to share (yes, that is Steve Neumann playing the role of Spackler).

On to Tony’s interview…


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

When I was a Senior in High School, the town I grew up in, Palos Hills IL, built a 9-Hole municipal golf course (Palos Hills Municipal Golf Course).  I was looking for a summer job so I went over to the course when it opened to see if they had any openings for summer help.  I started working in the Pro-Shop, which at first was just a small trailer, taking tee times, working in the snack shop, driving the beverage cart, washing golf carts and then eventually working on the grounds.  I got my first set of clubs soon after and began to play golf every day.  The best part about the job was that it was free to play!  That’s when I developed a passion for the game, and that’s when I also took a real interest in working on the golf course grounds.  As time has passed my passion for the game remains, but I currently don’t play as much golf as I did when I was younger.  I plan to change that moving forward, but I still have a tremendous passion, admiration and respect for the game of golf.

When did you know that the game had a hold on you?

The 1991 Ryder Cup matches at Kiawah Island “The War on the Shore”– that was when I really began to love and appreciate the competition and truly understood the deep passion that the game of golf can bring out in people.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned in your career thus far?

There are several lessons I’ve learned in my career, but the most important I would say is communication on so many different levels is imperative.  Being transparent with the people you represent is also important.  People want to know what’s going on – that’s why I really enjoy sharing information to let people know what they can expect when they come out to the golf course.

Another lesson I’ve learned is you can’t be too hard on yourself – I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and sometimes take things too seriously.  That can be a good trait, but you must learn how to manage yours and your employers’ expectations because there are so many factors that you can’t control when caring for a golf course – like weather!

The other lesson I would say is something that a mentor and great friend of mine told me a long time ago.  Don’t fall too much in love with the property because it’s not yours.  One day you will leave the course for whatever reason, but the course will remain and the operation will go on without you. The most important thing is that you do the very best job you can during your tenure so you can leave the course in great shape when you move on and someone else takes the reigns.  Then, hopefully you’ll be able to look back at your achievements and be proud of what you and your team accomplished.

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Where do you see agronomy and course maintenance headed from here?

Water usage is going to become a greater and greater issue as time goes on.  Creating agronomical conditions that can allow turf to thrive with less water use is going to be a huge challenge moving forward.  Pesticide and fertilizer usages are also becoming more and more scrutinized which challenges turfgrass breeders to develop more sustainable turf species that need less water, are more disease resistant, and tolerant to adverse weather conditions.

We as turfgrass professionals, as well as golfers, must manage aesthetic expectations and accept the fact that lush/green turf doesn’t necessarily promote the best playing conditions.  I like the “firm and fast” slogan – which is also better for the environment.

The technology we have at our fingertips is also moving very fast.  Now there are computer programs for just about everything – programs that track your chemical, fertilizer and water usages. Programs that track labor, equipment maintenance, and weather.

Turf equipment is also becoming more and more complex as nearly everything has some sort of computer module that operates the engine, cutting units, etc.  It’s all commonplace now.  Therefore, it’s very important to have a solid Equipment Technician on staff in some capacity to maintain the multifaceted pieces of equipment needed to maintain fine Turfgrass.

It’s vital to keep up with these trends, and in the future, I’m hoping to implement many of the technologies currently available to the Canal Shores operation.

You have worked with Dave Esler and Jim Urbina.  What is it like to collaborate with architects of that caliber?

I’ve been blessed to have worked with these two fine architects.  Both have their own style and personality, and like me, they possess an unbelievable passion for classic “Golden Age” golf course architecture.

The most significant lesson I learned working with these two guys in particular is that I needed to allow them to do their job and to support their vision, but to also offer input on design aspirations that might affect future maintenance.  Golf course architects are basically artists and the golf course is their canvas.  When a golf course engages an architect, they do so for their design expertise, so the architect must be allotted the space to compile multiple renderings and concepts, particularly in the early stages.  It’s important to allow them to be creative without too much scrutiny from outside sources.

Why did you decide to take on the Canal Shores opportunity?

The future vision for the property is what truly intrigued me about the position.  In my career, I’ve planned and managed several high end and multi-faceted golf course projects.  I love planning and executing projects – it’s something within our profession that can add variety to the responsibility of everyday maintenance.  The proposed project at Canal Shores is so unique, and the passion I felt from Chris and Steve during the interview process was really refreshing.

I’ve worked at three private country clubs in my career – this opportunity will also allow me to utilize my experiences in the private sector to build the Grounds Department into an even better functioning facet of the overall facility – much the same as a country club’s Grounds & Greens Department, but on a lesser scale considering the size of the property at Canal Shores is much smaller than what I’ve worked with in my past experiences.

What do you anticipate being the biggest “shock to your system” coming to Canal Shores after 13 years at a prestigious club like Glen View?

First and foremost is obviously the budget.  Canal Shores’s budget is significantly less than what the budget was at GVC.  This isn’t a negative thing, as you must take into consideration the expectations of the golfer, the size of the property and the overall dynamics of the operation on a 12-month basis.

At GVC we had activities occurring all year long. When the golf course closed for the season we had to maintain the grounds surrounding the fall and winter activities available to members such as the paddle tennis facility, skeet and trap shooting, winter ice skating, sledding hill, cross country skiing, and snow removal so it was necessary to keep a sizable staff on year-round.

Canal Shores is clearly a much different operation.  The size of the property is 20% the size of GVC, and the golfer expectations will vary greatly from a private country club.  When the snow flies the operation will mostly be dormant.  I look forward to managing every dollar wisely to exceed expectations in both property maintenance and the overall golf experience of each golfer’s visit.

What are the keys to successfully managing a large golf course construction project or renovation?

Planning and communication.  I’ve seen so many projects within the industry fail due to improper planning and communications.  If the plan isn’t properly vetted in can end up drastically over budget and even if it turns out great, in the end, being over budget is never a good thing.  Every last detail must be properly planned for and budgeted.

It’s also important that the planning is taken on by a sub-committee of the Grounds and Greens Committee.  From my past experiences, I’ve learned that too many irons in the fire can be detrimental to the success of any project, particularly large scale projects with a lot of moving parts.  Typically, four or five committee Members along with the Golf Course Superintendent, Construction Project Manager, and Golf Course Architect are plenty for a successful sub-committee.

It’s also important to always budget for the unexpected – I like to call it “contingency budgeting” as it’s a certainty that some sort of adverse situation will arise at some point during the project that will cost money to rectify.

Communication is extremely vital when taking on a large-scale project.  The clientele should be kept in the loop as much as possible.  Taking pictures and posting them on a blog is a great way to easily allow others to keep up with what’s occurring and how the project is progressing.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

The job can become pretty stressful at times, but when a plan comes together and things look great and the course is playing well, the job is really rewarding.  It’s also a real privilege to be able to work outside and not be confined to an office all day.  I would go crazy if I were locked in an office all day.  I really enjoy driving around the course in the evenings near dusk – there’s something about watching the sun set on the golf course that just relaxes me.

What courses do you most want to see or play next?

I’m extremely fortunate to have developed relationships with so many talented Superintendents around the country.  These relationships allowed me to visit some of the finest courses in America and to become part of a network of Superintendents that’s become a brotherhood.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited some great courses throughout my career – Oakmont, Merion, Pine Valley, Saucon Valley, Augusta National, Riviera, Cypress Point, Oak Hill, Winged Foot, Philadelphia Country Club, Huntington Valley, Muirfield Village, just to name a few off the top of my head.

I’ve never been to Long Island though – so I would love to see Shinnecock Hills, Maidstone, and National Golf Links of America.  My colleague and former GCS at Chicago Golf Club Jon Jennings is the GCS at Shinnecock Hills – they’re hosting a US Open in two years, so hopefully that will be my chance to see Long Island as I plan to volunteer during the tournament.

I would also like to get to Scotland one day.

When you are not working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

My family is extremely important to me, so when I’m not on the golf course I like to spend time with them.  My family and I are also die-hard Cubs fans so we try to get to as many games as we can throughout the year as well.  Go Cubs Go!!


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 14b (More Volunteer Power)

What a difference a year makes.  In my previous JATS post, I shared about the efforts of a group of our volunteers – the NSCDS Boys.  They, along with dozens of other volunteers, contributed hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to the successful completion of our makeover of the 12th green complex.

The Canal Shores Grounds Committee’s intention for this pilot project was to holistically apply the principles we have been exploring in the development of our Master Plan – community golf, outdoor recreation, and ecological stewardship working together in harmony.  We hope that in seeing the transformation of this small piece of the property, our players and community can get a sense of what might be accomplished with more robust resources and expertise.

The 12th green complex makeover included several components:

  • Clearing and cleanup of the invasive species overgrowth around the perimeter.
  • Bunker reduction and reconfiguration.
  • Replacement of the dilapidated boundary fence.
  • Preservation of a large “specimen” tree.
  • Installation of a new native plant area.

Following is a recap of the work, which took place over the course of the past year.  We received so much volunteer assistance, that it is impossible to thank everyone enough.  I have included a list of all the people I can remember.  If you pitched in and I left you off the list, please send me a message to jwizay1493@hotmail.com so that I can be sure to properly recognize your invaluable efforts.

(click on images to enlarge)


CLEARING & CLEANUP

As is the case with every area of Canal Shores, years of neglect on the perimeter of the property and along the canal banks has led to invasive species such as buckthorn and riverbank grape vine taking over and choking out more desirable native plants and trees.

We started in the fall, worked through the winter, and finished in the spring with reclaiming the area inside of the canal bank ridgeline.

Cleared material was stacked and topped with mulch to create hugelkultur mounds that can be planted.  Uncovered ground was seeded to provide golfers with more playable width.

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We did not continue down the entirety of the ridgeline on #12.  The picture below shows the line of demarcation.  Notice that in the cleared areas, large trees are now visible.

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The perimeter of the property presented additional challenges beyond invasives – challenges created by people.

We did remove the invasives and dead trees.  That material was combined with debris left behind by landscapers who were using the course as a dumping ground.  We also filled numerous bags with trash left behind by people who confused the course for a garbage can.

We found several paths that had been created by neighbors entering the property in the spot most convenient to them.  This is an ongoing challenge for us.  We want Canal Shores to be open and integrated with its neighborhood.  However, it is dangerous for people to wander onto the course in blind spots where they cannot see players and players cannot see them.  On #12, we built hugelkultur mounds that will be planted to close off some of these paths.  Over time, we will be working to direct our non-golfing visitors to enter and exit the property in places that are designed to minimize danger and conflicts with our players.

In cleaning up the perimeter treeline, we were able to uncover one of the historic lampposts designed by Evanston architect Thomas Eddy Tallmadge.  Making reminders of Canal Shores’s unique setting visible from the course is one of our goals.

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On this side of the green, it was also necessary to address the damage done to the green pad over the years by cart traffic.  We repaired the cart path, installed posts to direct carts onto the path in front of the green, and added railroad ties to keep players from driving up on to the side of the green.  The green side was built up, shaped to encourage drainage, and planted with fescue and other grasses for a more rugged look.

 


BUNKER WORK

Our general perspective on bunkers is that they are expensive to maintain and they slow down play.  Therefore, if we are going to have a bunker, it is needs to be cool looking, playable, and strategically relevant.  This perspective has led us to remove several bunkers throughout the course, including a fairway bunker on #12.

Our original plan with the bunkering on the 12th green (pictured below before work began) was to a) rework the front-left bunker to give it more character and make it easier to play from, and b) remove the other three large “saucer” bunkers which we felt were ugly and did not add to the strategic interest of the hole.

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Once we started, it got a little more interesting and involved than that…

The first order of business was to remove the left bunker by filling it in with sand, shaping the slope, and laying sod.  Given that we had just the smallest of clues about how to do that, we lucked out when Brian Palmer (Superintendent at Shoreacres) showed up to help, with his sod cutter.

Fortunately for us, the winter was mild enough to give the grass a chance to take root and a year later new players might not even know that a bunker had once been there.

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While we were standing around admiring our handiwork, Brian mentioned that the area that we had stripped behind the green resembled the eden bunker on the famous Eden hole at Shoreacres.  He ambitiously suggested that we turn this green complex into an homage to C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s Eden template, which is in turn an homage to the 11th hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews.  Sounded like golf geeky fun to us, so we went for it.

The first step was to rework the front-left Hill bunker to reduce the footprint, give it a gentler upslope for easier escape, and add character.

By late spring, the grass had grown in nicely and had the rugged, aged look we’re after.

Next up was the front right Strath bunker.  This pot bunker needed to be created from scratch, and Axel Ochoa stepped up to the challenge.  Working from a photo of a bunker at Garden City Golf Club, Axel added his own spin and made a beauty.

We let the grass grow up on the top and right to tie the Strath into the tall grass that runs down the entire right side of the hole.  By late spring, Axel’s pot bunker looked like it had always been there.

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Tom Tully expanded the mowing of the green out to the edge of the pad, including the creation of a false front that gives the green a sense of tilt that didn’t previously exist.  The improved visual and bunker placement makes the approach both more strategic, and much more interesting.

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While this work was happening on the front bunkers, creation of the Eden bunker behind the green was ongoing.  The original plan was to excavate the bunker and do root trimming all in one day.  We made arrangements to borrow an excavator, had 10 volunteers ready to work, and…it snowed more than a foot.  Plan B – dig it out by hand.

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The mild weather over the winter allowed us to chip away at excavating the bunker.  During the course of that process, we decided to give the back edge more of a natural look to contrast with the straight front edge.  As soil was removed, it was dumped behind, shaped and planted with fescue that we removed from the berm.

After the dig out, the root cutting, the shaping and the planting, Tom filled our new Eden bunker in with fresh sand…

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…and by Spring, it had grown in beautifully.

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Although the work was grueling at times, it was tremendously satisfying to bring this new configuration to the green complex to life.  We gave a small taste to our players of what is possible at Canal Shores.


FENCE REPLACEMENT

A while back, the Grounds Committee began discussions to address the myriad fence styles that exist around the property.  The lack of a unified look is a missed opportunity to tie the segregated sections of the property together.  We settled on wood round-rail for the boundaries, split rail for internal directional fences, and wood poles with safety netting for containment.

The chain link fence behind 12 green was collapsing and had several weed trees growing up through it.  The City assisted with the tree removal, and our friends at Fenceworks did a great job on the removal and installation.

This new fencing is the perfect complement to the naturalized look we are working to achieve on the course and surrounding native areas.

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TREE PRESERVATION

The mulberry behind the green does not fit the technical definition of a specimen tree.  By arborist’s standards, it is a low value tree and its trunk was split.  By the current standards of Canal Shores, however, it is a big old tree that looks great in its location.  Therefore, in spite of the advice from every expert to cut the tree down, we decided to save it.

The tree was struggling under its own weight, as it had never been properly maintained.  Our friends at Nels J. Johnson thinned out the crown, and then rodded and banded the trunk to protect it against further splitting.

The tree looks healthy and happy now and will be with us for years to come.  As is the case with many of the non-invasive, lower-value trees on the property, we will let nature take its course and replace them with better species when they die off.  For now, we are making the best of what we have, and in the case of this beautiful tree, I am grateful for the wisdom in that approach.

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NATIVE AREA INSTALLATION

The first order of business in creating the native area was to cave in the ugly berm that bordered the fence.  Unfortunately, we found out that the berm had been built more from construction debris than soil, so it took considerable effort by our volunteers to shape and recondition that large space.  Lucky for us, we have committed folks involved in this transformation.

With the shaping complete, Steve Neumann and his designer finalized the layout for planting.  Midwest Groundcovers generously supported the project and gave each of our donated dollars 5x its normal spending power on plant materials.

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The Logic Lawn Care crew and our volunteers then sprang into action, fighting through the rain to get the installation done.

 

With the planting and mulching complete, the native area already looks great.  It is exciting to imagine just how gorgeous it will look as it matures and changes with the seasons.

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Although the 12th green makeover became a much larger project than originally intended, the finished product was well worth the effort.  Beyond the result though, the process was a joy.  The community and camaraderie that has developed within this dedicated group of dream chasers is priceless.

Stay tuned for news on our next project.  We are far from finished…

Our wonderful volunteers who pitched in and service providers who discounted and donated:

  • The Golf Geeks Crew – Axel Ochoa, John Creighton, Brian Palmer, Peter Korbakes, Scott Vincent, Brad Germany, Brendan McCarthy, David Horowitz, Scott Laffin, Jim Raymond, Craig LaVasseur, Garrett Chaussard, George Michel, Rick Spurgeon, Max Sternberg, Akbar Mustafa, Todd Quitno, Brian Bossert.
  • The Boys from North Shore Country Day School – CJ, Sam, Dillon, and AJ.
  • Pat Goss, Emily Fletcher, David Inglis, Maureen Palchak and the Northwestern University Athletic Department staff.
  • Lisa Quinn and the First Tee of Greater Chicago staff.
  • Steve Neumann and the team from Logic Lawn Care, and our neighbors from Evanston Terrace.
  • Our Board Members Ray Tobin, Tim Pretzsch, Mike O’Connor and our Superintendent Tom Tully.
  • The fine folks at Turf VenturesFenceworksNels J Johnson, Midwest Groundcovers, and other landscapers who donated soil.
  • MWRD and the City of Evanston Forestry Division.

More Journey Along the Shores posts:


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 14a (The Power of Volunteers)

The contributions that our volunteers make to Canal Shores continues to warm my heart and blow my mind.

In the fall of last year, among various off-season projects, we decided to rework bunkers and clean up around our 12th green.  That little project has become something much cooler, and it is all because of our volunteers.

NSCDSDudes.JPGI will get back to the bunker and green surrounds work.  First, I want to highlight the contributions of four students from North Shore Country Day School.  NSCDS has a senior service requirement.  CJ, Sam, Dillon, and AJ came to us and asked if they could do their service hours at Canal Shores.  It just so happened that we were hoping to add a native plant and habitat area behind the 12th green.  The adjacent sidewalk is heavily trafficked, and we thought the community would appreciate the natural beauty.  I asked The Boys (as they have come to be known) if they wanted to see our idea through – planning to fundraising to implementation – and they agreed.

It has been fun to see them work through the steps of the project.  Thus far, they have:

  • Met with me to learn about the changes to the area from a golf design perspective.
  • Met with Steve Neumann from Logic Lawn Care to work on a design, plant list, and budget for the work.
  • Done outreach to landscaping companies to try and get free top soil to recondition the area.
  • Researched fundraising platforms and provided me with their findings.
  • Met with our Superintendent Tom Tully to work through the details of handling the funds.

Making this progress hasn’t been easy because their various points of contact are busy people.  They are persistently taking action and making it happen though, and that is what I love about our volunteers.

This is the rough design The Boys worked on with Steve and his designer Ana.

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The design includes these native shrubs, flowers, and grasses:

 

The Boys also produced this video about the project.

 

And they have launched a fundraising campaign on IndieGogo.  Click here to check out their page.

I donated to their campaign and I hope you join me.  Not just because their work is helping us to progress in the transformation of Canal Shores, but also because theirs is exactly the kind of volunteerism that we should support.  They are role models for how to make a difference, and I believe that they deserve our recognition and donations.

In my next post, I’ll share more about the bunker and green surrounds work that the golf geeks crew did, but for now, support The Boys.

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More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Community Links Champion – An Interview with Architect Andy Staples

Hobbs, NM is on my bucket list for golf adventure.  I’ll explain.  That is where Andy Staples created a source of inspiration for anyone associated with the Community Golf Revival in America at a course called Rockwind Community Links.  I became aware of Andy’s work while doing research for Canal Shores.  On a brief phone conversation last year, it was clear that we have the same paradigm about the spirit of the game, and I asked Andy to share some of his thoughts here – he graciously agreed.

Then, I dropped the ball.  Life intervened and I did not follow up.   A recent trip to Sand Hollow got me off my butt though.  Seeing Andy’s amazing work at that special course (as evidenced by Jon Cavalier’s photos below) motivated me to circle back and get the interview done.  I wanted to know more about a guy who puts an equally high level of thought and care into his work, whether it is for a championship resort course, or a community links.

As is the case with his courses, Andy did not disappoint.  Hope you enjoy.

Click on any photo to enlarge.


THE INTERVIEW 

How did you get introduced to golf?

I believe I was 7 or 8 years old when my dad brought home a set of clubs for me and my younger brother Tim.  It was your classic 5, 7, 9, driver and putter in a canvas carry bag.  I’m from suburban Milwaukee, and we were members of West Bend Country Club, a mid-tier blue collar club about 45 minutes from my house.  My dad enrolled my brother and me into the 3-holer beginner golf program, and we took lessons from the pro at the time, Don Hill.  Interestingly, the front nine at WBCC was designed by Langford and Moreau, and consisted of some fairly aggressive features, deep bunkers and sharp green fall offs – incredibly difficult for a 7 year old!  I can still remember hitting a tee shot on the 3rd hole into a large grassy bunker about 75-100 yards off the tee on the right every single time I played the hole.  This feature was so deep that all I could do was hit my 9 iron over and over until I finally was able to ricochet the ball out sideways.  I just remember thinking, “Man, I have got to get better at this game! I stink!”  I soon progressed to 5-holers, then 9, and finally 18.  I’m not sure it was the best way to learn the game, but it sure got me hooked.  I’m guessing it was the personal competition and being outdoors.

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The dreaded bunker on West Bend’s 3rd hole

When did you know the game had a hold on you?

I played a lot of baseball as a kid, and my dad always told me that the baseball swing and the golf swing competed against each other (not sure this is true, but I believed it).  So I felt if I gave one up, I would get better at the other just by way of mechanics.  That decision came to a head when I went to high school, because both baseball and golf were played in the same season.  I chose golf.  At that point I went all in trying to be as good as I could be. Skip Kendall and Steve Stricker were playing amateur golf at the time but were older than me, and then my buddy growing up, Mark Wilson, who’s a few years younger than me, came along. I soon realized the bar was pretty high. In any case, I was dead set on practicing every day to hopefully play golf in college. There’s a lot of other stories about how I really wasn’t as good as I thought, and that golf is a really hard game, but I knew I was in for the long haul. Golf was something I really, really enjoyed and found a great deal of passion in.

How did you get into the business?

Well, around the time I was making the decision to play golf or baseball, I can remember getting into practicing my sand shots on a sandy beach lake house in northern Wisconsin (near Rome WI, as a matter of fact) that our family frequented when I was a kid.  These sand shots were aimed at random targets, which turned into playing to a stick in the ground, which turned to me flattening out an area for a green, then finding 9 tees playing to one green, then 18 (very small) holes carved around the sandy hills, pines and lake water.  I even played a hole off the boat pier.  They all could be played with a sand wedge.  I found great passion in making sure my course was as well-kept as possible, watering the green, and tamping it down.  I even transplanted trees and built retaining walls.  Funny thing is, I never named the course.  I can remember playing in the Staples Pro-Am on a fairly regular basis though.  In any event, one day, my dad came to me and asked me if I knew that people design golf courses for a living, and they’re called golf course architects.  I stopped and pondered that for a moment.  I had no idea there could be such a job.  I think I was 11 or 12 years old.  From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do for a living.

It was Bob Lohman who my dad called (as he was consulting at WBCC at the time) to see what his son should study in college if he wanted to be a golf architect.  Bob told him that I should study Landscape Architecture.  Again, I had no idea there was such a thing as a landscape architect – all I knew was from that point forward if I wanted to be a golf architect, I needed to study landscape architecture.  In thinking about it now, I sure did put a lot of trust in my dad, and Bob Lohman!  So, I searched schools across the country that had Landscape Architecture programs, and settled on the University of Arkansas.  It was during this time that I really tried to get into the business in some way, ideally in an office during the summer.  I called as many people as possible – a whole slew of people.  The one piece of feedback I remember getting was that I was crazy for trying to get into the business, and that I would never find a job.  Ha!  The classic story.

One of the people that I was able to get a hold of was Jerry Slack in Tulsa, OK.  He told me to go to work in construction, and to learn how courses were built.  Great advice.  So, I found out about Wadsworth Golf Construction, and applied for a laborer position during my summers.  The job evolved over a couple of summers from being a drainage guy, to pulling wire for irrigation, to programming irrigation controllers to finishing greens with a sand pro.  Once I graduated college, Jerry needed some help as a draftsman and compiling construction documents, and he hired me right away.  There it was- I was in.

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

If I was to narrow it to one, I’d have to say Bill Langford, and Langford & Moreau. If you’ve ever been to Lawsonia Golf Links in Wisconsin, you know that it is such a grand exhibit of natural beauty contrasted against the engineered construction of bunker shapes and green pads.  It’s just awesome.  I’m not sure how much learning the game at an L&M course has anything to do with this decision, probably quite a bit; but of the courses I’ve seen of theirs are definitely a unique representation of the art of golf design.  These courses have had a definite impact on my view of golf architecture.

I also really admire Perry Maxwell for the work he was able to achieve during such meager times.  His nine holes at Prairie Dunes are fantastic, and I love the routing at Southern Hills.  I also appreciate his alliance with Dr. MacKenzie, and really respect that collaboration.  I really, really like MacKenzie’s work in California – Cypress, Pasatiempo, and The Meadow Club. They’re outstanding.

What should every owner/Green Committee member study/learn before breaking ground on a golf course construction project?

First of all, they need to realize that a lot of what is going on today in terms of equipment, agronomic advances, and even competition among architects, is nothing new.  These things have been heavily debated for over 100 years, and that what they’re doing isn’t something unique.

Second, I think, if at all possible, everyone should see links golf in Scotland or the UK, to understand first-hand how the game was originally intended to be played.  Each time I’ve been able to journey over the pond with clients, it’s been amazing how much of a connection happens when they compare their project to real links golf.  There are real benefits to experiencing what “the ground game” really means, and in understanding how the idea of fast and firm impacts so much of great design; it’s really cool to be able to get your team on the same page with what you’re trying to create.  Now, taking it from Scotland, to say, Utah, that’s where the interesting part of the design process lies.  But after an experience like that, there’s no doubt everyone lands on a much better level of understanding of how the end product will play.

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Sand Hollow Links course is inspired by GB&I architecture.

Third, the business is getting more and more complex, and getting educated on the “business” seems to be more difficult than ever.  I always tell my prospective owners they need to dig into the people they are looking to hire and find out how they work, and if their philosophy matches the way they or their club works.  There’s a great TED Talk with Simon Sinek: It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.  It’s a great listen.  I’m a big believer in a client making sure they are 100% convinced they match with their team, so education on the landscape of the business is incredibly important as anyone moves ahead with a project.

Speaking of the current golf business, what’s your take on where the design business is headed?

Overall, I think the largest change coming, and you’re already starting to see it, is the philosophy of collaboration and partnership.  One thing that is dramatically different today compared to when I was getting into the business, is the idea of apprenticeship or working under someone to learn the craft; that is pretty much disappearing.  The focus now seems to be on getting involved somehow with great golf course projects, with a variety of architects, and seeing how these projects are built.  I think this is an interesting evolution, and something I’m encouraged about for the future.  Because of this focus on collaboration, I think we will continue to see better and better golf courses being built, and on sites that won’t require sand dunes or ocean front property.  But I can also see the design business getting even more competitive.

What was the inspiration for your community golf concept?

It all began in Los Alamos county New Mexico when I was hired to develop a Master Plan for their golf course.  The project began innocently enough, addressing needs across the course, looking at ways to make the course better; in other words, the master planning process in the traditional sense.  One of the exciting parts of the design process was to find a way to integrate an underutilized piece of the property that just happened to have these fantastic rock ledges and incredible views of a dramatic river and old growth Ponderosa pines and Douglas fir.  It almost felt like you were in Lake Tahoe, or Aspen.  It was the piece of land a golf architect drools over the minute they find their way to that area of the property.

So, being the golf architect, and always trying to put the golf first, I began to look for ways to integrate this area of the property into my routing plans for an option to present to the county.  Well, this part of the property already hosted a variety of other users such as hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and even equestrian.  And, as you can imagine, since they were already using this area, they were quite interested to find their trails may be relocated due to the new golf course.  Residents described these trails as “commuter” trails as a way to get to work in the morning, and some of them were upset (even furious) with the proposed changes.  A sleepy golf course master plan turned into the classic “them vs. us” shoot out.

I began to hear the arguments against the course, and how only 10% of the community plays golf, where quite possibly well over 50% of the community used the trail system.  The nature conservationists emerged as well.  Soon, it became obvious that the golf course plan was not only going to change, it may indeed be cancelled!  The team and I went back to the drawing board, began discussing the community’s needs, looking for ways to find some middle ground.  It was during a standing room only town-hall meeting that the concept of “community links” was born.  I saw the passion for the outdoor uses, for the trails, and, of course, for the golf course.  It became clear that all the Los Alamos residents were hungry for a way in which everyone was free to use the golf course, since they were all going to pay for it (through their taxes).

It was at this meeting where I expressed the desire to look at their golf course differently and find a way to “link” this course to all the residents of Los Alamos.  From that point forward, the golf course became known as the stimulus to a “north county park plan,” and the golf course would therefore be the central figure in these plans.  The golf course clubhouse would now be called a community building where residents could check in to play golf and rent mountain bikes.  In the winter, they would be able to rent cross-country skis or shoe shoes.  It wasn’t going to be just a golf course – it was now going to be a true “link” to a place that expressed the commitment of showing value to 100% of the community.  Thus, a Community Links – linking their golf course to the community.  What was a very contentious situation turned into a real rally cry for the community and all revolved around the game of golf.

I’ve held onto that experience, and used it as fuel for how I feel many municipalities should approach their golf course.  I look for ways to break the mold of how a golf course and its property can and should be used by their residents. And besides, based on the give and take of the master plan, I was able to hold on to one of the most dramatic par-3s anywhere in New Mexico.  I can’t wait to build it!

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Proposed new par-3 at Los Alamos

Have you encountered challenges in educating players or course managers on the value of your approach?

Most definitely.  I tend to focus my Community Links concept on municipally owned facilities so I work through city administrators and public officials.  There is a challenge in translating the terms we in golf are used to dealing with.  I’ve found many of the solutions I’m presenting come from the perspective of providing a service rather than running a business.  That said, golf is still an incredibly conservative industry, and the fact that so many municipal golf courses are losing money while their infrastructure continues to deteriorate, focuses many of the initial conversations strictly related to money issues and return on investment.

The other discussion revolves around this idea that golf is dying and that nobody is playing golf.  It’s incredible what kind of role the media has played in propagating this story.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked about the Bryant Gumbel HBO special about the struggles the game of golf is currently encountering.  So, I spend a lot of effort discussing the values of the game of golf, and how communities have successfully used golf and a golf course as a centerpiece to their city.  There’s a small groundswell happening, and I love seeing the passion for the game grow just by reminding others why we love the game so much, and how impactful the game can be.  It sounds sort of corny, I know, but it’s a small way for me to give back to a game that’s been so good to me.

You successfully demonstrated your concept at Rockwind.  Why did you get involved in that project?

Right, Rockwind Community Links in Hobbs, NM is my first concept to be built and opened, and we are beginning to see some good results.  There are many reasons I got involved with Hobbs.  For starters, the city had a real interest initially in adding a beginner course to their current 18-hole golf course.  I also had previously worked with their current golf course superintendent, Matt Hughes, so there was some familiarity there.  It also didn’t hurt that oil was trading at $110 a barrel around that time.

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As we progressed through the process to assess what kind of changes the city was willing to undertake, it became clear the golf course was in serious need of improvement.  But moving forward with a project of this size, there was significant concern about putting resources towards an asset that, on the surface, showed little signs of being able to provide sufficient payback.  So, when we presented the Community Links philosophy, they immediately became connected.  As it turned out, many of the administrators were golfers, and understood potentially what the game could mean to the community.  They began to promote the project as a community related project, not just a golf course project. And, they all said numerous times that they believed in the game of golf, and wanted to use the sport as a centerpiece in how they promoted their community to others.

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I’m proud that each time we came in front of council, we received a 7-0 vote in favor of the golf course.  We continued to receive feedback that the concepts behind investing into an asset that 100% of their residents could use was the determining factor in why it was so heavily favored.  So now, we just need to keep proving the hypothesis out.  What is it they say?  One project is an interest – two projects become a destination?  I like that analogy.

What place do you see courses like Rockwind having in the future of the game?

If there is one thing I hope to have a small part in, it’s showing people who aren’t necessarily interested in the game or don’t see the value in golf, that the game has existed for over 500 years for a reason – and that there are really good things that come from golf.  A golf course naturally has many benefits to the environment, but I also feel the benefits one receives from playing the game are even greater.  If the values of the game of golf could be better documented and promoted, I feel society as a whole would then start to see golf differently.  I think that’s pretty cool, and who knows – maybe more people will take up the game because of it.

What is your favorite part of a golf course to design? To build?

Routing a course is by far my favorite aspect to golf architecture, and the area I feel a course can be made or broken.  The flow and rhythm are hard things to quantify, and it certainly falls into the “you know it when you see it” category.  Also, taking a user through a piece of property and giving them insight into that particular piece of land – the diversity, the views, the highs and lows is, I think, the most important responsibility of the golf architect.

My favorite part of a golf course to build would be the creation of the composition of an individual golf hole, and thinking about the way a player will navigate the challenge.  Finding the line of charm, as Max Behr would say, and then looking for ways to break it up with hazards and landforms that are interesting and fun to play while providing balance and proportion with contrasts in textures.  The artist in me looks through this lens every time, and that is the best example of why field adjustments are so incredibly important to the final product.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

I’m one that sees golf architecture as the world’s largest form of sculpture.  Having a say on how to adjust a piece of property (or sometimes not touching it all) to fit the standards and tendencies of a game, played by all skill levels, is an incredible honor and is what I love doing for a living.  I love the comradery that comes with a construction site, and the sense of accomplishment when a job is completed.  There is no better occupation, and I’m humbled to be a part of it.

What courses are at the top of your hit list to see or play next?

I need to see Pine Valley.  That’s the Big Miss so far in my career.  I also am looking forward to a trip to the sand belt in Australia.  So much to see, so little time!

When you are not working or playing golf, what are you doing?

StaplesFamily.jpgI’m a dad to 3 young boys (ages 8, 6, and 2), and a husband to an amazing wife.  So, first and foremost, when I’m back from a trip, I’m at home, or at a ball game or at some function with them.  I’m a developing home brewer, and if I wasn’t in the golf business, I might try my hand in some part of the beer making business.  I enjoy a good IPA or Saison on any day.  I have a 1976 Ford Bronco, so when I’m not doing either of the above, I’m working to keep the ‘ol girl running.  Living in Arizona, that’s not that hard to do.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I’m working in Utah for the City of South Jordan on perhaps my next Community Links.  I’ve got a number of small jobs designing practice areas or reducing turf, but by far the largest, most visible job of my career is the renovation of Meadowbrook Country Club outside of Detroit.  It’s an original 6 hole Willie Park Jr. course built in 1916.  We’re currently under construction and should be finished by the end of this summer.  It’s an awesome property with some really good golf holes, and I’m working to take it up a few clicks in terms of overall routing and Willie Park Jr. look and feel.  Our design team made a trip to the heathland in South West London, including Park Jr.’s Sunningdale Old and Huntercombe, and I want to bring some of that flavor to southeast Michigan.  It’s an awesome opportunity for me, and one I’m not taking lightly.  Feel free to come by if you’re in the area this summer, as there will be a pretty good chance I’ll be on site!

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See more from Andy Staples on the GeekedOnGolf GCA video archive (in architects section).

Hear from Andy on Dave Wilber’s Turfnet Radio podcast:


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Revival – Community Golf in America

There is a movement afoot.  Across the country, from Goat Hill to the Schoolhouse Nine, from Sharp Park to Winter Park, there are a growing number of community golf projects getting attention and serious support.

I have experienced the vibe of this movement first-hand as I work with folks from the game and my fellow volunteers to transform Canal Shores.  The enthusiastic response to our efforts has been humbling and inspiring.  This energy took on a new dimension recently as media coverage of our project has increased, particularly from the Global Golf Post article by Jim Nugent.

Admittedly, I was a bit surprised at the magnitude of feedback, and it got me to thinking – what is happening here and why is it so impactful for so many people?

The first place I went looking for answers was within the projects themselves.  There are similarities among them, but there are also significant differences.  Are there common threads that are universally resonant?  Mike McCartin, architect of the Schoolhouse Nine defined several principles for his facility: inclusiveness, architectural interest and fun.  A solid list to be sure, to which I would add sustainability.

These are just words though.  What do they mean on the ground?  From my own experience and from what I have observed, I would translate the principles as follows:

Inclusiveness – People are communal by nature, but we also need our personal space.  Where boundaries provide us comfort,  barriers produce a sense of confinement and isolation.  At its inception, golf was not a game played behind walls.  It was a game that was played at the community center, respectfully intermingled with other community activities.  The new wave of community golf projects revive the spirit of inclusiveness by integrating with their surroundings and embracing a multi-use approach to recreation.  From a golf perspective, they also foster inclusiveness by promoting play of all ages and skill levels.

Architectural Interest – In creative endeavors, the difference between good and great is often attention to detail and a refusal to settle.  Golf architecture and maintenance are no different than any other creative endeavor.  Players may not know much about GCA, but they know great when they see it.  It is evident to all when someone cares about their work.  The architects, superintendents and operators within this movement are clearly unwilling to settle for less than the best that their budgets will allow.

Fun – The game of golf is the greatest form of recreation ever invented.  If the experience of golf relentlessly beats players down though, it can hardly be considered recreation.  Plain and simple, to recreate, players need fun.  Challenge and exercise are wonderful, but without fun, what is the point?  These community golf courses are bringing back the fun of the game, much of which has been lost in the chase after “championship” golf.

Sustainability – This word has been used so widely as to be nearly meaningless.  For community golf, a more narrow definition is appropriate.  In order to be embraced by its community, a golf course must be in harmony with its surroundings and ecologically responsible.  It must also be operated and maintained in such a manner as to be economically viable.  There is a fine line between a valuable community resource, and an unsustainable burden.  The courses in this new movement are working mindfully and diligently to make sustainability more than an empty platitude.

These principles are powerful, but they do not fill in all of the blanks.  I went looking for answers next in my own experience.  Although golf took hold for me during my caddie days at Old Elm Club, that is not where I originally learned to play.

My first exposure to golf was playing with my dad and grandpa on the Fort Sheridan Army Base course near my home.  The base and course no longer exist, but my memories remain.  The Fort Sheridan course wound through the base among the barracks and military hardware.  My dad would drop my ball at the 100 yard marker, and I would play in with a sawed-off 9 iron and putter.  On those afternoons, experiencing “guys time” and the thrill of the ball disappearing into the hole, I fell in love with the game.

Old Elm was the place where my mind was opened to just how special golf can be when played over a course created by men like Colt and Ross, but it was on the scruffy links of Fort Sheridan that the game captured my heart.

Perhaps that is why it strikes me that this community golf movement is a revival.  It is a revival of the Scottish spirit of the game, embodying the principles of inclusiveness, architectural interest, fun, and sustainability.  More powerfully though, it is a revival of the love in each of our hearts.  The first love that was born the day that we initially experienced the feeling of a well-struck shot and a ball falling into the cup.

What’s your take?  As I explore The Revival further, I’d love to hear from you.  Share your thoughts, feelings, and observations in the comments below.


Going forward, much of my focus here will be on following The Revival as it takes shape.  I will profile the courses, and interview the revivalists who are breathing new life into community golf in America – the champions, the architects, the players.  Stay tuned for much more to come.

THE COURSES

Community golf is getting more airtime thanks to Matt Ginella and others.  Golf Channel video links are available on my GCA video page.

This is the YouTube channel that I have created to track these course and the various revival projects taking place around the country:

 

I have also started to compile a map of community golf courses that are attempting to uphold the principles of inclusiveness, architectural interest, fun and sustainability.  Is your favorite community course helping to revive the spirit of the game?  Let me know about it so that I can add it to the map (and the hit list to visit).

THE REVIVALISTS

There are some truly talented folks giving their time, energy and expertise to these community golf courses.  Their passion for reviving the spirit of the game is inspiring.


This is an exciting time for the game of golf.  Please join me in supporting the Revival by spreading the word about these courses, and the people who are working hard to make them thrive.