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Journey Along the Shores – Part 19 (All About the Trees)

Over the past several years, countless hours have been spent in the field and in meetings to assess the state of our tree population, and to chart a course forward toward making that population larger and significantly healthier.

Our findings will not be a surprise to anyone who has taken the time to look closely at the ecological picture at Canal Shores.  In many places, the property is a disaster area, and it has been for many years.  I am grateful to the members of the community who decided that the “gem in their backyards” was in distress and stepped in to save it.  For those who have not yet done so, now would be a good time.  We have a plan, and there are opportunities to target contributions of volunteer time and money to revitalize Canal Shores, including its trees.


ASSESSMENT

We are not short of trees at Canal Shores, but as it turns out, we are short on good ones.  Planning Resources Inc. sent their Arborist out to do a tree survey.  They were looking for valuable trees to keep and incorporate into the ecological master plan for the property (full Plan coming soon…).  “Valuable” is defined as important native species, or large, healthy trees that are not invasive species.  The survey found that Canal Shores has 904 trees on our 82 acres.

At first glance, that number might seem big, but it really isn’t.  Given that the golf course occupies less than half that total acreage, a healthy tree population would number in the thousands.

PRI tagged every valuable tree they could find.  I encourage anyone walking or playing the course to look for tags to better understand which trees are desirable, and sadly how few of them we have.

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Tagged trees are numbered and catalogued for reference, and have been geo-located onto the map that follows.  The map, along with the associated illustrations, is a great reference for learning more about where our desirable trees are, and what they are.  I have learned a great deal about trees from PRI’s work, and I have started to share that knowledge with my boys.

Valuable trees are circled, and “key” trees (meaning high value species and of size) are in orange.

GREEN BAY TO LINCOLN

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LINCOLN TO CENTRAL

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CENTRAL TO ISABELLA

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ISABELLA TO LINDEN

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LINDEN TO SHERIDAN

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INVASIVES

Invasive species are making Canal Shores unhealthy.  I am far from being an expert, but what I have learned is that a healthy ecosystem has layers, each layer ideally containing a variety of species:

  • An herbaceous (ground) layer of grasses, flowers and groundcover that are the home to pollinators and other important insects and animals.
  • An understory (shrub) layer of small trees and shrubs that provide food and habitat for birds.
  • A canopy of trees, of varying species and age.

The primary problem that Canal Shores has with its invasives is in the understory, specifically with buckthorn and honeysuckle.  That problem has manifested in three ways:

  • First, within the understory, buckhthorn and honeysuckle are extremely aggressive competitors and they have left us with almost no other shrubs, greatly decreasing biodiversity.
  • Second, they form dense thickets, starving the herbaceous layer of sunlight.  Where buckthorn grows densely, there is bare ground underneath which also creates erosion problems on the canal banks.
  • Finally, the buckthorn and honeysuckle leave no space for desirable trees to regenerate.

There are good reasons why it is illegal to sell or plant buckthorn or honeysuckle in the state of Illinois.  They are parasitic plants that take over and leave the areas they populate in much worse health.  To say that one likes buckthorn is the equivalent of liking a tapeworm.

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In fighting buckthorn at Canal Shores, I have learned first hand the many ways that it fights back.  It has whacked me in the face, hit me in the head, poked me in the eye, cut up my arms and legs, and more.  Suffice it to say, I have never been a fan.  However, when I watched the video below, I was tipped over the edge.

Not only is buckthorn bad for the other plants around it, but the berries produced by the females have a laxative effect on birds, while providing no nutritional content.  Are you kidding me?  This demon weed must go.

Many thanks to Brandon from Ringers Landscaping for allowing us to share his webinar.  I highly recommend watching at least the first 18 minutes.


STEWARDSHIP

During the course of this lengthy process of assessment and learning through pilot projects, I have heard and read statements like “Save the buckthorn!” and “Can’t we just let nature take care of itself?”.  These statements are born of ignorance and are in direct conflict with the principle of land stewardship for which our community is responsible at Canal Shores.

Abdication of our stewardship responsibility has directly resulted in ecological degradation.  In the hundreds of hours that I have spent on the ground with fellow Buckthorn Warriors, I have seen what this degradation looks like.  We have saved desirable trees that were literally being choked to death by invasive vines.  We have watched in disappointment as a large, unhealthy tree falls over in a storm, taking with it several desirable trees that we hoped to save.  We have seen the bare ground under buckthorn thickets suffering from stormwater erosion.  And we have seen newly cleared areas spring back to life with grasses and flowers when sunlight is allowed to reach the ground.

The results of doing nothing are obvious and incontrovertible.  It doesn’t work.  Based on our learnings and the counsel of experts, we are now moving forward.  Special thanks to Grounds Committee member Matt Rooney who drafted our Tree Policy, and then painstakingly revised it to incorporate feedback from numerous parties.  Click here to read the Canal Shores Tree Policy, which has been approved by our Board of Directors.

What does this look like on the ground?  Before areas can be revitalized, clearing has to take place.  We are prioritizing spots that directly impact the golf course – tees, greens, fairway landing areas are all of highest priority as we want to enhance the turf quality, playability and visual beauty for our paying customers.  We have selected specific trees (e.g. black cherries) to add to the tagged group for preservation, and buckthorn has been painted for removal.

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The work is well underway on holes 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12-18.  We have applied for a burn permit from the EPA to deal with the cut brush.  We are also recruiting a Landscape Architecture / Ecology intern whose focus will be on maintenance of cleared areas as well as site-specific habitat design and implementation.


CONCLUSION

Decades of neglect and mismanagement are not going to be undone overnight.  However, we have made a beginning and we will continue working toward our goal of making Canal Shores a healthy ecosystem that includes a variety of native and other desirable trees.

We hope that all members of the Evanston-Wilmette community join us.  Check the Greens & Grounds blog for dates of upcoming volunteer work sessions, or email me at jwizay1493@hotmail.com to be added to the Buckthorn Warriors mailing list.  Inquiries about tree donations can be made with Dan Bulf (dbulf@canalshores.org).  This is a big job, but together, we can do it.

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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Entire Journey Along the Shores

“How did you get involved in this, anyway?”  It’s a question that I am frequently asked.  It’s not a sexy answer, but the truth is that I got curious about what was happening at Canal Shores, and so I showed up.  Then I put my hand up and volunteered.  Giving back to the game and my community was tremendously satisfying, and I kept doing it.  The rest has unfolded organically.

As our Journey Along the Shores continues, I will post periodic updates.  As always, we are grateful for the support, encouragement and contributions of golf geeks everywhere.


MOST RECENT UPDATE FROM THE SHORES

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PART 20 – SPRING PROJECT

We realize that the combination of these two issues is leaving a poor impression on visiting players.  The closing stretch is where a course should impress.  In the case of Canal Shores, it disappoints.  Therefore, we have decided to make our spring project for 2018 a Closing Stretch Makeover.  Read more…


MORE FROM THE JOURNEY ALONG THE SHORES

PART 19 – ALL ABOUT THE TREES

Over the past several years, countless hours have been spent in the field and in meetings to assess the state of our tree population, and to chart a course forward toward making that population larger and significantly healthier.  Our findings will not be a surprise to anyone who has taken the time to look closely at the ecological picture at Canal Shores.  In many places, the property is a disaster area, and it has been for many years.  Read more…

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.  Read more…

PART 17 – 14TH HOLE BUNKER REBUILD

While the planning process continues to unfold, we are on the lookout for little ways to make the course more interesting and fun.  The golf geeks were itching for a creative bunker project to finish off the year, and we found one on the 14th.  With help from our volunteers and support from local Superintendents, we knocked the project out in two days.  Read more…

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.  Read more…

PART 15b – METRA CORNER UPDATE

After all of the improvements that we have made to the 15th hole, it is really shining right now.  I took a quick walk this morning to grab final photos of the bunkers in the bright summer sunshine to complete this update on our work on #15.  Read more…

PART 15a – METRA CORNER MAKEOVER

Our attention has now shifted to the south end of the property, or what we call the “Metra Corner”.  This is the area that includes the 15th and 16th holes, which interact with the canal and the commuter train tracks.  It is also a point of major foot traffic, with commuters and school kids passing through the course in the morning, afternoon, and evening.  Read more…

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.  Read more…

PART 14a – THE POWER OF VOLUNTEERS

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.  Read more…

PART 13 – 4 COURSE CONCEPT REVISITED

Our Lead Architect David Zinkand has completed his Preliminary Design of the new Canal Shores (below), bringing to life the 4 Course Concept that we have been discussing.  It has certainly come a long way since the idea’s inception.  Read more…

PART 12 – GOOD GEEKY FUN

Yesterday was one of the best golf days I have ever had.  With a little nudge from some of the members of GolfClubAtlas, Pat Goss and I put together a day for good, geeky golf fun.  It began with an outing for the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers, and ended with a Gathering of golf enthusiasts to share food, drinks, and the spirit of this great game.  Read more…

PART 11 – BLUE SKY FINDINGS

Over the summer, the initiative to transform Canal Shores along the lines I outlined in my previous posts (4 Course Concept & Inspiration for the New Canal Shores) gained significant momentum.  That gain is primarily attributable to my good fortune in connecting with Pat Goss.  Read more…

PART 10 – OFF-SEASON PROJECTS

We will be continuing the process of “reclaiming the ridge” that we started on hole #3 earlier this year.  In that pilot project, we learned several lessons about how best to fight invasive tree species like buckthorn, while improving playability for golfers.  Read more…

PART 9 – INSPIRATION FOR THE NEW CANAL SHORES

In recent Journey Along the Shores posts, I have been focused on what we are doing to improve the course now.  With Autumn quickly approaching, stay tuned for news on the next batch of improvement projects.  Let’s take a break from the present, and revisit the subject of the future of Canal Shores.  Read more…

PART 8 – MORE TREE MANAGEMENT

There is a tremendous amount of work left to be done on clean-up and clearing of invasive tree species, like buckthorn.  Removal is only part of the process though.  Each cleared area needs to be enhanced with new vegetation and trees.  Read more…

PART 7 – PILOT PROJECTS

These are exciting times at Canal Shores.  Momentum is building, as talented and committed people continue to lend their support.  The beginnings of a new Master Plan for the facility are taking shape.  It is still too early to share details here, but stay tuned.  Read more…

PART 6 – 4 COURSE CONCEPT

Cutting down trees, hacking out brush, and hauling debris for hours on end gives a man plenty of time to think.  During one of these cleanup sessions recently, many of the thoughts that had been swirling around in my head crystalized into a new vision for what might be done with the golf portion of the Canal Shores property.  Read more…

PART 5 – TREE MANAGEMENT

Our tree management program has begun in earnest at Canal Shores.  Our strategy, which is built up on the Wide Open Spaces principle, is two-phased: Remove overgrowth and invasive species; Highlight remaining specimen trees.  Read more…

PART 4 – FIRST STEPS

The Canal Shores Grounds Committee spent the winter sharing ideas, from the blue sky big picture all the way down to the nitty gritty details.  Spring has sprung, and it is time to get into action.  While our long-term Master Plan is in the skunkworks stage, we decided that we still want to move forward with making the cost-effective improvements that we can.  Read more…

PART 3 – PRINCIPLES FOR GREATNESS

The Community that surrounds and utilizes Canal Shores wants the property to remain multi-use.  It would be unacceptable to the stakeholders if the Canal Shores property was used solely for golf.  Even for a golf nut like me, reverting the property to a single-use golf facility would make it much less interesting and valuable than it is, or can be.  Read more…

PART 2 – THE LAND

Canal Shores is not just a golf course.  It is a 35 acre multi-use green space on the banks of the North Shore Channel of the Chicago River.  It spans Wilmette and Evanston, and several streets cut across it.  It is surrounded primarily by residential property, but it winds through the neighborhoods in a unique fashion.  Canal Shores is much more an integrated part of its neighborhood than a typical golf course in a residential property.  Read more…

PART 1 – JOURNEY ALONG THE SHORES

A few years back, the golf course was on the verge of closing.  It was deeply in debt, and was barely playable due to lack of maintenance.  A group of concerned members of the Evanston-Wilmette community intervened, poured their energy into the course for two years, and turned it around.  With respect to finances and facilities, Canal Shores is poised to enter a new phase.  Read more…

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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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.


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 15a (Metra Corner Makeover)

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Native plant area behind #6 green

Our generous volunteers and donors helped us complete pilot projects along Sheridan Road at our north end (6th hole) and on Central Ave in our middle (12th hole).  We are grateful for their support and dedication.

Our attention has now shifted to the south end of the property, or what we call the “Metra Corner”.  This is the area that includes the 15th and 16th holes, which interact with the canal and the commuter train tracks.  It is also a point of major foot traffic, with commuters and school kids passing through the course in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

Like most of Canal Shores, the Metra Corner suffers from several major issues:

  1. The golf on these holes is a combination of hard and boring due to a lack of interesting features and inherent strategy.
  2. Turf health and quality, and the general ecology of the area, has been degraded as invasive species like buckthorn have taken over.
  3. Safety issues exist because of the layout of the holes, and disorganization of space for golf vs. non-golf activities.

Our makeover of the Metra Corner has the overarching goal of the addressing the issues above, while improving the aesthetics of the property and fun of the golf holes.  A visualization of the makeover is below, with a descriptions of the steps.  As the makeover progresses, I will provide updates in additional posts.

 

 

THE STEPS OF THE METRA MAKEOVER

STEP 1 – The Principal’s Nose

The 15th hole is a short par-4 that is tight off the tee and plays straight, with little strategic interest.  Although the hole has great potential, it currently suffers from being boring and hard.

We are borrowing a simple strategy of positioning fairway and greenside bunkers to create options and angles for our golfers.  Aggressive players can challenge hazards to gain advantage on the hole and make an eagle or birdie.  Conservative players can navigate safely navigate around hazards while still having a chance at par.

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The staggered bunkering of Hollywood GC.

To add quirk and interest to the hole, we are creating a Principal’s Nose bunker complex, inspired by the original at St. Andrews and others around America.  There is an existing set of grass bunkers in the left center of the fairway that will be shifted and rebuilt.

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The Principal’s Nose at Boston Golf Club

 STEP 2 – Greenside Bunkers

The bunkers front left and right of the green are out of position and in a state of serious disrepair.  The left bunker will be removed and turned into fairway creating an alley for players to play running approaches.  The right bunker will be shifted and rebuilt closer to the green in a rugged, “gash” style.

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The gash bunker at The Rawls Course

The existing layout of the 15th hole provides only one good option for play – straight down the middle.  The new bunker configuration will introduce strategic options and risk-reward considerations for our players. Golf is more fun and interesting when it is a test of both the mind and execution.

(click on images to enlarge)

 

STEP 3 – Replacing the Spruce

There is a large spruce tree on the right side of the fairway on #15 that has was likely planted as a yardage reference marker.  It is a non-native tree in an inappropriate position.  We are exploring options for moving it, and will do so if it is cost-effective.  Otherwise, we have obtained permission from the City of Evanston Forestry Division to remove the tree and replace it with natives that are more appropriately positioned.  If funds allow, the new plantings will be incorporated into the establishment of a new native area.

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Red Oak

STEP 4 – Buckthorn Removal on #15

As is the case in many areas of Canal Shores, buckthorn and other invasive species have encroached on the canal side of the 15th hole, narrowing it considerably.  Previous efforts by our staff and volunteers on the 3rd and 12th holes have widened playing corridors, improved turf quality, highlighted specimen trees, and enhanced aesthetics.

We intend to remove the buckthorn and other invasives along the left side of the 15th fairway up to the canal ridgeline.  Going down to clear and restore the canal bank is a much larger project for which we are not yet prepared.  Our Ecology firm, Planning Resources Inc., has provided us with an advisory statement on the intended work on the 15th and 16th holes (click here to read the PRI letter).

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#12 after buckthorn removal

STEP 5 – Revealing the Stone Wall

With the help of our neighbors, we have discovered an old limestone wall along the right side of the 16th hole.  It is currently overgrown by buckthorn and other invasive shrubs.  This is exactly the kind of unique feature that makes Canal Shores so special, and we intend to uncover and restore it to the best of our ability.

Volunteer days for this work are currently being organized.  Email me, or sign up on the Canal Shores website if you would like to donate or volunteer.

STEP 6 – Round Rail Fence 

The wood round rail fence that we installed as a part of our 12th Green Project has been very well received by the community.  That fence style will be the standard for the boundaries of the property.  It defines a boundary but leaves an open feel, while drastically improving aesthetics.

The chain link fence behind the 16th green will be replaced, increasing visibility into the course for people driving and walking down Noyes Street.  A new section of fence right of the 15th green will be installed, which will help direct foot traffic away from the 15th green and the private neighbor property that borders that corner of the course.

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Round rail fence on the 12th hole

STEP 7 – Reconfigure #16 Tees

The current tee configuration on #16 is suboptimal.  The back tee position is dangerous – it is too close to the back of #15 green.  Shots that go long put players at risk.  The tee shot from the back tee is also too difficult for almost all of our players.  Further, there is no tee box on the near side of the canal.  The forced carry over the canal is mandatory, which is beyond the strength and ability of many of our players.

The back tee will be shut down, making room to reroute the walking path behind 15 green.  The right and left tees will be expanded, to create more day-to-day variety, and a new forward tee on the near side of the canal will be added.

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New teeing options on #16

STEP 8 – Reroute Walking Path

Although Canal Shores is welcoming to walkers of all kinds, we want to keep them safe and minimize potential damage to greens. The path that many school kids and commuters currently take through this section of the property has two main problems that we intend to address.

On the 15th, walkers tend to walk too close to the green, or on it.  The new fence and removal of the back tee on #16 allows us to route walkers away from the green and out of potential harm’s way from golfers.

The area between the 16th hole and 17th tee holds water, and so we will be creating a drainage feature and establishing a formal path for walkers to keep them out of conflict with golfers on #16 and the 17th tee.

STEP 9 – Expand #15 Fairway and Green

As a rule of thumb, more short grass equates to more fun for golfers.  Therefore, we will be working hard to improve turf health, and expanding the fairway and green on #15.  We will give our players a larger target, and more options for how to approach it through the air or along the ground.

CONCLUSION

Although this “bootstrap” work is nowhere near what could be accomplished with a larger scale renovation of Canal Shores, we do believe that we can significantly improve the experience that our visitors have in this section of the property and course.  While the Master Planning process unfolds, we look forward to pushing forward with improvements in every way that the commitment of our volunteers and donors allows.

For step-by-step updates on this project, and all other happenings at Canal Shores, follow us on Twitter (@CanalShores), Instagram (@CanalShores), and Facebook.

Bring on the spring!

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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf