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October 2019

Going with the Flow

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Shaftesbury Glen Renovations Improve Drainage Issues

By Steve Eubanks

Most modern renovations, if they occur at all, are done piecemeal – plant a tree there, renovate a green here, take out those unsightly crossties that haven’t looked right since 1981. No matter the size of your operation, budgets demand that you do things a little bit at a time. A new pool, a revamped kitchen, and suddenly the irrigation and drainage projects get pushed back a couple of years.

When you finally do get around to renovating the bunkers, most operators make a point of softening some edges and taking a few out. The days of having 150 bunkers that are as deep as craters, along with 350 rakes that may or may not be used and two or three extra employees to rake, edge and refill them on a regular basis, went out with the bubble shaft and the balata ball. Ease, speed and fun are the renovation goals in 2019.

That is what makes the work done at Shaftesbury Glen Golf & Fish Club in Conway, South Carolina, so extraordinary. The club, which reopened in mid-August after a massive renovation project, not only did not take out bunkers, it added new ones – big ones – length-of-fairway waste bunkers, the kind that send hearts racing and drive many higher-handicap golfers off the course and onto the bowling alley.

But exactly the opposite happened at Shaftesbury Glen. According to club general manager Ryan McCarty, “We originally started these renovations back in 2016 and since that time we played 36,000 rounds a year and have had a grand total of one complaint. One guy didn’t like what we did. I consider that a win.” 

The renovations in question began as a creative fix to a problem that was costing the club a lot of money.

“We kept getting hit with more and more rainy, wet days. Because our course had a little age and didn’t drain as well as some others, there were a lot of days after a rain when players couldn’t get carts off the paths,” according to McCarty.
That situation coincided with a demographic shift in the customer base.

“The average age of the golfer is 62 now,” McCarty said. “Sure, people are healthier but that’s still older than ever. There are a lot of older golfers who won’t play or won’t play as much when they can’t get off the path. Sure there are still walkers and purists, but mid-60s is when you start having knees replaced. It’s not a function of money. Golfers have the money to play. But we found that we were losing rounds on days when our course was wet and you couldn’t get off the path.”

A drainage project would have helped but water needs an area in which to drain. Retention ponds were an option but adding water hazards is a monumental and expensive task, one fraught with environmental dangers. Plus, you drive away players when you start adding water to a course. 

“We didn’t want to put cart paths on both sides of the holes,” McCarty said. “And we wanted to do something different. So, we came up the idea of building waste bunkers.”

The concept was simple: Dig out the wettest areas of rough and run waste bunkers the length of the holes along with some added drainage. Then the water from crowned fairways would run into the bunkers. From there the water would drain into the soil or leach into other aquifers.  

“Initially we created waste bunkers on holes 1, 2, 5, 12, 13 and 16,” McCarty said. “Not only did that take out the wettest areas, it gave us usable cart areas on both sides of those fairways.”

Two years later, another capital project came due. “We had bent-grass greens and it was tough to keep them in the (sweltering South Carolina) heat,” McCarty said. “In the summer of 2018, we had four or five greens that did not do well. That was the first time that I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t say with an open heart that our golf course was in impeccable shape. We’ve always been known for our conditioning and our service levels. Not being in top-notch shape was just not who we are.

“So, instead of getting into a situation where we might lose a few greens and be scrambling, we got ahead of the problem and changed all the greens out beforehand,” he said. “We went with a relatively new strand of Bermuda called Sunday Bermuda. We researched it for five months, did all our homework, and found that everyone who has it loves it. The thing we liked about it was the speed. You can cut it as low as you want, roll the greens, and it’s an incredible putting surface. So, we pulled the trigger and made the change.”

While the course was closed for updating the new greens, some additional mounding was added and the waste-bunker-cart-path system was integrated into the remainder of the holes, an additional 250,000 square feet of bunkers. 

“Because of the time and location in which this course was built, we lacked a lot of natural features,” McCarty said. “So, having this renovation, gave the course a lot of the features it had been missing.” 

It also solved a problem that had been vexing Shaftesbury Glen for years. According to McCarty: “We opened Monday, August 12, and on Sunday, August 11, we got 4 inches of rain. So, of course, on the grand re-opening we were cart-path-only. But we had golfers coming in and telling us how much they loved being able to pick and choose which side of the hole they went down. And we were also off the paths the very next day.

“So, through this renovation, we knocked down a three-day cart-path situation to a single day. It has totally been worth it. Absolutely.”  

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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