Friday, January 15, 2021


Starting with the bunker renovation in 2012-2013, we have been working very hard to keep all of our renovation projects consistent with the goal of recapturing the vintage allure of the golf course which dates back to the golden age of golf architecture.  The golden age of golf architecture is basically that period between 1910 and 1937 when most of the top 100 golf courses in America were built. Tacoma's American Lake course opened in 1906, but it was the great renovation of 1923 that resulted in the playing field that we enjoy today. In the last 100 years, there's been a few major construction projects, but the bones of the golf course are still much like they were in the beginning.  With that said there are still some things that have changed just simply because it's hard to stop change.  These are the changes that are happening right before our eyes, but they happen so slow that many people never notice they're happening at all.  A good example of this is the growth of the trees.  It literally can take generations before a tree causes problems.  Of course now that Tacoma is well over 100 years old, there are many trees that are causing problems, and that is something we're addressing today.  Another problem that occurs slowly over time is edge migration.  The edges of bunkers migrate (see my post about this CLICK HERE), and so do the edges of putting greens.  With respect to the putting greens we've been working hard to recapture lost putting surface and also push greens out to create new areas.  In order to do this we first remove the collar dams, or "build up" of topdressing sand around the greens perimeter (CLICK HERE to read more about collar dam removal).  Once the excess sand is removed and the grass is put back, we can then start mowing the green out to where we want it.  Here's a series of pictures for this process which we recently completed on the 2nd green.
The first thing we do is paint out where we want the finished green edge to be.  This gives us a good idea of how much of the perimeter we need to strip off in order to achieve this new green shape.  

The next step is to cut the grass with a sod cutter and then roll it up and set it aside. 

Here you see the grass has been put back, the edge is repainted and we've started mowing the new green areas.   It takes several months to train the grass down to the shorter mowing height.  It takes maybe a year or so of regular mowing and topdressing before the new areas are good and smooth.  

We've completed this process on 14 greens so far and the new green shapes have created many interesting conversations.  The new green shapes have many straight edges and corners with an overall squarish look.  Many folks have said they aren't too keen on the new look and many folks say they love it.  Well let's just say the new look is really an old look, and very much consistent with the original golf course in 1906 (click HERE for a map of the first course at the American Lake site), and also after the great redesign in 1923 (Click HERE to see a map of the course after the 1923 redesign).   You can still find squarish looking greens at some of the greatest clubs in America like at Chicago GC (Click HERE), but many of those great old clubs have had renovations to their greens, and the vintage look became less fashionable.  Most recently, several golf courses have undergone renovations with an emphasis on restoration.  Like us, they are trying to recapture the vintage allure, and the brilliance of some of the great golf course architects of the past.  There's no better example of this than what we just saw this past year at the U.S. Open hosted by Winged Foot.  Click HERE to see a great blog post on this project.  Also, click HERE to see some great stuff put out by the USGA on this very subject.  Interestingly, Winged Foot was built in 1923, the same year Tacoma unveiled it's newly renovated golf course which is essentially the same golf course we enjoy today.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Traffic Management


We continue to see more and more rounds played as golf is now the most popular pastime.  I've never seen so many people on the golf course, especially now during the "off season".  As a consequence we are seeing some problems with wear and tear in high traffic areas.  For example, on #9 green we have some thinning of the turf in the front left corner where everyone is entering and exiting.  

To try and alleviate the stress on this area we put up a short set of ropes to try and encourage folks to take a slightly less direct route.  Unfortunately many people do not understand what these ropes are for since I've observed many players stepping over them, essentially defeating the purpose entirely.  Please do not step over the ropes.  Please help us by taking a few extra steps to walk around these ropes and give that turf a little break from all the foot traffic.  These ropes will not stay there forever.  Once we see the turf recover a little, we will remove them.  More than likely we will be placing them in a new area where we are seeing a traffic problem. Once spring arrives and the grass starts growing we will no longer need them.  


Monday, August 17, 2020

Irrigation Distribution Uniformity

We've been talking a lot lately about replacing the irrigation system, so a recent incident of misfortune is definitely worth explaining. A couple of weeks ago we had a power failure at one of our satellite boxes on the golf course, and the result was the sprinklers didn't run for one night over a large portion of the 9th and 18th fairways.  We were having some hot weather at the time so unfortunately quite a bit of turf dried out to the point of death.   Here's some pictures of the subsequent damage.

This is a shocking amount of damage for one night without irrigation, and that is why I'm pointing this out.  We shouldn't see this much damage from just one missed irrigation cycle.  It clearly shows just how poorly the irrigation water is distributed over the golf course when we irrigate.  The brown dead areas were obviously very dry before the system failure occurred.  This is what it's like all over the golf course during the months of July and August when we are irrigating every day.  We have some areas that are very very dry, and we have some areas that are very very wet.  You just don't realize how serious this condition is until something breaks down like in this case with a power failure.  I guess maybe I shouldn't say that because many of you do realize how serious this issue is, but you most likely notice it in a different way.  Most of you notice it when your ball hits a soft spot and doesn't roll out at all.  The issue is poor irrigation distribution.  This is not a new problem.  We've been trying to improve our water distribution uniformity since the day our current system was installed.  It is in fact getting worse with each passing season as the sprinkler heads age, but even if we had new sprinklers, our system does not have the capability of achieving good distribution uniformity given it's poor design.  I'm not trying to blame the designer.  When you consider all the decisions that were made during the installation of our existing system back in 1989, I think all individuals involved made good ones.  But, like I've said before, what was okay then, is not okay now.  So this is why you see staff out there hand watering all the time.  They are trying to keep the dry areas from dying so we don't have to apply more water which in turn makes the green areas wet and soft.  It's a balancing act.  Everyday day we have to decide how much water to apply knowing that too little will mean more hand watering or dead grass.  If I apply too much water, playability is compromised with the lack of bounce and roll.  I say all this to point out that a new irrigation system will solve a lot of problems.  A modern irrigation system has far better distribution uniformity which means less dry areas, and less wet areas, and therefore better playing conditions.  It also means we'd see less damage in the event of a failure (since even new systems can have failures). 
Luckily, our technician was out the next day to repair the satellite box, and we were back up and running that afternoon.  It would have been even a worse incident had he not been available at the time.