Gates Four Trials Beg for Sympathy
OK, I’m a believer. Bring on the Mini Verde.
I have to tell you right up front that I have been a proponent of bentgrass since 1968, when I played the spanking new Irongate Country Club course in Fayetteville.
That was a long time ago, so long ago that I could even hit an occasional green in regulation. So long ago that the course has changed owners, changed its name to Gates Four, and become one of the most successful residential courses in the area.
But one thing the course didn’t change, and it’s looking like a costly mistake right now, was the grass on its greens.
Joe Riddle, the Fayetteville businessman and developer who owns and operates the course, committed more than $1.5 million to the renovation of Gates Four last year.
Renowned course renovator Kris Spence was brought in to give the old Willard Byrd layout a much-needed face-lift. The bentgrass greens that had been in use for 43 years were ripped out and rebuilt to USGA specifications.
The course was closed to play for more than six months. Members waited in anticipation, playing at other area courses including Bayonet at Puppy Creek and Scothurst in Lumber Bridge.
Nobody complained. The old greens were worn out and the 100-degree never-ending heat of the summer of 2010 wiped out the ailing grass.
To his credit, Spence did an admirable job on the renovation. The old course had never looked more beautiful or inviting than when it reopened June 1. Members marveled. Guests wanted to join. Charity events in the area were lining up to schedule tournaments. All was happiness in the land of duffers.
Things were so good that for the first time in memory there was no complaining from the Gates Four Gangsome members.
But June was blistering hot. July set records for 100-degree days. August proved to be a killer month.
And the lovely bentgrass began turning brown, dying in spots. Those new greens that had been so pure were bare in spots.
The club had to cancel its popular annual invitational for the second straight year and had to reschedule its pro-am. Members were unbelieving as they watched their paradise become a purgatory.
Joe Riddle proved himself to be a man of great patience. Instead of ranting and raving — at least in public — he shouldered the blame.
“We got hit by a perfect storm with the heat and dry weather,” he said. “In retrospect, we should have started the renovation a lot earlier than we did and that would have given the grass time to age and be stronger when the summer heat came.”
Riddle laid no blame on his superintendent, saying, “I think we did everything we could. It was just too much hot weather on young grass.”
The superintendent left a few weeks ago, and as of this writing a new one was being sought.
So, maybe it was a “perfect storm.” Maybe there was nothing anyone could have done to protect the new greens. But the sad truth is that if the decision had been made to go with Mini Verde Ultra Dwarf Bermuda, it’s more than likely that Gates Four members would be reveling over the putting surfaces instead of mourning.
Golfers love putting on bentgrass and Gates Four was proud of its tradition of having the best greens in the county. But whether it’s global warming or just a temporary trend, the unrelenting heat of recent summers is tormenting greens superintendents in the Sandhills.
Hyland made the first venture into the new strain of Bermuda and it’s paid off in spades. Carolina Trace in Sanford has just reopened its Lake Course after switching to the surface. Legacy Golf Links is scheduled to reopen in mid-September after switching over.
But maybe Gates Four is just jinxed. It replaced the flagsticks and flags two weeks go and they were stolen by vandals during the first night, only to be found the next day in the deep end of the swimming pool.
A few days later some jerk drove his car onto the 11th green and left tire marks all over the surface.
Such is life in the world of golf. It’s never easy.
Contact Howard Ward by email at email@example.com.
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