Creating a Front Door

My first day back in Aggieland started on a typically warm humid morning in central Texas. Fall was closing in on us and all that was heard that morning was the Fightin’ Texas Aggie band practicing for the weekend home game. This could only mean one thing, football season was here. The normal morning sound of mowers was ceased and would soon be replaced with dozers and trenchers. This was the official first day of a year-long transformation of the golf course at Texas A&M University.

We began the process of spraying out the grass that covered the Texas A&M golf course that aggies have played dating back to the ’50s. If you have ever been to College Station, you have driven by the golf course that fronts Texas A&M University. Throughout the years of existence there have been tweaks to the course, but nothing like what was in front of us.

Sterling Golf was in agreement with the university to come up with a plan to make the course a destination that everyone around this great university was proud of. Golf course architect Jeff Blume, class of ’86, was a big part of giving this project the wheels to turn. Before the grass had started to turn brown. Landscapes Unlimited showed up with everything but the kitchen sink to start the process.

This even included a dog, more BBQ pits than I have ever seen on a golf course, and even a project superintendent with an orange golf cart. I didn’t know how this would go over, but I quickly noticed the Auburn logo on the front, and I figured we hadn’t played enough SEC games yet, so the trash talk had to wait.

The shapers eventually started on the course and moved about 250,000 yards of earth. This was labeled a renovation but with a new irrigation system, new cart paths, expansion of waterways and complete re-route of the golf holes, it has become more than that.

One of Jeff Blume’s goals was to create an early traditional American golf course in Texas. This style of design is not what you typically see in Texas. Creating something unique and special was Jeff’s goal from day one. You will see elevated greens, many very small and stringy bunkers and generous fairways to give yourself the best line to attack the trouble that surrounds the greens.

At 7,000 yards, this course will not be a “long” modern course, but will have the ability to challenge all levels of players. There are five sets of tees on every hole that are capped with 5 inches of sand. The generous fairways are capped with 5 inches of sand and were planted with Celebration Bermudagrass. The challenging putting greens were built to USGA specification and sprigged with Mini-Verde bermudagrass.

With a wall-to-wall automated irrigation system and sand on 50 acres of the 175 the property sits on, one would think that we have addressed our growing issues. As the agronomist for the company, the most challenging growing medium that I see has to be this course set in the Brazos Valley.

The biggest issue? Well, we have two – the native soil and the water. The water in the Brazos Valley is extremely high in bicarbonates, sodium and the PH can range from 8.4-9.2. From the outside looking in, no golfer would know the battle we will fight over the years to keep grass growing. I have been searching for a way to describe the native soil to someone but can’t quite find the analogy.

The soil is of the tightest clay, that wets quickly becomes knee-high sloppy, but does not drain. If dry it can be mistaken for concrete. With this soil drainage being non-existent, flushing the bicarbonates is just not a viable option. Even with the sand that we have installed on the fairways tees and greens, using this water without preventative measures to alleviate will eventually change the sand in a few years.

The other area of the golf course you don’t think about it affecting is the bunkers. Just like greens or fairways this water can change the sand particles in the bunkers in return contaminate the drainage just as quickly as the other areas of the course.

So with all that being said, what is the game plan? Hopefully our plan will work as well as our Heisman quarterback’s plan against Alabama last fall. Sulfur has been burning from the first day grass was put onto the ground, and with the use of fertigation system we will be sure to put up a good fight. These two tools, plus the ability to break up the soil through aerification will only help improve the condition of the new golf course.

Capping the fairways with sand will only ease this process. With the addition of our expanded water ways, the golf course is now set up to catch reclaimed water from the university. This was a huge upgrade for the amount of water the course can use. The new lakes are not only used as a tool for irrigation water, but completely change the aesthetics of the course and the front door of the University.

The next phase of this project is to create a three-hole practice facility that would service the health and kinesiology classes and give the Agronomy Department another 10 acres to research on. Ideas for the construction of this area would be to use different grass cultivars, side by side comparison of bunker construction methods, chemical and fertility test or even to further the education of future superintendents. This area has yet to be finalized, but just as the new 18, a vision is the first step to reality.

The special part of the project for me is to work with these great Aggies to not only create a championship golf course, but to enhance the front door of this world-renowned university.

When I graduated with my agronomy degree in 2006, I couldn’t have dreamed of working on this project with such great people and partners. Although watching the golf course transform from what it was to what it is is exciting, the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of a project like this is the people.

Carter Hindes
Director of Agronomy
Sterling Golf Inc.Houston, TX

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