Renovated NorthRiver golf course has big changes

NorthRiver Yacht Club reopened to their membership on Thursday after closing on May 19 as the course transitioned from bentgrass greens to more heat-tolerant Bermuda grass.

I took a look around the course last week in the company of Casey Smith, director of golf.

They planted tifeagle grass on their greens. Most of the greens complexes have remained essentially the same, except for some slopes being softened on a few holes.

A huge change has been in regards to bunkers. Prior to the golf course renovation, they had 104 bunkers; they are now down to 62 as golf course architect Bob Cupp, who oversaw the work when the golf course was reworked in 1999 and did so again this time, chose to remove or consolidate a significant number of bunkers.

Every bunker is now brand new and has been constructed using the Better Billy Bunker technique. This was pioneered by Billy Fuller, a former golf course superintendent, including a spell at Augusta National, who developed a new way to stop bunkers washing out and being contaminated. It involves spraying a polymer on the pea gravel base in the bunker which allows water to permeate through the sand but helps stop wash out. It is more expensive than traditional bunker construction, but the ongoing results have been impressive. The bunkers certainly look stunning.

Back to the new greens.

“Tifeagle has a proven track record,” Smith said. “It is not as grainy (as other Bermuda grass can be), keeps its (green) color better, there is less contamination (of other grasses) and, most importantly, it will allow us to have consistent putting surfaces, both in firmness and speed, all year round.”

Not only was every green and bunker touched, but new concrete golf cart paths were also constructed on holes 1 and 9 and every hole on the back nine. The other paths on the front nine remain asphalt, with significant work done to them too. The new concrete golf cart paths will last a long time and must have been quite an undertaking given the slope of many holes at NorthRiver.

Two holes, Nos. 11 and 14, underwent much more involved changes.

On No. 11, two of the three bunkers to the right side of the landing area have been removed, thus opening up this side of the fairway much more. But it is at the green that the biggest change is seen. The old green had a large amount of slope in it and it is now less so, as well as being maybe two-thirds of its former size and is oriented from front to back slope with a more narrow entrance. It is undoubtedly a fairer greens complex.

The most significant golf course design change is that the landing area in the fairway of No. 14 has been raised; thus allowing for a view of the green which was obscured by the sharply rising fairway. Fairway bunkers have been removed and the fairway has shifted shape and orientation. The devilish green, and false front, remains, so it will still be a tough hole.

Indeed, the real teeth of NorthRiver, the closing five holes, will still pose many questions and anyone who can defend a lead in a championship over these holes will have deserved their win.

TDI Golf did the golf course construction, with golf course superintendent Matt Devine, who came to NorthRiver from Limestone Springs at the beginning of the year, and before that, Shoal Creek, supervising the grow-in.

Smith also showed me their fairly new, enclosed teaching center, which includes TrackMan technology, and was dedicated to Mike Ryan, the general manager of NorthRiver Yacht Club.

“We undertook all this work to keep NorthRiver at and above the high standards our members expect and enjoy,” Smith concluded.

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