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Turning around a hidden gem

With its close proximity to the state capital and convenient access to Louisville and Lexington, Juniper Hill Golf Course in Frankfort, Ky., hosts many statewide charitable tournaments, and numerous corporate golf events each season. It is also the home golf course to three high school golf teams, the Kentucky State University golf team, as well as having one of the largest men and women’s golf associations in the state. The 18-hole par 70 course built by Buck Blankenship in 1955, measures 6,166 yards from the blue tees. Rolling terrain and small, elevated and sometimes tricky greens combine to make Juniper Hill the perfect golf course to challenge golfers of all skill levels.

Before the influx of golf courses in the early 1990’s, Juniper Hill was once known as the most played golf course throughout the state. It has seen its share of struggles, and in early 2006, with the decline in rounds and course conditions, the course was on the verge of either being sold or shut down. With support from Frankfort-area golfers, Juniper Hill made one last effort to regain its status throughout central Kentucky. The Frankfort Parks and Recreation Department regained control and went in search of a new superintendent. With the previous superintendent having retired, I was hired on with the task to improve course conditions in February 2008.
My first priority when I started was to get the proper equipment needed to manage the golf course. The equipment on hand was more for lawn care but could have transitioned over to golf course. The course had a lot of scalping because the mowers did not conform to the terrain. Also, most of the equipment was 12 to 14 years old and on its last leg. In the three years I’ve been at the course, we have purchased a Progressive Proflex 120, two Jacobsen AR3s, a new John Deere hybrid fairway mower, two Jacobsen Eclipse fully electric greens mowers, and three new John Deere TE Gators. These pieces of equipment have made a tremendous improvement in the care and aesthetics of the golf course.

The second priority as been to make the Bermuda grass and rye grass coexist in the fairways. Juniper Hill went through five tough years, 2001 to 2006, of trying to convert the bluegrass fairways into Bermuda with very little success, due to the rocky and clay soil. With barely only three months of “green” grass, the decision was made to over-seed with perennial rye in the fall of 2007. Since then, we have over-seeded in the fall during aerification at a rate of 500 lbs/A with a compost/sand mix topdressing. Due to the budget, we are not on a chemical program to control or reduce the Bermuda. This results in lush rye grass fairways in fall and spring, and then a mixture of both rye and Bermuda during the summer months. The last two summers have been difficult due to conditions in 2008 being optimal for rye and hard on Bermuda, while the summer of 2009 was just the opposite. This summer, 2010 has been the same as last year, with the rye grass struggling in the heat, as the Bermuda is thriving. Due to not having a targeted chemical program, the struggling Bermuda grass of years past has been slowly creeping in. Three of the 14 fairways that were 50/50 rye/Bermuda when I started, are now 80/20 in favor of Bermuda. The same scenario has been true with our tees having had more success converting them over to rye grass due to filling divots and aerifying tees two times each year; while the fairways are only aerified annually in the fall.

Through the challenging process of converting the fairways, we also went through a small irrigation upgrade with new field controllers. The previous controllers had been hit by lightning and were not replaced for almost three years. The irrigation system is set up with a block-style system, so during those three years, two to three staff members were coming out each night to manually turn on the valves to water the course. A year prior to my arrival, the course purchased Hunter ICC pedestal controllers to replace the existing ones. We spent the better part in the spring of 2008 taking out the old pedestals and installing the Hunter controllers. My current assistant superintendent, Adam Curry, who was irrigation technician during this time, took the task upon himself and played a key role in installing these controllers. With the new pedestals in operation, labor costs were decreased and we cut out the nightly manual watering and now run everything through the new controllers. This improvement has tremendously cut labor cost and was a great improvement to the course overall.

After my first two years, I put together a master plan to improve our bunkers. Though we only had 10 bunkers on the course, six of them were in front of a green and all of them were past their prime. Drainage did not exist in half of them, they had been expanded with years of edging that some were right up into the collar, and overall not built properly. These bunkers gave a lot of our women and senior golfers an unfair disadvantage. They had no opportunity to hit a ball and run it up to the green. If they could not carry the bunker, they either landed in it or played to either side of the green in the rough. With the help of Golf Development Construction of Louisville, K y., a three-year project was established. This renovation included converting 10 bunkers into 16 bunkers with zoysia faces, expanding an existing green, and building a new #3 green complex. The original bunkers were removed and construction began on either one or both sides of the green. The great thing about this renovation was that with tremendous support from the golfers, the parks and recreation department officials, and the City of Frankfort, this three-year plan turned into an 18-month project.
With the continued support from the City of Frankfort and its large golfing clientele, they have made it possible to keep improving and sustaining the renovation projects in many areas of the golf course. Because of their support, the play has increased every year, revenue has increased, and we went from only “walk-in” golfers to taking tee times seven days a week. I would also like to mention that working with PGA Golf Professional Kirk Schooley has made my job a lot easier by planning events and outings around our maintenance schedule. Our professional relationship affords us to strive to a common goal; to make Juniper Hill Golf Course one of the best municipal golf courses in the state of Kentucky.

Contact Bryan direct at bvice@franfort.ky.gov or visit the web site at www.frankfortparksandrec.com

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