I recently got the opportunity to work on one of the most interesting projects I've ever had a chance to be a part of.
You may not know about Claremont Country Club in Oakland, California, and that's a shame. Claremont is a cool old Mackenzie design that is short, but one of the funnest rounds you'll ever have. And challenging too. I'd play there every day if they'd let me. They never will, but it's a nice dream to have. Recently restored to amazing original glory at the hands of Jim Urbina . Claremont is now even more of a gem.
You may not know Josh Clevenger, the Super at Claremont, and that's a shame. (Here is his blog) Josh just took over the helm at Claremont, by getting the keys handed to him by the amazing long time Super at Claremont, Randy Gai (pronounced Guy). Randy is an old friend and a great one. And I'm proud to say that I did a bit of matchmaking to introduce Josh to Randy. As Randy prepares to retire, Josh has the title and the mentoring of Randy. It's indicative of a club that gets it. Claremont gets it.
See that Oak Tree on the flag in the picture above? It's real world inspiration is right by the practice putting green that is right by the clubhouse. And in 20 plus years of turf consulting, I've never seen a tree more talked about. Randy and I started talking about the damn thing in 1992. It's the club logo. It's beyond sacred.
And there has never been a visit to Claremont that hasn't included time standing on that green in front of the Men's Grill, God and Everyone else wondering what we should do to make green and tree be better friends. Truth? They aren't friends. They never will be. They live together. That's it. Everyone hates everyone.
Over the last few years, said tree has gotten bigger and pretty much kills sunlight on 1/3 of the green for most of the day between summer solstice and winter solstice. And the green itself? Well not exactly built to perfection in 1921.
So I got the call to really have the discussion about solving this issue. You wanna be a turf consultant? Call me and I'll take you to a few two plus hour save the tree meetings. It's not sexy. Really.
Good problem solving comes by asking really good questions. So the first question, naturally is, Can we move the tree? Answer. $40K and a 50% chance of survival. Balloon meet lead. Second question, Can we just cut it down? Answer. Only of you want the entire female membership at Claremont to put BenGay ointment in their husband's shorts for the next 40 years. Good idea, but no. Third question, Can we just fix the green? Answer? Well, yes, a bit. Some drainage was installed last year, but really it needs a better rootzone and some expansion where there is no room for expansion. Fourth question, If we spend all this time and money will the green be perfect? Answer? As long as the tree is there, no. This is the part of the conversation wherein I contemplate my new life as a yoga teacher or monkey trainer and think it's time to listen to my Mom's words to get a real job.
The marching orders? Tree stays at least for now and the subject of the life of the tree goes to the jaws of the long range planning committee. Yippee. Green gets as much attention as it needs to be awesome. Whoo Hoo. Anything else? How about Ice Cream Makers around the green instead of irrigation heads? Or maybe we could make the green pop up so that cars can be parked underneath? Look, I'm just a Turfhead who will do grass and soil for food and it's their club. They were presented with all the info and they make the decision because they own it. None of us have to like it. So, time to execute.
Conventional AOG agronomy would simply say, build a USGA type sand based green, sod with bentgrass sod and be on with the club championship. But Claremont isn't conventional. The greens are this amazing blend of Poa and Bent with some really cool old bents and really cool perennial type Poa plants. And the soils are amazing. They could drain better, but they are cool old push up greens with flair and panache. If I signed off on building and grassing something completely different than everything else this club has, I deserve a beating with a 1-iron and Stevie Williams to quit as my Caddie. Just have to do better and stop dating the hot chicks (meaning Sand Based Green and Bentgrass Surface) and go for the cougar (Push Up Green with experienced local grasses).
So Josh and Randy and a whole lot of other smart people put our heads together and came up with a plan. Plan is pretty simple:
[*]Strip off old sod.
[*]Make sure drainage previously installed is working perfect.
[*]Horizontal till rootzone with a Lely Roterra.
[*]Import sand that will match with the native soil that has been topdressed for years, thus creating a sand cap.
[*]Grade green to perfection. Expand as much as possible.
[*]Harvest aerification cores from two of the existing greens.
[*]Spread amendments and cores on green surface.
[*]Dropseed some bentgrass for good measure.
[*]Dimple it all in with the Sand Pro.
[*]Hydromuch over the top with a light mulch and tacifier combo.
We did a ton of testing and evaluation to get the recipe right for the soils. It's not easy. Made my head hurt every day. We finished this process today. And the whole thing went really smooth thanks to the hard work of the Claremont Green Staff and Roger Downing, contractor extraordinary, from EarthSculptures based in Indio, California.
Why go through with all of this and why not go the safe route? Simple. We didn't want one green different than all the others at Claremont. Different grass, different soils, different moisture holding capacity, etc. Just not worth not trying to do better for the sake of old school cool.
If it doesn't work, well, I'm the one who will take the blame and I will. Not sure what I have that Claremont will want, maybe a couple of dogs and a guitar or two will look good in the front trophy case. And I guess if I was a real slickster consultant I would already be lining up the arborist's report to blame the tree. It's true, though. The tree won't make the job of growing grass easier, but we hopefully have negated all the other factors that we can control. Everyone knows you can't control the weather, tree huggers or the Ladies 9-hole club. The rest, we have some influence with.
But I'm pretty confident. In fact I've done a few others with a similar process. So it will be amazing to see how this goes and hopefully the green is back in play in about 60 days. We won't rush it.
In the new golf economy, it's time to think about cool ways to do cool things. This may be one of them.