By David Droschak
Staying on top of the competitive golf business in the North Carolina Sandhills takes time, commitment and money. Fall behind ever so slightly and another golf course – figuratively a driver and chip shot away – is ready to steal your golfers.
With that in mind, the closing of Legacy Golf Links in Aberdeen for four months this summer and into the busy fall season for a major overhaul of the greens wasn’t only easier to swallow for ownership, but a necessity for the popular Jack Nicklaus II layout.
“We’ve been opened for 20 years and we’ve been one of the top courses in the area, but when you get to year 16 or 17 the greens start to look a little weary, and there are so many other options for people to choose from in this area. Unless your course is top-notch you’re going to lose customers,” said Legacy head professional Brad Poplyk.
There were green options, too. However, after a few years of testing and a recommendation from its Legacy Golf Management team in Atlanta, Legacy Golf Links installed MiniVerde, an ultradwarf bermudagrass – becoming the first golf course in the Pinehurst area to invest in the new heat tolerant and disease resistant grass on its putting surfaces.
Legacy is in some elite company. East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and TPC Sawgrass in Florida have the same green surfaces.
For years, bentgrass greens have been the choice for a majority of golf courses in the South, where summer temperatures can reach the upper 90s for a month or two at a time. The knocks on the old Bermuda greens ranged from discoloring to a bumpy ride for your ball on the way to the hole.
“With this new grass you’re looking at the same color; you don’t see the shifting grain and the leaves are smaller. You don’t get the grain that you used to,” said Brian Katrek of the PGA Tour Network. “This is not your father’s bermudagrass. You are not going to make any ball marks out there. It is fun.
“We don’t get to travel the world like the PGA Tour does for perfect conditions; we have to play our hometown courses every day and every week and we’ve got to play them most of the year, so this is the answer to the heat. This is a beautiful golf course and they have made the right choice with this grass.”
Legacy actually began its grand in-house renovation plan four years ago, with green surround work, a test green and some significant tree removal.
“This wasn’t just something we did overnight,” said Poplyk. “The resurfacing of the greens was the last piece of the puzzle. We also re-shaped a lot of the run-offs of the greens, extended some coverage areas and took out at least 150 trees around the greens to get better air flow. If you didn’t know the trees were there before you would never notice that they’re gone now.”
There was also some minor design tweaking by Superintendent Mike Norton and his assistant Shaun Kerr, adding a new tee box on the signature par-3 fifth hole, and some additional bunkering on the par-5 16th.
“We took out an old vegetable garden that was to the right of the cart path on the fifth hole and put in two extra sets of tees,” Poplyk said. “It gives you more teeing options … and it gives golfers a completely different look into the green, bringing the water into play a little bit more.
“On No. 16, we put a second bunker to the right of the green and from the fairway that really helps frame that approach shot,” he added. “Then we looked back into the fairway and decided to mirror that look in the fairway, so we took out three trees to the left about 100 yards out where there used to be a lot of pine straw and love grass and put another bunker in there. What that did was really open up that lay-up shot and framed the hole a lot better.”
But the major buzz heading into the winter golfing season at Legacy Golf Links has been the greens.
“It is such a smooth roll. When you get your ball on line there is no wobble to it, it’s going right where you putt it,” Poplyk said. “We can get them as fast as an 11 or 12 on the Stimpmeter, but we’re maintaining it right around a 10 and the feedback has just been fantastic.
“This was huge for us. It has gotten us back to one of the top choices in the area,” he added.
Katrek echoed the feedback so far from golfers flocking back to Legacy to test their flat stick on the new putting surfaces.
“When the PGA Championship got to East Lake this year the greens looked like they were air-brushed,” Katrek said. “They just looked perfect in person and better than perfect on television. PGA Tour players like to complain about greens; that’s just one of the things they do. It’s in their nature. They don’t complain about this type of grass.”