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The old and the new
Expanding Nantucket Island's only public golf course was a balancing act for both architect and superintendent.
With sand-plain grasses, sensitive soils, flowing topography and the Atlantic Ocean nearby, Miacomet Golf Course on Nantucket Island off Cape Cod, Mass., “was screaming for a links-style nine” to accompany its existing nine-hole layout, according to architect Howard Maurer. With the help of project manager Charlie Passios, CGCS, and former superintendent Bill Affinito, Miacomet’s development team was able to deliver on that vision.
“It is a great layout,” says Passios, a 25-year GCSAA member who is president of Moors Inc., which manages what is now the only public, 18-hole course on the island for the owner, Nantucket Islands Land Bank. “Howard did an outstanding job of fitting nine new holes of comfortable golf on a relatively small piece of property. We get glowing comments from members and visitors. They want to know when we are renovating the other nine so everything matches.”
Passios and the entire project team played important roles in a golf facility that has both filled a niche in this internationally known vacation destination and become a model for environmentally conscious development.
To serve and protect
Part of the Land Bank’s charge is land preservation for public recreation. In fact, the legislature authorized the Land Bank to own, manage and develop golf facilities, Passios says. When a developer proposed converting Miacomet into a proposed housing project, the Land Bank acquired the existing nine-hole course -- a simple, push-up green-laden affair that had been developed by a farmer on his own land in the 1970s.
The Land Bank originally intended to build a new, 18-hole course on the property, but ran into significant opposition from state agencies and environmental groups. Fears over what a new 18-hole layout could mean to rare plants and birds that inhabited the original course led the development team to abandon those plans in favor of building nine new holes and eventually renovating the existing nine to modern standards.
“Restrictions on Nantucket Island are centered around plant species and habitat for endangered wildlife,” Passios says. “On Nantucket, that is typically raptors -- short-eared owls, northern harriers [marsh hawks].”
In 2000, the Land Bank’s development team hired Maurer to oversee the design of the revised proposal. “Howard was very flexible and a part of the team that allowed us to put together environmentally responsible and good-quality golf,” says Cardoza of the Hopedale, Mass.-based architect, who cut his teeth as a design associate with Cornish and Silva Golf Design before opening his own architectural firm seven years ago.
“From a business standpoint, if a golf course isn’t good, people won’t play. From an environmental standpoint, if we could not design the course in a way that the environmental agencies would approve, we were not going to have a course. Howard’s ability to work around the plants and animals, avoid areas that needed to be avoided and select grasses that were very compatible with the native environment, all made him a very important part of the team.”
An eye toward the environment
“That was the jump for me into the environmental picture,” he says. “The sensitive nature of the salt marshes and proximity of Nantucket Sound increased my environmental awareness. We were also in the middle of the Cape Cod Groundwater Study that really helped kick off the environmental movement for GCSAA.”
Passios spent three years on the GCSAA Board of Directors in the early 1990s. In 1996, he moved to The Nantucket Golf Club, eventually becoming project manager of the Rees Jones design that Golf Digest ranked No. 1 on its list of "Best New Private Courses" for 1998. The Nantucket GC had numerous environmental and mitigation issues to deal with on its 250 acres.
“Nantucket Golf Club was all about harrier habitat preservation whereas Miacomet was focusing more on population density of plants with a lesser focus on bird habitats,” says Passios, who, in addition to Moors Inc. (which manages public courses) also operates The Passios Group, which works with private courses and other turf-related businesses.
Maurer served as architect and Passios as agronomic and golf operations consultant for the development team during design and permitting, which took considerable time at Miacomet. In addition to developing plans to minimize impact on plant and animal life on the course itself, Cardoza explains, the most significant item the team developed was a 25-year land-management program for 560 acres of environmentally sensitive land that stretches to the ocean south of the course. In addition, the team arranged, with the Land Bank's approval, a conservation restriction on 67 acres immediately east of the existing nine holes. “This was the area during the permitting process that came to be identified as having the most significant density of state-listed plants,” Cardoza says.
The team created an independent scientific-advisory committee comprised of on- and off-island conservation interests to review Land Bank land manager Bruce Perry’s land-management activities. It also developed a dedicated fund to finance land-management activities on the conservation land. The money comes from a $1 surcharge on every round of golf that will fund a $456,000 budget over the next 25 years. The fund finances mowing, burning, active land-management and equipment fees. “The goal is to have a net benefit to the bird and plant species impacted as part of the golf course development,” Cardoza says.
The team also created an Integrated Golf Course Management Plan (IGCMP) that addresses environmentally responsible management for every aspect of the course from fertilizer and pesticide applications to fuel storage to state-of-the-art wash systems and compliance with the IGCMP. It is documented by groundwater monitoring at the site and public disclosure of the results.
Building a team approach
“The site was fairly flat, so we had to create some of the drama,” Maurer says. “We created a lot of low areas, building the dunes, mounds and bunkers with the material we hauled out of there. We probably only moved 30,000 to 40,000 yards of soil on the whole project.”
Passios was appointed project manager as the owner’s representative. He worked closely with Maurer, who incorporated the project manager’s suggestions where appropriate and reeled him in a bit when needed. “I had a blast working with Howard,” Passios says. “He is a very well-grounded person. I felt like I had a lot of input. I asked him to include a couple of pot bunkers that fairways would run into, kind of Scottish style. He said that would be great. Another time we were standing near a green complex and I suggested a deep hazard with sheer walls and he said, ‘Charlie, when you think about this course, you have to think about the client who will play here. It isn’t you the 8-handicap. It is for me, the struggling golfer.’ We had some wonderful exchanges and a great relationship.”
The major restrictions, Passios says, involved globally rare natural communities, specifically coastal sand-plain grassland and coastal heathlands with specific plants of concern, i.e. bushy rockrose, eastern silvery aster and New England Blazing Star. Because the densities were so low, Land Bank personnel were allowed to move them into adjacent areas that were undisturbed.
The greatest challenge during grow-in, Affinito says, was Nantucket’s location, 30 miles out to sea. In addition to occasionally heavy rains, the wind blew every day, averaging 15 to 40 miles per hour, which could have led to potentially significant wind erosion. Based on his experience at Nantucket GC, Passios and Maurer included a requirement for hydro-mulching over all seeded areas (except greens) using some new polymers to stay erosion and aid germination.
The entire project was seeded with no sod applied, allowing the team to grow-in a virtually native blend of grasses without the influence of sod grown on foreign soils. This also limits the introduction of pathogens and weeds not typical to the site. The use of hydromulch allowed for the stabilization and moisture retention of the seedbed on this very windy site, just 30 miles from the sea.
Rather than a mono-stand with one type of grass, Maurer and Passios combined to select what Passios terms a “Heinz 57” blend of grasses. “The mono-stand is a beautiful look,” Passios says. “But with our course and many public courses, the budgets aren’t large enough to maintain mono-stands in a pure fashion. And in a situation like Miacomet, where you already have a Heinz 57 blend of grasses on the existing nine, why would you come in with a mono-stand that looks so different?
"Because of the island and atmosphere, we went back to some of the older grass types -- Colonials [bentgrasses] on the fairways with some new dwarf bluegrasses and fescues. That gives us the ability to run things a little dry. We also blended the greens with Penncross and G
2. I’ve done that before and it’s a neat mix. It will get some segregation over time and the Poa annua will come in eventually. You can’t stop that. We used native soils and didn’t sterilize anything. We decided to start with a blend, let the Poa come in, run it dry and let the strongest plants survive.”
The primary rough is predominantly a fescue blend with some bluegrass, while the secondary rough is sheep and hard fescue with a little bluestem, creating the transition to native grassland areas.
To accommodate the various grasses, irrigation designer Joe Sarkisian developed an irrigation system with 900 sprinkler heads on the new nine holes that applies water to playing surfaces only. Passios notes a master plan was developed, which was refined after the grassing lines were established, with hard lining along the outside turf areas with part-circle heads. The PC irrigation heads were opened full turn for grow-in of the outer areas and then closed down to partial turn after establishment for application on play areas only.
Working with the Land Bank staff and commission was a great experience, Maurer and Passios agree.
“They let the experts do their thing and create what we thought needed to be created,” the course architect says.
Adds Passios of the Land Bank: “They are a great group of people. Their focus is totally on the community.”
Off and running
Among Maurer’s favorite holes are:
Passios is a big fan of the 387-yard, par-4 6th hole, which plays adjacent to grassland preserve sites. “The bunkering is very creative,” the course management company president says. “It has some unique bunkering around the green. The fairways fall into the pot bunkers, like the old Scottish courses. You have to be pretty accurate with your approach shots if you are going to bump-and-run the ball in. One thing Howard really concentrated on is making sure every hole has a lot of shot options. You can play the ball on the ground or throw it in.”
The new holes survived the winter in excellent shape. “The 2003-04 winter and spring were really hard on some of the older courses. The new nine came through basically untouched by the winter,” notes Passios, adding that he expects more play this season due to the new holes. “Spring has been fairly strong and we don’t even have the summer residents here, yet. It looks like it should be a solid year.”
From a maintenance standpoint, the differences between the old and new nines present the biggest challenge to current superintendent, seven-year GCSAA member Sean Oberly.
“The course staff is dealing with two different animals,” Passios explains. “The original nine holes are basically push-up greens built with the soil there. The fairways were the old agricultural fields. It’s not a bad track; Plain Jane, but fun to play. The new holes are new construction with modified USGA greens. It is a firmer, faster track. There is very little thatch on the new nine. The watering regimes and fertilization are different. The new nine is still in the grow-in phase but turning the corner to maturity. A new course typically takes three years to mature. There is a new twist every day.”
Looking to the future
“We rebuilt the [existing] tees in 2003,” says Land Bank Director Eric Savetsky. “But the greens aren’t modern. The bunkering is not well laid out. And the fairways are fairly flat. Having a new nine designed by a real course architect highlights the needs of the existing nine. It needs to be brought up to date with the new holes. The existing nine is loaded with rare plants. That will restrict design and building to the existing footprints. We won’t change the layout, but we will work on the grading. That’s a year or two off because of finances. It makes sense to have Howard do the renovation. We are very happy with what he has done on the new nine and he is already doing some preliminary work for the old nine.”
Passios, whose company has secured continuing management of Miacomet’s operations through 2008, is looking forward to the possibility of finishing the upgrade with renovations to the existing nine in the near future. The biggest challenge, he says, in any kind of rebuilding project is losing rounds during construction and the effect that has on revenues.
“I would prefer to shut down the nine holes and get the job done in as short of a period of time as possible,” he says. “Even though we had a bad winter during the expansion, we started construction on the new nine in mid-September and were playing it the following September. If the timing was right, we might even be able to close in August and finish any new rebuilding that fall.”
Maurer looks forward to the challenge and giving Nantucket “an 18-hole public course befitting one of the top vacation destinations in the country. The two private clubs on Nantucket, Sankaty Head GC and Nantucket GC, are both top-rated layouts. Our goal was always to build something that was equal to them, but open to the public. There are many savvy golfers on the island, people who are used to playing world-class courses. They’ll want to play Miacomet.”