When the subject arises of North Carolina’s highest-ranked golf courses renowned for their surroundings, Old North State Club in New London generally resides near the top of most lists. Designed by legendary architect Tom Fazio and debuting in 1991, the golf course at Old North State Club perennially enjoys a top-10 ranking in the state, teeing up picturesque views of Badin Lake, the surrounding Uwharrie Point peninsula, wildlife and nature.
Large and undulating Bentgrass greens — the standard in the area when growing new greens 30 years ago — adorned the course until this year, when Raleigh-based McConnell Golf funded a $3 million project to replace all the green structures with Bermudagrass.
The recently completed restoration project also included rebuilding all the bunkers on the golf course, tree work, cart-path repairs, and some tee work, which added approximately 160 yards to the course.
“This renovation not only enhances playing conditions but also the overall membership experience and draws people back for more fun on Badin Lake,” said McConnell Golf Founder and CEO John McConnell. “It’s exciting to have the course return to its former glory with Tom Fazio’s original plan in mind.”
To ensure all the encroached Bermudagrass was removed prior to sprigging the new strain, four inches of material were removed from the surface and replaced with a substrate of 80 percent sand and 20 percent organic peat materials. A minimum of 20 percent organic material is required for the application to help control moisture longer, which helps reduce the amount of water needed for irrigation. All the material that was removed from the old greens was kept on-site and will be used as needed for other projects, such as top-dressing fairways after aerification.
North Carolina is considered the “danger zone” for Bentgrass greens. This grass historically loves the cooler weather of the spring and fall; however, prolonged hot summer days can wreak havoc on the otherwise almost perfect greens. According to an article by Carolinas Golf Association Agronomist Leon T. Lucas, Bentgrass “shoot growth ceases when air temperature is above 90 degrees and root growth ceases when soil temperature is above 77 degrees.”
Given the struggles golf courses in the Carolinas have had with Bentgrass greens in the summer and the fact that summer is when the majority of the club’s play happens, the decision to transition to Bermudagrass at Old North State Club was an easy one.
“Bermudagrass has come a long way over the past few years,” says McConnell Golf Vice President of Agronomy Michael Shoun. “Specifically at Old North State, we are using Tif-eagle Bermuda which is very hearty. This strain of Bermuda seems to have the least amount of genetic mutations and side effects from chemicals over time, whereas other types of Bermuda grasses can change over time.”
The process of growing the new grass is as simple as throwing sprigs on the greens and watering them, but prepping the growing areas takes months. “Many may not realize the greens have shrunk a good bit over the years,” Shoun said. “The existing Bermudagrass on the collars of the greens had encroached on the original greens up to 15 feet in some areas. Many members, especially those joining in the past few years, may be very surprised at the size of the ‘new’ greens, which have been restored to their original Fazio shapes and sizes.”
As with the greens, building bunkers was done in a completely different manner 30 years ago. Most courses built in this era used a cloth or mesh liner at the bottom of bunkers to keep the underlying soil separated from the sand. After many years of weather, hundreds of thousands of rounds of golf, and just general wear, the fabric liners used for the bunkers begin to decay.
Once ripped and exposed, there is little that can be done to repair the damaged liner. And, as the liners rot, the sculpting of the areas around them, especially those deep bunkers with faces up to 90 degrees, begins to fail.
For the project at Old North State, the product Capillary Concrete was used for the new liner. CapCon is a polymer-based and semipermeable hard surface that drains well. It effectively controls the moisture level in the bunker while holding the sand in place, eliminating washouts from heavy rain storms and plugged ball lies.
McConnell Golf uses CapCon at many of its other courses, such as Raleigh Country Club and The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation in Raleigh, Charlotte’s Providence Country Club, and Porters Neck Country Club in Wilmington.
Before pouring the concrete liner into the new bunkers, all previous sand was removed (once again saved for future fairway top-dressing), and extensive drainage work was completed to ensure the drained water was routed properly once it was through the liner.
The greenside bunkers were completed first, since the greens were sprigged in early June and the irrigation there would be frequent, preventing the crews from working near them. Additionally, new Bermuda sod was installed around all the bunkers, benefiting from the frequent watering of the greens.
Approximately 200 trees were removed from the course for the project. Many of these trees were removed to provide adequate sunlight to reach the new greens, as Bermudagrass requires much more sun and heat, especially in the winter, to remain viable. Returning golfers will notice a nice opening around the ninth green with a beautiful new view of the lake when standing on the tee box of the same hole.
Along with the big-picture items such as greens and bunkers, various smaller-scale projects were tackled to enhance the golf course and create a better experience. For example, multiple holes on the course had extensive tee work done, including holes 1, 3, 9 and 14.
In addition, a new greenside bunker was added to the right of hole 18, as recommended by the master plan that Fazio had given several years prior, and three bridges were replaced. One bunker was also divided into two smaller bunkers.
For golfers finishing their round as the sun sets over the most memorable finishing holes in the state, there will be no denying McConnell Golf’s renovation of Old North State Club has restored this pillar of a track to its rightful place as one of the top courses in the state and region.
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Photo Credits: McConnell Golf