Condition Green Towa re-emphasizes turf building

Date April 30, 2009 at 10:00 PM

Publication The Santa Fe New Mexican

Categories Local News & Sports


The folks at Towa Golf Resort vow this is a turnaround year, as the course grows into its long-awaited role as the star of the Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa at Buffalo Thunder in Pojoaque. "I want people to know we are working to really make a difference in conditions this year," said Fadal Nahle, Towa's general manager, whose course is now part of the Hilton resort system. A new golf-course superintendent is radically changing the agronomy practices at the 36-hole golf course, which opened in 2003 in the middle of a drought and has struggled to maintain consistent turf conditions since. David Smith, who previously ran golf-maintenance operations at Pelican Marsh Golf Club in Naples, Fla., arrived at Towa in March and immediately launched an investigation into soil chemistry problems. "As for the past, I can't really say, but in the future we are going a different route," Smith said. Previously, turf problems at Towa, designed by Hale Irwin and Bill Phillips, were repaired with new sod, which in turn would fail. Conditions hit a low point three years ago when Golf magazine reviewed the eight-course Golf on the Santa Fe Trail coalition, of which Towa is a part. The magazine praised Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club by Sandia Park as "Don't miss" and panned Towa as "Don't bother." The poor review, which Towa's managers called unfair at the time, nonetheless led them to redouble efforts to improve playing conditions, culminating with hiring Smith. He has decided to bypass the easy fix of laying more sod patches for an aggressive soil aerating and seeding program, backed up by soil amendment as needed to get grass growing sustainably. The immediate good news for players is that 27 of Towa's 36 holes will be in play this year -- the Piñon, Boulder and a previously unopened nine, the Valley Nine.The fourth nine, the Butterfly Nine, which opened only briefly awhile back, will remain closed for continued renovation. Rotating play across two of three nines will allow intensive maintenance work on the nine removed from play on any given day, Smith said. "These practices will not affect playability because the maintenance focus will be on the nine out of play. The condition of all surfaces, from the rough to the fairways and greens will reach levels not seen in the past," Smith said. Early emphasis will be placed on repairing turf problems on the Boulder Nine, Nahle said. Up to 70 percent of the water used to irrigate the course is effluent generated by the resort. While that may be an overall environmental plus, it presents Smith with an ongoing soil-chemistry challenge. Effluent contains elevated salt levels which, if not amended, can exacerbate the native alkalinity of the soil at Towa. High soil alkalinity curtails grass growth and at high enough levels can kill established turf grasses. Towa's caliche soil is highly alkaline. Water application will be made more efficient at Towa through better sprinkler technology, said Smith, who holds a bachelor's of science in agronomy from the University of Maryland and is a certified golf-course superintendent. Of 80-plus superintendents in this region, only nine are certified, said Steve Randall, chapter liaison for the National Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. Nationally, only 1,800 out of 20,000 NGCSAA members hold that certification, he said. What's new around northern golf courses Here are some changes at other Northern New Mexico golf courses for 2009: u Los Alamos Golf Course expects to hear shortly whether the course will get a new clubhouse next year. Already, new tee boxes have lengthened the course from the tips to 6,700 yards. Additionally, because of changes to the routing of Diamond Drive, which runs through the course, No. 7, a par 5, was re-routed as a dogleg right with bunkering down the right side; No. 10 was shifted to the right, making the tee shot more demanding; No. 16 is now a more exaggerated dogleg left with mounding down the left side. This is the course's 60th year, with celebrations planned. Head professional Dennis McCloskey is retiring June 27. His longtime assistant, Donnie Torres, is taking over. u The Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe continues a pruning program to speed up play. The lower limbs of piñons and junipers just off turfed boundaries of the course are being removed to allow players to spot errant shots more quickly. "In the last year alone, it's speeded up the average round by 30 minutes," said Ross Nettles, Marty's head professional. u Taos Country Club is no longer being run by American Golf, a multi-state golf-management company, but by the owners of the course. Co-owner and longtime PGA Professional Tad Bourg, who helped develop the neighborhood around Taos Country Club, is serving as general manager. His son, Carville, is working in the golf shop. Long-time New Mexico-El Paso professional Steve Shoch, who ran Taos Country Club last year, took an assignment elsewhere with American Golf. u Bunker players will be happy to learn Pueblo de Cochiti Golf Course has rebuilt all of its sand bunkers and filled them with a higher-quality sand, said Jude Suina, Cochiti's director of golf. Men's and women's restrooms with running water have been built on Nos. 4 and 14. A new banquet facility for special events has been built near the course, Suina said. u Angel Fire continues work on a new clubhouse through 2010, says Bill Baker, the director of golf there. u Pendaries Golf Course in Rociada, near Mora, has resculpted and reoriented the range's teeing ground, said Larry Webb, Pendaries' head professional. u Twin Warriors and Santa Ana golf clubs at Santa Ana Pueblo will host the 42nd PGA of America's Professional Golf Championship for a week starting June 28. Some 400 PGA club pros will vie for 25 top finishing spots, which gain them entry into one of golf's four majors, the PGA Championship. In preparation for the Professional National Championship, Twin Warriors is nearing completion of an expanded clubhouse with locker rooms. Santa Ana has finished paving cart paths on all 27 holes of that property, and new trees are being planted in the rough that will increasingly come into play as they mature. Santa Ana also is sodding and seeding formerly bare patches near cart paths, said Roger Martinez, Santa Ana's director of golf. Also, the PNC is looking for help to do everything from holding quiet signs to collecting scoring information. For a $50 fee, those who work at least two shifts at the tournament get a 2009 PNC logo hat and shirt, free grounds access all week, breakfast and lunch during their work shifts, plus one free round at Twin Warriors and one at Santa Ana. Helpers can register at Black Mesa Golf Club La Mesilla, N.M. 18 holes, Par 72 5,871-7,307 yards (505) 747-8946 Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe 205 Caja del Rio Road, Santa Fe 18 holes, Par 72; plus an executive nine 5,045-7,415 yards (505) 455-4400 Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club Sandia Park, N.M. 18 holes, Par 72; plus a third nine 5,702-7,562 yards (505) 281-6000 Pueblo de Cochiti Golf Course Cochiti Highway, Pueblo de Cochiti 18 holes, Par 72 5,100-6,817 yards (505) 465-2239 Santa Fe Country Club Airport Road, Santa Fe 18 holes, Par 72 5,809-7,085 yards (505) 471-0601 Taos Country Club Ranchos de Taos, N.M. 18 holes, Par 72 5,343-7,302 yards (505) 758-7300 Towa Golf Resort U.S. Hwy. 285 Pojoaque Pueblo, N.M. 18 holes, Par 72; 18 more holes to open by 2009 4,865-7,143 yards (505) 455-9000