The National Gets a Facelift

Written by Bryce McCuin

April 4, 2014

As any club member or guest at Reynolds Lake Oconee knows, the last year or so has been a time of extensive renovation to the golf courses. Barely a blade of grass was left untouched. But for Mark Lammi, vice president of golf operations, one project is a little closer to his heart.
  
“My first job when I came here 10 years ago was as head professional at The National,” Lammi says. “It’s very exciting for me personally to see it come back to its original greatness.” Since the Tom Fazio-designed course shut down last July, every green and bunker in the 27-hole facility has been affected. And those changes will be obvious the minute it reopens for play in April. Most obvious will be 27 new greens, all converted from bentgrass to Champion Dwarf Bermudagrass.
   
“We did the same on the Oconee course this past summer,” explains Lammi. “And just as we did on that course, we were very lucky to be able to redo the greens using the ‘no-till process’ at National.” 
   
A typical greens restoration involves excavating the existing greens up to a depth of 10 inches and rebuilding the subsurfaces. This process requires the course to be closed longer and can result in excessively-firm putting surfaces. The “no-till process” is a more efficient and less invasive procedure. The old turf is carefully eliminated, preserving the existing substrate. Next, the surfaces are rigorously aerified, verti-cut and then leveled-out. Finally the refurbished green setting is sprigged, top-dressed with sand, and allowed to grow.

 “As soon as we shut down, the first thing we did was renovate the greens,” explains Lane Singleton, vice president of agronomy. “Summer is the best time of year to grow Bermudagrass, so we closed in July to take advantage of the timing and minimize the impact on member play.” Not only is “no-till” a faster greens renovation process, but golfers should find them immediately more receptive than greens that are re-built from the bottom up.
   
“When greens are newly constructed, they are typically firmer the first couple of years due to the lack of organic content and thatch that has yet to develop in the upper rootzone,” says Lammi. “The ‘no-till’ process allowed us to inherit a certain amount of organic matter in the soil and should provide a more appealing playing surface, as opposed to having to wait a year or two for the greens to mature. We felt that this approach would provide the best experience for our members.”
  
Going to Bermudagrass greens has many advantages, perhaps none as important as ensuring that more courses are in great shape in the warmer months. “We will soon have four courses with Bermudagrass and two with bentgrass,” says Lammi. “Members and their guests will have a terrific variety of grasses to choose from year round, but especially in summer and early fall when Bermudagrass thrives.”
When work is done, the four courses with Bermuda greens will be Great Waters (with MiniVerde Bermuda), The Landing (TifEagle Bermuda), and Oconee and The National (Champion Dwarf Bermuda). Plantation and The Creek Club will feature bentgrass to provide diversity for year-round play.
   
It wasn’t only the greens’ surfaces that were treated to facelifts. Their collars and aprons were leveled to make them more playable and allow for better drainage. The National’s bunkers are new just about from top to bottom.

Lammi describes the old bunkers as having had “some very severe faces,” which made it hard to grow and maintain grass around them. With Fazio’s blessing, the edges were softened to allow grass to grow more easily.

Singleton and his crews also worked with Fazio’s team in removing ten bunkers—reducing the number to 76—while shrinking the size of several others. Of the ten taken away, some made holes too hard to play, some were difficult to maintain, and others were no longer in play.
    
In the bunkers that remain, the old sand was removed and the “Better Billy Bunker” system was installed for more efficient drainage and greater resistance to erosion. From the player’s perspective, this means more consistency in the quality and the feel of the bunkers, and thus enhanced playability. That same system is already in use at The Landing, and was invented by Billy Fuller, the long-time associate of The Landing architect Bob Cupp.
   
Another change members are sure to notice is that encroaching foliage has been selectively removed throughout the course. This will improve the member experience in two ways. First, the new greens will receive more air and sunlight, crucial to their long-term health. Second, the views are greatly enhanced. 
   
“In the past, you could kind of see the lake,” says Lammi. “You knew it was there but it was never your main focus. Now, that excessive vegetation has been strategically eliminated, things are opened up and you have beautiful views; the lake setting and the green complexes are what you’ll notice.”
   
“I am very excited about the recent improvements made to the National course,” says Tom Fazio, who kept in touch with Reynolds Lake Oconee executives throughout the renovation. “It’s hard for me to believe we started planning this course almost 20 years ago. I remain very proud of the course we created, and these renovations will improve the golf experience at the National for years to come. This project is evidence of the ownership’s commitment to quality and the long-term success of the National.”
   
Planned to overlook the pond on the ninth green of the course’s Bluff nine, the new National restaurant is expected to have a tavern/pub style providing the perfect atmosphere for a post round cocktail or simply a place to park and watch a Sunday round on the big screen. The design also features an event area where golfers can congregate post-tournament to tally up scores, announce winners and reminisce on a round. Separate from the restaurant, the new golf shop and cart barn facility will be dedicated to golf play and provide a smooth transition for golfers going on or coming off the course.

“Our team has spent significant time with the architects, land planner, and interior designers in an effort to make this clubhouse unique from all others on property,” says Rabun Neal, president of Reynolds Lake Oconee. “Our club members and guests love this golf course and we look forward to providing them with a place they will love to stay after they finish playing it.” Groundbreaking for the new facility is expected this summer with an anticipated opening date sometime in the spring of 2015. More details on the new facility will unfold in the months to follow.

The restaurant and golf shop will be wonderful additions to this terrific Fazio-designed golf course the doors open in 2015. Until that day comes, we encourage you to come out and experience this newly polished gem and enjoy the current 27 reasons why this course is such a great golf experience.

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