Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Winter Thaw at The Ledges Golf Club: IGM Restores Greens to Tournament Conditions

While most of New England was still recovering from harsh winter storms, the IGM team at The Ledges Golf Club in South Hadley, Massachusetts was preparing the 18-hole course for a major tournament.
The Ledges hosted its first Connecticut Section PGA championship May 14 - 15, with an opening day temperature of 30 degrees. Superintendent Mike Fontaine with IGM, said his crew had roughly three weeks to ensure the course was in playing condition for the tournament’s golfers.
“The local pros were awesome. Everyone in the area knows about the damage, and I think they were very surprised at how well the course came together,” said Fontaine.
The Ledges is typically closed from Thanksgiving to April, with snowfall expected in the town west of Boston. “What was odd this year was a heavy rainstorm in early January. Before it could run off the course, it froze. That was followed by snow storms that just kept coming. We had 7-foot snow drifts on the greens,” Fontaine explained. “When we scouted the course in early March, we realized we had about two inches of ice under the snow.”
Fontaine and his four-person winter crew implemented a plan to restore the grass as quickly as possible. A snow-blower helped clear the snow, and a layer of sand was spread to melt the ice faster. By the end of March, the crew was able to double-spike and over-seed the greens, which were then top-dressed and fertilized. “When it finally warmed up about two weeks before the tournament, Mother Nature went to work on the seed and fertilizer to get the greens in shape.”
“Mike and his team worked from the main play areas outward, prioritizing their time based on course knowledge. With so much to accomplish, Mike placed a priority on greens, fairways and tees. Once these areas were completed, the team focused on bringing the entire property up to expectations,” said Steve Gano, IGM’s Vice President of Operations.
While the course was closed an extra week this winter, Fontaine maintained close communications with the General Manager, golf agronomists, and the community about what they were doing and why. “We know the town needs the course open to bring in revenue. Our goal is for everyone to have a good experience every time they come out here,” said Fontaine.
The result was an outstanding playing surface to host the Connecticut Section PGA championship, in an environment that represented South Hadley admirably. TheMassLive blog quoted Kevin Shea, from Great Neck Country Club, as saying, “Conditions were perfect. It was Augusta out there.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

IGM in the News

Area golf courses bouncing back from winter whiteout
By Michael Whitmer Boston Globe Staff 
Aside from a chance of rain on Monday, it appears to be a glorious Memorial Day weekend forecast, the perfect kind of weather to go out and play some golf.
Just don’t expect the golf course to be in perfect shape.

The record-setting snow that blanketed Boston for much of the year’s first four months delayed the opening of nearly every golf course in the state. When the snow finally did melt away, course superintendents discovered that the challenges winter brought would extend well into spring, maybe longer. Some have it worse than others — there are still temporary greens being used — but almost every course is dealing with the after-effects of more than 100 inches of snow from a mean, unforgiving winter.
“I can tell you, in the Western Mass. area, there’s still a large group of boys still recovering. Mother Nature was pretty vicious,” said Mike Fontaine, superintendent at The Ledges Golf Club, a daily-fee facility in South Hadley. “Even still, now that the snow is gone, her weather pattern has not been all that great. Guys are chasing, getting all aspects of their golf courses ready to go.”
In the golf industry, especially here in the Northeast, Memorial Day is a key weekend; it’s when course operators and superintendents want their place to shine. It signals a start to the golf season, the unofficial start to summer, and draws eager golfers who are ready to play more after a long, forced break.
With the snow long gone and recent temperatures in the 70s, those golfers might expect area courses to be in midseason form. This year, those expectations aren’t reasonable, and likely won’t be met, at least not yet.
The issue at many courses is damage from winter kill: grass that has died, either from a layer of ice, or a combination of other factors that can lead to the plant suffocating. This time, though, there was one main culprit.
“It was the weather this year,” said Jim Skorulski, the US Golf Association’s agronomist for the Northeast region. “We can deal with weather, just not the extremes, like heavy rain or strong winds. The winter this year was extreme, there’s no doubt.”
It’s interesting, because some courses had more damage than others, and some courses experienced damage on certain parts of their course, but not others. Growing grass — and keeping it alive — in these kinds of conditions isn’t easy.
“A lot of the things that we’ve done, and a lot of the things a lot of my colleagues have done over the years, is improve the growing sites that greens and golf courses are on. They’re doing work on drainage, they’re working on tree removal to get more sunlight in. I think a lot of what’s happening in the winter has more to do with drainage and shade and environmental factors that we can control,” said Mike Luccini, the superintendent at Franklin Country Club and president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of New England. “What you see coming out of the winter is very course-specific, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. What happens over here might not be the same thing people are experiencing 5, 10, 20 miles away.”
There have been a few positive course stories this spring. George Wright Golf Course in Hyde Park and the William J. Devine course at Franklin Park were the hosts of the Massachusetts Four-Ball Championship on May 12-13. With the courses opening two weeks later this year (April 17) than last, it didn’t leave much time for the course maintenance staffs preparing them to welcome and challenge the best amateur players in the state.
“We were very concerned. We know the reputation that George Wright has, so we were more concerned for Franklin Park,” said Dennis Roache, who manages both city-owned courses. “The Four-Ball gave us an opportunity to showcase Franklin Park, and for those who had never been here, we didn’t want them to have a bad experience.
“We were very concerned about the conditions, but they got both courses looking phenomenal. Up to 10 days before we were worried that we’d be in April conditions for a May tournament.”
It will take much longer for most area courses to hit their peak condition, and that is no guarantee. A lot will depend on the weather we get going forward. Seasonal weather will help: Heat, warm nights, precipitation.
“Everybody is still nicked up, I would say,” said Fontaine, who had The Ledges ready to open April 24, the latest start date he can remember in nearly 30 years in the profession. “Superintendents are very proud of what they do, nobody wants a golf course to grow in faster than we do.”
Until then, a little patience and understanding is recommended. Winter set everybody back, reflected in most courses not opening until late April, some in early May. It will take time for the bluegrass and bentgrass greens used on the majority of area courses to get completely healthy.
“They might look healed, but they’re not. They might look recovered, but they’re not,” said Skorulski. “It’s so true in this case: Be patient. Everyone’s working hard to get them back. I would guess, based on historical principles, we’re probably looking at mid-June, maybe early July for really damaged courses to get back to normal.”

Michael Whitmer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chicopee Country Club to Celebrate 50th Anniversary

So you're Chicopee Country Club and what do you do to celebrate your 50th anniversary? You do what you do best.

The club will run a first-class outing, at a reasonable rate  . . . and on a terrific golf course.
"Chicopee has always been a great deal,'' current head golf professional Mike O'Neill said. "With its price point, the location, conditions. And, from the back tees, it's a helluva challenge for the best players.''

The 50th anniversary event takes place Saturday, May 30, with a short dedication ceremony at 8:45 a.m. The four-person scramble starts with a 9 a.m. shotgun, with a lunch buffet to follow.
Cost for golf, cart, lunch and prizes is $50, and $30 for the season pass holders at the municipal course on Burnett Road.

"It's going to be a great day,'' O'Neill said. "We've invited everyone . . . past commissioners, city councilors. It's all about Chicopee Country Club.''
Chicopee CC has long had a reputation of being a well-conditioned, challenging golf course and very affordable.

"Since the early days, Chicopee had pretty good acclaim because of its reasonable rates . . . and that has never changed,'' said Jim Low, a longtime golf committee chairman who has played golf there since its opening. "The course was built during that boom (early 1960s) and that lent itself to competitive rates.
"And it was a home run for a public golf course.''

It all started in 1965, when city resident Bob Leitch hit the ceremonial first shot off No. 1.
"The mayor and his group didn't show up on time and the starter was getting nervous,'' said Leitch, now retired from a longtime career at Channel 22. "The media was in the next foursome and he said 'Who wants to go?' I got ticket No. 1 and (the late) Rollie Jacobs took No. 2.

"I held the course record, I think 78, until the fourth foursome came in.''
Low and longtime Chicopee CC golfer Tom Robak said improvements and maintenance on the club's facilities and grounds have always been done on minimal budgets.

"So many people and businesses have volunteered to help with anything,'' Low said. "It's a special place. I even proposed to my wife (Linda) on the 18th tee 41 years ago.''
There have also been only six superintendents, with Mike Bach being the most recent. Dick Lussier, Sammy Theroux, Max Mierzwa, Donald Nunes and Ray St. Peter have also held the post.

In recent years, the city has contracted with International Golf Maintenance, Inc. to handle its maintenance. Their efforts have helped improve and maintain a Geoffrey Cornish design that has both its challenges and quirks.
"He wanted to do things like extend the ninth hole, pushing the tees back another 60 or 70 yards,'' Low said of Cornish. "And he put three pines, which had grown pretty tall, in the middle of the fairway on 7. Over time, there's only one left.''

The course is bordered by Chicopee Memorial State Park and Westover Air Base, with parts of the fourth and fifth holes in Ludlow.
Chicopee's layout has undergone a few changes over the years, most notably a shortening of the fifth and 12th holes due to safety issues of bordering residential properties.

And the eighth green, once too severe in its slope and undulations, was re-constructed 30 years ago.
Chicopee has hosted its share of state and regional championships and qualifiers, and the course record is "shared'' by amateur Steve Bys and Elmcrest CC head pro Dan Lapierre.

Bys posted a 10-under-par 62 on the "old course,'' when the 12th hole played as a par 4, in June 1991. He made 10 birdies, lost a stroke for an unplayable lie and carded 31s on each side.
Lapierre's 62 was a 9-under effort from the blue tees, with a pair of 31s in April 2003.

"There have been so many great players here . . . Bys, Mike Lempart, the Lapierres, the Wightmans, the DiRicos, the Grochmals, the O'Neills,'' Low said.
O'Neill is one of only six head professionals at the course, the first being his uncle Roy O'Neill. Others to follow were Ed Rubis, Paul Ryiz, Mark Jamrog and Tom DiRico. "And you go to any clubhouse, the name Ed Rubis is on a plaque somewhere,'' Mike O'Neill said.

League play has helped the club thrive, a loyalty that Mike O'Neill said is the club's "bread and butter'' along with its outings. Uniroyal, Tigers A.C. and Chicopee Elks are among longtime leagues at the course.
And with most any businesses, location has played a big role in the club's success.

"Our location is super,'' O'Neill said. "We're right off the Mass. Turnpike (Exit 6), 30 to 40 minutes from Worcester and 20 to 30 minutes from Hartford and Connecticut.''
DiRico has the honor of being the only golfer to make a "2'' at the par-5 seventh hole, a feat he accomplished in 2005.

The par-4 ninth hole is driveable for longer hitters and has yielded holes-in-one to Chicopee residents Adam Demarsh, Jeff Cyboron and John Glynn of Holbrook.