Feature Interview with Vaughn Halyard, pg. ii

9. What was their initial reaction?

In 1999, the reaction to a proposed restoration was less than enthusiastic.  In 2012, the initial reaction was mixed; 20% enthusiastic, 50% positive,15% curious and 15% reluctant.  As is the case with any disruptive or evolutional change, there were project skeptics.  Some key member concerns and results:

Concern that bunkers would increase cost of maintenance

  • The new bunkers are more efficient, have better drainage and better and recover better after heavy rainfall. The restoration has reduced lost revenue and increased course availability to membership after and during heavy precipitation.

Concern that tree cutting would destroy the character of the course.

  • Photos detailed that the majority of the trees were not present during Ross’ design of the course and many of the residential trees were out of character and injurious to the course and the health of native trees.
  • Tree plan has delivered a more beautiful and healthier course

Concern that tree cutting would make the course “Too Easy”

  • Result: It has not. The US Open Qualifier winner was +1. Restoration has delivered more enjoyable play across all handicaps.

Concern that the bunkers would make the course “Too Hard”

  • They have not made it too hard but we as a membership have had to improve our bunker play. We are blessed with an outstanding golf professional staff and program.
  • CRCC 2016: The course is not harder. You will need to play smarter. Our golf programming and instruction will make your play smarter and as a competitor will hone your skills to play harder.

Tree removal would make play unsafe and susceptible to on-course cross fire

  • It has not. Tee boxes have been rebuilt and aligned more accurately and appropriately
  • The native trees are now healthier as are the fairways, surrounds, green collars and putting surfaces.

Concern that the changes were unwarranted and the course is the most beautiful in the area and changes would effect little or add little value to membership

  • For the first time in a decade, we have raised the initiation fee
  • We have received our first recognition from a national/global golf publication with Brad Klein’s inclusion of CRCC his 10 Favorite Ross Course list.
  • We are pleased to be invited to contribute this article, the first CRCC focused GCA content.

10. How were the obstacles overcome?

Again, it is probably not possible to appease 100% of any membership.  Education, information, and over-communication were the tools we used to seek and secure our majority of support.  From town halls and USGA presentations on the merits of restoration and aboral strategy, we worked to manage objections with objective third party expert opinion, facts, details and plans.

We strove to address concerns with education and presentation of benefits:

The project’s pitch and sell process did not target a specific group as much as it made sure to inclusively and collectively communicate and highlight key member-relevant benefits.

Some of our key talking points:

Necessity to repair and update the courses infrastructure

  • Had to improve water and tree management
  • Need to improve health of greens (Via Tree Management)

Opportunity to celebrate our globally relevant Donald Ross brand

  • We have historic and championship caliber siblings
  • Celebrate our uniqueness as sole Donald Ross course in Iowa

A true Ross restoration will enhance the golf experience across all golf demographics

  • Women
  • Juniors
  • Families
  • Senior Golfers
  • Recreational Players

Properly executed, the restoration will also challenge the Low Handicapper and Contemporary Long Hitter WITHOUT Penalizing Higher Handicap or recreational players.  This was important as this enhanced the viability to attract and retain younger and future members

  • Junior golfers and High School Players
  • Collegiate Players
  • All represent future and legacy members

We hosted multiple expert presentations including those delivered by Brad Klein, Golf Week Editor and author of Discovering Donald Ross: The Architect and his Golf Courses. We held repeated town hall and “fireside chats” with Ron Prichard. Members were never shy about approaching Ron with their “advice” and he would deftly and methodically provide anybody who inquired with the reasoning and logic to his plans and approach. Ron did an outstanding job highlighting the restoration values particularly relevant to CRCC. He also shared great anecdotal and results based examples highlighting the value of member pride of ownership delivered by well executed, classically restored courses.
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Brad lauded CRCC members on their bold efforts and humorously reminded CRCC membership that when he first presented to CRCC around Y2K, he was heckled off of the property as a heretic for proposing such absurd alterations.

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11. What would have killed the project? Whose support (apart from the membership’s) was absolutely integral for proceeding?

Committee edification was essential.  We had to learn what we should know which informed what we should do. In our case, doom would have faced any project that failed to address needed infrastructural changes. We formed a specific Golf Course Planning  committee to define the necessities, research the possibilities and narrow them to the plausible. Prior to pitching a restoration, we identified the essential infrastructural needs. Three options were presented to our membership at large.

We informed members of the course’s essential operational needs that also supported aesthetic opportunities.  We worked to identify member value to be delivered by a historical and authentic restoration.  Ultimately, a majority of membership recognized the value of the restoration based on a phased fiscal and operational approach. Levy of a significant assessment or dues increase would have killed the project. Also, given our April to October season, proposing a 100% course closure might have also scuttled the project. CRCC is an in-town club with local membership in contrast to a destination, national or resort course and membership preferred disruption rather than closure.  Some members play the course 5 times per week. Closure was a worst case scenario to be avoided if possible.

Superintendent buy-in and involvement in the definition of the scope was essential. Our process was fully collaborative with the golf superintendent staff.   The prototype and phased approach enabled continued member play and the opportunity to experience the improved conditioning, aesthetics and golf experience. Any presentation of a scope that failed to address all of the club’s golfing demographics would have lacked support. The scope of work addressed improvements for the full membership

  • Women and Senior Golfer constituents benefit from re-aligned, more fair and more representative tee boxes and lines of play ultimately enhancing their member golf experience
  • Low handicap Golfers benefit from re-aligned and lengthen tee shots representing a nationally competitive environment.
  • Restoration provided our superintendent with improved course management environment and
  • It provides our new golf professional with an outstanding canvas for programming and education
  • Junior golf benefit from a more appropriate tee boxes plus a reinvigorated and nationally competitive golf programming
  • The club membership at large benefits from the increased recognition of the unique Donald Ross offering via increased membership, participation and it places our small midwestern course into a national conversation based on excellence.

The course has two fairly distinct environs, a “hills” and a “valley”. The valley part of the course sits in a flood plain so the construction of both the fairway adjacent swales and new bunkers have been strategically designed to evacuate water from inevitable floods. We are realizing tangible efficiencies and operational ROI with the new bunkers whose construction delivers better drainage and reduced maintenance. We will continue to expand planting of fescue and other appropriate native grasses.

12. Tell us about the bunker style utilized.

Ron defined our bunkers based on the current geology, geography and topography framed by the period of time Ross would have constructed the bunker. Ron and Tyler were extremely educative and informative that Ross was a perpetual experimenter who’s style and construction tastes evolved over time.  Based on the earthmoving capabilities of the era, CRCC bunkers are “early traditional” and appropriate for a 1915 Ross design.  They have been fairly simply built:

1- Soil was cut to create a simple basin area

2- Drainage materials lined the base with minimal tiling for water evacuation.

3- Resultant soil fill materials were heaped up to form the defensive back shoulders.

4- Swales were fashioned to deflect potential water from flooding the bunkers and evacuate runoff away from the bunker borders and floors. We are now in a detailing phase focusing on approaching surfaces, facing, edges and borders as well as fine tuning various restoration items.

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The course has two fairly distinct environs, a “hills” and a “valley”. The valley part of the course sits in a flood plain so the construction of both the fairway adjacent swales and new bunkers have been strategically designed to evacuate water from inevitable floods. We are realizing tangible efficiencies and operational ROI with the new bunkers whose construction delivers better drainage and reduced maintenance.  We will continue to expand planting of fescue and other appropriate native grasses.

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13. How much putting surface was recovered in terms of square feet?

We shared the fate of many Golden Age Pre-Depression era courses.  Our once expansive and asymmetrical putting surfaces had succumbed to “rounding” and shrinkage from “efficient” circular mowing patterns inherent with tri-plex riding greens mowers.  Additionally, a number of our putting surfaces had been suffocated by years of significant tree overgrowth.

Over the course of our 3-year restoration, Tom and his crew delivered a meticulous expansion and reclamation of roughly 17,000 square feet of putting surface. The reconstruction of the putting surface complexes for #’s 6, 15 and 16 elevated those putting surfaces and bunkers out of the flood plain and added an additional 5,500 square feet bringing the total to over 22,000 square feet of additional putting surface for the 18 holes.

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We consulted with and heeded a USGA Turf Advisory Service recommendation to remove all residential-style trees that have been planted in such great numbers that they don’t have adequate space to fully mature as well as remove all the trees that are planted to the east, south and west of all putting surface complexes so the turf can receive adequate sunlight and air flow.  Tom worked with a certified arborist and based on their recommendations to the Restoration and Golf Committees, his team embarked on a well-planned tree management program.  Once putting surfaces had access to airflow and natural sun light was restored, we embarked on a fairly expansive green/putting surface and surround reclamation.

We were fortunate to have identifiable physical points of reference, photographs and soil cores allowing the team to identify or verify many original putting surface fill pads. All were evident and recoverable save for #6,  #15 and #16, which had been flood decimated precipitating fairly indiscriminate reconstruction over the precedent 97 years.  The bunker and green complexes were rebuilt and raised above the flood plain and fitted with improved drainage.  Most of CRCC’s putting surfaces had lost a significant amount of their original size, character and shapes. Hole #12 serves as a good example where close to 40 feet of original putting surface dimension and depth was reclaimed returning it to its original triangular shape visible on the 1930 overhead photo.

Fairway expansion
Our arbor management program reclaimed roughly 35% of additional fairway width across the board yielding an additional eight acres of fairway. The improvements are palpable and the member playing experience has been exceptional. It is physically and experientially a new course. Every key component of the course is healthier, the putting surfaces, the bunker complexes, the rough and the fairway are all in significantly better shape.

z14. People familiar with the project tell me you got a $3,000,000 outcome for ~$700,000. Please walk us through what you did to achieve such results!

I would love to say we were prescient enough to say we planned to deliver a $3,000,000 restoration for a number in the $700k ballpark but that would be a fallacy. We had Tom Feller. We expected to have to spend more but didn’t have member approval. We all knew this was a multi-million dollar project that would have to be phased over a longer multi-year period of time. Again, our way is not for everyone.

Ron and Tyler worked in tandem with the Superintendent, Tom Feller, to design the Master Plan. Initially, the process called for Ron to design and draw the new green/putting complexes and surfaces, fairway expansions, bunkers and tee complexes. Tyler would then shape the new bunkers and greens complexes, with Tom and his crew finishing all of the loose ends including: irrigation, tree removal, fairway and putting surface expansion all with current staff.

Tom was also able to phase the work without closing the course while maintaining the regular maintenance routine over the course of multiple seasons.

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15. How were you able to accomplish so much of the revision in-house? I assume in large part it is based on having a very talented Green Keeper?

It would be an ardent task to replicate our success. We should clarify that we worked in partnership with Ron and Tyler with Tyler performing a significant amount of the shaping. The overall construction project was managed in-house by and significant credit goes to our superintendent Tom Feller who is a resource, operations management a logistics magician. He figured out how to do a $3,000,000 project for a fraction of that than a which is more truthful and frankly more impressive than saying we gave him less than $1 Million and he made it go as far as he can. He came in 65-80% under budget and probably 2 years ahead of schedule.

Our approach is not for everybody. Not all clubs want everyday operations disrupted by a restoration construction project. Our restoration dovetailed with some very pressing course infrastructural repair needs. Tom calculated that we needed to do a bunch of digging so we might as well take care of the aesthetic needs. We have a pro-active, topically current and R&D oriented superintendent working in true collaboration with the architectural team. Based on budget, our deal with Ron and Tyler was built around consultative design with much of the larger general earth moving and construction to be handled in-house by Tom and his staff. It is of note that Tom and his staff was able to keep the course open for play throughout the restoration.

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16. What didn’t you waste money on (that perhaps other clubs have done in similar situations)?

Our relationship with Ron, Tyler and our Tom is probably not easily duplicated. A number of things alined enabling our outcome. Ron met Tyler while working on Barton Hills CC in Ann Arbor, a project precedent to ours. Tyler is a master with a bulldozer, who shapes in sync with the mind of the architect. Additionally, he is a low-handicap golfer who also shapes with the touch and nuance of a player. The symbiotic relationship between Ron and Tyler solidified just as we were beginning our project, very much to our benefit.

Research and detail the scope. We researched and defined a realistic scope of work. The project scope should define the architect. Realistically, we weren’t seeking to host a major. Our path was determined by an immediate need to repair our aged and weathered course in a flood plain. That was coupled with a desire to recapture the course’s heritage. Our modest budget defined the scope. Presentation of a bid with an integrated construction fee would have probably killed our project.

We luckily didn’t have to “blow up” our greens. Not having to re-grass eighteen fairways and greens was cause célèbre. Ron’s meticulous inventory and evaluation of our existing fairways and putting surfaces and the ability to incorporate original fill pads into his restoration plan saved us a significant amount of expense. There were three greens that required complete reconstruction; #6, #15, and #16. Those were raised out of the flood plain re-incorporated Ross characteristics lost to a history of flooding.

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17. What have been the results of the restoration in terms of rounds and revenue?

We have grown the game.

The project parallels a Ross philosophy we learned via research, trial, error, history and education with Ron, Brad and others. I’ll cite two GolfCourseArchetecture.com passages from the interview with Ross Documentary film maker Cob Carlson that capture the spirit of our restoration:

1. “There is no such thing as a PURE Donald Ross course. His design style was constantly evolving and adapting as the game of golf was changing.”

2. Question: A constant theme is that a Ross course can test the best while providing fun for the rest. The same can’t be said for most architects – where do they go wrong?

“Simple. Designing courses that were too penal, for both the good player and the average player. The penalties we suffer? Pinched in fairways, abundant water hazards, forced carries over hazards, bunkers across the entrances to greens so that you have to fly everything in, all four par threes over 175 yards long, parallel fairway bunkers, and double penalizing designs…i.e. hit the ball in a fairway bunker and still have to fly it over a tree to recover to the green.”

Cob Carlson – http://golfclubatlas.com/feature-interview/feature-interview-with-cob-carlson-october-2014/

CRCC Revival
Both of these philosophies are core to our restoration. Ron, Tyler and Tom have channeled the spirit of Ross resulting in our current situation, we are having a ball. We could put up a tent in the parking lot and hold a golf revival meeting save for the lack of room for enough cars let alone a revival canvas.

The completion of 90% of our course restoration coincided with the 2015 arrival of Head Golf Professional Dustin Toner, providing him with a canvas to reinvigorate all golf programming. Member rounds played have increased well over 200% from the previous year. He and his staff have increased member and guest participation in programming also north of 200% and Junior Golf participation has experienced a positive 3 digit percentage that defies recitation.

We have reduced the number of outings and in-town resident guest days and experienced double digit new member recruiting growth in our small market. New “national” members have joined based on their work and travel to the area based on the quality and uniqueness of our restored Donald Ross Course. Outing and unaccompanied guest fees have been increased yet neither has slowed demand to gain access on the schedule.

Depending on tees played, the restoration delivers a more fun, fair and challenging golf experience. We have widened fairways, shortened the more forward tees while adding teeth to the low handicap player experience. We have removed a number of uncharacteristic double jeopardy locations such a poorly placed pond between #7 and #11 and green side bunker on the par three 8th.

Most importantly, all sectors of the golf membership are actively enjoying the result, pridefully playing and showcasing the course to friends family, clients and guests, playing a historically unprecedented number of rounds. When a male attempted to speak for “Women Golfers” intimating the bunkers were “Too hard” for them, the women of CRCC golf delivered a variety of fairly “direct” and in some cases, unprintable responses. One of the most poignant and humorous seemed to quell the conflict: “… don’t speak for us, play your own balls…

The new course has been the recipient of numerous gratifying, humbling, heartening and overwhelmingly positive accolades. This also happened one in April of 2016. A guy casually strolls into the pro shop.

“Hi, I’m passing through Iowa on a trip from Minnesota to Des Moines to see a friend and heard about the good work happening here… Tom Doak by the way, I’m a golf course architect. Can I get a tour?”

Ron was resolute and very clear. One of his project objectives was to have CRCC members experience a pride of ownership and sense of play in our restored course. That pride and enjoyment is evident in droves.

For the first time in over a decade, we have increased our initiation fee.

18. What remains to be done? Is anything on your wish list?

The restoration is young. We will continue to detail the course with fescue and we expect to work with Ron to tweak bunkers and putting surfaces. We will add a couple of bunkers per the plan including a pot bunker on #3, some mowed “Hogan’s Alleys” for walkers, and we will continue with the tree management. We will continue to tweak the water dispersal via swales and bunker facings. We are fairly lucky as there a minimal number of structures or roadways adjacent the property. The few there are tasteful and fairly unobtrusive. We will address the need for some visual border along the back of the #6 green to visually frame the hole.

We have removed most of the 60’s and 70’s era cart paths and will find more natural surfaces for areas that need to provide cart traction. For fun, we are exploring ways to deliver some additional Bendelow routings if they can be delivered without disturbing the integrity of Ron’s design.

Popularity and increased play highlighted a need to expand the Par 3 tee boxes and increase the retention length of seasonal staff. Historically, the CRCC high season was informally bracketed by Memorial and Labor Days. We now play from most reasonable thaw to first snow necessitating a reconfiguration of staffing, machinery, agronomy and other resources. We are tweaking budgets based on success that has manifested in a significantly higher volume of member and guest play.

The results:
Over half of the project budget attacked long standing infrastructural, agronomic and flood plain problems. Addressing those problems provided us the opportunity to bundle the delivery of an aesthetically outstanding and authentic Donald Ross experience as part of the long term plan.

The course is healthier, drier, more fun and more efficient. We have added new members and rounds are up over 250%. Our committee is reviewing more member event requests than we have availability, operational costs have been reduced and our geographic membership footprint has expanded. Overall, the investment has been good for business. We have grown the game.

19. In conclusion, what advice do you offer clubs considering restorative work? What should they focus on and what should they avoid?

Our approach is not for everybody and Lady Luck played a big part.

Every situation is different. It was important for us to accurately gauge staff interest, timing, skill-sets and operational capacity to undertake this type of job semi-in-house without disruption to general operations. Tom’s staff and the committees defined the strategic, operational and project needs, capabilities and HR interest of those tasked to deliver the project.  In our particular case, it made sense to bundle the repair and restoration.

Research

Know the history of the course. We tried to talk with long time members, old caddies, legacies. We looked at old plats, maps drawings and since we are members of the Club of “Burnt Plans”, we scoured historical societies and other sources for drawings and information.  It is key to have a working and anecdotal knowledge of the club.  This informs planning, construction and the establishment of a historical narrative.  The more complete the history or legend, the more people will become vested in the restoration of that legacy.

Caveat

If an organization were to choose this path, management and staff must be configured to deliver the work within an economical time frame  and without degradation of services.  If that is not the case, the project budget needs to support construction outsourcing. Our phased project window, staff desire, modest budget and the vagaries of our market defined our process.  The objective was to fix the broken bones and deliver a restoration befitting the sole Donald Ross in Iowa. Our budget was dependent on significant in-house construction.

Those closely involved need to drink the restoration Kool-Aid.  Gotta’ believe. Project committee members and principals need to believe in the project, be informed and educated, and be prepared to evangelize with facts and details.  It is neither for the thin skinned nor those seeking vanity committee posts.

  1. We never expected to, nor achieved 100% member satisfaction but did attain a very high majority of member support to proceed
  2. We made a detailed and meticulous component inventory of the club’s golf assets strengths and challenges.
    • Positives:Classic architecture, Outstanding setting
    • Challenges: Flood Plain, significant unmitigated tree growth, shrunken fairways and putting surfaces
  3. Our project strove to educate and communicate with membership via frequent updates and presentations
  4. Clearly defined project mission and realistic anticipated outcomes, E.G.:
    • Repair the course rather than continue to apply band aid fixes
    • Restore authenticity
    • Enhance playability for all member golfers
    • Host regionally appropriate marquis USGA caliber events

–   “No dues increase to pay for this”

  • Research architects aligned with club mission and economics
  • Develop an RFP based on the above
  • Continue to socialize, communicate and involve the members throughout the process
  • In evaluating potential architects, we consciously narrowed our focus to those whose portfolio and vision aligned with our parameters and budget.
  • We interviewed candidates with the objective to identify a partner in sync with our vision (and budget)

Let the architect architect.  Every club, ours included, has resident experts, great players and long time members with opinions and biases ranging from well informed to less well informed.  Recollections of tee placements, tree plantings and long lost green locations vary in accuracy. We were blessed to have Ron who would listen and formulate outstanding responses to the plethora of “suggestions”.  Sometimes, he incorporated a suggestion reminding us, the course is never “done”.   Member play, time, the course itself and Mother Nature will continue

  1. to present us with things needing adjustment.
  1. Plan for the success. We celebrated our completion with enthusiasm, programming and a club grand reopening.  We invited Ron, Tyler, local golf and others connected with the project to a 2-ball outing and cocktails.  Member, internal and external feedback and recognition has been overwhelmingly positive.
  1. There Will Be Blood. Accept that you can’t please everybody, change is hard. My predecessor took some IMHO unacceptable heat for making tough decisions to the benefit of the club. To a lesser extent, I’ve overheard people in the locker room say “I hear Vaughn’s killing more trees”.  Ha, that’s ok, I came up through technology, music and film so country club cat fights are pretty tame in comparison. One thing currently saddens me is a tiny group of members who have been overheard bragging that they don’t fix divots or rake bunkers out of protest to the changes.  Unfortunately, they play a consistent tee time yet to brag about it in a small town and think that we don’t know who they are. Its disrespectful and somewhat infuriating to the golf staff, dues paying member-volunteers and the majority of fellow members that have worked exceedingly hard to make the club an outstanding and enjoyable environ. These are petty responses to first world problems but I am disappointed that we have somehow not been effective in communicating the value of the restoration to this constituency.

Thank you Ran and GolfClubAtlas.com for your interest, recognition and invitation to share insights regarding our project.  I would also like to thank Chris Buie for your tremendous research support, which has further enriched the accuracy and vibrancy of our Donald Ross history.  Of course as a member of a Donald Ross course and a media professional, I urge readers to acquire Discovering Donald Ross by Bradley S. Klein and The Life & Times of Donald Ross by Chris Buie to be released later year. Both Chris and Brad have been sources of tremendous support.

I am lucky, pleased and humbled to be in a position to recount the excellence delivered by the vision and collaboration of my fellow CRCC members. In golf circles, It was a bold move for a reserved membership.  This article was made possible by the research, active project leadership and execution of Tom Peffer, Mike O’Donnell, Ron Prichard, Tyler Rae, Brad Klein, Ken Kinsey, Bill Barnes, Ken Brown, Bill Munsell, Kathy Brown, Molly Altorfer, Dustin Toner, Steve Greif, current CRCC President Anne Parmley.  A most special thanks and recognition of the intestinal fortitude and level headed pragmatism shown by Jason Haefner and to the indomitable genius of the undefeatable Tom Feller.

We have a meticulously restored Donald Ross course in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and it would be very difficult for us to be more pleased with the outcome. The restoration exceeded expectations to the point where it arguably may have surpassed the imaginings of “what could be”.

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