Rotary Happenings: Fort Myers golf course superintendent discusses renovation
Mark Thomas, golf course superintendent at Kelly Greens Golf and Country Club in Fort Myers, was the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club’s guest speaker on May 4. Kelly Greens is a private community facility with a 29-tee driving range and 18 regulation holes located on Summerlin Road. Thomas was invited by Rotarian John Schwandke, who lives at Kelly Greens and thought it would be interesting for the club to gain insight into how planning is approached for undertaking a major course renovation.
A recent rebuild of Kelly Greens took nine months at a cost of nearly $4 million and was completed in 2017. Planning time started well in advance of the actual physical work with studies conducted on numerous areas in need of improvement. Both club members and outside experts were involved in analyzing the situation and bringing forth major corrective and creative ways to not only solve the physical problems on the golf course, but planning for creating a challenging course. Thomas told us, “Most important was a feasibility study including the project’s physical elements – land area, topography, soils, geology, vegetation, drainage and water availability.” A master plan was then developed with elements that determined a new course design by golf course architect, Gordon Lewis.
A working team on a mission like this usually involves a land planner, building architect, civil engineer, irrigation designer, landscape architect, ecologist, planning consultant, contractors and workers in many different areas. It is important to have a team that communicates well. Thomas told us a lot of talking went on before the project got started. He and others involved with the project made work site visits to a couple of companies under consideration for elements of the project. Always mindful of the intended outcome of the project, Thomas did a lot of communication of ideas, exploring and negotiating with the contractors for the best outcome, for the best price and in the timeliest manner.
Thomas gave credit to the in-house staff for working so conscientiously alongside of him on the project, specially naming Director of Golf Charlie Vetter. There was another decision Thomas and the board of directors made before the project began. The club did not want to let go of any of the groundskeeping staff during the rebuild, so they assigned the task of removing, repositioning and replanting of the trees on the course – all 800 of them – to these employees. Employee involvement on a project such as this helps everyone understand the magnitude of the project and how important individual contributions make to the outcome.
After collecting all the information concerning the renovation of the golf course, the feasibility report and cost portfolio was presented to and approved by the club’s membership. On April 4, 2016, the work began by spraying the course to kill off all vegetation, followed by rototilling and scraping of all dead matter off the land. Trees that had to be removed were removed and saved. Dirt was moved around and new design features were added; an old design flaw was corrected by putting more space between holes. New bunkers were added throughout the course. A landscape design also addressed the steep lake surrounds were steep and nearly impossible to maintain slope vegetation. Gravel was spread throughout the course and greens mix topsoil within USGA standards. Tee boxes were redesigned and positioned for a new course of play, and a new irrigation system was installed.
Enhancing most golf courses are beautiful lakes and water features. They are not only esthetically pleasing but provide a significant habitat for wildlife. Kelly Greens has 18 restored lakes/ponds and two wetland areas. It removed decayed matter from the lakes and added 35,000 native bluegill and redear sunfish to reduce midge fly larvae. About 100,000 native plants, covering five acres along 20,000 linear feet of shoreline, were planted. Custom lake aeration systems were installed in each one. Alum was also applied to reduce phosphorus levels following completion of the course renovation.
For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are always welcome to attend.
The club will not meet on May 18 due to a district meeting.