The greening of Duke: Rees Jones oversees course remake

Jul. 10, 2013 @ 12:22 AM

The seemingly daily rainfall that has inundated the Triangle lately isn’t ruining golf at the Duke University Golf Club.

On the contrary, it will make an already celebrated course even better once the golfers return to the course.

The course, adjacent to the Washington Duke Inn, closed on June 3 for three months and half a million dollars worth of overdue renovations.

New grass is growing on the greens and the surrounding turf as the course is undergoing its first overhaul since 1993. Now as then, the work is being overseen by Rees Jones, the son of famed course designer Robert Trent Jones.

Nearly 60 years ago, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., designed the course on a 120-acre plot. It opened on Sept. 26, 1957.

Rees Jones worked on a major restoration on the public course between June-October 1993.

About five years ago, Duke University Golf Club general manager Ed Ibarguen said, he recognized the course was due for another makeover. The Duke athletic department raised money privately to cover the restoration and the loss of revenue for having the course closed for three summer months.

Approval for the project was given in April, Ibarguen said. Two months later, the course closed and the work began with course superintendent Billy Weeks overseeing the growing.

“It’s kind of been a real struggle to keep the thing going and keep it in good condition,” he said. “So we’re thrilled that we’re coming back and infusing some infrastructure funds back in.”

Previously, the greens were made of PennCross bentgrass, the blend installed 20 years ago. While it was renowned for its ability to grow back fast, Ibarguen said it is also prone to disease in hot North Carolina summers.

“You have to raise the mowing heights so the greens are really, really slow (in summer months),” he said.

These days, the Champion Bermuda blend has emerged as a top choice. So that’s what’s being installed at Duke.

“It has a little bit of a finer blade, so we decided to go with that,” Ibarguen said. “It’s fast. It just rolls beautifully.”

In addition, he said the greens will be expanded by about 33 percent, back to the size they were originally designed. The contours on the greens will remain the same.

On the land surrounding the greens, Tifgrand Bermuda grass is taking root.

“Every green site is effectively going to be a new green site,” Ibarguen said.

There is also an ecological benefit with the new grasses.

“It uses less water. It uses less chemicals,” Ibarguen said. “It has less overall ecological footprint, which is fantastic. Right along with the university’s philosophy.”

From an economic standpoint, the course will cost less to maintain.

While the greens are being overhauled, the overall length of the course will remain the same.

For Duke’s men’s and women’s golf teams, their practice area will feature three different types of grass and three different types of bunkers. The goal is to help them be prepared for whatever type of course they will be playing on next.

Duke University Golf Course has hosted a pair of NCAA championships. The first was in 1962, the most recent in 2001, a few years after Rees Jones oversaw that major renovation.

Duke hopes to land another NCAA championship tournament when this restoration is completed. But more work will be required.

Ibarguen said another project he has in mind is an extension of the length of five holes. New concrete cart paths would also be installed as well as additional men’s and women’s restrooms and new irrigation systems.

The current irrigation system was installed in 1957 when the course first opened.

But those improvements won’t come for a few more years at the earliest. For now, Ibarguen monitors how the new grass is taking root in preparation for the Labor Day re-opening.

“We want to open like a new golf course,” Ibarguen said.