Jim Cervone discusses green renovations at Sewickley Heights GC


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    The project team is carrying out work on all 18 greens at Sewickley Heights GC

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    Each green is being stripped...

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    ...and relaid with Poa Annua grasses

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    The work will alleviate drainage issues and keep the fast nature of the course's greens

Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

Golf course architect Jim Cervone is leading a major greens renovation at the Sewickley Heights Golf Club in Western Pennsylvania, US. 

The three-month project will see all 18 greens across the club’s course laid with Poa Annua turf.

Originally designed by James Harrison and Ferdinand ‘Fred’ Garbin, the Sewickley Heights course has seen work carried out on its greens within the last decade. This involved the rebuilding of four greens around five years ago. These were seeded to bentgrass, and the results of were mixed. The club members preferred the original Poa Annua putting surfaces, but those existing greens exhibited drainage issues.

A member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and based in Trafford, Pennsylvania, Cervone was contacted by Sewickley Heights Golf Club with a view to leading a project that would ensure the quality of the greens was up there with the best in the area. This involved regrassing the four bentgrass greens with Poa Annua, and relaying the existing Poa Annua back on the other 14 greens.

GCA caught up with the architect to discuss his work at Sewickley Heights.

“In Western Pennsylvania, Poa Annua is king,” says Cervone. “When the club took the decision to rebuild its greens, I was brought in to do some conceptual design work, and give them an idea of what we could do with the greens when their rebuilt. The club was adamant about staying with Poa surfaces. That took me by surprise a bit but I could certainly understand it.”

Cervone explained that having gone through several presentations and committee meetings before the project commenced in late August 2016, it was clear that while changes and tweaks were given the go ahead, the membership wanted to keep the flavour of Sewickley Heights.

“They like their greens fast,” he says. “They like the percentage of their greens and we agreed to walk a fine line on how much percentage of slopes were to be adjusted. But they also wanted to get a few extra pin placements. Some greens out there had very few pin placements with which to work. My task was to restore these greens with some subtle changes and adjustments in certain areas, where they could perhaps get some more pin placements.”

Cervone started by stripping the four bentgrass greens, and making tweaks to offer a little more variation. The focus of the project has now switched to the remaining 14 greens – two of which will be rebuilt in new locations as part of the project.

“The debate around Poa Annua versus bentgrass has been raving for so many years,” Cervone says. “In Western Pennsylvania, there are so many high end golf courses that use Poa Annua, but it needs to be managed a little differently to other grasses. It doesn’t cope as well in extreme weather as bentgrass, but I think many people, especially around here, would agree that Poa Annua, when managed correctly, is the best putting surface you can have.”

The project got underway on 22 August, and Cervone said that the deadline for the completion of grassing and turfing is 23 October.

“I’ve been involved with several projects over the years where we have gone in, sorted issues around the putting surface, and put the turf back down, but never to this extent,” Cervone adds. “Nobody we had spoken to had heard of such a project where greens were being stripped and sod relayed in just three months. It’s a pretty unique situation and it’s going really well thus far. Everybody’s really excited, and really pleased with the results to date, and we’re pushing it forward now.”