Series of improvements to course at The Refuge helps improve playability


Series of improvements to course at The Refuge helps improve playability
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

A project to improve playability and reduce the number of lost balls has been completed at The Refuge, near Jackson, Mississippi.

Opened in 1998 and designed by architect Roy Case, the course was originally routed around pockets of wetlands and as many trees were saved as possible. 

This meant however that many golfers have found the course to be very tight, resulting in the loss of numerous balls, a complaint the club heard all too often.

Nathan Crace, the operating principal of the company that manages the course Watermark Golf, admitted there was no surprises when the issue was raised during a tour of the course last year with USGA Green Section agronomist Chris Hartwiger.

“When we walked onto the second tee, he (Hartwiger) said ‘You have too many trees that are way too close’,” Crace said. “We knew that was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Hartwiger was concerned with the impact of trees on the turf quality of the outer edges of the course and a number of tees. Maturing trees were also crowding some tee shots and causing root encroachment along the slopes of tees and some green surrounds.

“We’ve long been known for quality playing conditions,” Crace says. “Bill and his staff do a great job and I’ll put our greens up against any Tifdwarf greens in the region. But Chris reinforced what we knew to be true: we had a systemic problem that we couldn’t manage our way out of. We had an organic infrastructure issue.”

Crace and his colleagues felt that the major inhibiting factor of the course was its ‘tightness’, and found that the majority of the membership felt the same. 

“If the one thing that needs to be changed is making the course more playable and loosening it up, how can we do it without the expense and opportunity costs associated with shutting the course down for a full renovation?” said Crace. “We didn’t need a full renovation. We needed to carefully widen the playing corridors to address and correct the real problem.”

A plan was created which saw two machines carrying out a large-scale under brushing project over the course of three months. This work helped widen the holes by clearing out brush, briars, small trees and understory. 

“We have areas now where you can not only find your ball, but also play it,” Crace says. “Before the project, it was a lost ball. Now it’s fun and playable! Those areas of the course look like a golf course again.”

Crace points out that the goal of the project was not to make the course an easier prospect for players, but more enjoyable and playable.

“Playable is fun regardless of your handicap,” he concluded. “In fact, we also identified areas during the project where we can add tees for the better players who may have shied away because hitting driver too often wasn’t worth the risk. Now they can hit driver more often; the difference is that if they miss a fairway, now they can have a shot to recover and scramble for par — not an automatic lost ball.”