Golf course architect Jeffrey Brauer has been hired by the city of North Richland Hills in Texas, to renovate its municipal Iron Horse golf course.
“The primary focus of the project at Iron Horse will be on correcting the situations of too little and too much water on the course, respectively,” said Brauer, who can make the short trip from his adopted home in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. “New irrigation for the entire course will be plotted and installed to satisfy the main issue – it is the first priority.”
The 18-hole public facility was designed by Dick Phelps and opened in 1988. It was built in a floodplain and runoff from the growth in urban development has increased.
“We will address the track’s lowest lying fairways to counter its battle with periodic flooding that has forced the course to be out of play a few times a year,” said Brauer. “Elevating the lowest lying fairways for more flood protection and increasing surface pitch for better drainage will be nearly as important.”
A few greens and most bunkers have also been negatively impacted by flooding and will be renovated or removed. Topsoil will also be replaced in areas where fast flowing waters have worn it off.
“The course was built for the city of North Richland Hills by a management company, who prided themselves on being able to build cheaply,” said Brauer. “In reality, they didn’t value engineer anything, they just left things out. An extra US$300,000 in 1989 would have probably reduced the need to spend US$3 million in 2019 to add what was left out in terms of drainage, flood control, and irrigation coverage.”
Brauer also seeks to open up playing corridors. “Iron Horse is a very solid and well-liked golf course overall, but if there is a complaint from golfers it has been the narrowness of the play corridors. Those issues will be addressed in the renovation as we create increased playability and a more open course.”
Plans should be finished by early autumn with construction expected to start by the end of the year, so grassing can occur at a peak time of May-June 2020 to best assure an October reopening.
“This project is a great example of a targeted renovation, fixing the most important problems without doing a total redo,” said Brauer. “I believe it will be the model for public course renovations moving forward.
“For a while, total renovations seemed to make sense, as those who did them experienced greater revenues to offset costs. With more and more re-branded golf courses, it doesn’t seem like spending more leads to more revenues, and it is wise to fix what is broken, what customers complain about, and let the original design – in this case, a nice Dick Phelps 1980s era public design – be the best it can be. Besides, unlike most courses these days, play isn’t down – well, a bit, but still playing 45,000 rounds – so putting a new design stamp on it doesn’t seem necessary.”
Vickie Loftice, managing director of community services, and Joe Pack, senior park planner, will oversee the project for the city.
“Jeff is well known for being able to supply a lot of ‘bang for the buck’ in municipal renovations, which was one of our key considerations in selecting his firm over others who were interested in our project,” said Loftice. “This is a situation where things may need to change some over the course of the renovation and, in his previous work, Jeff has shown an ability to adapt his ideas, his plans and his focus as needed – and that was important for us.”
Brauer’s firm GolfScapes has retained EC Design Group for irrigation design, while Halff Associates will provide hydraulic studies that will allow permitting under current regulatory processes. The course is managed by Arcis Golf, who will also provide agronomic consulting. Long-time golf course superintendent Kevin Ramsey will provide local insight to Brauer and his team.