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BOB WEST ON GOLF: Zaharias greens turning heads for good reason

A mid-July trip to golf mecca Myrtle Beach for a Father-Son tournament confirmed a feeling about the greens at Babe Zaharias that has been on my mind for a while. Namely, those Zaharias putting surfaces have become really good for a daily-fee facility.

Of the four courses Grayson and I played in the Myrtle Beach area, only one had better greens, and not by much. Keep in mind the golf business in that South Carolina market is extremely competitive, with over 70 courses vying for tourist and tournament dollars.

So what is going on at Zaharias? Why, during months of less than desirable weather conditions, have the greens progressed from slow, spotty and bumpy to surprisingly smooth and pretty much grassed in wall to wall?

The answer starts with a renewed commitment to upgrade from Aqulia Golf owner George Brown, who leases Zaharias from the City of Port Arthur.

Brown stepped up financially to hire the services of a highly-regarded consultant whose experience and knowledge of grasses, chemicals and fertilizer programs has been a difference maker.

It is a decision that has proved to be a terrific investment for Brown, Zaharias and the golfers in Southeast Texas. Brown, who shows up a couple of mornings a week, is frequently greeted with praise over how good the greens have become. He never gets tired of hearing it.

“It’s been a struggle maintaining the health of the turf on our greens for many years,” he says. “It is obvious to me that the past superintendent just didn’t know how to grow grass on these greens. Now we are fortunate to be associated with someone who understands how to accomplish this and so many other aspects of maintaining an entire course.

“Today, Babe Zaharias’ greens are arguably the best public course greens around,” Brown insists. “The entire maintenance staff is to be commended for the great job they are doing, especially superintendent Darrell Reeves. Everyone from the golf shop staff to the maintenance staff take great pride in what they do, and it shows.”

Zaharias head pro Mitch Duncan, as you would expect, agrees with his bosses’ assessment of where Zaharias greens are in relation to other public-course operations. Duncan’s opinion, however, is backed by more than just pride in the product.

As the director of the Southern Texas PGA Junior Tour, he’s had an up close and personal look at all of the courses in Southeast Texas this summer.

“To me, our greens are the best in the area, with the possible exception of Beaumont Country Club,” Duncan said. “I am so pleased with where we are and the fact the greens just keep getting better and better. I hear nothing but positive comments on an almost daily basis, and not just about the greens.

“This wouldn’t be happening if George had not been willing to listen and to act on hiring the consultant. The guy comes once a week and has us on a regular program of spraying, top dressing and applying fungicide. He knows his stuff.”

Regulars at Zaharias were recently taken aback when the best green on the course — No. 1 — turned up with holes having been punched in it relatively soon after an earlier punch. No other greens were punched that day. Turns out there was a method to the madness.

A nursery has been created behind the maintenance barn. It started with a 20-foot-by-20-foot area dug two feet deep and filled with clean sand. Plugs from No. 1 green were used to fill in the pit. Six weeks later swatches from the pit were harvested to fill in low areas of greens that needed help or were not as healthy as No. 1.

The process will be repeated again in six weeks with the most recent plugs extracted from No. 1.

“It’s a challenge to manage the many different varieties of grasses that have appeared on these greens over the years,” explains the consultant, who requests anonymity. “Most of the bare spots are attributed to underlying factors, such as areas that hold water and allow organic matter to accumulate.

“That keeps the roots from receiving adequate oxygen. With the large amounts of rain that we have in Southeast Texas, it’s in our best interest to repair those areas in order to maintain a playable putting surface. That’s why having a greens nursery is so important.”

Among those impressed with how good the greens at Zaharias are is Ed Campbell, the head pro there from 1983 until his recent retirement. Campbell still hangs around a few hours a week at the golf course doing odd jobs.

“As far as I am concerned, the greens are as pretty as I’ve ever seen them,” said Campbell. “I never thought I would see greens out here this good. They are just exceptional. The biggest reason is that George Brown has taken a greater interest and has put some people around him who know more about taking care of the golf course.

“We are seeing some folks come out here to play that we have not seen in a long time. I hear positive comments when I’m out here and when I’m away from the course. Bottom line, if you have good greens you are going to get good feedback and a lot of play on your golf course.”

Further proof of what good greens can do is the booking of a celebrity tournament that is in the planning stages for next spring. The Houston organizer toured Zaharias recently and gave two thumbs up after what he saw.

If Brown had not gone all in on a consultant, it never would have happened.

Coming up: Bob West’s Chip Shots