A renovation that returned California Golf Club to its former glory brought well-deserved recognition–plus another project–to Certified Golf Course Superintendent Thomas Bastis.
Several years ago Thomas Bastis, Certified Golf Course Superintendent at California Golf Club in San Francisco, was thoroughly immersed in an extensive renovation project at the property’s 18-hole golf course. He worked closely with design and construction consultants to ensure that the project was historically accurate, and in three years the course went from nowhere on the list to number 35 on Golfweek’s 2011 Best Classic Courses.
So what did he do for an encore? He volunteered to help with a greens renovation project at Gleneagles Golf Course, a nine-hole public course in San Francisco, in his spare time.
Bastis, who just completed a term as President of the Northern California Golf Course Superintendents Association (GCSANC) and has served on the board since 2002, was honored by his peers for his commitment to his profession as well. He was named Superintendent of the Year by the GCSANC and 2010 Syngenta/Turfnet Superintendent of the Year.
Bastis recently spoke to us about the renovation projects and the importance of contributing to the golf and turf care industry as a whole.
California Golf Club
The golf course was ranked #35 in Golfweek’s 2011 Best Classic Courses.
Q: What prompted the renovations at California Golf Club?
A: Our project was born out of necessity. We had a serious problem with our greens related to an ever-increasing nematode infestation. The Anguina pacificae nematode caused severe turf damage, and control methods were no longer viable in the future. This prompted an initial look at our greens and surrounding areas, but expanded to a master plan, architect selection process, and a golden opportunity to fix everything.
Q: Describe the renovations to the course.
A: We touched everything. We rebuilt all 18 greens plus three feature greens and one nursery green. We have a new and relocated driving range. We removed all of our course water features – three lakes – as they were not original. We have a completely new irrigation system, a Toro GDC Decoder system with 2,600 heads with Lynx Control Software. We removed approximately 500 trees, on top of 1,500 trees that were already removed in 1998. We added a tee-to-green drainage system, and we have 144 newly shaped bunkers, up from 105.
Q: What was your role in the planning and implementation of the project?
A: I was involved every step of the way from the very beginning. Architect selection, project timeline, consultant selection, course project manager, grow-in superintendent, etc. It was awesome. We had a great team of members – an incredible architect, Kyle Phillips; a fantastic agronomist, Dave Wilber, and an out-of-this-world golf course contractor in Oliphant Golf Construction. Russ Mitchell, our irrigation consultant, Dr. Jim Clark of HortScience, our consulting arborist, and Cliff Bechtell as our engineer and permitting specialist rounded out the team. Overall, I was surrounded by a “dream team” of talent. And I can’t forget Dennis Mahoney, our invaluable General Manager at Cal Club for over 30 years.
Q: How did you make sure the renovations were historically accurate?
A: Kyle Phillips and associate Mark Thawley spent a tremendous amount of time reviewing our club records and aerials of the times. We are also fortunate enough to know a great golf historian, Sean Tully, who provided a ton of smaller but very detailed facts about the course.
Q: How has the golf course benefited from the renovations?
A: We thought a lot about the future and how we want to maintain it. We chose low-input-type grasses such as fine fescues and colonial bentgrass for our primary surfaces, but we went a step further by creating soils to help support its growth habit. We infused our soil with generous quantities of sand and blended this sand with our existing soil to a depth of 8 inches. I call it 20 years of fairway topdressing in a summer. All of this was laid over a drainage matrix, to help keep the root zone dry during our winter months and very firm during our regular season. The design also incorporated over 55 acres of native grass with an irrigation system that can keep both growing environments separate. Removing trees further enhanced our ability to grow better turf without competition.
Q: How did you convince the membership to undertake the project?
A: I didn’t. I found my role to be more of an information source/provider so our membership could make the best decisions for its needs.
Q: What kind of obstacles did you face during the project?
A: Weather. We had a surprise rainstorm that washed seven newly seeded holes away. The sand-modified soil just wouldn’t stay in place, clogging drains and ruining acres of hydroseed. Very frustrating.
Another challenge was debris. We had removed so many trees over the past 10 years that I knew a huge amount of tree roots and stumps had to be removed. The plans showed for contiguous fairways where previous corridors of trees had been. We spent one-and-a-half months root-raking these new fairway areas.
Now that they were cleaned, that created the problem of disposing of roots. No burn permits were going to be issued, and we couldn’t bury them, as they have so much airspace and would create a problem later. So we rented a tube grinder, which created another problem – now we had 2,000 yards of mulch. What do we do with that? Craigslist! We found a couple of people on the Internet that would take the mulch. Our first ad had us filling little old ladies’ station wagons and pickup trucks. We modified the ad to say, “If you don’t have at least a 20-yard trailer…don’t bother.” We found one person that had a 100-yard chip truck, and she took the bulk of it.
There are a bunch of those type of problems that happen every day. We just didn’t see them as obstacles. The weather problems just gave us the “opportunity” to build another nine holes. Ha, ha.
Q: What, if anything, did you do in-house?
A: We were the second largest contractor on site. We did all the tree removal, stump removal, debris removal, complete bunker construction, subsurface drip irrigation installation for the bunkers, sand screening, in-house GPS, complete course hydroseeding, preplant fertilizer, grow-in, sand install, and clubhouse landscaping.
Q: How do the current playing conditions compare to the conditions before the renovations and to the conditions when the project was first completed?
A: It is a different course. We went from not being listed on the Top 100 Classics to number 35 in three years. The course is maturing so well.
Q: How did you get involved in the greens renovations at Gleneagles Golf Course, and what was your role in that project?
A: During our project, we started helping them out in a “big brother” way – sharpening reels, giving them old fertilizer, selling them used equipment that we would not be needing, etc. The relationship just went from there, as I just kept helping.
Late last summer, I received an SOS call from them that their greens had died. They had been struggling and ultimately lost them. A total disaster. Not only were the greens dead, but they were not bringing in any money. Double trouble. I made a few calls to some industry friends and started to pull together the necessary pieces to rebuild the greens. Having recently completed our own project, it was fun to get back into the fray. I was fortunate enough to still employ a golf course shaper (and now a Cal Club Irrigation Assistant), George Waters, who did our renovation.
We met with Tom Hsieh of Gleneagles and Jason Nau from Oliphant Golf. Jason and Oliphant hit it out of the park with our course, and now it was time to do it again. We formulated a plan that would address as many of the past problems as we could, and set them up for the best chance of success after. The hard part was where to stop. This is a facility of very little means, but a goal to support public golf. We had to help. I offered to lend Oliphant all the equipment to get the job going.
Q: When did you find the time to help them?
A: Jason, George, Tom, and I laid out a battle plan that had the on-site supervision being managed by Oliphant and Tom. I used the phone to set up supplies and industry support to keep the engines running. The staff at Gleneagles also had to help. After work, myself and four of our staff members would work until dark. If you have the right equipment and support, a lot of things can be achieved.
Q: Why was it important for you to get involved with the project?
A: How could you not? It was a simple case of the haves versus the have nots. Very few people start playing golf at a high-end private facility. Most start at the local nine- or 18-hole course, where the joy of the game is established. I had a dozen of our own members tell me they started playing at Gleneagles when they were younger. We can’t forget that.
Gleneagles is not a moneymaking machine, either. It is geographically situated in one of the most challenging and lower socio-economic neighborhoods in San Francisco, abutting public housing developments. It is the only public golf course in San Francisco that does not receive funding or resources from the city. Nobody is getting rich doing this service for San Francisco public golf. But it is a fantastic layout, and deserved every bit of help we could provide.
Q: What are some of the challenges that municipal courses are facing because of budgetary cutbacks?
A: I think it’s resources and deferred maintenance. Irrigation systems and drainage are not capitalized or thought about once they go in. They forget that these things need to be replaced, and there is no way they can fund replacing them. Municipal courses compete with other city needs such as social programs, public safety, and infrastructure. Most municipal golf courses are left to fend for themselves in a tough fiscal environment.
Q: How can superintendents at municipal golf courses maximize their resources and contain costs?
A: Conditions dictate play. Play dictates having more resources or money. Municipal superintendents have a tough battle. Municipal golf needs to be funded the same as baseball fields, swimming pools, and other recreational amenities that are not required to be profitable and instead are given operating budgets, for the service they provide to the community. So should golf, but golf courses are held to a higher standard. It’s not fair or equal. Superintendents can help with this messaging. This is the only way to sustain a better public golf system. Just think if golf didn’t have to make a profit like those other organizations, how much cheaper golf would be.
Q: What are the pros and cons of municipal courses turning to management companies for help, especially for renovation projects?
A: The pros are great resource management and potential leadership. There are some really good companies out there. There is also the pooled resources and buying power. Maybe lower insurance rates, and so forth. And the cons? They depend on your view of municipal golf. Do you view municipal golf as a public service? Management companies want to make money, too. It just becomes a layer of expense that could be justifiable, or not.
Q: What are some of the other ways that you have given back to the California golf community and to your fellow superintendents?
A: I just finished serving as President of our local Northern California Golf Course Superintendents Association. I have served on the board since 2002.
Q: What does it mean to you to be recognized by your peers as the GCSANC Superintendent of the Year and as the 2010 TurfNet Superintendent of the Year?
A: Peer recognition is huge. There are so many superintendents that don’t get recognized but do tremendous work. It continues to be a great experience. I continue to meet fantastic people. Our membership is super-proud as well.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job and about helping other superintendents?
A: I love the technical aspects of turfgrass management. Being treated like a hero is such a reward.