Bunkers get a makeover at Green Hill Municipal Golf Course
Butch Soto has helped build or renovate approximately 90 golf courses in the United States and as far away as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Singapore and Malaysia.
But he never worked on a golf course in New England until he began overseeing bunker renovations at Green Hill Municipal Golf Course this month.
Soto, 62, of Largo, Fla., worked for a time on projects with BrightView, a national landscaping company that maintains Green Hill, so he was hired as a consultant for it.
Matt Moison said a few of Green Hill’s 43 bunkers have had minor renovations over the years, but it will be the first time in his 26 years as chief pro that all will be renovated at once. It could be the first time since the course was redesigned in 1968.
“We get a lot of play,” Moison said, “and if you don’t reinvest in the golf course, you’re going backwards, not forwards. So it’s moving forward.”
Whenever it rains, the water stays in some bunkers for days unless it is pumped out. So Soto and the BrightView team install drainage, revetments and new sand. Soto said the only drainage the bunkers had was antiquated.
Moison said the golf course will pay for the project, which has a budget of over $400,000.
Soto hopes the bunker project will last no longer than nine weeks. His target date to complete is November 17 if the weather cooperates. He described the Green Hill bunkers as relatively plain, mostly oval and kidney-shaped, and not very deep. They measure a total of 70,040 square feet.
“These aren’t what I would consider hard bunkers to play,” he said, “based on many projects I’ve worked on in the past.”
Renovation of bunkers
The team is removing existing sand from the bunkers, digging rafter trenches and installing gravel and a 4 inch perforated pipe to drain the water to the lowest point of the bunker where it will flow out of the bunker through pipes not perforated. A turf covering will be installed under the new 4-5 inches of sand to prevent rocks from coming to the surface.
Superintendent Tim O’Brien and his maintenance crew got Green Hill in pristine condition despite being dry for much of the summer, but bunkers have long been a problem. The sand in many bunkers is too hard. As Soto found out, they got washed away over the years.
“That pure, white, fluffy sand,” Soto said, “that you initially have in a new bunker over time gets dirtier and more contaminated. It’s related to the weather, it’s the leaves, that’s all.
The new drainage should help the sand stay softer as the sand won’t stay underwater.
“Consistency was the problem with our bunkers,” Moison said. “Bunker to bunker not having the same consistency and level of expectation is what years of lack of capital investment do. So we have to get them all on the same page.
Moison said the par-3 14th hole bunkers will be redesigned to face the lower tee as he would like to close the upper tee in the next few years. The lower tee is located to the right and behind the 13th green. The upper tee is on a hill to the left of the 13th fairway. After setting the 13th green, golfers must walk or drive up the 13th fairway to reach the upper 14th tee.
Fairway bunkers on 13 and 16 will be eliminated.
Moison said the planned construction of a new bunker to the right of the 18th green was dependent on funding, and he wasn’t sure if it would happen this fall.
From maintenance to construction of golf courses
Soto has worked in the golf business since becoming a mechanic with Clearwater CC in Florida in 1979. He spent a decade in maintenance and then managed golf course construction for nearly 16 years for Weitz Golf International , based in Des Moines, Iowa. In 2008, he created his own company, Assurance Golf Consulting.
Over the years, he built golf courses in forests, deserts and swamps. For a course in Singapore, he even had to fill in part of the China Sea to build fairways.
“They knocked down mountains and brought the equipment to the golf course to fill the sea,” he said.
While at Weitz Golf, he worked on numerous Jack Nicklaus courses, including Dove Mountain, home of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, outside of Tucson, Arizona. He also built Traditions Club, which Nicklaus designed for Texas A&M and which opened in 2004.
So this bunker project shouldn’t be too much of a problem for him.
Holes will not be closed during bunker renovations, but front tees and temporary greens will occasionally be used to prevent Soto and his team from being hit by golf balls. In his four decades of working on the golf course, Soto has been hit four times. The worst was when he thought he had to get behind a lawnmower to avoid getting hit in San Diego in the mid-1980s. While he was in the middle of a sprint, a line drive hit his shin.
“It spun me around and knocked me over,” he said. “I had a big bump on my shin for quite a while.”
At Green Hill, Soto plans to leave his own mark by renovating the bunkers.
Worcester CC hosts the Anderson Cup
Some of the state’s top amateur golfers will play the Anderson Cup kickoff next weekend at Worcester Country Club.
The invitational four-ball debuted in 2002 and from last year began donating to area charities. The event raised approximately $40,000 for PGA REACH New England, supporting three pillars of impact: diversity and inclusion, military and youth development.
‘It’s in the conversation’, Worcester CC chief pro Andy Lane said, “As one of the first four balls in the state. More and more decorated amateurs are trying to play in this event because of the golf course and because of the strong ground. It almost concludes the season of golf here in New England and obviously the golf course in the fall is in pristine condition.
The tournament is named after fire Gerry Anderson, a former longtime member of the WCC. Anderson played and coached golf at Holy Cross and mentored another HC graduate Paul Harney, who has won six PGA Tour events. A member of the HC Athletic Hall of Fame, Anderson was a tireless advocate for junior golf and always strived to develop the game.
Last year, ryan whitney from Old Sandwich to Plymouth and Andrew DeRamio of North Hill CC in Duxbury shot 9 under to top the 46-team field in the Anderson Cup. Whitney is a former NHL defenseman with Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Edmonton and Florida, and he currently works as an analyst for the NHL Network.
The best names in the field this year include former champions Brandon Parker, Taylor Fontaine, Brian Higgins, Dan and dave falcucciand Alex Snickenberger. Kyle Tibbets and Victor Galvani will be among those looking to win the event for the first time. Pairings will be determined this week.
In the 39th Mass. Mid-Amateur last week at Marlborough CC, Tibbetts tied for fourth at 3-under 210, and Parker finished sixth at 2-under 211. Sean Fitzpatrick of George Wright GC shot 71-68-68 to finish at 8 under 205 and win by four strokes over the defending champion Matt Parziale by Thorny Lea GC and Arthur Zelmat by George Wright. Parziale led by a shot before making a 9 on the par-4 17th hole.
Ricky Stimet of Worcester CC tied for ninth at 2 over, and Frank Vana Jr. of the host club tied for 13th at 4 above.
—Contact Bill Doyle at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BillDoyle15.