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Ready, Set... The budget's a nightmare, but the design's a dream and finally all systems are go

April 16, 2001
April 16, 2001

Table of Contents
April 16, 2001

Ready, Set... The budget's a nightmare, but the design's a dream and finally all systems are go

Bobby Weed and Scot Sherman are bundled up in sweaters and
jackets. "God, it's cold," says Weed, squinting at a morning sun
that hangs over the University of Florida Golf Course like a
refrigerator light. "I should have worn my long johns." It's
early January. The two golf architects have a course-committee
meeting after lunch, but they have set aside the morning to ride
around and brainstorm. The 20[Degrees]windchill has already
turned their cheeks red and has caused the ink in my pen to
congeal.

This is an article from the April 16, 2001 issue Original Layout

We're by the pond between the 2nd and 8th greens when Sherman
points to a silhouette circling overhead. "Red-tailed hawk!" he
says. Weed looks up, smiles and says, "He's scopin' out lunch."

The two men walk onto the 8th green and look around quickly, like
detectives arriving on a crime scene. "Look how small this green
is," Weed says. "It isn't 3,000 square feet."

Sherman's gaze is drawn to a flat sand bunker that sits like a
saucer on a mound above the green. "You see how that bunker is
kind of up in the air?" he says. "That's something we wouldn't
do."

Nor is it something that the designer, Donald Ross, would have
done, though Ross's intentions are beyond knowledge. He died 53
years ago, and the university has no documentation of his work
here, which was done in the 1920s for the Gainesville Golf and
Country Club. Weed's plan is not to restore the course--no one
knows what elements are original--but to build 18 holes that pay
homage to Ross. Weed has already decided, for instance, to
lengthen this hole, the 8th, from 185 to about 200 yards; to
deepen and reshape the murky pond; and then to build a new green
a bit to the right, so it will no longer line up unattractively
with the 1st green, immediately behind it. ("It sort of looks
like a driving range when you stand up there on the tee," Sherman
says.) Weed has rejected, on principle, the easy fix: moving the
green 50 feet to the left, where it would be framed by three
picturesque live oaks. "Every time you try to build a green to
some trees," he says, "the trees die."

Returning to their cart, Weed and Sherman drive past the
low-lying 17th green. The 17th hole isn't much to look at--a
325-yard downhill par-4 with greenside bunkers guarding all but a
10-yard opening in front--but generations of college players have
had fun trying to make eagle with a drive and putt. Miss your
drive down the right side and you're left with a nasty 30-yard
pitch over sand from a hardpan lie. ("That was always a scary
shot," says Tour player and Florida alum Scott Dunlap.)

Weed brakes the cart and stares. He likes the idea of a drivable
par-4--it's one of the items on coach Buddy Alexander's wish
list--but these bunkers don't really penalize the
grip-it-and-rip-it guys. "The kids don't care," he says.
"They'll slam a drive into that shallow bunker and get up and
down for birdie." Weed would prefer that the long hitter dither
over this tee shot, putting his hand first on the driver, then
on the two-iron, then the four-wood, then the four-iron, maybe
the driver again, until his confidence is as frayed as a
beggar's shoelace. "We'd like to create a hole where you might
possibly make a 2, but could easily make a 5 or even a 6," says
Weed. A hole, in other words, like the 10th at L.A.'s Riviera
Country Club: a drivable par-4 that promises honey but delivers
vinegar.

Weed guns the cart up the fairway and parks behind the 17th tee,
where the hole's other shortcoming becomes apparent: The tee shot
is blind. From the front of the tee I can see the green below,
but the fairway runs fairly level for about 60 yards before
diving out of sight. No problem, says Weed. They plan to cut away
at least five vertical feet of soil in front of the tee so the
landing areas and hazards are visible to the golfer.

Weed borrows Sherman's notebook and begins to sketch. He draws
the 17th green on a left-to-right diagonal and puts bunkers on
either side. He then sketches a third bunker on the left side of
the fairway, about 30 yards short of the green. That still
leaves a fairly generous opening to the green, and Weed inserts
some mounding that will bump a long, straight drive to the
right, toward the hole. "That will entice 'em," he murmurs. Weed
finishes by scratching three big asterisks in the fairway--layup
areas that can be reached with a variety of clubs. "Four
options," he says.

"Five," says Sherman, "if you cut the grass low back here." He
points to a spot to the left of and behind the green, where a
Tiger Woods or a John Daly might end up after a big-grunt swing.

Weed looks intrigued. "We'll study that," he says. "The key is to
make it so that only two players out of five--and I'm talking
about good players--have a chance for eagle." He smiles, imagining
the new 17th as a make-or-break hole in a college tournament, a
place where eagle-makers soar and bogey-makers bawl. Just as
quickly, he's back to thinking like an engineer. "We really need
to drop this bunker on the right," Weed says, "make it much lower
than the putting surface." He hands the notebook to Sherman and
starts walking toward the woods behind the 3rd green, looking for
the little blue flag that marks the new 4th tee.

Sherman lingers for a moment, studying the sketch and staring
down the 17th fairway. It is his job to transfer Weed's ideas for
the hole to the computer. "This is a fairly nondescript hole
now," he says, "but we can make it into a hole that gives you
lots of options."

He closes the notebook and starts walking toward the cart. "I'm
freezing," he says.

At this stage most of the work takes place indoors, where the
temperature is always 72[Degrees] and the light is fluorescent
blue. The course committee meets at 1:30 p.m. every Tuesday in
the All-American Room on the second floor of the clubhouse. Weed
and Sherman usually sit on the window side of the table, their
backs to the course. Assistant athletic director Chip
Howard--the only man in the room wearing a tie--sits on the
other side. A Rhode Island graduate with 12 years of experience
in athletic administration, Howard combines the upbeat manner of
a booster with the gimlet eyes of a corporate banker. It's his
job to make sure the University Athletic Association gets what
it wants, a showcase course at a reasonable price.

It's early February now, and Howard has 24 hours to prepare a
final construction budget for athletic director Jeremy Foley, who
will, in turn, take it to the Athletic Association's finance
committee for approval. "We need to get down to $4 million,"
Howard says, that being the figure agreed upon after months of
input from consultants and other interested parties. (Weed's fee
and other design costs have already been funded with $300,000 in
seed money.) "We have to live with that," Howard emphasizes.
"Jeremy won't go back to the well twice." He lifts his budget
knife--an ordinary ballpoint pen--and waves it over the bottom
number on the preliminary budget. "We have to cut $109,623."

Interpreting the profound silence that follows as assent,
Howard begins to reel off line items, looking for savings:
mobilization...site preparation...earthwork...greens
construction...bunker sand. "Drainage!" says Howard, raising his
eyes hopefully, certain that $350,000 is an extravagant sum to
help rainwater respond to gravity. However, Jay Brown, the civil
engineer, shakes his head. Brown says the budget doesn't include
three concrete pads for electric transformers and the 2,000
lineal feet of conduit he estimates will be needed to run power
to the pump station, south of the 2nd tee. Projected cost: about
25 grand. Howard sighs and says, "We're going the wrong way."

They move on. Pond liner, $33,000...shaping, $189,000...tee
construction, $69,000. Sherman, poring over his own figures,
defends each number with the tenacity of a soccer goalie:
"That's not something we'd cut...That's firm...That's a deal..."
The discussion is bogged down over a proposal to save $3,000 on
a snow barrier when a student assistant sticks his head in the
door to ask if anyone needs refreshments. "Diet Coke? Sprite?
Water?" Weed, who has been leaning on the table, looks up.
"Oxygen," he says. The crack gets a big laugh and reduces the
tension in the room.

They move on. Weed wonders aloud if they really need two
rototillers, the big Caterpillar SS250s that will slice up the
decades-old organic layer and mix it with a sandy subgrade.
"Those things are about $15,000 a month," Sherman says,
"including a water truck for dust control. I've budgeted $60,000."

"We can go with one?" Howard asks. Weed nods and says, "We can go
with 40"--meaning $40,000. Twenty thousand dollars has been saved;
Howard scratches in the change with a smile. His smile fades when
the architects reject his suggestion that they not rebuild the
multilevel tees on the team end of the practice range. "You need
to redo it all," says Sherman. "You want a grade-A practice
facility."

Howard winces: "We just spent $350,000 two years ago to do that
practice range."

Sherman says, "We hear that a lot." He punches up some numbers on
his pocket calculator, telling Howard they can save about $30,000
by deducting 100,000 square feet of sod from the 800,000 square
feet budgeted. They can save another $14,000 by eliminating the
coquina cart paths between greens and tees. Similarly, they can
narrow the concrete road to the maintenance facility from 12 to
10 feet. "You won't be able to pass on the road," Sherman says,
"but that saves you another $7,000."

Then Weed comes through, saying he sees no need to spend the
$55,000 budgeted for off-site soil to be used as course fill.
"We'll find it," he says. "There's dirt here." Smiling, he adds,
"Look what we're doing for you guys."

Howard is now scribbling merrily, drawing lines through old
numbers and substituting figures he can live with. "We've gone
down 167," he says--meaning 167 thousand--"but we've added 50, so
we've really cut 117, which is just under $4 million." He smiles.
"I want three as the first number," he says. "If the rest of it
is nine-nine-nine-nine-nine-nine, that's fine, but I need the
three."

A few small cuts later, the surgeons call it an afternoon. Next
to Total Project Cost, Howard writes in $3,982,991. He then slaps
his pen on the table and leans back in his chair. He has a
budget. Like the course itself, it looks good on paper.

It's demolition time. In the next installment of This Old Course,
the bulldozers will roar, trees will fall, and Florida's men's
and women's golf teams will be without a home for the first time
in 39 years.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES The 8th green (background) will be moved so that it no longer lines up with the 1st. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES SHOW ME After the project made the papers, the course planners were asked to make presentations to several of the university's advisory panels.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES "Weed intends to transform the short par-4 17th. "We'd like to create a hole where you might possibly make a 2," he says, "but could easily make a 5 or even a 6."

Committee Men

"We've got a bit of a hiccup now," assistant athletic director
Chip Howard said last week, sounding as if he had a bone in his
throat. He was still trying to digest the headline in the April 4
Gainesville Sun: GOLF COURSE GROWTH COULD CUT INTO WOODS. Not
that he was surprised. At a recent meeting, members of the
University of Florida Land, Vegetation and Lakes advisory
committee had challenged the course-renovation plan because it
called for wholesale clearing of the overgrown northwest corner
of the property. Specifically, the committee wanted to spare
several thousand wild trillium plants, which have established a
colony in the junglelike tangle of pines and vines.

Trillium is a long-stemmed, three-leaf plant that grows to about
12 inches and blooms in the spring. "It's not an endangered
species, but it's rare in Gainesville," says Howard. "We'd like
to move the plants to a site south of the course and create a
trillium bed that people could look at. If we can't, we'll have
to redesign the course around the trillium." In the meantime
university vice president Ed Poppell has asked Howard to present
his course plans to a few other advisory panels, including the
Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee, the Preservation
of Historic Buildings and Sites Committee, and the Land Use
Committee. "We've been aboveboard, and we're not trying to do
anything unusual or damaging," says Howard. "We've got to tell
our story."

Elsewhere on the permit front, consulting civil engineer Jay
Brown has good news: The St. Johns River Water Management
District has put the application for an amended water-use permit
on the agenda for its May 8 board meeting. "The district has
asked for more information," says Scot Sherman of Weed Golf
Course Design, "but that's typical. We don't see any big
hiccups"--that word again--"because we've abandoned our plan to
build the maintenance building in the floodplain." Instead, the
plan calls for the maintenance barn to be in the northwest
corner. But that's where the trillium lives, and Land,
Vegetation and Lakes would like the building moved again. Says a
weary Sherman, "We've probably seen more surprises on this
project than we've ever seen on a course restoration."

--J.G.

For previous installments of This Old Course go to
golfplus.cnnsi.com.