Right On Track As the clock runs down, the Florida project chugs nicely toward completion

August 26, 2001

There are two ways to follow the progress of the University of
Florida Golf Course renovation. You can stand on the freshly
poured concrete apron in front of the clubhouse and look out over
the 105-acre site, which is starting to look like a golf course
again. Or you can go to the construction trailer, kick the mud
off your shoes and ask for a copy of the weekly progress report.
This report, prepared by project manager Tom Weber of MacCurrach
Golf, is a simple timeline with all the construction stages
listed in a column: drainage, irrigation, cart paths, grassing,
etc. The projected schedule for each task is represented by a
white box on a gray background. As work proceeds, each box gets
shaded in according to how much has been accomplished (e.g.,
"cart path construction, 34%"). These shaded boxes, arranged on
the page, resemble strings of railroad cars in a freight yard.
Hence the term "construction train"--used by golf architects and
contractors to describe the sequential progress of construction.
"The train is a series of cars," Weber says, looking at his
report for the latest week. "I don't know if it has an engine,
but from this schedule you can see where we are and where we're

The train is a curious metaphor, in that some cars reach their
destination before others pull out of the station. Rototilling
was completed weeks ago, but the grassing of greens and fairways
has not yet begun. Earthwork and the clearing of trees is 95%
complete, but architect Bobby Weed still has four greens to shape
before the drain-tile crew can finish. Weber ticks off more
items: bunker construction, tee construction, cleanup and finish
work. "Eighteen loads of TifSport sod are coming next week," he
says, "so the plugging crew can start grassing the fairways. The
first planting of the greens is scheduled for two weeks from now,
but I think I can beat that...." Clack, clackety-clack,

On paper the train moves from left to right and from May to
September. On the ground it chugs from east to west, heading for
a terminus in the northwest corner of the property. The
directionality is a function of infrastructure. No hole can be
grassed until it can be watered, and the course's new pump
station is in the southeast corner, next to the retention pond.
It makes sense, then, to follow the irrigation contractor, who
installs and hooks up the pipes closest to the pump before moving
on to the periphery. Another factor is the location of the
staging area, the place where vehicles are parked and materials
stored. To avoid damaging completed work, contractors like to
work toward that point. Here, the staging area is in the
northwest corner of the site, where a new maintenance shed is
being built. At job's end Weber and his people will load up their
stuff and pull right out onto 34th Street.

"We try to stay a couple of seconds ahead of the construction
train," says Scot Sherman, associate designer for Weed Golf
Course Design. "We're running down the tracks in front of the
engine, and we don't dare slow down or everything will stop."

There is a genuine urgency, in other words, about every design
decision, no matter how mundane. That's why Sherman keeps walking
behind one of the four teeing grounds on the 1st hole, where a
worker on a small tractor is grading the tee with the aid of a
Topcon laser level. "Gosh, I hope this tee is square," Sherman
says, making sure the two little pin flags centered in the front
and back of the tee line up with the white pole in the center of
the fairway, 850 feet away. "You wouldn't think that rectangular
tees would be that hard, but they're a real challenge."

What makes these tees tricky is the fact that they are staggered
from back to front, like 400-meter runners in the lanes of a
track. The forward tees must be rotated slightly; otherwise they
will point toward the right rough. "With free-form tees you don't
have this problem, but we want this course to look decidedly
old," Sherman says. He shakes his head. "I keep measuring it.
I've got to believe it's right." Clackety-clack, clack....

A few hundred yards away Weed looks pensive as he watches workers
lay sod on the banks of the 8th green. "Saddest day of the job,
right here," he says. "I can't tinker any more." Up the hill, by
the clubhouse, backhoe operator Martin Rosas excavates a bunker
behind the 9th green while summer intern Ben Taylor uses a shovel
and a rake to shape a "knobbie" between the sand and the putting
surface. "This is something you won't notice until you have to
play a little bunker shot to a pin on this side of the green,"
Taylor says. "This will make it very difficult."

Weed, in the meantime, has driven a cart up to the 8th tee
complex, where he finds things not to his liking. From the
championship tee he can't see the water hazard in front of the
green; one of the intermediate tee boxes is either too high or
too long. "You need to take that 3rd tee down as much as
possible," he tells Weber. "I don't like that at all." Clack,

To see where the train is going, you have to step back and find
high ground. On this hot summer afternoon the view from the
clubhouse is dynamic. Collars of bermuda grass call attention to
greens and tees that were indiscernible a week ago. White-sand
bunkers stand out like stars in a night sky. The big earthmoving
machines are off to the east, their engines a faint rumble as
they shape the 11th and 15th holes. "The train is fully extended
now," says Sherman. "As we pull into the station, the engine will
stop and all the cars will come in. We might be fully grassed in
eight weeks."

In the old song you can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.
There's no whistle on this train, but make no mistake--we're
getting somewhere.

Will the University of Florida Golf Course be a gem in 2002 and a
joke in 2012? In the next installment of This Old Course, the
architects ask hard questions about oversized drivers,
long-flying golf balls and the historic tension between course
designers and equipment makers.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG With the heavy lifting mostly done, it was time for finishing touches like laying out the tees. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG The progress report produced by Weber (right) looks like a train. "From it," he says, "you can see where we are and where we're going." COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG

Damage Control

When members of the University of Florida Golf Course
greenkeeping crew arrived at work on Saturday morning, Aug. 11,
they discovered that someone had left donuts--not the sugary kind,
unfortunately, but the drive-in-a-circle kind favored by golf
course vandals. Tire tracks marred the 9th green and the new
putting clock (left), both of which had been sprigged with
Tifdwarf bermuda grass only two weeks before, and thoroughly
chewed up a sand bunker.

"Kids having fun," says project manager Tom Weber, downplaying
the possibility that antigolf activists were behind the raid. "It
stinks, it gets people upset, but in this case the damage is
minimal." So minimal, in fact, that light raking and a rerolling
of the affected surfaces had everything back to normal in a
couple of days. "We're now blocking the construction entrance
with a forklift when we leave at night," Weber says, "and we'll
park tractors in the clubhouse driveway so no one can drive on
the course." Still under consideration: giving the night-watchman
assignment to the alligator that roams the course after dark.

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