March 18, 2014

Improving your lie

Indian Trace course undergoes a facelift

CHATSWORTH — In the fall of last year, Indian Trace Golf Course brought in new course superintendent with a mission.

The course, which is in north Murray County and more than 25 years old, doesn’t need to be totally redesigned, but some changes have been needed.

Now, as the spring golf season is close to hitting, players at Indian Trace will begin to notice more and more of those changes as more and more people return to the links with the warmer weather.

Sam Houston, who has worked at some of the top courses in the state, was brought in as the course superintendent in October, coming from Governor’s Towne Club — a Curtis Strange designed course that opened in 2004. He has previously worked at Scales Country Club near Commerce from 2006-12 and before that he was at Chestatee Golf Club from 2000-06. Originally from Lenoir, N.C., Houston started his career at the Golf Club of Georgia in 1994.

Now, he takes over Indian Trace and saw potential the first time he laid eyes on the course.

“When I got here, I saw everything that you could do with the course,” Houston said. “I am so grateful to all of the people who have given me this opportunity, and I wanted to see what more I could do. I have seen just about every aspect of course maintenance and a lot of it comes from the quality of the work and working with what you have. You have to know what the limitations are, but you want to get the most out of what you have.”

Course pro and manager Tracy Spurlock said last year’s rainy weather wasn’t nearly as good for the course as it was in helping the state’s rainfall totals. Spurlock said many playable days were lost as the low-level back nine stretch of holes 12, 13, 16 and 17 that were at times under water from the drainage and water run-off from the area.

“We struggled last year and we are doing what we need to do to make the course better for us, better for maintaining it and better for the golfers,” Spurlock said. “We got in trouble with all of the rain last year, and it bit us. It was as bad as I can remember. But the changes are paying off. The greens are already so much better than they were a year ago. The course is going to be plush when it greens up in April, and you will be able to see the differences. It is going to get a lot better all over the course.”

Houston said that as the season begins, players will notice a lot of changes already made. Fairways are being cut more precisely to differentiate between fairways and rough. Greens are getting true “collars” of fringe around the putting surface. Also, as the course’s trees, flowers and shrubbery start to bloom, Houston is hoping for an explosion of color on the course.

“The players will notice first of all is the maintaining of the course,” Houston said. “From a maintenance standpoint, you have to give the course the best opportunity to flourish. You can always do more. The greens are responding to what we are doing. The plants are responding to what we are doing.”

While a course redesign isn’t in the works, there will be noticeable changes in the way the course will be played. Spurlock said there are plans to add new tee boxes around the course and set five different tees. Rather than the traditional tees of red and gold (ladies and seniors), white (male golfers) and blue (better male players), Spurlock said having five tee positions will allow players to play to their ability and their handicap without changing the course dynamically.

One of the driving forces behind the tee changes is the weekly two-man select shot league which plays at the course every Tuesday. More than 40 teams are expected to participate in the league, which begins March 25. Spurlock said higher handicap players had a hard time contributing to their teams off of the team.

 “We need to put a few more tees to make the course play to different challenges,” Spurlock said. “You add a few more tee boxes, and you can add variety and you can have players playing to their handicap rather than just having someone tee it up from the whites just because they are a man. We have gentlemen who play from the reds because that is where they need to play from. It isn’t about making the course harder. The course is hard enough as it is.”

The course was built in 1987 with the existing front nine, and the back nine was added in 1990. The layout runs across more than 100 acres of land and currently plays as a par 72 with a length of 6,629 yards from the tips, and Houston sees his job as making the most out of every yard.

“There are always tricks that you can use, and I think I have learned most of them,” Houston said. “My job is to make the staff take pride and do the little things right and to help them understand what we are doing and how it helps the course and the players. We are limited on some things, but what we do will be quality. You will see that in everything from the different cuts of the grass to the overall beautification of the course — quality.”

Spurlock said the changes are going to have a big impact.

“We are looking to shaping the course more, trimming up bad spots, defining the fairways better,” Spurlock said. “We don’t want a different course. We want a different look. People are seeing the changes, and they are liking what they see.”

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