Ultra Dwarf replaces bentgrass greens
HOOVER – Ross Bridge, the flagship course of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, is on schedule to reopen in October, trail officials said recently
Mike Beverly, president of SunBelt Golf which oversees the trail, said the renovation process has gone smoothly and everything points to a mid-October opening.
“We got all of the greens sprigged by the first of June and they are growing in well,” he said.
Ross Bridge has been closed since September 2022 after a misapplication of a chemical killed most of the greens. When it reopens later this year, golfers will notice a variety of changes to the course instead of just new putting surfaces.
With the course closed, trail officials took the opportunity to do a full re-do the course was nearing anyway. The bentgrass greens were getting close to the end of their lifecycle, and with a refresh coming in a couple years, Beverly said the decision was made to do it now instead of just redoing the greens now and then closing for a more extensive renovation in a couple of years.
“The putting surfaces are going to be fantastic,” Beverly said. “Just going to ultra dwarf [Bermuda], getting out of that bentgrass business. In 97-degree weather and 75 percent humidity your root system shrinks every summer and they get soft and explosive when you hit a shot in. We’ll be able to provide a fast, firm surface.”
With greens that average 10,000 square feet and not nearly as much slope as many of the RTJ Golf Trail greens, Beverly said they hope faster green speeds will become a signature for Ross Bridge.
Ross Bridge closure allowed for major improvements
Many of the changes were made to make the course more player friendly and redoing the greens was just a portion of the work being done at Ross Bridge. Changes have been made to a number of holes, bunkers have redone and some cart paths have been moved closer to greens to alleviate what many considered to be tough walks to and from the paths. Tree work also was done.
The elevated 10th green was dropped down and moved so players now have an option of hitting a run-up shot to one side of the green.
“I think we made it a better hole,” Beverly said. “But we always try to do that. I mean, you got to think you can make it more player friendly and still make it a challenge and a better hole.”
Another change was made on No. 14, a par 3. The green sat in the water with a ravine surrounding it. From behind the green water drained into bunkers. and onto the green off a steep slope. That green has been dropped about six to eight feet and the cart path is now level with it. A rock wall was built all the way around the green and a ribbon bunker was also built.
Beverly said that hole, along with No 18, could become the signature holes for Ross Bridge.
No. 18 now has a split fairway
On No. 18, Two bunkers down the right side of the fairway have been removed and a pair of centerline bunkers have been added, making it a split fairway giving players and option off the tee. what once was a 65-yard-wide fairway now is 30 to 35 yards wide on either side.
The shorter route brings water into play, but grading work will eliminate much of the fairway slope toward the water. Beverly said the those who play from the forward tees will have a nice angle down the left side of the fairway, while players from the back tees will have a good look down the alley to the right.
“It really makes it a good hole from there,” he said, noting there will be an option to play around the lake if “a 160-yard forced carry isn’t in your arsenal.”
“You might have to play up 80 yards from the green and we’re giving them a place to do that where they can get a wedge in their hands for their third shot,” Beverly said.
Beverly said there will be some changes to the approach on the first hole to make it a little more player-friendly and speed up play early in the round, but exactly what the changes will be made remain to be finalized.
Some bunkers made smaller, shallower
Ross Bridge has also undergone extensive bunker work. Some bunkers were made smaller and others were lifted to make them more shallower so that they will be easier to play from. Beverly said in some instances bunkers were 10 feet deep and players could barely see the top of the flagstick.
The changes are a collaboration between consultant Clyde Johnston, RTJ Golf Trail President John Cannon and Sunbelt Corporate of Facilities Maintenance Vice President Ricky Huey.
Johnston has been involved in other Trail renovations at Magnolia Grove, Lakewood, Grand National and Oxmoor Valley.
“He’s great to work with because he listens to us but ,obviously, we rely on him. He’s the expert,” Beverly said. “We get out there and we talk through things as a group and Clyde brings plans to the table and then we talk them through. It’s great process for us and I think they make a good team.”
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
Featured image of the practice green at Ross Bridge by Gregg Dewalt