DAVIDSON, N.C. – When River Run Country Club signed on to become host venue of the Chiquita Classic, club officials pledged to provide players with the best putting surfaces on the Web.com Tour.
Mother Nature made sure they’d have to work for it.
An abnormally wet summer in the Carolinas included a record storm that flooded the course in late June, leaving grounds crews racing the clock to get River Run’s new Bermudagrass greens ready in time for the second event of the Web.com Tour Finals.
“It was never-ending. We just couldn’t catch a break,” said Ron Ritchie, the club’s director of grounds and greens. Despite repeated washouts in recovering from the aerification process, the greens achieved tour quality two weeks ago and have received positive reviews from players.
“Perfect surface,” said Trevor Immelman, winner of last week’s Hotel Fitness Championship as the Finals made its debut. “The greens are very tricky, but if you can control your distance and keep it on the right [tier], you’ll have some shots at birdie.”
It didn’t come easily.
It was not quite a year ago that River Run replaced its bentgrass greens with Champion Ultra Dwarf Bermuda, a newer strain better suited for summer heat in the Carolinas. “I think it’s superior to any bentgrass surface I’ve ever played,” Ritchie said.
But Charlotte’s northern reaches have taken on nearly 48 inches of precipitation in 2013, 7 more than the area typically gets for an entire year. During one summer stretch, rain fell on 46 of 62 days.
More than 5 1/2 inches of rain fell in a 90-minute period on June 28 – a 500-year storm that overflowed the creeks that wind through River Run and sent water rushing onto the fairways and greens.
“The results were devastating,” Ritchie said, noting that three greens were left with silt buildup and more than a dozen bunkers had to be completely rebuilt, down to replacing contaminated pipe.
One club member reported seeing fish in one bunker that had turned into a small pond. The course’s irrigation system was disabled for more than a week because floodwaters had overwhelmed the intake structure at its feeder lake.
The storm came right before the greens were scheduled for aerification, setting back the procedure more than a week. The delay itself would have been inconsequential except that subsequent storms kept washing away applications of topdressing.
“Every time we would topdress,” Ritchie said, “within 12 hours we’d get a thunderstorm that washed the sand out. It was just a tremendous run of bad luck.”
The washouts also caused the greens to be fertilized unevenly, as fertilizer in the topdressing would find its way from the top levels of River Run’s multitiered greens to collection areas at the bottom. It wasn’t until mid-August that most surfaces were uniform.
“My crew’s done a tremendous job through this process, trying to overcome everything that Mother Nature threw at us,” Ritchie said, noting that his workers have averaged nearly 70 hours a week since the megastorm.
After all that summer rain, mild weather dominates the Chiquita Classic forecast with highs in the mid-80s and only a slight chance of precipitation. “We’re very happy about that,” Ritchie said.