Firm fairways. Fast greens.
That's what modern golfers expect from their golfing experience, according to top golf course agronomist Nelson Caron. The No. 1 request the director of golf course maintenance at the Ford Plantation Club hears when he chats with members: They want a course where the ball rolls firm and fast, particularly on the putting greens.
"When we wake up every morning and get to the golf course, that's some of the first pieces of data we're looking at," Caron said. "What was the firmness reading the evening before? What was our moisture level the evening before? And how do you make the adjustments agronomically for that day's play?"
A graduate of North Carolina State's agronomy department with over 20 years experience in golf course management, Caron has been at Ford Plantation since 2008. He's assisted with course preparation at the Masters since 2010.
And he was Ford Plantation's point person when noted golf architect Pete Dye was called in to assess why the course southwest of Savannah was having so much trouble with drainage. Eventually, Dye and his team decided to redesign the course, a project that was completed this fall.
"The project started as an infrastructure rebuild," Caron said. "On Mr. Dye's first two visits in 2009, we didn't discuss golf course design. We discussed how we were going to rebuild the infrastructure at a reasonable cost and achieve firm and fast conditions.
"Seepage drainage allowed us to firm the place up. We have an incredibly high water table at Ford Plantation, because it's the Low Country. We have water moving laterally through the soils, so we had to intercept it."
Caron said with the new drainage, Ford Plantation can withstand an eight-inch rainfall over a 24-hour period without flooding. That's a good thing, since the Savannah area averages close to 56 inches of rainfall a year.
COURSE REVIEW: Ford Plantation, Savannah, Ga.
And the benefit to the golf members? Drier conditions mean firmer fairways. Caron said 70 acres of Celebration Bermuda grass sprigs were brought in this spring and summer -- and with water and nutrients from the soil -- the fairways were ready for play in less than two months.
In addition, Dye also created putting greens at Ford Plantation that can be made fast without sacrificing the integrity of the turf. Unlike many southern courses that wilt under the intense summer heat, Ford Plantation won't require cooling fans.
"These greens at Ford Planatation are built for speed, pitched anywhere from 12 to 14 inches from back to front," Caron said. "And most of the undulations are introduced from the sides. So that allows golf course maintenance to get the greens fast and achieve the firmness expectations, to achieve the speed and still have a challenging course that club members can play."