PGA Section helps revive Hartford course

By Tom Yantz
Published on

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Standing on the first tee, with its back border filled with flowers and colorful plants, Mike Summa hit his drive down the middle of the fairway.

He smiled and picked up his tee on a recent sunny weekday afternoon. "I grew up in Wethersfield and learned to play here when I was 10," said Summa, 61. "I've lived in Westport for a while. I hadn't played here in a long time. I'm so happy I came back."

Goodwin Park Golf Course, which has undergone extensive renovations costing the city more than $1 million in the past two years while it has remained open, is coming back, too. At one point, it was estimated that 50 percent to 80 percent of the greens were dead.

Now the place is alive again, with the number of rounds played this year already double what was played in 2014. And the Connecticut Section PGA will conduct its Match Play Championship on the Goodwin Park GC 18-hole south course Tuesday through Thursday. Goodwin Park GC also has a shorter, nine-hole north course.

Connecticut Section PGA Executive Director Tom Hantke said he believes that this is the first Section PGA event at the course, which will celebrate its 110th anniversary next year. Hankte also said that the inaugural Hartford Women's Open for amateurs and professionals is planned for next spring with one round at Goodwin Park GC on the city's south side and one at Keney Park GC on the north side. Keney has been shut down since August 2013 while it undergoes an even more extensive restoration project.

The city of Hartford signed a one-year contract for $150,000 in February 2014, paying the Connecticut Section PGA to be a business consultant at Goodwin and Keney. The city keeps all course profits. The contract later was renewed through 2016.

"As part of our charge, we wanted to help them promote the renaissance of golf in Hartford, after what had happened before," Hankte said.

Goodwin Park GC and Keney Park GC had suffered from considerable negligence by their previous manager, MDM Golf Enterprises LLC of Wallingford. The firm had signed a contract with the city in 2009.

In the fall of 2013, city auditors found horrible conditions at Goodwin. Fertilizers had not been applied to the turf; weeds overtook fairways, tees, greens and bunkers; debris and overgrown brush were not removed.

Keney had a leaking clubhouse roof, cart paths had eroded, bridges and steps were in poor condition, tee boxes and greens were damaged, and fallen limbs could be seen throughout the property. In addition, about 75 more trees than a contract had stipulated (200) had been cut down. Many of the stumps remained -- eyesore reminders of course negligence.

"Many greens were unplayable," said Tom Baptist, Hartford's superintendent of public works. "And at Goodwin, parts of the course were not irrigated because of the failure to maintain the equipment. Other parts of the course [like in front of the 10th green] were flooded because of no repairs of the irrigation equipment."

The city terminated its contract with MDM Golf Enterprises LLC in October 2013. The city filed a lawsuit in June 2014 at Superior Court in Hartford, seeking more than $15,000 in damages, against MDM Golf Enterprises LLC. A court order was granted on Aug. 3 to Zeisler & Zeisler, P.C. to withdraw as counsel for MDM Golf Enterprises LLC. The case is pending.

Attempts to reach MDM were not successful.

After the Connecticut Section PGA came on board, it knew it had a daunting task.

"There wasn't even a mower or a cup-cutter when we got to Goodwin," said Matt Guilmette, who along with his brother Chris are the superintendents for Goodwin Park GC and Keney Park GC.

Patrick Aldridge, Connecticut Section PGA consultant for the City of Hartford Golf Courses, said that 50 percent to 80 percent of the greens on the Goodwin south course were dead. "The worse ones were at 3, 9 and 15," he said.

"Many of the tees were dirt," Chris Guilmette said. "There were a few with some turf, and then weeds and crab grass. Nothing had been mowed since the fall of 2013. It was bad."

It was worse, though, at Keney. Baptist said that trees were growing in some bunkers. It was decided that a massive restoration of the course to its original design was needed.

The city of Hartford hired a design firm, Wisconsin-based Dusenberry Design Inc., to oversee the project. The goal is to restore it to architect Devereux Emmet's original design of 1927. The course is scheduled to reopen in May.

While Keney has been closed to play, the Goodwin south course has remained open with major improvements in the past two years -- greens were aerated; the clubhouse was upgraded; repairs made; fertilizers applied; grass mowed; branches, trees and shrubs removed or trimmed; greens and tees revived; plants, flowers and shrubs planted; debris discarded. The north course, often referred to as "the flat nine," also is open.

"When I first got here last year, I'd rate the course a 1 or 2 out of 10," Goodwin Park GC professional Kevin Cloud said. "Now it's a 7. The greens of the south course can match any public course in the state and are as good as some private clubs."

The top Connecticut Section PGA professionals will test their putting skills here this week. Many birdies are expected to be made. The par-70, tree-lined south course is short by pros' standards, at 6,015 yards. Still, there are some challenging holes, like the 246-yard, par-3 11th.

Paul Godwin, field maintenance supervisor who lives less than a mile away from the course, has seen deer, coyote, osprey, blue herring, fox and snapping turtles during his mowing stints. "The course and everything; there's so much people don't know about here," he said.

"I've played here for 15 years, so I've seen a lot," said Manny Inacio, who lives a few blocks away on Fairfield Avenue. "The greens were so bad; dirt and all burned up. I never thought they'd come back. I was wrong."

Although Baptist said that the city has spent about $1 million, mostly for maintenance equipment, at Goodwin Park GC, the number is about $6 million at Keney Park GC. "All of this is part of reinvigorating the city," he said.

Last year, 10,000 rounds were played at Goodwin, and there were five golf leagues. Cloud said that the numbers this year are 21,000 rounds and 15 leagues. The goal is for 24,000 rounds by the end of the year.

Of course, this number doesn't approach the annual 60,000 or more who flocked to the course in the 1960s and '70s, according to Summa, but the numbers of golfers nationwide has dropped through the years. Still, the numbers this year at Goodwin Park GC are encouraging.

The work is far from done, though. The irrigation system is a top concern because there are fairway and rough areas that have minimal or no turf.

"When I'm out here, the most satisfaction and pride I get is when someone tells me how amazed they are and how much better the course is," Chris Guilmette said. "And then they say, 'Thanks for bringing it back.' "

This article was written by Tom Yantz from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.