We’re at the halfway point in the project. Now’s a good time to take a step back, and explain some of the things that were happening, behind the scenes, during construction. Mostly, regarding Midland’s staff:
- First, we were exhausted. The adrenaline of such an exciting project had worn off by this point, and we realized that with all of the work that had been done, we were only half way. My full-time staff had been working ~70 hours a week for over 5 weeks, and the stresses of being away from home were starting to take its toll. The stresses of being around your co-workers for that amount of time were starting to take its toll! Our lead Assistant, Mark Ries, was leading our team to prepare the golf course for play, navigating our labor inputs for the project, and overseeing the contractor irrigation installation. He was mentally gassed. Our other full-time team, Justin Hemauer, Tina Rosenow, and Tait Delahunt were making all of our critical plant health applications, keeping our irrigation system functioning, watering turf non-stop, and eating 3 meals a day at the club. Our seasonal staff was not used to this level of intense manual labor. Spending most days crawling around on their knees, lifting heavy sod up and down, while treating it like it was a fragile egg, had worn them down. And this was after they had gotten done mowing and preparing the course for play. Were we having fun at this point? I wasn’t confident. We were trying to keep moral up, doing BBQ’s every Monday, giving out new gear, gift cards, and a ton of constant thanking, but this was probably more than they ever imagined, or legitimately signed up for, for a “seasonal Greenkeeper job.” We needed to rally on the back nine, but we were losing all of our high school and college labor, which was a bit demoralizing, since it was our youngest and strongest legs and backs. Worst case scenario was that whatever wasn’t finished in the Fall, would have to be completed in the Spring, nothing was life or death.
- Covid-19. This was a daily, hold your breath, and hope for the best, exercise. Every morning, our socially-distanced, staff meeting would start at 6:00am sharp, and every morning I would come in and expect to see someone on our team (or the contractor’s team), not at the meeting, setting off a domino-effect quarantine process that would completely derail the project. At peak, there was just shy of 70 people working on property at once. Coming up with a Plan B if we had a breakout within the group, resulted in saying everything is shut down for 2 weeks, and we come back and try to make up for lost time that we didn’t have. At the halfway point, we hadn’t had a case of Covid, but were constantly reminded that the threat was there. Working outdoors was a huge advantage, but keeping everyone smart, and safe, was a constant goal.
- The weather was our greatest ally, and our worst enemy at the same time. It was so dry and warm into September, that for the last 2-4 hours of the day, there were up to 6 of us watering acres and acres of sod by hand. If you can imagine all of the steep bunker faces, tee and green surround sod, shedding water quickly, it was a constant battle to keep the soils wet, with many areas needing to be watered multiple times per day. This was the biggest grind mentally, knowing that given the dry weather, and sod not wanting to root because of the heat, we were keeping it all alive on life support. Then there were the billions of baby seedlings on the fairway and approach expansions that needed constant attention. No days off. But the weather was about to cool down, the sun losing its intensity, and the days would be getting shorter. It couldn’t come soon enough. We desperately needed that reprieve, and we all knew it. Growing in fine turf by seed takes constant attention, no disturbance/traffic, and continual inputs, to push maturity. We needed to push maturity hard in such a tight window, as once the change in weather came, there would be less stresses on it, but the turf maturity would begin to slow down rapidly. At this point we knew we had made the right choice to start the fairway expansion conversion process earlier than when the project “officially” began. It was paying off.
- We knew we were making incredible progress, without much for weather delays. Our construction schedule was so tight, that there wasn’t room for loss of time, and at this point we had only lost a total of 3 days, which was amazing given normal average rainfalls. We were racing the on-set of winter, which is different every year, and creating a hard, construction timeline, was pointless. Our progress was based on what the weather gave us. But we were also becoming highly skilled, and incredibly efficient, in our processes. The architect, shapers, construction contractor divisions, subcontractors, and our staff, had all found our grooves, so very little time was lost to making sure everyone needed constant roll communications. There were essentially 3 large trains involved in the process. The demolition/preparation train. The shaping/construction train. And the restoration train. This simplifies it more than it actually was, but getting all of the trains to travel together, at the same speed, to arrive at each station (each hole), without getting too far, or behind, one another, was extremely difficult. By the back nine, our confidence was increasing by the day. We just needed to be reminded of it daily.
- We were on budget! With a design-build project, there are no construction documents. Imagine building a house with no construction documents. This technique of golf course renovation work makes it difficult to budget precisely, but it promotes using someone’s full artistic skills, to work with what the land gives you once shaping begins. Without giving our contractor, Hartman Construction, construction documents to bid from, we had to spend weeks of time together in the 12 months++ prior, to work through every step of the project as best we could, using Tom West’s experience and knowledge of our property, and current design, with what I had interpreted from Jim Urbina’s vision of an end product. All of those hours of preparation and planning were paying off. Tom West didn’t spend much time on site once the project started, but he may have had the most important impact of connecting endless dots to create as precise of a budget as possible. The shapers, Zach Varty, and especially Joe Hancock, having worked with Jim before on other Raynor design-build projects, was paying off, with their experience of building something that Jim envisioned without having many “change-orders” needed. I had been most nervous about the budget, since it was my first time leading a design-build project, and even at the halfway point, and being close to budget, it was still the part of the project I was most nervous about.
The halfway mark of the project made us realize we had to stand on the fact that we had learned how to morph into a golf course construction team, in a short period of time, with no background experience. We hadn’t made any major mistakes, yet, and we were actually getting better at it. Every time Jim Urbina made a site-progress visit, he was more and more amazed at the quality of work our staff was producing. We had to get everyone on our staff to buy into that, not think about how much work was left, but take pride in how much was already accomplished, and accomplished at the highest level of quality control. At this point, we had to think nothing could stop us. At this point, I already knew that we had a great group of individuals, but now I knew that they were amazingly talented, adaptable, and driven to be successful, to make this project a success through ownership. At this point, they owned it.
- Below is an aerial taken in 2018, and below it, an aerial taken at about the halfway point of the project. Take some time, zoom in, and look at each feature to see how it’s changed. With the second aerial, we had not started demolition work on 12, 13, 14, and 16 greens. The front nine is close to completion, minus sodding out the beginnings of the new fairways, removing the 4th fairway, and a few rough areas being converted and planted to Fescue.