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Renovating the Muni Golf Course

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The golfers teeing off at the Wilmington Municipal Golf Course on Sunday, April 27, were the last to play the Muni the way it was for nearly 90 years.

The next day the west side of the course was closed for the beginning of a $1.2 million overhaul of the course’s greens, approach areas, fairway bunkers and practice putting green.

Renovation project architect John Fought said April 23 while this is one of the smallest projects he has worked on, he found it to be one of the most important for the community.

“I grew up on a public golf course and these municipally owned golf courses are such an integral part of the community for everyone,” Fought said.

Traveling from Scottsdale, Ariz., to work on the project was not difficult for Fought because of his love for Donald Ross-designed courses. However, when Fought was completing his preliminary walk through of the course he noticed something about the Muni was slightly different than what Ross had intended when he built the course in 1926.

“When I walked around it I was looking at the greens … and after about six holes I thought, these don’t look like Ross greens,” he said. “When courses were built in sand like this one, Ross would just build sand greens to start out. These were never redone, they have always been sand, and if you look at the size of these greens today they correspond more to what was the standard back then.”

Fought said Ross’ crews would later come back and build the greens how they were intended once the course could afford it. Irrigation also was not heavily used on golf courses until after Ross’ death in 1948. Fought said the new Muni greens would combine Ross’ original vision with a modern irrigation system.

“Our job is to try to take his plan and build it as close to the way he would have completed it with modern irrigation and some minor changes,” Fought said.

In addition to new irrigation, the greens will be resurfaced with MiniVerde Bermudagrass, enlarged and some even moved slightly to take advantage of empty course spaces or to move away from large trees or homes. One example Fought mentioned was hole No. 3 green would move slightly away from the homes and large oak trees that border the green’s back and right side.

One reason for moving some of the greens is to expose them to more sunlight. Bermuda grasses need 30 percent more sunlight, Fought said. Having a high tolerance to sunlight and wear and tear was one of the primary reasons for using that grass, he said.

Fought said Muni head professional Dave Donovan’s enthusiasm sold him on taking the project.

“These guys understand that it is a historic, important place,” Fought said. “It starts at the top and David is a good leader and really interested in what is going on here in this community. A lot of golf pros don’t care but David does and so I really got excited then because I saw they realized what they had and they wanted to do something better.”

The entire renovation project will be paid for by greens fee increases for the next two fiscal years. The fees will increase by 35 percent in fiscal year 2015 and an additional 10 percent in 2016. After that those fees will remain the same to pay for the additional renovation maintenance.

While the west side of the course is under renovation the city plans to keep the east side open for a few weeks to make a nine-hole course with a discounted playing rate.

The entire project is expected to take just less than three months and the course is scheduled to reopen in September 2014.

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