Edward Smith">

From left, Superintendent Dario Olivares and Director of Golf Operations Tommy Masters with San Joaquin Country Club discuss the course's recent remodel. Photo by Edward Smith

published on October 7, 2020 - 1:50 PM
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A plan 30 years in the making to revitalize a local golf course was made possible in the year of a pandemic and completed just as golfers have not only been itching to get out on the course, but are also allowed to do so.

Seed has been sewn and sod has been laid at San Joaquin Country Club in north Fresno to modernize the 200-acre course along the San Joaquin River.

The $2 million renovation relocated and redesigned bunkers, expanded irrigation and drainage and completely reimagined a number of holes, allowing the grass to be healthy well into the future.

San Joaquin opened in 1961, and by the late ‘80s, talk had been going around about the desire to redo the golf course, said Tommy Masters, director of golf operations for the country club.

The timing was never right. It wasn’t until the mid-2010s that serious talk began and the supervising board authorized the work.

They went through six companies before contracting with Integrity Golf based out of Temecula, California, which has done work on the famed Pebble Beach course.

From July to August, the construction company laid thousands of yards of sod and dug up bunkers. They completely redid greens on the fourth, 10th and 18th holes to meet standards created by the United States Golf Association. The USGA has recommendations for best practices in maintaining a course.

Before science of drainage and proper care was applied in constructing a golf course, a green would be built by piling up dirt to create a hill, said Masters. This became less than ideal as years of watering would sink the ground or cause it to shrink.

“All the greens that didn’t have drainage didn’t have the foundation that was sustainable over a long period of time,” said Masters.

Now, greens are built atop gravel and sand to allow excess water to permeate through the ground and escape.

A subsurface air system allows the superintendent to blow air through the ground, relieving the grass of lingering heat beneath the surface, which helps the bentgrass species used on the green to flourish in Fresno’s oppressive heat.

“It’s one of the hardest areas in North America to grow bentgrass greens in the summer time,” said Masters.

Because of the course’s proximity to the river, each hole has to be treated differently. Holes closer to the bluff sit atop Fresno’s famous hardpan. Closer to the river, such as the first few holes, the grass sits on sandier soil where it’s much easier to grow turf, Masters says.

For players, a healthier green means more consistent play. A healthier green also means more options for hole placement.

Every day, course superintendents will relocate the holes.

When a green has limited areas where a cup can be placed, the same location has to be used repeatedly throughout the years. This can be stressful for the green, said Masters.

Having better drainage means more options as the years pass.

Bunkers throughout the course were also replaced. Much like the greens, course builders in the past merely piled sand into pits.

So when it would rain or they would irrigate, water would run into the bunker and have nowhere to go, contaminating the soil around and beneath it.

Builders ran sump pumps through the bunkers and liners of porous concrete were installed to allow water to drain.

This means all the bunkers are going to be consistent and play the same, said Masters.

Now that construction is completed, it’s just a matter of letting new grass grow into itself. Players will be able to play through the entire course by mid-November, just in time for cooler weather, said Masters. For now, golfers are just bypassing certain holes.

Golf course superintendent Dario Olivares said the work will carry the course well into the future. He has worked at several courses and loves San Joaquin. The course is now playable, but when spring comes, everything will be settled.

“Next season, everything is going to take shape,” Olivares said.

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