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Key West Golf Club’s Front Nine Set to Re-Open


Key West Golf Club on Florida’s southernmost tip is set to re-open its front nine on October 1. That half of the course has been closed after suffering damage and salt water intrusion from Hurricane Wilma last year. The damage forced a project that involved using salt-tolerant Seadwarf Seashore Paspalum turfgrass from Environmental Turf, Inc.

On October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma generated an eight-foot storm surge that flooded the Key West Golf Club with four feet of salt water and inundated the irrigation ponds with ocean water, leaving no source for fresh water.

The course's Tifdwarf Bermudagrass greens were severely damaged. The irrigation water, drawn from lakes on the 100-acre property, was infiltrated with at least 1,500 ppm (parts per million) of salt.

Key West Golf Club's general manager Doug Carter, head pro Eric Favier, and superintendent Koby Minshall called in Dr. Lee Berndt of William Berndt Associates, International Management Consulting, to help with the recovery. Berndt recommended the greens be re-grassed with a salt-tolerant, dwarf variety of seashore paspalum turfgrass, called SeaDwarf.

"Due to the location of Key West, along with its harsh environment, SeaDwarf seashore paspalum is the best grass for Key West Golf Club," Berndt said.

Added Koby Minshall, "Paspalum will tolerate the salty environment in Key West. In the event of a future storm surge or heavy salts in tropical rain storms, the Paspalum will have a good chance of survival."

Renovation of the front nine holes on the course began in June 2006.

Carter said playability of the grass also figured into the decision to re-grass with SeaDwarf. "The grass is very dense and grows very quickly. It seems to have a more vibrant color than the Bermuda grasses and with the proper maintenance practices it may also have less grain."

SeaDwarf seashore paspalum turfgrass is environmentally friendly, requiring up to 50 percent less water and up to 75 percent less fertilizer than Bermudagrass. "The biggest environmental benefit is that it will handle (tolerate) effluent water for irrigation much better than other turf grasses. This will help conserve the fresh water supplies," said Favier. "In the future, especially in South Florida, water conservation is very important and irrigating with reused water will be very important."

Minshall said the new SeaDwarf grass, which can tolerate seawater salt levels, will act almost like an insurance policy against future tropical storms and hurricanes. "SeaDwarf will help us survive future hurricanes because it is more salt-tolerant than Bermudagrass," Minshall said. "Even if there is no storm surge associated with a hurricane, the rain water in tropical systems is high in salt content."

The course will re-open October 1. "Our grow-in time was expected to take 90 days," said Minshall, "and were are excited that the greens are ahead of schedule."

The back nine greens are in excellent shape for play this season, but will be re-grassed with SeaDwarf in June of 2007.

Along with re-grassing the greens, a number of fairways were extensively reworked. New drainage was installed on hole Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 9. On the sixth, the landing area was raised with six inches of fill and sprigged with new 419 Bermuda. Also sprigged were some low-lying rough areas on the sixth with Aloha seashore paspalum.

Key West Golf Club opened in the early 1920s as a nine-hole facility. In the 1950s, another nine holes were added. In 1983, Rees Jones redesigned the current 18. Key West was Rees Jones’ first design with his own firm.

Key West Golf Club is the southernmost golf course in the continental United States. It has been listed as a four star "Places to Play" in Golf Digest Magazine.

The 18-hole public golf course facility is located just minutes from downtown Key West. The daily green fee at Key West ranges from $90-$160 in season and $65-$90 in the off-season. For more information about Key West Golf Club, call 305/294-5232, or visit www.keywestgolf.com.