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Sweetgrass Golf Club at the Island Resort & Casino - Part 3

By: Paul Albanese


In the previous journal entries, we've taken Sweetgrass Golf Club from the initial walk-through to early schematics and implementation of the master plan. Because this golf course and the Island Resort & Casino are both owned and operated by the Hannahville Indian Community - a band of the Potawatomi Nation, we've also incorporated aspects of their proud culture and tribal legends. It's been a unique and interesting project from the beginning, but as winter quickly approaches in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, our time on the property will be limited.

In this journal entry, I'd like to touch upon construction drawings and construction management, as well as a few objectives we address over the winter months.

Once we have developed the detailed design of each hole, we create a set of drawings that allow for the construction to progress in a cost-effective and timely fashion. Every day we're on the course affects the budget, so having a detailed set of designs and a plan of attack not only assists in providing the best layout but keeps us on our desired schedule.

We want to make sure the entire site is protected against erosion and the environmentally sensitive areas are not adversely affected. This is where our site preparation plan comes into play. Silt fences and straw bales are strategically positioned across the property.

Once the course is protected, our staking plan is put into place. We use a Global Positioning System to map out all the key coordinates for greens, tees and landing areas. The advent of GPS has made this a much easier and more accurate practice than in years past.

The grading plan makes sure all the dirt on the site balances. At Sweetgrass, this was done in conjunction with other projects related to the casino and proved to be a very cost-effective decision.

The seeding plan was an interesting process of combining various grasses that would work together agronomically and aesthetically. Sweetgrass Golf Club is a combination of bentgrasses, bluegrasses and fescues. We worked very hard with Jacklin Seed to ensure a mixture of secondary roughs (fescues) that would create a wonderful aesthetic, while being playable. The key concept: wispy. Golfers need to be able to see and find the ball in the fescues.

Across the country, golf course architects and superintendents are searching for the most judicious use of water. Our irrigation plan collects and reuses water from the casino. Using recycled water is one of the key aspects in developing and maintaining an environmentally friendly golf course.

Construction Management

We spend a lot of time in the field with construction management and shapers to ensure the forms of the features meet the objectives delineated in the design development drawings. We want to make sure the features being created have the impact - whether subtle or bold - that was intended.

Aesthetically speaking, we use fine brush strokes in the field. This is what raises the level of a golf course from good to great. A lot of time is spent in the field during construction. The fine brush strokes are the parts of the design that are very hard, if not impossible, to put on paper and need to be done in the field.

Our goal, on all our projects, is to do our homework on paper, where we create the big gestures - the routing, the larger landscape and golf features, position of greens and tees, etc. By doing this work on paper it frees us up in the field to concentrate on the finer details. We believe our job is to attend to the big picture as well as the details. Some of these would be:

* Subtle slopes on the greens;
*Approaches and re-approaches - where exactly to put the bentgrass/bluegrass/secondary rough lines. I have personally staked out the seeding lines of every course I have done;
* Grassing lines of fairways and roughs. As golfers, we know it's not ideal to be in the high stuff by just a foot, so these details matter; and
* Sand lines in the bunkers. Moving a sand line or cutting a small amount of earth in order to better see a feature could be the difference between a nice composition and a visually memorable one.

Returning to the concept of sustainable design discussed in the previous journal entries, we utilized a lot of the natural materials on the site. There was a lot of ledge rock so, instead of burying this, we used these rocks around the course to enhance the beauty; for erosion control around creeks and ponds; and to create dramatic waterfalls.

In summary, this needs to take place both on paper and in the field. This is the best way to create a high-quality course at a reasonable cost.

Once the snow begins to fall our time on the course is very limited. Much of what we do is tied to details such as scheduling, picking out furniture for the course and accessories, such as the type of yardage markers used. This can give a course a special feeling. Details of the accessories need to match the overall concept. For example, we try to use similar rock to that being used on site - not imported stuff.

We work with the superintendent on staffing and how the details of the course should be maintained once the course is growing and ready to be opened, such as lengths of cut for greens, tees and fairways.

Over the winter months, we'll do a lot of the final as-builts, which dovetail into the yardage books. I will also write "architect's tips" for inclusion with the yardage book.

We'll pick up on our Sweetgrass Golf Club journal entries again in the spring. Once the snow begins to melt we'll see where we stand as we make the final push to a summer 2008 grand opening.

About the Architect

Paul Albanese is a principal of Albanese & Lutzke, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and Director of Golf Course Architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. He has worked previously on such notable projects as Timberstone in Iron Mountain, Mich., Mill Creek in Rochester, N.Y., Moose Ridge in South Lyon, Mich., Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville, N.Y, Tam-O-Shanter Country Club in West Bloomfield, Mich., and Traditions Golf Club in Edmond, Okla. For more information about Albanese & Lutzke, call 734/667-5150 or visit www.golf-designs.com.