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Chattahoochee setting a new course
Golfers embrace city's reborn layout
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Three times a week, Larry Cohan can be found teeing off at the Chattahoochee Golf Course.

Cohan, an avid golfer for 30 years, began playing the course almost four years ago when he moved to Gainesville.

But the course is much different today than when he first stepped onto the greens.

"The greens are vastly different," Cohan said. "There aren't any water hazards anymore ... the fairways were improved."

Those are only some of the changes made after the city spent nearly $3 million renovating the 50-year-old north Gainesville course to make it more competitive and profitable.

John Williams, chairman of the course's advisory committee, said the project was a collaborative effort.

In addition to the committee and architects, a countless number of golfers also were consulted about changes they would like to see.

"We really are pleased with how it turned out," Williams said. "We think for the amount of money we had to spend, we got a lot done that we wanted to get done."

Course Crafters and architect Kevin Hargrave teamed up in January 2006 to renovate the classic Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed layout.

The course reopened one year later. Now it's back in full swing.

Time for change

The Chattahoochee Golf Course was formerly located in Longwood Park, across from Gainesville High School.

When the lake was flooded, Director Mark Bowen said the land the course is on now was sold to the city for $53,000. The course has offered 18 holes since 1960.

No changes had been made since then, and Bowen said it was time to make some upgrades.

"What drove the renovation was greens (aeratiion," he said.

The grass at the golf course must be aerated twice a year. Each time, it takes about eight weeks to "heal."

Numerous tournaments are played in the spring, but the condition of the grass was hurting participation.

Now, Bowen said, "Every tournament we've had this year has grown."

The course's drainage system also needed a major overhaul. The greens were originally built for Bermuda grass, which thrives in warm weather. That type of grass has a clay base, which holds moisture.

When the greens were changed to bent grass, which makes for a smoother putting surface, the clay base presented problems.

"It was harder to maintain the greens because the root system wasn't healthy," Bowen said. "I don't know if they would have made it through this summer."

The new greens will weather more play because the base underneath the bent grass has been changed from clay to sand and peat moss, a blend that means stronger roots and less "healing" time after the twice-a-year aeration.

'It's definitely improved'

Other noticeable changes: The course layout was flipped. Every sand trap was redone. The cart path went from asphalt to concrete.

The course sports new greens and bunkers, clearer sight lines on holes and some redesigned holes.

Other changes pad the distance between holes, tees and fairways, adding space between players and shots.

As Bowen drove around the course on Thursday, he pointed out the various changes.

"When it would rain this used to just fill up like a quagmire," he said, pointing to what is now the concrete golf cart path.

The new drainage system has yet to be tested, though, since there hasn't been much rain.

A lot of dirt was moved at holes Nos. 7 and 8, which used to be 15 and 16.

About 25 percent of all the dirt moved came from the one spot alone, Bowen said.

"It was just very difficult to play," he said. "It's a lot flatter up there now."

Cohan agreed. With the old course layout, he said, the fairways were slightly sloped, many times causing the ball to roll off.

"You couldn't get the ball to stay on the green," Cohan said. Now, "I think it's definitely improved."

The grass itself has also been improved.

The golf course used to have Penncross bent grass, which has fewer blades per square inch. With that type of grass, "The ball wouldn't roll as smooth," Bowen said.

Now the course is made of Dominant Southern bent grass, which is more drought tolerant and not affected by winter weather.

"It's a lot better putting surface," Bowen said.

Cohan said that to some extent people's golf games have likely improved as a result of the renovation. He said he is pleased with how it turned out.

"I enjoy it very much," he said. "I just love it."

Growing green

Bowen has gotten a lot of feedback since the course reopened.

While most of it has been positive, he said there are some people who are unsure of the new course.

"You can't please everyone," he said. "Some people just don't like change."

Williams said play has been on the rise since the course reopened.

"By and large, comments we've heard from people are that they really like the layout, what was done," he said.

Williams said they have to remind people that a golf course must go through a grow-in phase the first year after opening.

"We did that under the absolutely worst of conditions," he said.

Williams said the course had a good grow-in, despite summer temperatures approaching 100 degrees for days on end and very little rain.

"The golf course as they now see it is not the way it's going to look next year," he said, adding that greens will continue to improve each year for about four years before they finally mature.

When deciding to renovate the course, Williams said part of the reason for pursuing the changes was not just for today's golfers but for future generations as well.

"Young people are hitting (the ball) further than they used to," he said. "With the new golf balls and golf equipment, it threatens to make golf courses obsolete if they don't keep up with the times."

Over the next few years, Williams said Chattahoochee Golf Course will be out in front as far as leading the way in golfing trends.

"We're very pleased with it," he said.

In recognition of everyone involved with the course's renovation, the advisory committee and staff are holding an event from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday. Light hors d'oeuvres and refreshments will be served.

There will be a team putting contest, "Big Break Skills" challenge, hole-in-one contest and a long putt challenge, all for prizes.

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