When you get a glimpse of the remodeled Moraine Country Club golf course from Stroop Road, it appears that golf could be played on it right now.
As you walk on the fairways and greens, you get the same impression. The bent-grass planted over the last few months is lush and a brilliant green.
Except for the grooming that can be handled by the club’s maintenance crew, Moraine’s major renovation has been completed. The contractor’s crew removed its equipment the day before Thanksgiving.
Barring any weird weather next spring, Moraine members will be playing their course next June. It has been closed since early July, but the club members have been able to play 22 courses in central and southwest Ohio this summer as a result of reciprocal agreements that will extend into next spring.
Under the direction of architect Keith Foster, of Middleburg, Va., the Moraine layout has undergone major renovation as Foster sought to return it to the Scottish flavor it had when Nipper Campbell designed it in the 1930s.
The original Moraine course underwent some changes prior to the 1945 PGA Championship and again in 1954 when architect Joe Lee modified a couple of holes while working for architect Dick Wilson on the construction of nearby NCR Country Club.
Foster felt the holes that were not original — numbers 3, 12 and 15 — did not fit in. Using architectural drawings and aerial photos taken during the ‘45 PGA, he re-worked those three holes, restored some bunkers that had been eliminated and re-designed others to direct water away from them.
The project got off to a slow start because of heavy rainfall in June and July, but the workers were able to finish the job because they had favorable weather in the fall.
The plan was to begin at the south end of the course and work toward the clubhouse, but when construction was behind schedule there was concern that the five holes nearest the clubhouse might be seeded too late for a good result.
Consequently construction of some fairway bunkers in the middle of the course (which would be surrounded by sod) was postponed while holes 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 were shaped and seeded.
That meant some equipment would have to retreat across seeded ground to finish the bunker work, but the damage caused by the equipment was a small price to pay for having mature grass on the last holes as winter approached.
“The kudos need to go to Jason Mahl,” Moraine golf professional Brent Sipe said. “He’s the one that pulled the whole thing together.”
Mahl, Moraine’s greens superintendent since 2006, served as project manager. He was working at Louisville Country Club when Foster re-designed that course, so he knew the architect well.
“We were prepared for the project,” Mahl said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Mahl began his preparation two years ago. He visited superintendents of other courses that had been rebuilt in recent years to get some advice on what to do and what not to do. One thing he did was plant two acres of bent-grass in a nursery on site and had it ready so the approaches to the greens could be sodded rather than seeded.
Because the weather didn’t cooperate early, it was necessary recently to purchase more sod than intended, but Ray Lane, chairman of Moraine’s restoration committee, was on site every day to deal with such issues.
Every aspect of the course has been upgraded. All of the tees, greens and bunkers have been rebuilt, complete with modern drainage. There are four sets of tees on most holes and the forward tees for use by women and senior players have been built directly in line with the others rather than off to the side.
Working long hours and on weekends, Moraine’s crew seeded the fairways plus 50 acres of rough and 28 acres of tall native grass.
The greens have a collar of low-mown bluegrass and there is seven feet of the same grass bordering the bent-grass fairways.
Among the significant changes were a new first tee attached to a putting green, the softening of the slopes on the first three greens and the last two, a new, elevated green at No. 4, which was built directly above the old one, an entirely new 12th hole and new teeing ground at No. 13. Both the tee and the green on the par 3 No. 15 have been moved to the left.
“The fairways, in general, are a lot wider,” Mahl pointed out.
What isn’t so obvious is the extensive work done on drainage, particularly at the south end of the property where water will be pumped out to where gravity will move it along.
Although the fairways have the same undulations and most of the greens have the same contours, the course looks much different than in the past because so many trees have been removed.
Not too long ago you could play golf at Moraine while getting only occasional glimpses of other golfers. Now you can see all across the property.