For those of you who know me, you know I start every day of the winter season by saying, “it’s almost golf season”. I have a feeling Win Smith never appreciated this statement! Although I have a great passion for skiing, my first love is the game of golf. There is no one more excited to get the golf season underway than me! Now that we’re in the spring home stretch where we get teased with a warm day here and there, other courses in the area are starting to open, and here at Sugarbush we still have T minus one month to go until opening day for the 2022 season. We’ve certainly been asked why we don’t open earlier in May still. The decision this year to set our opening day for May 21st was a very difficult one to make and was not made without careful thought and consideration. Ultimately, we decided to open when we do for a few different reasons.
First off, the elevation and climate we are located at plays a major role in course’s spring condition. Sugarbush Resort Golf Club sits at about 2000 feet above sea level, great for a ski resort, not so much a golf course. One of the reasons we all love this club is because of its amazing views, but these come at a cost. With elevations up to almost 2000 feet and down to 1,500 our course growing days are much shorter. Soil temps must start to reach 65 degrees during the day before the grass starts to respond, and ball marks on greens will not heal and take much longer to grow back without that growing. Our higher elevation exposed greens get wind desiccation during the winter and turn brown. Think holes 1, 6, 9, 18, and our putting green. These will make a full recovery on their own but take even longer to grow back than a lower elevation course.
On the flip side, our lower elevation greens are quite wet including 2, 5, 7, 11, and 16. These take time to dry out, especially with the grass not growing and absorbing some of the water. Deep tineing in the fall helps the greens get rid of a lot of water in the spring, but yearly aerification will also help this drastically. That’s just the turf side of it. The damage done with carts when we open too early is extensive. The ground hasn’t hardened/dried up yet and if it gets rutted now it will dry that way and make the playing and maintenance conditions even more challenging. Some years we can get out there early, and some we can’t. Our elevation and Mother Nature decide that. It is not uncommon for other higher elevation golf courses to open when we do either. Killington plans on opening their golf course May 29th, Stowe mountain course plans on opening May 21st, Jay Peak on May 27th, and Sugarloaf and Sunday River both mid to late May. All these courses share similar climates and elevation to Sugarbush.
What are we doing with the time before we open? This year, I am beyond excited to see our parent company, Alterra Mountain Company, start to invest some capital into the golf course. The biggest project we have going is a complete bunker renovation. If anyone has played the course the past few seasons you would know that our bunkers were in desperate need of love. Although this latest mid April snow storm has delayed work just a bit, we are still full steam ahead on getting the bunkers dug out, reshaped, adding new drainage, and filling them with new soft fluffy sand. We will also be using this time to remove trees and limbs that are well overdue to come down. Luckily this past winter was kind to the course but still caused significant damage to a few large trees. Our final project we hope to get under way in early May is green aeration. Getting this practice out of the way early will allow us to operate uninterrupted throughout the summer season and well into the fall with smooth, fast, and true rolling greens. In addition to this large project we are also adding an additional greens roller, new tractor, and a new triplex greens mower to our maintenance fleet, as well as new driving range mats. Thanks to supply chain issues we will be waiting on the triplex for a bit, but our roller and tractor are due to arrive mid-May. Adding an additional roller will better allow us to roll our greens more frequently and not have to worry about staying ahead of early play. Having the greens rolled truly makes for a superior putting surface and lets the contours that Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed shine and make for an enjoyable yet challenging round of golf.
What to expect going forward? Each season provides its difficulties, challenges, and opportunities. We will assess each off season with what is best for the long-term success of the golf course as well as our members who are eager to get the season started as soon as possible. It is amazing to see the passion from our membership who care so deeply about not only the long-term success of the course but daily operations and overall product we produce. As our dear late friend and longtime member Richard “Whit” Whitworth would say at his annual member run Ryder Cup event “A club is only as good as its members”, and we have some of the best around! We welcome all feedback from both members and the general public about any way we can improve and “Be Better Here”. Although sometimes our decisions might not align with how some people feel, believe me we will always put the best interest of the Sugarbush Resort Golf Club first!
Opening day is right around the corner, and we hope to provide a much better experience both on the course and off this year. I am excited for our new superintendent Gerry Webber to begin his tenure at the helm of the crew outside. I am eager to get our Valley League going again with the addition of more food and beverage options. Most importantly I am most excited to tee it up with all my friends, members, and fellow employees while sharing some adventure and creating camaraderie. We hope to see you all on May 1st for our member clean up day from 12-3pm. Keith Paxman, our new VP or Food and Beverage will be cooking up burgers and dogs and serving cold ones!