The Renewal of the Christmas Valley Golf Course in Eastern Oregon

Hole #7 August 2022Photo by author

Originally opened in 1964, the Christmas Valley Golf Course, located in Eastern Oregon in the city by its name, has had its ups and downs. 2020 was probably the worst down the course has had in its 56 years of being open. The greens were dying in spots, the fairy rings were growing unchecked in the fairways and some of the flags were made of caution tape to scare the geese away.

Hole #9 April 2021Photo by author

This is when I got the job as superintendent and greenskeeper. With one day of training, my co-worker had a stroke (he survived) and I was on my own. Despite some political issues that continued to harm the improvement of the course, the season of 2021 was when the renewal started.

Coming from Bandon Dunes Golf Resort where I worked on the Bandon Preserve course, as what they call an agronomist (greenskeeper), and before that Sunriver Resort where I was a greenskeeper at the Meadows course, I learned the trade from some of the best in the industry. Thankfully, I made good contacts and was able to use them as consultants in the renewal process.

The 2021 season was rocky as I adjusted to being the only greenskeeper and being in charge of an entire full-length 9-hole golf course (3321 yards from blue tees). My main focus was to fix the greens and make the course playable.

As a backdrop, this course is where I grew up playing golf in high school around 30 years ago. I had many fond memories of playing the course and dreaming about becoming a professional golfer. Unfortunately, that lofty dream still escapes me, yet another dream had come true when I became the superintendent greenskeeper of the course.

With all the problems the course had and the paltry pay the job offered, it took this love for the course for me to stay motivated through the difficulties.

After being spoiled by working at Bandon and Sunriver, I found myself having to do everything; irrigation tech, pest control, course maintenance, spray applicator, mechanic, and superintendent. My skill set had to get better and quick, including my ability to be the center of attention as the person in charge.

Green repair spring 2021Photo by author

Long story short, the spring green repair was a learning process, to say the least, and between the damage from the geese and an unpredicted freeze, the growth of the damaged areas was about 20%. Still, removing the metal poles that held up the caution tape on the 1st and 9th green and putting some new flags on the poles already started making the course look and feel respectable.

The volunteers from the golf committee and the park and recreation office manager were helping as much as possible in the uphill effort and were key in the entire renewal process.

By the time the annual 4th of July tournament came around the golf course was looking better and much more playable. The attendance was better than it had been in years if not decades. One of the committee members who lives on the course organized another tournament in the fall called the harvest tournament, which did even better in attendance and raised upwards of $10k for the course from local businesses and community members.

Hole #7 summer 2021Photo by author

With the support of the local businesses and community, the golf course slowly improved and the renewal started taking shape.

The fall green repair in 2021 was refined from what I learned in the spring and had much better results. The growth this time was around 60%. The dead and diseased patches in the greens were now mostly gone -- they went from covering around 30% of the greens to around 5%.

Besides the green repair, general greenskeeping horticultural practices such as verticutting, aerating, and topdressing were used as well as light chemical product applications and plenty of watering. One of the most helpful practices I did was refine the watering schedule and methods to make sure every part of the greens were getting hit and not missed -- on the tees as well.

Hole #8 fall 2021 topdressing Photo by author

The antiquated above-ground watering system has great redundancy, yet required many leaking pipes to be repaired from years of neglect. Also, some of the valves had been bent and damaged over the years by golf carts accidentally running them over; this in addition to the heavy winds made it hard to hit the entire surface of the greens.

Hole #9 irrigation repair fall 2021Photo by author

The main water pipe basically runs right down the middle of the 9-hole course around the greens and tees. Reaching missed spots is accomplished by using hoses connected to the quick coupler sprinklers. Making sure the hoses are out of the way of play is a unique task needed for the antiquated course.

Mainline irrigation repair fall 2021Photo by author

The 2021 year went well and the renewal was taking shape, yet the 2022 season is when the course really started to look and feel like a golf course again.

In 2022 the same horticultural practices were used again, building upon the improvements already made. With fewer overall issues to deal with, the fine-tuning of the greens and tees started to show good results. The applications were refined for better results, including the addition of a 40-gallon battery-powered water tank with a pump sprayer. Attaching this to a golf cart allowed me to have a mobile water system and spray applicator to streamline operations.

Hole #2 aeration fall 2021Photo by author

The only other particular that is worth noting is the exclusive use of solid tine aeration on the greens in both the spring and fall. With limited sand, I was only able to topdress the greens after these aeration efforts. The solid tines reduced labor to a manageable level for the one-man crew and were adequate because the soft greens don't get rolled nor see a lot of play.

The 2022 season had record attendance for the 4th of July tournament and nearly as many for the Harvest tournament in the fall, once again bringing in around $10k to help the renewal cause.

Hole #8 Summer 2022 Photo by author

What will 2023 bring? Everyone involved in the renewal efforts is optimistic for the future of the course after the last two years of progress. While improvements are still needed, the ones accomplished over the last two years have been remarkable and much-needed.

Once again, the Christmas Valley Golf Course is full of life and offers golfers a fair test in a beautiful setting. Although not perfect, the greens are vastly improved and the course is very playable, thus giving the course back the dignity and respect it deserves.

Ultimately, I'm grateful to have been part of the renewal of the Christmas Valley Golf Course and look forward to its future.

Originally published at NewsBreak on Dec. 25, 2022


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