Bob Gillespie



Litchfield’s River Club: New grass on greens, quality putting year-round

Posted 3/30/2012 7:56:00 PM

For nearly a decade, The River Club at Litchfield Country Club had the distinction of offering bent grass greens, a rarity on the Bermuda-dominated Grand Strand. The Tom Jackson Signature course then had an edge with golfers wanting the smoothness and speeds of the cool-weather grass.

Unfortunately, those bent greens came with high maintenance costs, plus the ever-present danger of extreme heat turning greens to “browns.” The summer of 2010, with its stifling humidity, soaring temperatures and drought conditions, convinced club officials to make convert to more weather-tolerant Champions Bermuda in July-August 2011.

The results, head professional/manager Christa Bodensteiner says with a laugh, make her wonder why it didn’t happen sooner, what with the public acclaim for the end result.

“The response (since the eight-week project) has been overwhelmingly good,” she says. “There were some unhappy folks who really liked bent. We still get a few” – especially visitors from the Northeast and Midwest, where bent rules – “who say, ‘We really loved those greens.’

“But once they play the Champions, and see the ball roll as true as on bent, they tend to change their tune.”

That’s especially true now, since Bermuda hybrids such as Champions have become closer to bent in performance, she says.

“Years ago, there was a vast difference between bent and Bermuda,” says Bodensteiner, an Iowa native who moved to Myrtle Beach in 1994 and has been head pro at River Club for nine years. “Now you can cut the (Champions) greens down, and they’re not grainy. And the putting surface is far superior in hot months.”

Partly as a result of those new greens, partly because of a resurgent tourism economy, River Club has seen an uptick in business since last fall’s reopening. In the roughly seven months since reopening for play, Bodensteiner estimates her club has had 20,000 rounds played – on pace to equal or surpass past annual numbers.

On a recent visit, River Club’s greens rolled true, if a bit slow after drenching rains the day before. Bodensteiner says the slopes and contours of the greens with Champions remain the same as they’ve been since all greens were reconstructed for bent speeds around 2000.

“After those rains, the greens were probably running 9.0 on the Stimpmeter,” she says of the speeds. “In season, when they’re growing (the greens, dormant in winter, are painted green), they’re usually between 10 and 10.5. That’s a good pace without beating up too many of our players.”

And if some visitors bemoan the loss of bent, Bodensteiner has seen more business as a result of the new surfaces. “There was a new buzz; a lot want to try the new greens,” she said. “I think that’ll continue. We’ve had good results to date.”

The River Club, one of eight courses under the Myrtle Beach National banner, can stretch to 6,889 yards (par-72) and features water on 14 holes, notably the par-3 14th island green and the par-5 18th, which doglegs left around a lake, forcing carries on at least two of three shots. Most greens are elevated and mounded with subtle interior slopes, and are well bunkered.

Another beneficiary of the new greens is long-time superintendent Barry “Digger” Barthelman, who came in 2002 from Myrtle Beach National’s King’s North course when River Club went to bent greens. “I think he’s enjoying them now because they’re not as labor-intensive,” Bodensteiner says. “This summer, he’ll probably rejoice at not being out there with hoses every day.”

Players enjoying River Club’s greens – and not “browns” – on hot days likely will rejoice, too. For information, click here or call (800) 344-5590.