South Hadley, Mass.
U.S. Golf Association officials are watching with more than normal scrutiny what’s going on at The Orchards in South Hadley, Mass., site of the this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, July 1-4. The goodwill that executive director David Fay acquired by bringing the 2002 “People’s Open” to Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y. might be in jeopardy unless significant progress is made at The Orchards, a vintage Donald Ross design on the campus of all-female Mount Holyoke College.
Concerns include drainage, topdressing of greens, extensive sodding and the overseeding of fairways to facilitate a full, smooth playing surface. The course, owned by the college, is operated by Arnold Palmer Golf Management and is widely regarded in New England as a gem. It is barely known outside the region, however, even though it played host to the 1987 U.S. Girls Junior, won by Michelle McGann. The Orchards landed the Open after Lake Merced Country Club in San Francisco dropped out as host site of the event in 2003 and Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Cornelius, Ore. was moved up a year, thereby creating a gap for 2004.
Fay’s wife, Joan, Mount Holyoke class of 1973, played a crucial role in encouraging the USGA to offer the Open to the campus course. The championship is being managed by the Bruno Event Team, based in Birmingham, Ala. Advance sales are strong, with half of the 25,000 daily passes sold, along with just more than half of the $2 million worth of corporate tents.
But maintenance has lagged. So concerned was the USGA that association president Reed Mackenzie had a meeting with Arnold Palmer over the matter during the U.S. Amateur in August. Palmer, whose name and image grace the clubhouse and grounds of The Orchards, actually has no control in the management firm and said there was little he could do.
It didn’t help that The Orchards’ superintendent, Scott Ramsay, CGCS, left Sept. 1 to take the head maintenance position at Yale Golf Club in New Haven, Conn. A month later, his replacement, Matt Manzi, was on board, but crucial time was lost. USGA agronomists had hoped for another fall aerification of the greens, but this was not undertaken.
Major construction has been completed – including eight new back tees and a dramatically expanded practice range capable of handing two dozen players at a time. But other needs have not been addressed. Supplemental drainage across the notoriously wet, low-lying first, second, ninth and 18th fairways was not done. Much-needed sod work was not finished in late fall when budget considerations mandated that the crew be reduced to three full timers.
Two staff members were added as of the new year, enabling some tree work to be done. But the course remains blanketed by snow and ice. If course
conditions are to come around, The Orchards will have to be blessed with an extremely dry spring, and cart traffic on the course – there is no continuous, paved system – must be heavily curtailed. No wonder David Fay acknowledges that the course will be “a little scruffy in places.” Yet, Fay remains optimistic.
“I hope the Arnold Palmer management company understands it has a wonderful marketing opportunity,” he says. “If conditions are not good, it will reflect badly on them.”
Officials from Arnold Palmer Golf Management, which is in the midst of selling numerous assets, did not return phone calls for comment.