During a recent round of golf at the Los Alamos County Golf Course, golfer John McCarthy uses a rake to remove the top layer of rocks from the ball so as not to damage his club. Improvements to the course are being planned and include greens, tee boxes and bunkers. Photo by Jenn Bartram/ladailypost.com

By Kristen Laskey
Los Alamos Daily Message
[email protected]

With the irrigation project complete at the Los Alamos County Golf Course, Public Works is focusing on the next phases of the project – renovating the holes and improving the driving range.

The county council issued guidelines on January 4 on the scope and budget of the project, so county staff kicked things off by enlisting the services of a golf course design professional to develop the project. using a two-phase approach. Phase 1 includes improvements to holes four through 18 and the installation of two new toilets while Phase 2 includes the development of design options to improve holes one through three, the driving range and practice areas. On May 3, the Board approved a contract with iConsult, LLC to begin public engagement and design work.

A public meeting on May 26 introduced the design team, explained the two phases and timeline of the project, and got initial public feedback on course improvements. A second public meeting was held on June 22 where the design team, represented by Todd Schoeder and Forest Richardson, presented several options for Phase 2, which will also influence certain features of the Phase 1 design. design will consider public feedback received and is expected to present these options to the Parks and Recreation Board on July 14. Public comments are strongly encouraged and comments can be emailed to [email protected]

Deputy Director of Public Works Eric Martinez further explained the two phases of the project. The overall project budget approved by the Board for the design and construction of the first phase is $2.5 million. The first phase, he said, focuses on improving the greens, tee boxes, bunkers and adding two new toilets on holes 4 to 18. The second phase sees the development of several conceptual or preliminary design options to also improve holes 1 to 3. such as the driving range and other improvements identified during the design process. No funds have been approved or allocated for final design drawings or phase two construction at this time.

Although the work is divided into phases, Martinez said they will be executed concurrently, as decisions made in one phase can influence, impact or be addressed in the other.

With the focus of the June 22 public meeting on phase two, the design team presented four options for reconfiguring the driving range to improve safety as well as improving holes one through three.

“Some of these will have some level of impact on the open space to the south. There is a realignment of some of the existing pathways that are behind the golf course on the south side…which should be adapted to the different options that have been presented,” Martinez said. “So we’re really working to get feedback on the options from the perspective of the golfing community as well as recreational users of the trail system.”

“A concern expressed is that we will be removing the natural landscape from the existing open space and replacing it with a park – which looks like a golf course,” said project manager Anthony Strain. “And that we are going to compromise the trails. It’s been a big part of our team’s effort to be sensitive to this concern and show that we’re looking at this very thoroughly…if we’re going to impact a track, it will be improved.

On the other hand, Strain said, that’s what golfers hope to achieve with a course long enough to make it challenging and fun to play.

He also explained that golfers have asked the council to have a driving range long enough to ensure safety and to be efficient in size and functionality so that a “good teaching program can come into effect and (be) a means to develop the game.

Strain noted that the driving range brings in a good amount of revenue.

“To accomplish the extended length of the driving range, which is necessary for safety and to retain the improved part (for) teaching the game, there must be some realignment of holes one through three and how they affect the orientation of each other hole,” Strain said. “One of the options that needs to be explored is expansion and that expansion is into more naturalized land.”

This is what the design team wants to get feedback on. Strain said five meetings will be held to gather public opinion.

Martinez said the goal is to be sensitive to all users and the surrounding environment.

Based on previous work on the course, providing taller fencing within reach is not a tangible type of improvement as it would be very tall, impacting bird sight and flight, such as l noted the design team, he said.

Some have suggested using low flight bullets; however, there are concerns that low-flight balls are not good for teaching because they don’t provide the same feel and flight characteristics as a conventional golf ball, Martinez said.

The target for completion of design work is late October, Strain said. He added that the goal is to present phase one and options for phase two to the board in early November. Construction of the first phase is expected to begin in early spring.

While no funding has been approved for construction of phase two, Martinez said, “the goal is to provide budget estimates to the board for future consideration.”

This set of improvements to the golf course is part of several changes that have taken place on the golf course. In 2014, the $5 million clubhouse was completed. The irrigation upgrades cost just under $2 million and were completed in the fall of 2020.

Strain said public response to all of these changes has been mostly positive. However, the challenge for the golf course is retaining staff to maintain it.

He added that in making these changes, the hope is to earn the trust of the golf community and “to know that the improvements we are aiming for will truly benefit the life and long-term well-being of the course.” .

Parks and Recreation Council President Ramiro Pereyra agreed.

“I think the improvements to the golf course hold great promise for our community,” he said. “I know one of the biggest concerns right now is trail expansion. I urge all trail and golf course users to participate in these meetings and to make public comments at Parks and Recreation Commission meetings.

Pereyra highlighted some of the pros and cons of the project that should be considered.

Advantages:

  • All scenarios will extend driving range to at least 320 years, solving safety concerns and making it a productive training area.
  • Will potentially gain a short practice area for irons and wedges.
  • Hole 7 is dangerous – so reconfiguration will solve this problem.
  • For every tree felled, two will be planted.

The inconvenients:

  • Potentially more land may be needed, between 3 and 5 acres
  • 100 to 150 trees may need to be removed.

The project seems to come at the right time; Martinez said that in general golf has grown in popularity. Based on what design professionals and golf course architects have reported, he said COVID has increased the number of people nationwide. It’s a suitable sport at the moment because it takes place outdoors and people can social distance, Martinez said.

Added strain for the local course, it’s hard to distinguish if more golfers are coming out due to the upgrades or just tired of being ‘boxed in’. Whatever the reason, the county golf course has sold more rounds of golf – over 4,000 to 5,000 a year. Interestingly, he said the USGA reports the numbers are up, especially for young people. The 20-35 year olds take up sport.

“People are really flocking to the game in huge numbers,” Strain said.

One of the appeals of sport is the social aspect, he explained. People can enjoy the driving range or driving range.

“It’s become a new social activity,” Strain said.

Regardless of people’s stance on the project and on golf in general, their feedback on the project is welcome, Strain said.