Fiddlesticks: A Return to Glory

By: Mark Leslie

The members of Fiddlesticks Country Club are serious about restoring their championship golf course, also called “The Long Mean,” to the condition that once had it ranked in the top echelon of Florida's great layouts. Serious enough to commit $5.5 million to the effort, and engage architect Ron Garl and one of the world's premier golf course builders, Landscapes Unlimited, to perform the task.

"This golf course was at one time ranked in the top 15 in Florida," said General Manager Greg Pick. "It is so well designed and is so much fun to play that we expect this restoration will go a long way toward rejuvenating an interest in it."

Pick said his 600 members, including 120 single-digit handicappers, are so enamored with the 22-year-old, Garl-designed track that they want a restoration, not a reconstruction.

"Our goals were to recreate our golf course in its original design because our members are so happy with it," Pick said. "It's like taking your '57 Chevrolet convertible out of the garage and restoring it. Over the years the course has fallen behind in its technological aspects. It didn't have an adequate irrigation system, or enough drainage, or USGA [United States Golf Association] greens, or today's turf. Also, the infrastructure items, like the bulkheads, are showing their age. Restoration was our best option."

To that end, Fiddlesticks brought in Garl, who had originally designed both the 7,077-yard "Long Mean" and its sister course, “The Wee Friendly.”

Club officials also decided on a different wrinkle with Landscapes Unlimited: to sign a design-build agreement in which the builder would "turnkey" the project, controlling all the work and building it for a guaranteed maximum amount.

"We ran into a number of problems when the club renovated the other course in 2000. There was nobody to take responsibility at the end of it. We want to avoid a repeat of that," said Warren Wilder, past president of the Fiddlesticks board of directors.

"We wanted a single point of responsibility," said Pick. "We don't want to get finished, have a problem and deal with the squabble, 'It's the engineer's fault. No, it's the architect's fault.' Under this agreement, everything falls on Landscapes' broad shoulders.

"We also wanted a guaranteed maximum price" that comes with the design-build concept, he continued. "With that contract, we were able to work out incentives that we would share in any savings. Wherever Landscapes can do value-engineering, they get a piece of the savings and so do we."

Garl said the Fiddlesticks project is the first design-build he has ever heard of being done on a golf course renovation. "It is an extension of the turnkey we're doing on new courses," said Kurt Huseman, executive vice president of the Project Development Division for Landscapes Unlimited. He pointed out that the Lincoln, Neb.-based firm has constructed a dozen new golf courses under the design-build procedure. This may be the first design-build renovation ever done on a golf course.

Garl and Landscapes Unlimited began working late last fall on what Landscapes Senior Program Manager Gary Lattie described as "a very compressed schedule."

Small crews got a jump-start on perimeter areas, installing irrigation mains and drainage, while keeping the golf course open for winter play. They closed nine holes on February 15, will close another nine on March 15, and expect to complete the fast-track construction in time to re-grass The Long Mean in May and reopen it on November 3 of this year.

The task ahead includes:

• Installing a new pump house and $1.5-million irrigation system, a Toro Site-Pro that will water the course wall to wall. Bryant Taylor Gordon Golf, an irrigation design firm in Costa Mesa, Calif., is responsible for the new irrigation system design. They are experts in conserving water as well as distributing it. For instance, the computer-controlled system includes 1,400 heads, compared to the old 600-head system and features side-by-side heads with the capability of watering two areas to separate specifications.

• Expanding the greens, which had shrunk over the years, to their original sizes and completely rebuilding them to USGA specifications.

• Improving the drainage throughout the course, including that dealing with the community's 600 homes.

• Rebuilding the bunkers, with new drainage, matting and sand.

• Replacing all of Garl's signature bulkheads and slanted retaining walls, including those surrounding Fiddlestick's famous twin island greens.

• Constructing 3 miles of new cart paths so that they will be continuous with either aggregate or concrete.

• Recontouring several fairways to improve both drainage and golf strategy.

• Adding bunkers to the 18th hole. "The 18th is a double dogleg that was considered a mid-length par-5 when we built it, but today it is considered a short par-5," Garl said. "So we're adding a complex of five small bunkers at the first dogleg on the right-hand side. They progressively get more difficult as you get more outside so we will penalize the person who goes furthest off-line the most. It is 255 yards over the furthest bunker, so this addition will make it play like it was originally designed."

• Building two new forward tees, and laser-leveling and regrassing all of the remaining tees.

• Regrassing with Tifeagle Bermudagrass on the greens and 419 Bermudagrass on the tees and fairways.

• Enhancing and improving a creek on the par-3 signature 3rd hole, building waterfalls and installing a larger recirculation pump.

Club members are excited about the project. Fiddlesticks sits on 770 acres and boasts 16 lakes encompassing 100 acres. Several of those lakes run alongside holes on The Long Mean.

"We like to think of The Long Mean as a two-sleeve course," said Pick. "It is a fair test of golf. It's not tricked up. No hocus-pocus. No Mickey Mouse-looking bunkers. If you hit it straight you will score well. If you tend to wander left to right it will make you pay. And we expect Ron Garl to keep it that way."