Serafin Bringing Springvale to Life

By: Mark Leslie

Owned by the city of North Olmsted, Ohio, Springvale Golf Course boasts one of the oldest ballrooms in the country. But when the time came to renovate the dance floor, officials found a worse problem existed on their 18-hole course: lack of drainage, irrigation and strategic challenge. While proceeding with the clubhouse renovation, officials of this Cleveland suburb hired golf course architect Barry Serafin of New Albany, Ohio, to carry out a far-reaching and multifaceted drainage project, as well as add more character and strategy to the course design.

"We decided to bring the course in line with the other area public courses as far as conditions are concerned," said Springvale General Manager Marty Young. "Without an adequate irrigation system, in the dry years our turfgrass would go dormant. In the wet season it, at times, would be unplayable because of inadequate drainage."

Closing the facility last August, Serafin has proceeded to fulfill the needs of this very flat site. Heavy rains last October and poor weather this spring have caused delays. The $1.1-million phase one of course renovation, along with the $700,000 clubhouse work, are expected to be done in time to reopen the course on Aug. 1.

"The fact that the property is so flat, combined with the wear and tear from 30,000 rounds of play each year, caused the problems," said Serafin, whose reputation was recently enhanced when his New Albany Links was named by Golf Digest among the Top 10 New Public Courses in the country in 2001.

Serafin and Wissco Co., an irrigation and construction firm in South Bend, Ind., have undertaken wide-ranging changes:

digging three new lakes and expanding an existing lake;

recontouring most of the fairways;

constructing a series of drainage and catch basins on every fairway;

installing a double-row irrigation system;

paving the entire cart path system, some of which was relocated; and

completing a number of changes to the course design as well.

"Our major challenge," said Serafin, "was getting enough fall across the property to get drainage to the lakes. On some holes we only had 2 or 3 feet of fall across the entire fairway. When we dug the lakes we lowered the water elevation to be able to drain the surrounding areas."

In one area of the course it was impossible to get enough fall, so Serafin designed a dry drainage basin area and all the water from five surrounding holes drains into this basin. A sump pump will then transmit the water to the irrigation lake.

To make the course more playable and challenging, Serafin rebuilt four entire greens complexes, enlarged existing tees and added tees to every hole. Meanwhile, crews pulled out old sand from all the fairway bunkers, then Serafin recontoured them to make them easier to maintain.

The four new green complexes were not rebuilt to add length, according to Young. "One green needed to be moved to make room for an irrigation lake and pump station. Another green was rebuilt and lengthened because it was a short par-4 that held up play. None of them were built for the traffic they get today. So they were enlarged as well." Serafin built the new greens to a modified California style green that is, mostly sand, but adding peat and top soil into the mix.

Phase two of the construction, Young said, will encompass reconstruction of several more green complexes. "Competing for golfers in North Olmsted is no different than any other part of the country. The improvements at Springvale will make the course more competitive in the area," said Serafin. "The current golfers at Springvale are excited about the changes and have visited the course occasionally during construction to see the process. Once the course re-opens, I'm sure golfers will be attracted by the new challenges."

Serafin is earning a national reputation for his designs. The Players Club at Foxfire in Columbus, to which he added nine holes, is rated among Golf Digest's 201 Best Places To Play in North America. Besides New Albany Links, he has three other designs in Ohio listed by Golf Digest as Places to Play Chapel Hill Golf Course in Bangs, The Links at Echo Springs in Johnstown, and Liberty Hills Golf Club in Bellefontaine. His Widow's Watch Golf Course in Lexington, Ky., hosted the 1999 Lexington Open on the TearDrop Golf Tour.