Avid golfers are always on the lookout for a challenging courses, and the links winding among the hills and valleys of central Tennessee offer ample rigor.
But carving a golf course out of this rugged terrain can be quite an ambitious task for development contractors, and such is the case at the River Watch golf course. The new par-72 course is the centerpiece of a residential community located on Center Hill Lake in DeKalb County, 90 miles east of Nashville.
The River Watch course and its adjacent residential development, Mountain Harbour, cover 1,400 acres owned by Cripps Family Holdings. Brothers Gary and Donnie Cripps saw potential in the acreage as a luxury home community and world-class golf venue and began its development in the mid-1990s. The first nine holes of the course, designed by PGA Tour player Peter Jacobsen, opened three years ago.
“It’s been a big job,” said superintendent Nick Graham. “The course covers approximately 160 acres of the development, and we’ve moved more than 100,000 square feet of dirt. It’s very steep terrain with a lot of rock.”
Looking to maintain better control over construction costs, the Cripps founded River Watch Tennessee to construct the second nine holes and hired Graham to oversee the construction and manage the front nine. Graham, a turf grass management professional, collaborated with Mid-Tenn Turf Inc.,a local turfgrass producer that furnished sod for River Watch.
A project like the course’s second phase would normally require several large pieces of construction equipment for the mass excavation. Graham, however, completed the finish work primarily with small and medium-sized Caterpillar machines –– a D5G dozer, a 262 skid steer loader and a 303.5 mini-hydraulic excavator. River Watch rented these machines on a long-term basis from the area’s Cat Rental Store.
Graham explained, “Renting the machines has been the best route for us. Not only is it cheaper than hiring someone with his own equipment, but we also don’t have to worry about selling the machines when the job is finished.”
Graham consulted his operators when making decisions on types and sizes of machines for this job.
“Our operators love Cat.” he said. “There’s a Rental Store location nearby, and that’s been very convenient. We don’t have to go all the way to Nashville for equipment or wait for someone to come from far away when we need something.”
Operators used the Cat equipment for the rough shaping of the fairways, greens, and bunkers, Graham said. A D5G dozer completed all the finish grading and cut the golf cart paths into the landscape.
“We use the 262 skid steer loader for everything,” he noted. “We used it to build bunkers and greens, place drainage lines, load sod and move sod to other locations. With a landscape rake attached, we also used it to finish the dirt preparation for the sod.”
Good drainage is critical in golf course design. Graham and his team used the 303.5 mini-hydraulic excavator to place drain tile along the fairways, greens and bunkers as well as for ditching work.
“That machine let us do these jobs with just one machine and one worker,” he said. “We eliminated the extra hand labor that’s required with other types of machines. The Cat 303.5 does a really clean job and does it just as fast.”
The compact excavator, using a ditch-cleaning bucket, also carved out a 6-in. (15.2 cm) lip on the sand traps.
“It gave us clean, squared-up edges and well-defined lines,” said Graham.
With the completion of the second nine holes, other jobs remain. The D5G dozer did much of the site preparation for the maintenance building now under construction, and River Watch will soon break ground for the new, permanent clubhouse.