River Bend opens to a high standard

When Andrew Gilchrist arrived in 2010 as general manager of the River Bend Golf Course, the grumbling from pass holders and green fee players far outweighed the positives. The greens were far from being in good condition and the fairways needed work.

When Andrew Gilchrist arrived in 2010 as general manager of the River Bend Golf Course, the grumbling from pass holders and green fee players far outweighed the positives.

The greens were far from being in good condition and the fairways needed work.

But Gilchrist hired Cameron Kusiek as his superintendent and today the course is one of the prime 18-hole layouts in Central Alberta.

“The past two years we’ve implemented a conditions standard for the course,” said Gilchrist. “The aeration program, over-seeding, top dressing and the fungicide program combined enabled us to open under excellent conditions.

“We didn’t have any snow mold, unlike some of the courses in the area. Good applications, a good superintendent and following a good program resulted in good conditions.

“We’re firm believers that you must have good greens from the time you open to the time you close. Players will accept a fairway not being 100 per cent early on, but not greens.”

Three years ago the society that runs the city-owned course brought in Jim Ross from Olds to look at the conditions and make recommendations.

“One of the observations Jim made when he was here was in relationship to the fungicide program being used at that time. We made several changes in terms of the fungicide and it’s application frequencies in the fall,” added Gilchrist, who also mentioned they went away from using tarps on the greens during the winter.

“We learned there’s no need to tarp all the greens,” he said. “The only ones that would need it would be the ones with exposure to a southerly wind. What we found this winter was the snow provided the insulation. Our super (Kusiek) doesn’t see the value of a tarp. Some people still use them and in certain circumstances we’d look at it as well.”

Just because the course is playing as well as it has for years, Gilchrist and Kusiek aren’t about to sit back and relax.

“We still believe in the own-the-middle philosophy, concentrating on the tee boxes, fairways and greens,” added Gilchrist. “After that, we can expand and look at bunker shaping and trees.”

The poplar trees in front of the clubhouse and between the first and 10th tee boxes have been cleared out, making for a better view from the clubhouse.

“With the windows it does make for a better view, but the main reason was the roots were getting into and ruining the practice green,” explained Gilchrist.

The course has seen a leveling off in pass holders this year.

They limit unrestricted passes to 250 and they’re “about 10 per cent” below that while they reached the 125 limit for restricted pass holders.

“Over the last two years, we have seen an increase of 18 per cent in dues, but you have to remember two years ago we cut 10 per cent as part of our 25th anniversary celebration,” said Gilchrist. “It’s a matter of generating enough funds to support our needs. We find it costs about $40 per set of feet that go off.

“We’re mandated by the City of Red Deer that as a society we maintain the tee sheet at a reasonable and affordable rate and as a 26-year-old property, it’s a constant balancing act. Right now we’re not meeting our target, but we’re working with the city to meet that.”

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