Whenever you transform the agronomic structure of a century-old golf course there are going to be growing pains. Nobody knows this better than John Hoyle, CGCS, who is in his sixth full season at Corning Country Club in Corning, N.Y.
Soon after his arrival at Corning in September of 2015 he began planning for a fairway renovation because of issues with fairway turf health, playability and aesthetics. The mix of grasses present simply wasn’t standing up to harsh weather or the demands of a modern golf course. Upgrading the fairways to the improved bentgrass variety ‘Luminary’ began on two holes as a trial run. Following good initial results, the project has since continued – with all the fairways scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2021.
Along the way, Hoyle and the club have learned a lot about the fairway conversion process through their own experience and the input of USGA agronomist Paul Jacobs – who first visited the course in the summer of 2019. Jacobs laid out a well-defined path for fairway conversion that would minimize disruption to play and optimize the establishment process. The results have already shown a vast improvement in the look, playability and environmental sustainability of the fairways at Corning.
Hoyle appreciates how the USGA Course Consulting Service (CCS) helped in the process. “Their advice has been indispensable,” said Hoyle. “They helped us select the right cultivar, explained the mistakes we made early on and got us on the right path. They helped ensure the kind of success that got the members squarely behind the project.”
Corning Country Club, located in the southern tier of New York’s Finger Lakes Region, dates to a 1919 design by transplanted Scotsman Thomas Winton. The scion of a prominent golfing family from the seaside town of Montrose, he came over to the States during World War One as a construction foreman for architect Willie Park Jr. and soon landed a job as superintendent for the Westchester (N.Y.) County Parks Commission. In between, he also designed a dozen or so courses, most of them public venues in the state. Corning remains his most noteworthy design.
With its push-up greens and tightly tree-lined fairways, Corning became a staple of the LPGA Tour, annually hosting the Corning Classic from 1979-2009, the LPGA’s longest running single-title sponsor event. It proved popular with regional sports fans and with the players. The list of winners reads like a who’s-who of USGA champions – including Donna Caponi, Patti Sheehan, JoAnne Carner, Pat Bradley, Betsy King, Beth Daniel, Juli Inkster and Annika Sorenstam.
Corning Country Club is a private club, though one with a decidedly modest sensibility. Push carts are commonplace; 80% of the rounds are by walkers. The club only has 36 motorized carts and paved cart paths are to be found only intermittently. Hoyle has 100 acres of the 158-acre site under active turf maintenance. The primarily loam soils drain well, in large part due to rolling terrain with 65 feet of elevation change.
For all the course’s distinguished history and attributes, the fairways were a perennial weakness. They struggled year after year due to a hodgepodge of grasses growing within tightly overgrown tree corridors. Jacobs’ reports document the coexistence of Poa annua, Poa trivialis, perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue and numerous older varieties of bentgrass within the fairway turf. These grasses don’t perform the same, and they don’t all perform well under the typical weather and golf schedule at Corning. The result was unpredictability and inconsistency.