Beginning a New Chapter in My Career

I have developed a passion for this industry and the environment in which the game is played, and have had opportunities to serve in many capacities, both locally and nationally. I have decided to pursue this passion and have accepted the NW Region Field Staff position with the GCSAA. I have been to the GCSAA headquarters in Lawrence Kansas many times and had never imagined that I would actually be working for such an outstanding organization. I am thrilled to be offered the opportunity to work with them and to also be connecting with so many wonderful superintendents and their chapters in my eight state region. I will be serving Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Those superintendents that have had the opportunity to build a golf course and manage it for years down the road, know what I'm talking about when I say it becomes part of your soul. Stone Creek has become such a part of me and my family. The day has finally arrived now that I feel I have served the course to my fullest, so I have decide to move on to a new venture. Stone Creek has been been a ride of a life time. Since I started this blog in 2009, I never had a chance to talk about the construction of Stone Creek. In this, my final post, I would like to give a brief history of the construction and recognize some of the key individuals that have contributed to its success.

This wonderful ride all began when I was working at The Oregon Golf Club and I was maintaining Peter Jacobsen's putting green at his home in Lake Oswego. Peter was home and he came out to talk while I was working on his green. He mentioned that he was working with Clackamas County and they had decided to proceed with the construction of a new golf course in Oregon City. The first words out of my mouth were "Oh man, I want that job!" Peter replied, "I know, and I want you to have it".  The rest is history.

For reference, the tree to the right is the one just right of the 10th approach.
It was May 1st 2000 and it is hard to imagine but this is what the first hole looked like. Luckily the County hired a gentleman by the name of Wayne Livdahl and he had taken a few photos before I had a chance to purchase my first digital camera.

Soon Larsen Golf Construction was under way and the dust was flying. Scott Larsen, owner of the company had a number of key employees that I would like to recognize. Many I still see from time to time and have gone on to be superintendents themselves. Scott's construction foreman was John Burchell and is now a superintendent for Desert Peaks Golf Club in Madras. His Irrigation foreman was Doug Failing who now is the superintendent at Eagle Creek Golf Club. The lead shaper was Tom Cordova. Tom remained in Oregon City and still works with soil driving a dump truck and is currently shaping a golf course in South America. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Scott Larsen himself. A grad from Oregon State and a member of the golf team, Scott ran his construction company for 11 years and did a number of quality projects most notably Stone Creek of course. Eventually Scott decided to go another direction and he is now a very successful superintendent at Emerald Valley Golf Club. The talent among them all was amazing. Scott had brought together an amazing team which did a an amazing job.

In this photo, from left to right:
Chris O'Connell, Peter's caddy, Peter Jacobsen, Jim Hardy, John Burchell, Scott Larsen, Tom Cordova, and me. Not to forget, Annie my trusty Lab down in front.

I don't think we could have put together a better team. I learned so much by watching Scott and his crew. It was such an incredible learning experience for me.

Our goal was to get at least half of the course seeded by fall and the other half would be completed the following spring. There were a few issues that needed to be dealt with through the permitting agencies that could have spelled disaster, but we hired Dr. Michael Hindahl to help us and the project remained on schedule.

My son Adam 

One of our biggest obstacles were the amount of boulders that were being excavated. We new that there were going to be a few, but we didn't expect quite the amount that we found. We quickly renegotiated with our mass excavation company and were able to come up with a reasonable deal to handle them all. When you play today you can still see remnants of the rocks along nine and the driving range, by the fourteenth tee, behind the fourth tee, between the fifth and seventh holes and behind the twelfth green. We also utilized the boulders in constructing retaining walls along the twelfth fairway, in front of the fourteenth green and behind the sixteenth green.  We even gave tons away just for hauling them off. When you are spending time moving large rocks like these, costs can add up quickly. It is just one of those unknowns that you never know until the shovel hits the ground.

Growing a golf course in during the winter can create quite a few challenges. First of all this is Western Oregon, and if we had had a March like the one we just had, the place would have been a wash. We did however have some challenges with the rain but for the most part we were pretty lucky. This photo to the left is looking at the eleventh green. The cart path is somewhere under that five inches of mud!

Straw mulching was our best solution for those areas that were disturbed but had not yet been fine graded and seeded. In order to abide by our excavation permit we needed to have everything covered by October. We came up with this straw blowing contraption which seemed to work pretty well.

My first hire was Curt Smith. Curt was my assistant and was a great find. He had grown up in the golf business and there was pretty much nothing he couldn't do. Soon after that I needed to hire a mechanic and soon one found me.  Steve Mathre called me from Ames Country Club in Iowa and was planning on coming out to be with his father. I took a chance and hired him sight unseen. Looking back, I don't think I could have found a better mechanic. Steve is still with me today and will soon be Stone Creeks longest employee.

By early spring 2001, the grass was popping out of the ground. I then shifted part of my responsibility to the roll of grow-in superintendent. Mowing became a priority but as I was afraid of, the maintenance facility was put on the back burner. We scrambled and put together two storage containers and rented a job trailer. Western Equipment's Bill Franzke was our saving grace by arranging enough loaner equipment to get us by until we were able to put together an equipment package. Steve kept the mowers sharp by using a back lapper that we borrowed from The Oregon Golf Club. Working in the containers wasn't the most favorable conditions to work in but I never heard a peep out of Steve.

I don't know how we managed to irrigate during the grow-in but some how we managed. With Doug Failings ingenuity we were able to hook up to the original fill lines from Beaver Creek and then using a diesel powered pump we tapped into the mainline and were able to supply enough water to the lines to keep a few heads running at a time. It was a manual process until we were able to set the pump station, drill a well and finish the lake bottoms. There didn't seem to be anything easy about the irrigation and that continued even after the well was finished and the pump station was operational. That story to come.

As the golf course neared completion the next step was the the clubhouse. We soon found out the someone failed to develop a site plan and there were no plans for a clubhouse yet alone a parking lot. I soon realized what it meant to be a project manager and became involved in the process to have the club house and all the amenities designed and built. I can remember working closely with Ugo Dilulo and Jeff Beck from WRD engineering getting everything put together and ready to submit for permits. Once the plans were finalized we were able to hire a site contractor to build the road, parking lot and set utilities. Our contractor was Rutan Construction.

We ended up building the parking lot over the winter of 2001-2002 and had to use gravel to make the grades. If we had waited until summer to build the parking lot it would have saved us a lot of money but our projected opening date was June and we would have never been done by then. By this time Gordy was on board and he took over the clubhouse project and I saw that the utilities were set and the cart barn was built.

High school preview tournament

If you ask any grow-in superintendent he will tell you they opened his course to soon and that was true here as well. But we were under a tight schedule and I am proud of the fact that we were able to open even though there were some greens that could have used a few more weeks. The opening was a success. We had a couple preview rounds and tournaments but the official opener was June 2nd, 2002.

We had been open just a couple months when I came to work and found that the well pump was off. I attempted to restart it and a loud thump was heard. The actual well was 1210 feet deep and the pump was set at 800 feet so there was only one way to find out what was wrong and that was to pull the pump out of the hole. The drillers came back and set up over the hole and proceeded to pull the 6 inch pipe out of the ground. to our dismay all that was retrieved was just the top of the pump column. The remaining stages and the 125 horse pump were at the bottom of the hole.

I give all the credit to our original driller for designing a tool which was comprised of a large pipe with leaf springs welded to the inside of it. They proceeded to lower it into the hole until they felt like they were over the pump. Once there, they pulled it back up and when they raised the last pipe out the pump and motor were inside the pipe. It was just short of a miracle to see that thing come up.

August 14th, 2002
That wasn't the end of the story. We discovered that the pump was set below the casing and the hole collapsed on the pump thus snapping it off when I restarted it. That meant we needed to clean out the hole and set a screen and a new pump and motor.

Mean time, it was July and we needed the well water to irrigate the golf course. We were on extreme conservation measures. What could be worse, a brand new course still trying to fill in and there wasn't any water to irrigate it. We quickly got permission to tap into the fire hydrant. Using aluminum irrigation pipe, we piped it all the way down between ten and eighteen fairway to the lake where we could maintain a minimum water level to irrigate with. Greens were our first priority followed by tees and green surrounds. The fairways pretty much got by on the trace of rainfall we received until Fall. Over all it was a valuable experience for us, learning the benefit of letting the course go a little dry in the summer. Perhaps not this dry but we realized that seeing brown isn't necessarily a bad think.

Notice the brown grass in the background
Our next step was to bring in a new driller to bore out the hole and set a screen and sand filter. This ended up becoming a longer job than we anticipated. The well was damaged and was constantly caving in. Finally they were ready to set the screen and begin pouring the sand around the outside of it. Once they got to that stage they were going 24/7 to make sure the screen was set before it could cave in again. Then I got the call early one morning. The drill operator was suspending the screen down the hole and was filling the outside with sand when he accidentally hit the spin lever. They calculated 7 complete revolutions which ended up making a rats nest out of the screen. The next four weeks were spent trying to remove the damaged screen segments and cleaning out the sand that fell down the inside of the screen with yet another another well driller. After three drillers we finally decided to leave "well" enough alone, pardon the pun, and set the pump in the hole and see what we end up with.

That is where we left it and it has been producing water ever since. It was not the best way to begin a golf course project but the good news is the well is strong and still produces enough water for us to get through each season.

That is about as brief as I can be in summing up the construction of Stone Creek Golf Club. It has been a thrill of a life time and I feel as if I have been a part of something very special. The popularity of Stone Creek as well as the amount of revenue it has generated over the last 10 years for Clackamas County, gives me great satisfaction to have played such an important role in it's success. I couldn't have asked for a better course to begin my career as a golf course superintendent.

I have said it many times but Stone Creek has forded me the opportunity to promote what I am most passionate about, and that is the environment in which the great game of golf is played. The beauty of this course has been my inspiration. There hasn't been a morning that I haven't appreciated the beauty of it and am glad to have had the opportunity to photograph it many times over.

Last September, my long time assistant, Mike Turley made the decision to move on and out of the golf industry to pursue a job with a family business. I was set back, not just because I was losing a good assistant, but because I was losing someone I had been mentoring to take my place should I decide to leave. I could not predict the future and couldn't tell him when I would move on so I understood his reasons. I could not be happier learning that Gordy called Mike upon hearing of my decision to leave, and offered him the superintendent position. Mike accepted and is going to come back to Stone Creek and will be able to step right into my shoes without skipping a beat. Upon hearing the news my entire crew was ecstatic to learn of Mikes return. With Chris as Mikes assistant, I am confident that the two of them are going to take Stone Creek to a new level.

I would like to finish this post with a few photographs that I couldn't fit in above. The proverbial saying that a picture is worth 1000 words will apply. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Finally a brand new shop

Ever see a D-6 stuck?

Brian Henninger, Tom Cordova , Peter Jacobsen

Peter shooting the opening for his "Unplugged" show on the Golf Channel

Me and my dad, Frank Phipps

John Burchell

Teaching my son Henry how to fish
Clackamas County's Dan Zinzer strategizing his first shot from the bunker on six
Tina, the finest at wiring satellite controllers
Looking back from the 13th green
Same view from the 13th green

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