About 20 miles west of downtown Richmond, Va., out in cherished horse country, past the county water lines and fiberoptic communication wires, there’s an inconspicuous set of four mailboxes marking the entrance to a piece of land I’ve been responsible for maintaining over the last 15 years. A keypad lays hidden inside a hedge protecting our entrance. Two stone columns flank the metal entrance gate, on the left, “Kanawha,” on the right, “private.”
The unmistakable look of confusion permeates when others learn I work at a “high-end,” private 9-hole par-3 golf course. Most don’t even know it exists, let alone understand the nuances around such a unique golf setting. I have experienced the luxury of overseeing the property transform from a tract of semi-forested rural land into one of the most interesting golf experiences folks describe after their first couple of rounds.
A 9-hole round at Kanawha Club generally only takes the average golfer about an hour-and-a-half. Members have developed their own ways to enjoy Kanawha. We have three to four sets of tees on every hole, with yardages ranging from 55 to 240 yds. Twice a year, we convert the 9-hole layout into a 6-hole loop of cross-country golf. These events offer members a non-traditional approach to the game and a new way to enjoy our setup.
Kanawha Club started as an idea for a challenging private practice facility, spawned as a larger version of its owner’s urban backyard practice facility. The club takes its name from Kanawha County, set along the Kanawha River bisecting Charleston, W.Va. – the hometown of the owner and his wife. Ironically, the southern border of our property is the Little River, a manmade canal constructed in the 1800s that allowed bateau boats to circumnavigate the rapids of the James River toward their destinations upstream as part of the encompassing Kanawha Canal System.
Managing a par-3 course is an interesting endeavor. Overseeing the entire construction of a 55-acre parcel of land into a golf course with a few adjacent private residences was an interesting part of my first superintendent position. At 26 years old, I embarked on a mission that started as an idea and has grown into something I care very deeply about. It has continued to feed my passion for turfgrass management.
It’s difficult to understand daily life at a par-3 course. Kanawha has some extreme terrain and requires a different approach to what most turf managers experience, and it provides a unique approach to golf course maintenance and preparation. Due to the smaller size and minimal acreage, most duties on the course only take a fraction of the time to complete. Instead of mowing greens for the first few hours each morning, our jobs only take about an hour or so to complete.
It is not uncommon for some of our seven full-time staff members to complete six or seven different jobs on any given day. Because of this, a job board doesn’t make sense, as our list of tasks vary so frequently that we would spend more time updating and adjusting it rather than just allowing each day to dictate the revolving task list. Our staff members enjoy the variety. Their skills reflect knowledge and proficiency of every piece of equipment in our maintenance facility.
Perhaps the single most challenging aspect of managing a golf course for such a small membership is never losing sight of the expectations and standards of the Kanawha experience when there is a very real chance nobody besides staff members will pass through the gates. There aren’t many managers who can count the number of daily rounds on one hand or who can count the ball marks, divots and bunker shots of the prior day – and likely know who created them.
The minimal number of rounds means we generally have carte blanche as far as day-to-day operations. We rarely need to make accommodations for a full course, work backwards against play or fret over other headaches plaguing almost every other maintenance operation in existence. At Kanawha, maintenance has the luxury of being a priority.
CLICK HERE to read Golf Course Industry’s April cover story about Mountain Shadows, a high-end par-3 course in Arizona.