Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Maplewood fallow no more

Once-abandoned course resurrected after hard battles with Rat River

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When it comes to golf, some people require only a pleasant walk.

Others need that plus some fun. And still others need it to go a step further -- they don't consider it fun without the challenge of trouble.

Welcome to Maplewood Golf Club, the finally resurrected little layout not far south of the city and just north of St. Pierre-Jolys.

The Rat River has been a mean-spirited Red River tributary over the last 20 years and has caused no end of grief to proprietors who have tried to make a go of it in this pretty little corner of southern Manitoba.

Earlier in the 2000s, another soggy spring left the operation in limbo and a dispute of ownership even saw the club left to grow over about three years ago.

But under Michael Guertin's new ownership and management, the cutting began again in 2008, the protective dikes have been raised yet again, the bridges restored and the course managed to get 12 holes into play late last summer.

The rest, mainly the simplifying renovations on the back nine, needed more time. And with a good fall and fabulous spring, Maplewood (formerly Rat River) is whole once again.

"Yeah, for a year it was let go back to seed," confirmed Barry Gibson, Maplewood's new head professional. "We were watching it but we weren't maintaining it.

"Then about halfway through 2008, we started cutting and cleaning and got the front nine open last year, up to about 12 holes. We had every intention of getting it all open but the weather was so awful and we just got so far behind."

New superintendent Mike Greenwood has had no small challenge restoring the 5,500-yard (maximum) par-70 track, where you don't need your driver a whole lot but there is no end of hazards and penalty strokes lurking. Raised dikes have meant squeezed fairways in a few spots, and also a few new tees on the top of the dikes.

Three back-nine holes have been rerouted to new greens and all have turned out well, taking some of the unreasonable difficulty out (No. 11 over the river is now an attractive 300-yard par 4 from the back tee instead of a 470-yard monster down a bowling alley) and adopting a more logical routing.

A visit last week revealed a much more playable 11th and an interesting accuracy demand on the short-ish par-5 at No. 15.

Considering flooding, renovation and short-term neglect, the turf is more than playable around Maplewood, with the proviso that a few of the back-nine holes are not yet completely restored to ideal condition.

"One of our goals is to get the greens in top-notch shape," said Gibson, and the club is within two or three greens of that target. "We want top-rate greens, which is what players want, and we're focused on that.

"Then, we're determined to get the course cleaned up and well-groomed so that when it grows in, it will fill in properly. We think it will and we're pretty happy so far."

One thing we actually liked was how the dikes were incorporated more into the game at Maplewood. They weren't just used as tee locations, but they also serve as backdrops and steering walls on a few holes, giving the hesitant brain a little more reason to trust in the swing message it sends to the hands.

"From all that flooding, right back to the early '90s, even during the season and late in the season, when we started the renos here in 2006, those dikes just had to come up to new levels," Gibson said.

"But you have to remember that for every foot up, you have to go out two, so lots of fairways had to be rerouted and reshaped.

"And many needed to be repaired but as we did so, we tried to keep the general integrity of topography here, because it's very rolly and lots of fun. Really, we just tried to take some of the quirkiness out."

The dikes, Gibson said, will eventually be seeded with some wild grasses to give them a more uniform and inclusive look on the course.

Hope has always been in major supply at Maplewood. Now, it seems, there's good reason for it.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2010 C4

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