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Southwood's timetable goes south

New course is beautiful, on budget, behind schedule

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Manitoba's most expensive golf project ever is nearing completion in St. Norbert.

The timetable for Southwood Golf and Country Club's departure from its location near the University of Manitoba remains up in the air, however, thanks largely to the 150 per cent of normal rainfall brought on by the spring and summer of 2010.

Here's a quick summary of what is and what isn't happening with the construction of the new $8-million Thomas McBroom design on 297 acres just south of the Perimeter Highway.

Southwood's project is on budget, club officials insist.

Southwood's new clubhouse, situated not far from the monastery ruins, is well underway and should be complete by the spring.

The golf course isn't quite on the schedule envisioned but that's hardly a shock in the golf course construction world.

The south nine, or back nine, could probably be open now. Seeded last year and benefiting from a great weather conclusion to 2009 and moist and hot growing conditions in 2010, its fairways are full and its greens are dense -- pretty much what McBroom and the club envisioned.

The north nine, or front nine, was not completed in 2009. Wet weather this year, while helping the back nine, hindered the completion of seeding on the front nine and that half of the course is behind the desired schedule.

Southwood's plan was to have the move complete to start the 2011 golf season. Now, the club must decide which option is better -- move to start next year but only have some of its new 18 holes open, or opt to remain at its University of Manitoba location for a few months of 2011 until all 18 holes are ready.

"The grow-in is finished on the south nine," McBroom said in an interview last week during one of his regular, bi-weekly visits.

"Now it's just conditioning, getting it ready for opening day. It's working with the guys, cutting height and cutting patterns, grooming, getting it game-ready.

"The front nine has all been seeded. We started first of June and finished first of August. Everything's green now. It's going to take four months of decent weather to get it where you would think about opening it. Honestly, I think we're looking at July 1 (2011) for that. This (south) nine is ready to go now. The board now has to make a decision."

And therein lies Southwood's choice. All the experts in the world can't make grass grow faster than it will and maturity is not a commodity.

"From a conditioning point of view, we want this really first-class when it opens," McBroom said.

The new Southwood site is like nothing else in the area and McBroom issued something just short of an order when asked to describe how it's turned out so far.

"I would say generally, broad-brush, I think it's an extraordinary golf course," the renowned Canadian architect said. "I can't tell you where it's going in terms of ranking but I think the look of it is very unique. I call it prairie style. It's not links style and I don't ever want that word used with this golf course. It's prairie style."

Southwood's new course is also big. And by that, we don't mean only in terms of its hefty back-tee yardage of 7,400 yards.

"The scale is huge," McBroom explained. "That will be the first thing people notice. It's big. But having said that, from a walking perspective, it's the same as a regular course because it connects really nicely from green to the next tee.

"But the spaces are large; it's not tree-lined so it appears big. And certainly the clubhouse precinct is also big. You have three nines and the range. The range (about 15 acres) is probably the biggest I've ever built. The short-game area (about six acres) is probably the biggest I've ever built."

McBroom is excited about his newest creation for another reason. After moving nearly 500,000 cubic metres of earth, he has overseen the transformation of a flat site into rolling terrain that feels natural for golf.

"The thing I like most about it is when you walk the holes, I think you might say, 'Boy, you had a great site to work with,'" McBroom said. "But it wasn't a great site. We gave the land a beautiful roll. It has a distinct roll to it but it does not look in any way manufactured or artificial.

"I pride myself on trying to get the right course for the right site and develop a unique look that fits, that's comfortable and feels at home. To me, it now looks totally natural.

"Many holes are very alone. You're contained within the undulations. I love every hole out here. I think every one is distinct, memorable. It's very hard to get that with a flat site. It's one of the rules of thumb in golf - if you can remember the holes after you play them, it's usually a pretty good golf course.

"I think this has great memorability."

Right now, though, a little more patience is required.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2010 C4

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