September 1, 2015 – When Tom Jansa gets in a golf cart and starts up the cart path along the nine holes comprising Elmwood Golf Course’s North Course, he has a clear view of what has made the past two years so hectic.
Light towers leading planes to the runway at Sioux Falls Regional Airport dot the horizon and stand on the course itself. What used to be an imposing bunch of pine and black walnut trees is now a fairway. The Federal Aviation Administration’s directive to expand the airport’s runway area cut straight into the North Course, and an adjacent fence stands as a reminder of the land’s new resident.
Elmwood is currently in a state of rare unity: Renovations to the North Course were finished last Friday and the West Course doesn’t go under the knife until Sept. 8. If a golfer so desired, he could play all 27 holes in a day. The ribbon-cutting for the new nine will take place Thursday at 1 p.m.
The course won’t be totally renovated until 2016. It’s taken a hit in attendance during construction, with fellow city courses Prairie Green and Kuehn Park drawing some of the crowds away.
But early reviews of the newly done North Course are promising, and conditions on the East Course have improved in the year since its opening. The runway expansion had given Elmwood its share of inconveniences, but it has also given the course the opportunity for wholesale improvement.
Regardless of whether the Sioux Falls Regional Airport Authority was going to lengthen the runway, Jansa, president of Dakota Golf Management, the company contracted by the city to run its three public courses, knew that a number of the golf course’s trees had to come down to comply with height regulations for land adjacent to the airport. The trees along Russell Street bounding the driving range came down, as did the trees on the North Course’s opening hole that formed a dogleg (a bend) to the left.
“If there’s no trees, there’s no dogleg,” said Jansa.
Holes had to be moved and remapped to accommodate the new runway, and along with that new turf and irrigation would be put in. To do it on just the holes affected by the renovation would produce a “patchwork” effect on the entire facility, so DGM took the opportunity to work on the entirety of the East and West Courses, rather than just the holes affected.
The East Course was renovated starting in Sept. 2013 and opened for play a year later. An unusually wet June and delays in the delivery of materials set the construction of that course back and affected the playing surface, but a year in, the course has “matured” and the greens in particular are drawing raves.
For the North Course, however, the process was almost painless, said Kevin Norby of Herfort Norby, the golf course architecture firm DGM has worked with for the renovations.
“We had, really, a perfect growing season and construction season for the North nine,” Norby said. “I really don’t think there were any unexpected challenges there.”
Overall, there’s roughly a 50-50 split of holes that have to be moved around and those that are just tidied up. The North Course saw the most drastic movement, with the trees forming a line from the airport to the clubhouse coming down and a new par-3 hole going in. The course’s maintenance facilities also moved closer to the East Course.
The improvements are obvious, though, even with the new look of everything. The new turf maintains height better and is more resistant to diseases. Renovating the North Course meant DGM could take a fairway built on a riverbed filled in with garbage – meaning it kept having to be re-leveled and re-graded – and turn it into an area of rough between holes.
The West Course will likely be the least drastic of the three renovations, with much of the work dedicated to shifting the current layout around and maintaining a uniform look across the course’s 27 holes. It will, however, open up room for two holes to complete the course’s five-hole junior golf facility, which used to be up by the airport but now sits next to the clubhouse.
As he neared the end of the North Course, Jansa veered off the cart path and onto the fairway of the 16th hole to chat with a threesome that was effusive in its compliments of the course.
Ginger Jones expressed her appreciation for the natural flora of the rough being maintained, with sumac and other plants lining the course. The only problem she had was with the divots that broke the pristine nature of the course.
“It’s wonderful,” Jones said to Jansa. “You did a good job.”
Jansa was happy to hear Jones’ reaction, though not entirely surprised.
“That’s pretty typical of just about everybody who’s played,” he said as headed back to the cart path.