There's no silver shovel, no ceremonial rhetoric, no prayer.
Machine operator Nick Carhart simply climbs onto the deck of a
15-ton Caterpillar SS-250B rototiller, slips into the driver's
seat, engages the rotor clutch, throttles up, releases the
parking brake and pushes the gear stick forward. With a throaty
roar the monster cultivator creeps forward, the big teeth on its
rotating drum chewing up a nine-foot-wide swath of sod and soil.
Carhart has started this first strip just below the 9th green,
and he's crawling downhill toward the 9th tee. Ten yards, 20
It's a grand spring morning in Gainesville, Fla.--you can hear
the mockingbirds and blue jays despite the throb of the tiller.
Thirty yards, 40 yards. The big front tires turn like lazy mill
wheels. Fifty yards. Then, with a muffled thunk and a mechanical
groan, the big Cat lurches and stops. Somebody probably should
have said a prayer.
"This always happens," says Scot Sherman, the senior associate
course designer for Weed Golf Course Design, watching from the
middle of the fairway as the actual renovation of the course,
which he has been involved in planning for months, begins. "The
first hole with the rototillers, we always hit something. One
time we hit galvanized pipe and snapped the shear pin. Another
time we hit a six-inch water line, and water was gushing
Nothing is gushing today, so the breakdown is treated
matter-of-factly. "Get a crowbar," Tom Weber, the construction
superintendent, says to a member of his crew. He leans over to
inspect the ground behind the tiller. A jagged piece of ancient
two-inch galvanized pipe is sticking out of the tilled soil--a
corroded javelin thrown by some mid-20th-century irrigation
contractor. More of the pipe is caught in the blades and wrapped
around the drum of the rototiller. "This is a good omen," says
Sherman, looking resolutely calm. "This means the job's going to
The crowbar is actually a five-foot bar, and it takes two men
about a minute to dislodge the twisted pipe from the drum. Weber
climbs aboard a John Deere 544H articulating loader with a
forklift attachment and begins ripping the old pipe out of the
ground. It's easy work, now that he knows where the pipe is.
The fork plunges into the turf, heaves upward, and the rusted
line springs out of the ground in 20- and 40-foot lengths.
Watching this, University of Florida course superintendent Mark
Birdsell shakes his head. Most modern irrigation lines run the
length of a hole, but these old pipes were planted across the
fairway at 25- to 30-yard intervals.
Next, the rototiller gets a quick inspection. Opening a small
hatch behind the driver's chair, Weber and Sherman check the
shear pin--a 7/16-inch bolt that's actually designed to snap under
extreme loads, preventing damage to the drive shaft or engine.
"It's broken," says Sherman, adding, "Been there, done that."
Weber sends a crew member to the hardware store for a bag of
replacement bolts, and everybody else breaks for lunch, having
tilled a grand total of 1,458 square feet, or the equivalent of a
small suburban lawn.
During lunch in the clubhouse Weber sighs. "We're going to spend
about 40 hours with that 544 now," he says, meaning 40 hours
prying up pipe in advance of the rototiller.
"Good," says Sherman. "I budgeted 50."
Neither man is worked up. This is only the first of many crises
that Sherman and Weber will tackle over the next several months.
Weber, 35, works for MacCurrach Golf Construction, Inc., of
Jacksonville, the company hired by Weed to demolish and rebuild
the Florida course. Weber knows the drill. Among other projects,
he has overseen renovations at Riviera, in Pacific Palisades,
Calif. (with designer Ed Connor); at Harbour Town, in Hilton
Head, S.C. (with Pete Dye); and at Timuquana Country Club, in
Jacksonville (with Bobby Weed). "On this job we're doing
everything but the shaping and the tree moving," Weber says.
"We're in charge from Day One until everything's planted."
To help him accomplish his tasks, Weber has an on-site office
manager, a mechanic and a crew of as many as 35 working 7-to-7
shifts, six days a week. He will also have at his disposal more
than 25 pieces of equipment, including track hoes, bulldozers,
tractors and dump trucks. Some of the machines belong to
MacCurrach, but many are rented. The spanking-new SS-250B tiller,
for instance, has been hired from Ring Power Corp. in
Jacksonville for $16,000 a month. (Off the showroom floor the
tiller costs $250,000.) A week ago, after the course plan got
final approval from the university's Land Use and Facilities
Planning Committee, Birdsell's crew sprayed the herbicide Roundup
on the fairways, tees and greens. Then Weber's team began
clearing unwanted trees from the site, bulldozing some, toppling
others with chain saws.
To Weber, the son of a Cincinnati golf pro, the sounds of
construction are sweet music. Eleven years ago, he was selling
Florida real estate by day and dreaming of better things at
night. "I hated what I was doing," he says, "and I was going
His offices, by chance, were located one floor below the offices
of Palmer Course Design in Ponte Vedra Beach. Stimulated by
lunchtime conversations with the Palmer staff, Weber accepted a
job with Landscapes Unlimited, Inc., a golf course construction
company. "I got into a ditch with a bunch of workers for seven
bucks an hour," he says with a shrug, a smile wrinkling his young
but weathered face. "We're kind of like gypsies because we travel
so much, but I have always loved construction. I try to work with
architects like Pete and Bobby, who design less from plans and
more in the field."
Says Sherman, "Tom's multitalented. He can run any piece of
equipment, and he has an intense interest in architecture and
For the four to five months he expects to be on this job, Weber
has rented a house less than a block from the course. He plans to
drive home every weekend to spend time with his wife, Julie, and
their children, Leila, 14, and Wren, 5--assuming he keeps the
project on schedule. "Scot thinks the tiller breaking down is a
good omen," Weber says with a doubtful smile. "I don't know."
Around 5 o'clock, Carhart fires up the SS-250B, lowers the
cutting drum to a depth of 12 inches and resumes his pastoral
crawl down the 9th fairway, a 15-ton snail on a 100-acre lawn.
In the next installment of This Old Course, we'll get on an
excavator and load a few dump trucks with fine Florida sand.
We'll also dig some trenches for the new irrigation lines and,
if there's time, we'll watch the tree team move a 40-inch oak
from here to there.
For previous installments of This Old Course go to
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID WALBERG Before a fairway could be tilled, the old irrigation pipes had to be removed.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL This pump can drive 1,500 gallons a minute through Florida's irrigation system.
All Pumped Up
As of last week, the pump station ordered by the University of
Florida Athletic Association to irrigate the course was near
completion on the factory floor at Flowtronex PSI Inc., in
Dallas. The three-vertical-turbine pump station with variable
frequency drive is bright teal--not a Florida color--but someone
has taped a GO GATORS! greeting to the interior of the control
closet. Any day now the unit and two smaller transfer pumps will
be lifted by overhead crane and put on a flatbed truck for
delivery to Gainesville. "We try to make these as turnkey as we
know how," says Flowtronex president Emil Gram. "It's not unusual
that a pump station arrives on a site in the morning and is
pumping water in the afternoon."
The Florida station is one of about 650 that Flowtronex will
build for golf courses this year. This one is a Silent Storm
FPX-VWPT-1500-3-120. "Those numbers mean something," says Gram.
The 1500, for instance, is for gallons per minute, the pump's
discharge capacity. The 120 is for pounds of discharge per
square inch. Price: $69,407, delivered. --J.G.