Green Hill Municipal GC in Worcester drives forward by giving all bunkers a facelift

Butch Soto and his crew are renovating all the bunkers at Green Hill Municipal Golf Course. Here, they are working on the fairway bunker on the par-4 15th hole.
Butch Soto and his crew are renovating all the bunkers at Green Hill Municipal Golf Course. Here, they are working on the fairway bunker on the par-4 15th hole.

Butch Soto has helped build or renovate about 90 golf courses in the U.S. and as far away as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Singapore and Malaysia.

But he never worked on a golf course in New England until he began supervising bunker renovations at Green Hill Municipal Golf Course this month.

Soto, 62, of Largo, Florida, has worked for a while on projects with BrightView, a national landscaping company which maintains Green Hill, so he was hired as a consultant for this one.

Matt Moison said a few of Green Hill’s 43 bunkers have undergone minor renovations over the years, but this will be the first time during his 26 years as head pro that all of them will be refurbished at once. It could be the first time since the course was redesigned in 1968.

“We get a lot of play,” Moison said, “and if you’re not making reinvestments into the golf course, you’re going backwards, not forward. So this is going forward.”

Whenever it rains, water remains in some of the bunkers for days unless it’s pumped out. So Soto and the BrightView crew are installing drainage, liners and new sand in them. Soto said the only drainage the bunkers had was antiquated.

Moison said the golf course will pay for the project, whose budget is more than $400,000.

Soto hopes the bunker project will last no more than nine weeks. His target date to finish is Nov. 17 if the weather cooperates. He described Green Hill’s bunkers as relatively simple, mainly ovals and kidney shaped, and not very deep. They measure a total of 70,040 square feet.

“They’re not what I would consider hard bunkers to play,” he said, “based on many of the projects I’ve worked on in the past.”

Renovating the bunkers

The crew is removing the existing sand from the bunkers, digging trenches in a herringbone style and installing gravel and 4-inch perforated pipe to drain water to the lowest point of the bunker where it will drain out of the bunker through non-perforated pipes. A liner of sod will be installed under the new 4 to 5 inches of sand to keep rocks from raising to the surface.

Superintendent Tim O’Brien and his maintenance crew have Green Hill in tip-top condition despite a drought for much of the summer, but the bunkers have long been a problem. The sand in many bunkers is too hard. As Soto has found out, they’ve been washed out over the years.

“That pure, white, fluffy sand,” Soto said, “that you initially have in a new bunker over time just gets dirtier and dirtier and contaminated. It’s weather related, it’s leaves, it’s everything.”

The new drainage should help the sand remain softer because the sand won’t remain under water.

“Consistency was the issue with our bunkers,” Moison said. “From bunker to bunker not having the same consistency and the same level of expectation is what years of lack of capital investment does. So we’ve got to get them all on the same page.”

Moison said the bunkers on the par-3 14th hole will be redesigned to face the lower tee because he would like to close the upper tee in the next few years. The lower tee is located to the right of and behind the 13th green. The upper tee sits on a hill to the left of the 13th fairway. After putting on the 13th green, golfers must walk or drive back up the 13th fairway to reach the upper 14th tee.

Fairway bunkers on 13 and 16 will be eliminated.

Moison said planned construction of a new bunker to the right of the 18th green depends on funding, and he wasn’t sure if it would happen this fall.

From maintenance to golf course construction

Soto has worked in the golf business since he became a mechanic at Clearwater CC in Florida in 1979. He spent a decade in maintenance and then managed golf course construction for nearly 16 years for Weitz Golf International, which was based in Des Moines, Iowa. In 2008, he started his own company, Assurance Golf Consulting.

Over the years, he’s built golf courses in forests, deserts and swamps. For one course in Singapore, he even had to fill in part of the China Sea to build fairways.

“They took down some mountains and brought the material to the golf course to fill in the sea,” he said.

When he was with Weitz Golf, he worked on a lot of Jack Nicklaus courses, including Dove Mountain, home of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, outside Tucson, Arizona. He also built Traditions Club, which Nicklaus designed for Texas A&M and which opened in 2004.

So this bunker project shouldn’t be too much of a problem for him.

Holes won’t be closed during the bunker renovations, but forward tees and temporary greens will be used at times to prevent Soto and his crew from getting hit by golf balls. In his four decades of working at golf courses, Soto has been hit four times. The worst was when he thought he needed to move from behind a gang mower to avoid getting hit in San Diego in the mid-1980s. As he was in full sprint, a line drive hit his shin.

“It spun me around and took me down,” he said. “I had a big lump on my shin for quite awhile.”

At Green Hill, Soto plans to leave his own mark — by renovating the bunkers.

Worcester CC hosts Anderson Cup

Some of the top amateur golfers in the state will tee off in the Anderson Cup next weekend at Worcester Country Club.

The invitational four-ball debuted in 2002 and starting last year began donating to area charities. The event has raised about $40,000 for PGA REACH New England, supporting three pillars of impact: Diversity and inclusion, military and youth development.

“It’s in the conversation,” Worcester CC head pro Andy Lane said, “as one of the premier four balls in the state. More and more decorated amateurs are trying to play in this event because of the golf course and because of the strong field. It almost concludes the golf season here in New England and obviously the golf course in the fall is in pristine shape.”

The tournament is named after the late Gerry Anderson, a former longtime WCC member. Anderson played and coached golf at Holy Cross and mentored fellow HC graduate Paul Harney, who went on to win six PGA Tour events. A member of the HC Athletic Hall of Fame, Anderson was a tireless advocate for junior golf and always strove to grow the game.

Last year, Ryan Whitney of Old Sandwich in Plymouth and Andrew DeRamio of North Hill CC in Duxbury shot 9 under to top the field of 46 teams in the Anderson Cup. Whitney is a former NHL defenseman with Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Edmonton and Florida, and he currently works as an analyst for the NHL Network.

The top names in the field this year include former champions Brandon Parker, Taylor Fontaine, Brian Higgins, Dan and Dave Falcucci, and Alex Snickenberger. Kyle Tibbetts and Victor Galvani will be among those seeking to win the event for the first time. Pairings will be determined this week.

In the 39th Mass. Mid-Amateur last week at Marlborough CC, Tibbetts tied for fourth place at 3-under 210, and Parker finished sixth at 2-under 211. Sean Fitzpatrick of George Wright GC shot 71-68-68 to finish at 8-under 205 and win by four shots over defending champion Matt Parziale of Thorny Lea GC and Arthur Zelmati of George Wright. Parziale led by a stroke before he carded a 9 on the par-4 17th hole.

Ricky Stimets of Worcester CC tied for ninth at 2 over, and Frank Vana Jr. of the host club tied for 13th at 4 over.

—Contact Bill Doyle at Follow him on Twitter@BillDoyle15.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Bunkers receive facelift at Green Hill Municipal Golf Course