NH Golf: Derryfield seeks solution to drainage problem
Andy Vachon, left, Manchester's recreation enterprise manager, and Peter Capano, they city's parks, recreation and cemetery chief, discuss proposals to address Derryfield Country Club drainage. (Mark Bolton / Union Leader)
LIKE MANY Manchester golfers, Brian Caldwell learned the game at Derryfield Country Club, the city's municipal course. Starting in his early teens, he spent most summer days hiking Derryfield's hills and eventually became a low handicapper. Looking back fondly on his formative years, Caldwell credits the city layout for nurturing his game. "It's such a great course for learning how to play, because of all the hills and different lies," he said.
After settling in the Queen City six years ago, Caldwell became a Derryfield member, but deteriorating course conditions prompted him not to rejoin in 2010. Poor drainage that rendered several low-lying holes periodically unplayable during the spring and soggy for much of the season played a major role in his decision.
"Growing up there, we played in the soup and you could get away with it, but it just seems like it's getting worse and worse every year," said the 36-year-old, who now drives 20 minutes to play Candia Woods.
Caldwell isn't the only Derryfield defector out there.
Over the last decade, membership and rounds played have declined steadily at the 18-hole layout designed by noted New England golf architects Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek.
Opened with nine holes in 1932, Derryfield expanded to 18 two years later and has since hosted the State Amateur five times, most recently in 1998.
Although the city's Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Division in 2007-08 oversaw drainage repair on five holes west of Mammoth Road, the thoroughfare that bisects the course, play has continued to dwindle. Membership declined from 607 golfers in 2008 to 493 last year, while rounds played decreased slightly from 32,157 to 30,959 over the same period, according to club records.
Although the rounds-played decrease reflects a national trend and the membership decline might be attributed at least partially to a tough economy, it's hard to dispute the notion that the drainage woes primarily afflicting six holes east of Mammoth Road make Derryfield less attractive to golfers.
Because of poor drainage, the course operated either with some holes closed, motorized carts forbidden or both on more than 50 days last year, many of them early in the season, said head pro Mike Ryan.
Fortunately, on the heels of a recent tree-removal project intended to enhance turf health on several holes, chief of parks Peter Capano and his staff have turned their attention to finding a long-term solution to the drainage dilemma. In response to a February request from the Highway Department Purchasing Division, nine engineering firms have submitted proposals to address the problem.
"We asked them to give us some short-term approaches to drainage issues and at least two long-term solutions," Capano said. "We wanted to get some outside-of-the-box thinking, if you will. We wanted some creativity in those solutions."
In his recent city budget proposal for fiscal year 2013, which starts July 1, Mayor Ted Gatsas allocated $250,000 of an expected $1.7 million surplus from fiscal year 2012 to fund the initial engineering work. The proposal request calls for completion of the work by Aug. 31.
Although the mayor's allocation isn't final until the budget is approved by the Board of Aldermen, a committee that includes parks officials and at least one Derryfield member will review submitted proposals and interview three finalists before selecting a firm for the project, Capano said.
"We'd like to have someone chosen by the end of April and working in May," he said.
The city's movement toward solving Derryfield's drainage problem is a positive step, said Tom Thirsk, a longtime club member and co-chair of Save Derryfield Golf Course, a group formed last November to enlighten the mayor and aldermen regarding the situation and enlist their aid in addressing it.
"We're cautiously optimistic," Thirsk said. "We're not going to give up, put it that way. And if it comes down to getting a political solution, we're not opposed to that either."
Arguing that current course conditions are costing the city revenue and that continued deterioration will increase repair costs, the group has authored a petition calling for the mayor and aldermen to allocate funds toward improving conditions. More than 500 people have signed the petition so far, Thirsk said.
Whether and how the city funds improvements beyond the initial phase remain open questions, but an investment in Derryfield would likely entice golfers like Caldwell to return.
"If they can fix the problem, I'd go back in a heartbeat," he said. "I really want to have my son grow up playing Derryfield like I did, because I think it makes you a better golfer."
THROUGH THE GREEN: One of the game's greats is coming to New Hampshire later this month. Annika Sorenstam, who won 72 LPGA tournaments during her Hall of Fame career, will conduct a 2:30 p.m. exhibition and sign autographs April 27 at Golf and Ski Warehouse in Hudson. A Callaway Golf endorser, Sorenstam will appear in conjunction with the store's recent opening of a Callaway Performance Center, one of only 18 such facilities in the country that features custom-fitting technology the equipment manufacturer uses to outfit PGA Tour pros such as Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. . . . The New Hampshire Golf Association will conduct a Rules of Golf clinic at Concord Country Club from 9-3 p.m. April 21. The clinic will emphasize 2012 rules changes, and cost is $15. To register, call John Jelley at 569-3471 or e-mail email@example.com.
Mike Cullity's column on New Hampshire golf appears weekly during the golf season in the New Hampshire Sunday News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.