It looks like a rugged stretch of Martian terrain now, but come fall the 35-year-old Chester W. Ditto Golf Course will be equally unrecognizable — as a premier golfing destination in North Texas, city officials and course contractors say.
The renovation has completely reimagined the city-owned golf course, including a full realignment of its 18 holes, making it longer with more water features, bunkers and dynamic elevation changes. Later, the city will add a much larger clubhouse.
“The course itself will be an exciting course, it will be a challenging course, yet it will be a playable course,” said Jadey James, city parks project manager. He said the city expects the new Ditto to be considered one of the region’s top public golf courses.
Landscapes Unlimited of Nebraska kicked off construction on the course in mid-December, under the direction of Arlington-based Colligan Golf Design. The course should be finished in late October or early November.
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It was an old course that had begun to have a lot of erosion. ... It was not a friendly course to play.
Nick Stanley, member of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board
It was overdue for some heavy-duty work, said Nick Stanley, a member of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board.
“It was an old course that had begun to have a lot of erosion,” Stanley said. “It had drainage issues. There became a lot of turf issues. There was rocky terrain in places. It was not a friendly course to play.”
Work on the golf course is expected to cost $8.59 million. Construction of a new clubhouse is lagging behind because of ongoing efforts to shrink the overall design and cost of the project. The total budget target is now $18.3 million, which includes a new maintenance building, irrigation pump house and on-course restroom renovations. Belt-tightening was ordered by the City Council.
De’Onna Garner, city parks planning manager, said the project is being funded by park bonds and certificates of obligation.
With the golf course to open first, Garner said, “We will have to work out of a temporary facility until the clubhouse is complete.”
The clubhouse plan started at 27,500 square feet but has since been downsized to 18,400 square feet — still more than six times larger than the original 2,500-square-foot, red-brick clubhouse that opened with the course in 1982 and will be demolished.
The current plan — although it still needs some trimming to hit its $8 million budget target, James said — includes a large kitchen, restaurant/bar, two meeting rooms with a combined 3,000 square feet, and three offices for head golf pro, assistant golf pro and general manager.
The clubhouse would have a 7,000-square-foot basement for cart storage, in addition to the final square-footage of the above-ground plans.
The existing clubhouse has a small kitchen, one office for the pro shop and no dedicated meeting space or underground storage.
“The intent originally was to get the clubhouse and golf course going at the same time, but we’ll get it down within budget and be able to move forward,” James said. “It is very hard to make those cuts, but that’s construction.”
“Country club feel”
The golf course plan has undergone its own cost savings to meet budget targets.
Among those, Bell Savoy white bunker sand has been traded for an off-white blend, a cheaper strain of Bermuda grass has replaced an upscale Buffalo grass, and the width of golf-cart paths has been trimmed from eight feet to seven, with path curbs being limited to the tees and greens to protect grass.
And the four cart-path bridges will constructed of wood instead of stone.
But the result will be striking. Among the features, the roughly 6,800-yard course will be increased to about 7,200 yards, all within the same 144 acres of the Ditto property, making it the longest of the city’s four public courses. The added length invites low-handicap golfers and potential collegiate events, according to the city’s website.
The design includes a new irrigation system with a three-acre supply lake, which will be part of the enhanced view from the clubhouse. Two new streams will run down into the lake. The new course will have 74 bunkers, compared with about 10 on the old course.
And the new topography will sport a gentle tilt inward to help keep the ball away from the rough, which was the opposite tendency of the old course.
What we’re trying to do is make it a more playable course, to where everything kind of funnels more towards the center of the fairway.
Jadey James, city parks project manager
“What we’re trying to do is make it a more playable course, to where everything kind of funnels more towards the center of the fairway,” James said. “We want to make it a more enjoyable course. The average golfer wants to come out and have a great day of golf. When you’re playing out of the rough, it’s hard to do that.”
Among the smaller attractions will be a birdhouse, to be relocated from a precarious perch where it was noticed Thursday afternoon above a field of churning clay.
James said a nice spot will be found for it. “Our golf courses are members of the Audubon Society,” he said.
Golf industry in the rough
Ditto’s facelift comes as the golf industry struggles with a lukewarm economic recovery and more courses are closing than opening. The U.S. had 15,204 golf facilities at the end of 2015, down 168 from 2014, according to the National Golf Foundation.
The numbers have been in decline since the 2008 recession. The NGF reports the number of golf courses increased from 12,847 in 1990 to 16,372 in 2005, then dropped to 15,890 in 2010. Texas had 783 golf facilities, ranking fifth among the states.
465.5 million golf rounds played in in 2013
The rounds of golf being played in the U.S. also has been declining, from 518.4 million in 2000 to 465.5 million in 2013, the latest year in the NGF report.
“Back during the downtown of the economy, the golf industry just got hammered, really hard,” said Tommy Bisanz, project superintendent of Landscapes Unlimited, Ditto’s reshapers. “It’s recovering way better now.”
James said that economic undulations traditionally haven’t held much sway on the Arlington public golf courses’ activity.
“We’ve actually remained pretty steady on all of our courses,” James said. “What has more issue with our courses is the weather.”
Stanley expects the new Ditto will make it rain for the local economy, competing against top-fight public golfing destinations like Waterchase Golf Club in east Fort Worth, Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine and Texas Star in Euless.
“We believe it’s going to bring in new business and events, banquets, weddings and golf tournaments that will benefit not just Arlington but surrounding communities,” Stanley said.
Mayor Jeff Williams said the renovation will produce a “Class A golf course ... to provide a better quality of life for our citizens.”
“As we grow our tourism,” he added, “there is going to be more demand for golf, as well as other attractions.”
Arlington’s golf courses
Meadowbrook Park, 1300 E. Dugan St. The oldest, built in 1924 a mile east of downtown Arlington
Chester W. Ditto, 801 Brown Blvd. Opened in 1982 on 144 acres
Lake Arlington, 1516 W. Green Oaks Blvd. Opened in 1963, received the most recent renovations — fairway improvements in 2008.
Tierra Verde, 7005 Golf Club Drive. Opened in 1998, was the first golf course in Texas and first municipal course in the world to be certified as an Audubon Signature Sanctuary.
Ditto annual rounds
Annual rounds of golf at Chester W. Ditto Golf Course in Arlington:
*Very good weather
**Lake Arlington closed for greens renovation March-September