dickson's blog

Get inside the mind of owner Dickson Jensen

Many of you in the golf community may be wondering why the owner of the #1 golf course in the state of Iowa would undergo a complete renovation of the golf course and all of the club’s facilities. The answer is certainly multifaceted, but can be summarized in a simple statement: The Harvester Golf Club was a very good public golf course, ranked annually in the top 50 of the Golf Digest Top 100 Public list; that will become one of the greatest private clubs in the country. An even simpler answer is, The Harvester Club desires greatness.

I want to share with you how I believe those statements are defined and what all is involved in this process. Over the next several months I will be adding to this blog my thoughts and experiences as it relates to this grand transformation of The Harvester Club. Let me start with helping you understand who I am: I am a 54 year old male who has been married for 31 glorious years to my wife, Luann, who has supported me and put up with many years of crazy ideas and far fetched dreams that many times seem unattainable. With her support, we forged forward and have been blessed with many great outcomes in our lives. The best of our blessings includes 5 wonderful children, 4 happily married, and 6 special grandchildren. I am an Iowa native, born and raised in small town Iowa, educated at Iowa State University receiving a B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering, an MBA degree in business, and a Master of Science in Engineering Valuation. My natural instincts pushed me to begin my own business in the engineering, construction, and development world. Starting from scratch, my business (Jensen Group) has developed into a very successful real estate entity in the state of Iowa. Our reputation is strong and has grown, not by fancy advertising, but through consistent hard work based on traditional values of honesty and caring for others. Our pattern of business over the past 30 years has been always challenging ourselves to be excellent in all the we do. Our projects get bigger, more complicated, impact more people, but in the end the same fundamentals apply; hard work, striving for excellence, and doing what is right.

You now understand a bit about me and the overall goal of The Harvester Club; so let’s get into the big picture of this project. When you transform a well-established public golf course into a private club the major areas of work include two general things: the redoing of the golf course, and the redoing of the facilities. Throughout my entries on this blog, over time you will see the details unfold. By the way, as mentioned earlier I am 54-year-old man, and I do not quite understand blogs, but it has been suggested by many that this would be a good method to inform those in the golf world what is unfolding at The Harvester Club. So, if my writing skills are not the best and/or I am not using proper “blogging” techniques forgive me!

Let’s start with the redoing of the golf course… Over the years I have had the privilege to play hundreds of courses around the United States. Golf has taken me to some of the most beautiful, God created locations imaginable. The calmness of many golf sites, the naturalness of the God given features, and simply the awe of the views has driven me to thoroughly love the game. The friendships and comradery of family and friends playing these spectacular golf courses has been priceless.

The game of golf has expanded and challenged my mind, and pushed me to understand everything about the game. I have come to a point in my life where I believe “the good old days”, when things were simpler, can still be the best days in the future. For the game of golf, “the good old days” began in the 1920’s with great architects like Charles Blair (C.B.) MacDonald designing masterful courses such as National Golf Links of America on Long Island. The great golf architects of the Golden Age of golf design such as C.B. MacDonald, Seth Raynor, Charles Banks, Devereux Emmet, George Crump, AW Tillinghast, H.S. Colt, William Flynn, Perry Maxwell, and many others; have inspired me to spearhead the efforts of creating a golf club that models the efforts that these individuals demonstrated through many wonderful golf clubs in the United States today. To create a Golden Age design in 2018, I sought after what I believe is one of today’s greatest scholars of golf course design, Keith Foster. Keith was not only challenged and invigorated to create a 1920 type golf course on the landscapes of the rolling hills in the middle of the state of Iowa, but he was also excited to draw on his vast knowledge of study of these great architects' designs from the Golden Era. Keith gladly accepted the difficult position of changing his original design at The Harvester, enhancing it to fit fully with what would have been done in ‘20s had any of the great architects before him been on this piece of land to create a masterpiece. Keith is constantly challenged to make The Harvester great while still utilizing the tremendous design he created in year 2000 that many of us have enjoyed playing on over the last 18 years. I will go into many of the things that Keith has retained and restored of the original Harvester design and share with you the new features and concepts that would have been contemplated for a design that would have been completed in the Golden Era. Step 1 of the golf course redesign was completed in March 2018 when Keith Foster said, “Let’s make The Harvester Club a GREAT Golden Age design.”

Step 2 in the process of renovating the golf course is the selection of the contractor to do much of the work. One may think that moving dirt from spot A to spot B, or digging a bunker 5-foot-deep in front of a green, or naturalizing the slopes of hillsides can be accomplished by most anyone who call themselves golf course construction companies; that is far from the truth. The work of the actual individuals on site, day in and day out, crafting the earth with small equipment and many hand tools is a very complicated, skill-based, and demanding job. After a thorough search of my options, I was fortunate enough to obtain the services of McDonald & Sons golf course builders out of Baltimore, Maryland. Through my research there are certainly other capable firms, but I can confidently say that McDonald & Sons have proven to be the right firm for our project. The resume of McDonald & Sons is deep and spans over many years with work successfully completed at some of the highest and best clubs in the United States. In other words, these guys are really stinking good!

I hope you enjoyed my brief introduction of our project and I look forward to sending out more posts that detail out many fun and exciting decisions that we have made and things we have accomplished throughout process of converting The Harvester Golf Club (public) to The Harvester Club (private).

One of the first decisions in the renovation process of The Harvester Club was the related to the green complexes. As many of you who have played The Harvester over the years know, the greens are referred to by most, if not all, as excellent putting surfaces. No matter what time of year or weather conditions, the greens remain fast (11-13 on stimp), smooth, and true. The surfaces have gentle movement and contours that create exciting and fair putts. Generally speaking, everyone loved The Harvester’s greens and was one of the primary reasons people would return to play again and again. A green surface is a culture of grass that “lives” together and is established over the years as a result of the original seeding, the sand and soils of the area, the contaminations that are brought on to the surfaces through the air, and how they are maintained on a daily and yearly basis. Therefore, what is established on a green today will be part of a culture of grasses on the green that changes slightly over time. After analyzing our greens, it was determined that the health of our greens is terrific, the culture of the greens is a superior putting surface, and frankly we did not want to mess with them so there would not be any chance of the greens on the new club to be inferior to our current greens. So, we left them alone. We did enlarge the greens in certain spots and trim them in other spots by flipping the sod from one area to another area on the green surfaces. No green sod was lost in the process and no new green sod was brought in to The Harvester in the process. That’s right, we netted even sod for the 18 greens. That task alone is pretty amazing and frankly, we got a little lucky! Another point of interest relating to the greens at The Harvester Club is the maintenance on the greens over the last 18 years has been the normal mowing, lots of use of daily rolling the green, light top-dressing nearly weekly, and no aeriation or punching holes in the green surfaces EVER. The greens alone are a huge reminder to me of the quality maintenance staff that is genuinely caring for and maintaining these surfaces over the years. Our two superintendents have been Joel Randall and Chad Wilson. Both started their young careers at other great clubs through short stints of time but have primarily been responsible for The Harvester and are still there daily ensuring the renovation process is completed properly. Just so you know, the daily basis for them over the last 5 months of this process has been 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM virtually 7 days a week. Amazing job by both men and their staff and all of those that will get to enjoy The Harvester should be forever grateful for their efforts.

Once it was determined the green surfaces were staying, Keith Foster had the vision of not just great greens but great green complexes. Golf courses that were built in the Golden Age (1920’s) had green complexes that at many times went out 30+ yards around the greens. In other words, the area surrounding the green would “set up” the putting surface. This surrounding area would include: carefully crafted bunkering, thoughtful mounding, swails, hollows, and different varieties of grasses. The surrounds were used to produce exciting short game challenges, as well as functionally used to properly drain water away from greens and bunkers to the natural surroundings. The green surrounds that Keith and the MacDonald’s team have created at The Harvester are really, really special. The next question becomes, “what is the sand in these bunkers?” The team went through much research, thought, and consideration of different types of sand. Factors that typically play in sand selection include: cost, color, playability, accessibility, and style of sand and bunkers. We chose a flat bottom style bunker that sits into the ground nicely and was common among courses built in the early 1900s. Also common was using sand that was on or near the site. This has presented challenges for golf courses all over the country over the years as many golf course owners, designers, and construction companies quickly go with quarries or distributors that make golf course sand for use on course all over the United States. This sand is then hauled around the country but is generally perceived as “good” sand because it was used on another “good” golf course. Through our research process, we went through filtering and testing Iowa sand we came up with what is the “perfect” sand for The Harvester. Our sand is a light tan color (a color native to our area), mined locally, filtered and processed locally, produces playability that is consistent with other “good” sand; is obviously accessible for us, and with it being local the hauling costs are minimized. Generally speaking, I love our sand and I think you will too. It looks great, plays great, is available for us to replenish the bunkers yearly, and is unique to our club alone.

That is enough for today, tune in soon as my next blog will discuss our grass selection for the club!

Green complexes

My last blog discussed the green surrounds and bunkering. Today, I am going to discuss what you will see on the tees, fairways, and roughs that all lead to the magnificent green complexes at The Harvester. Every tee at The Harvester is redone and virtually every tee has been repositioned. All the tees are laser leveled with drainage in a 7-inch sand base with new seeded 007 bent grass. Our tees should have zero drainage issues as not only is there drainage in the tee under the 7-inch sand base, but our tees are generally sloped either front to back, back to front, left to right, or right to left at about 1% depending on the natural grade of the surrounding land. This slight slope allows for surface drainage as well. The fairway grass is also 007 bent grass, which is a far superior bent grass to what was available to The Harvester 20 years ago. It is much more heat and disease resistant, allows for a very tight cut height, and is a wonderful surface to hit your fairway iron shots with. (i.e. it’s the best bent grass out there) Our fairway cut height will generally be +/- ½ inch with a ¼ inch cut on approaches in front of most greens. These approaches will be between 20 and 40 yards long with extra drainage under them and over time with an aggressive top-dressing program will firm up to be an extension of the green surfaces. The 007 grass allows for this extreme green-like mowing and will be another unique feature that is reminiscent of Golden Age design.

 We have been installing low mow blue grass in all the rough areas adjacent to the fairways and greens. For normal, daily play the mow heights of the blue grass will be around 2 inches. This allows for very enjoyable golf and yet certainly a slight penalty for missing the fairways. There are many great Golden Age courses that were established with tighter roughs only to allow the rough to grow long (4 to 5 inches) to use this length of grass as a defense to scoring on their courses. If we deemed it necessary for certain events to grow our rough grass longer it will certainly be capable of doing so. However, we believe a top player will still be extremely challenged on our course with other features that frankly are more exciting than trying to hack your ball out of 5 inch rough all day. The shorter rough allows you to find the ball quickly and play on which will also contribute to +/- 4-hour rounds much like the length of time it took golfers in the early 1900s to play. I don’t like looking for my ball and I believe that most people don’t either which I think you will find little of that at The Harvester.

The one area you may spend some time looking for your ball is in our fescue grasses. Significant areas of fescue grasses have been planted (probably over 40 acres). However, these fescue areas are

generally out of play, but will provide great accent in texture to the golf hole and the surrounding vistas. Come August and September of a given golf season, the view over beautiful green bent grass, tees, greens, and fairways will sparkle with the tight low mow blue grass around them with the golden-brown surrounding fescue grass in the distances. These fescue areas, however, do creep in to certain bunker faces, layup areas, and green surrounds. So, you will get to experience shots out of this sandy-based knee-high grass on a given day.

What allows these grasses to function properly, so you enjoy them is actually buried beneath the ground in the drainage and irrigation. Virtually all drainage and irrigation has been reconstructed in this process at The Harvester. With the movement of significant amount of dirt on the tees and in most fairways, it was required to redo the irrigation and drainage but likewise the new systems will function significantly better than the old. The new irrigation system allows more detailed watering of the different grasses within the different soils that exist on the expansive piece of land that the Harvester rests on. Our golf course maintenance staff who many of them have been in place from the beginning clearly understand our soils, which areas hold water more than others, and all drainage patterns so with this renovation they have been allowed to correct areas that have been troublesome in the past. A significant change has also been allowing more surface drainage across the golf course than drainage basins. A good example is the 18th hole at The Harvester. Nearly 4 foot of fill has been installed on the left-hand side of the hole throughout the 550-yard hole. To slope the land from left to right towards the water on a +/- 3% cant. The old 18th had 12 drainage basins within the golf hole to collect water and drain out which leads to slight uneven lies throughout the hole. With the added fill on the 18th you will clearly see all shots from the tee and as you stand on the 18th fairway the added elevation allows you to see into the 18th green more clearly without experiencing shots from the lower drainage basin areas that at times could be wet longer after rains. All total at The Harvester we have eliminated 90 drainage basins in the fairways. There are a few drainage basins that still exist in the blue grass areas to protect the fairways, bunkering, and green surfaces. Many great designers would say that 90% of the job is making the drainage look good, I believe Mr. Foster has made our drainage look great.

Next time I will discuss a few of our unique features on the golf course that you will love when you play