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It's not easy being green

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ladera Golf Course is in rough shape as it recovers from renovation

Sometimes, the grass isn’t greener on either side.

Just ask anyone who has played Ladera Golf Course of late.

There isn’t much green grass on the front side or back side of the 18-hole course. Or the nine-hole executive course, for that matter.

“My husband and I have been playing there for at least eight years,” said Lisa Kilbreth, who added that she plays the course once a week. “This is the worst I’ve ever seen it. You see sections of green grass in a 3- or 4-foot diameter around sprinkler heads, but that’s it. It just seems like the new sprinkler heads aren’t popping up to adequately water the course.”

The Westside course underwent a $2 million renovation to install a new water irrigation system last year, and is still recovering from the project. Ladera has massive patches of sand on the fairways, as well as brown and yellow grass on just about every hole – much more than typical for this time of year.

But it hasn’t been a typical year, said Dave Salas, the superintendent of Golf Management for Albuquerque’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“All the courses in the area are battling the same thing – a tough, dry winter,” Salas said. “There was a lot of winter-kill to deal with coming into spring, and the spring has been colder than usual. It was 29 degrees just (last) week. The only thing growing right now is rye grass.

“The bluegrass needs a certain temperature to grow, and it’s just now getting warm enough for it to start growing. The Rivera Bermuda, which is the yellow on the executive course, typically comes in about the third week of May.”

Besides the grass issues, Salas said he is addressing other needs at Ladera.

The course’s drinking fountains were finally turned back on Wednesday, but there are a number of splintered and worn out rakes in sand traps, and there is little sand in the sand traps, which instead are composed mostly of just hard dirt.

After the irrigation system was completed, large areas of natural vegetation were cleared out in an effort to beautify the course. That has led to sand blowing off areas onto a number of fairways.

Salas said he is working closely with Ladera’s current course superintendent, Scott Lewis, and will continue to work with the course’s future superintendent, to resolve those issues “very soon.”

Lewis has handed in his resignation and is leaving before month’s end. Salas says Golf Management is close to hiring a replacement who will oversee the course-improvement schedule that Lewis has mapped out.

“Scott has provided a 12-plus month plan, and everything so far is well on track with his master plan,” Salas said.

Former state Rep. Joe Nestor Chavez, who has been a regular at Ladera since it opened in 1980, said he’s not surprised by the conditions at the course, because it “has long been the forgotten child” of the municipal courses.

“They spent millions on a new pro shop and sprinklers, but there’s no grass,” Chavez said.

Salas said he understands the complaints, and it’s a matter of educating the public about the problems.

“I see a lot of good things coming up,” he said. “I go out on the course once a week, and every time I see new grass growing in different areas.

“It’s a balance of, ‘OK, we’re going to try to germinate seed, but how are you going to keep golfers, and wildlife, for that matter, out of it?’ It’s a tough juggling act.”

The course’s water irrigation renovation started in November 2011 and was scheduled for completion by mid-June 2012. During the renovation, only nine holes were open at any one time, so golfers received a special “construction rate” during the project.

Salas said completion of the renovation took about a month longer than scheduled and it was July 2012 before all 18 holes were reopened. At the time, he stated that it would still be 12 to 18 months before the course completely took shape again.

Salas said he’s confident there will be significant improvement by June and nearly full recovery by September.

In the meantime Ladera still has a special rate of $18 per round, seven days a week. That’s reduced from the normal $25 weekday and $31.50 weekend fees to walk. Carts are $12 at Ladera.

“Our clientele has changed because of the condition of course and the low prices,” said Sam Zimmerly, Ladera’s director of golf who oversees the pro shop. “But we’ve also been able to introduce a lot of players to the game who don’t want to pay high greens fees.”

All four of the city-owned courses – Ladera, Arroyo del Oso, Los Altos and Puerto del Sol – are part of an enterprise system, meaning they are supported by the money they make and are not funded by the city. Ladera’s recent renovation was paid for by a general obligation bond initiative passed by voters in 2009, and Salas says there is still money remaining from that for course improvements.

“As we get into season, the bunkers will be amended and sand added,” Salas says. “We still have some bond money to put into the course.

“… I’ve approved soil amendments for the golf course: sand and compost seed. We already added aeration pumps into the pond for aesthetic purposes, and we’re working on getting them wired in, which will oxygenate the water. We’re working on a lot of things.”

As an avid Ladera golfer, Kilbreth says she hopes that work will pay off eventually, if not soon.

“I agree the weather has been uncooperative,” said Kilbreth, who said she has called Salas, assistant superintendent of Golf Management Tim Martinez and the Mayor’s Office to voice her displeasure. “But when you compare it to Los Altos and Arroyo del Oso, there’s no comparison. They’re not having all these problems.

“I just don’t want to see it get so bad that the city will be forced to close it down.”