In wake of bond issue failure, golf course fights to stay playable

MCCOMB — The state parks director is optimistic his agency can come up with the money to restore bug-eaten greens at Quail Hollow Golf Course this summer, despite the failure of the Legislature to approve a parks bond issue.

Ramie Ford spoke to some 60 golfers on the patio behind the Quail Hollow clubhouse at a recent public meeting hosted by Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb.

“This facility is so important for our economic development, our tourism and our quality of life, and that’s why we’re here today having this meeting trying to get this problem solved,” said Mims.

Ford detailed the domino-like set of problems that have beset the golf course at Percy Quin State Park. Tiny worms called nematodes resumed chomping grass roots over a year ago, just as they did years ago. Hurricane Isaac damaged the dam at Lake Tangipahoa last summer, forcing officials to drain the lake — the major source of irrigation for the golf course.

An alternative source of water, Tangipahoa River, provided a fraction the amount needed, stressing the greens.

Then came an apparent breakdown in communications at the Legislature that resulted in a state parks bond issue falling through the cracks — a bond that would have funded work at Quail Hollow.

Ford said the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks asked House and Senate committees for a $9 million bond issue for all 25 state parks.

He was assured on Easter Sunday, the last day of the session, that it would go through

“When I got to work Monday morning we did not get a quarter. We got zero,” Ford said.

“For whatever reason, this bond bill was not added to the big bond bill,” said Mims, noting the bill should have gone through the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee.

“I don’t think that’s anybody’s fault,” Mims said. “That’s the process that happens sometimes.”

Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-McComb, serves on the finance committee and said he didn’t know about the omission until it was too late.

“We did not know that money was in there for the parks,” he said.

Golfer Bobby Booker said he sent letters to all area legislators last year alerting them to Quail Hollow problems and only Mims responded. Butler said he never got the letter.

Ford said the state parks budget was already strapped, having been cut 40 percent last year. And with the lake drained at Percy Quin, fewer people are using the park.

“We’re down $250,000 in revenue at the park,” Ford said.

Some $6 million has been allocated for dam repairs through the Mississippi Department of Finance Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As for Quail Hollow, Ford said park officials have been “turning over every tin can” in search of funds — in particular, an estimated $257,000 needed to fix the greens. That will require making cuts at other parks around the state.

The plan is to dig up the greens to a depth of 2 inches, fumigate them with methyl bromide to kill the nematodes, then replant 152,000 square feet of Mini Verde grass. If successful, the project will result in brand-new greens playable by September.

“I’m fairly confident that by June 1st we’ll be able to do that,” Ford said.

“I just feel real good about it. I just can’t tell you today it’s 100 percent complete.”

In the meantime, park workers will create temporary greens for use during the summer.

A fallback plan would be simply to sod the worst greens, which Ford said would be a temporary fix. An earlier effort to kill nematodes and let grass fill in the patches this spring didn’t work.

Ford also said the course will soon have a full-time turf superintendent who can keep track of such issues on a daily basis.

He said nematodes are a formidable opponent, having plagued Quail Hollow in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Even if park workers successfully replace the greens this summer, “I’m scared we’ll do this and wake up three or four years from now and the nematodes are back and they’re worse than they’ve ever been,” Ford said.

 

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