Sand Keeps Jupiter Hills Both Playable and Beautiful May 19, 2018 | Tequesta, Fla. By David Shefter, USGA

Jupiter Hills' sandy terrain allows its two courses to drain quickly while also making them aesthetically pleasing. (USGA/Russell Kirk)

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Since Sunday, a little more than 7 inches of rain has fallen at Jupiter Hills Club, site of the 4th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, and more precipitation is in the forecast for the two rounds of stroke play this weekend.

On Monday alone, the course received 4 inches during a 90-minute period.

Many courses couldn’t handle that much rainfall in that timeframe.

“On muckier soils, the course would probably be closed right now,” said Steve Ehrbar, the director of golf course maintenance at Jupiter Hills the past 11 years.

But the two layouts – Village and Hills courses – were constructed on a sand dune that once was part of Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Because of the sandy soil, any moisture gets soaked up like a vacuum cleaner.

The Village Course, which was renovated last year and is being used as the stroke-play co-host venue, didn’t have a single puddle. Ehrbar said the Hills Course, which was used for the 1987 U.S. Amateur Championship and underwent its own renovation 12 years ago, also didn’t see any puddles for “about eight years.”

“Even when we do get some surface water [on the Hills Course], it doesn’t stay for more than an hour, maximum,” said Ehrbar. “We’re good right now. Our average rainfall amounts are pretty good. We get 62 inches a year. The last drought we had with water restrictions was 2010.

“[Because of the sandy soil], it’s hard to keep moisture on the plant. Our main source is reclaimed water. We do have 12 shallow wells that serve as secondary water sources.”

So with that in mind, don’t expect to see any members of the maintenance staff out squeegeeing greens or fairways this week. Ehrbar’s only concern is the bunkers, which can wash out if there’s a significant storm. Course architects George and Tom Fazio prefer to “flash” up the sand in their bunker designs and while it’s aesthetically pleasing, it can become challenge for the grounds staff.

Still, the natural sandscapes – the Hills Course has 66 acres and the Village approximately 25 acres – allowed for the architects to minimize the use of turf in the design. Each course only has 70 acres of playable turf, which leads to less watering and lower maintenance costs.

Rainfall is immediately absorbed by the grass, so the challenge for Ehrbar is to ensure there’s enough nutrients to keep the soil and turf healthy.

Of course, Ehrbar doesn’t mind that challenge.

“Hands down,” said the 57-year-old who relocated to the area from Cleveland, Ohio, in 1985. “You can always put water on [a course]. It’s more challenging taking water off. I would much prefer to have it this way.”

The sandscapes not only frame the course perfectly, but they are not hazards, meaning golfers can ground their club while hitting a shot.  

And while Ehrbar and his staff normally only rake the sandscapes once a week, at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, he has an additional 22 volunteers from the area to assist. Todd Lowe, a Florida-based USGA Green Section staffer is also on-site along with Steve Kammerer, the Green Section director for the Southeast Region, to help bring the course to championship conditions.

Green speeds are expected to be between 13 and 13.5 on the Stimpmeter.

The club also installed tiff-eagle ultra-dwarf bermudagrass on its greens, a newer strain that provides bentgrass characteristics but is much more heat tolerant. The Village Course greens were replaced last summer, while the Hills underwent the renovation in 2006.

Competitors this week have raved about the courses. The Hills Course, in fact, features a plethora of elevations changes – as much as 60 feet in some spots – something not often seen on a Florida course. The par-3, 211-yard ninth hole sits on a sand dune with a 40-foot elevation drop.

“It’s all natural,” said Ehrbar, beaming about the club. “For South Florida, we have the highest natural elevation in the Palm Beach area.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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