Kenai Golf Report: Book closes on 20th season at Kenai Golf Course

Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2005

As Shelley indicated in last week's column, the golfing season is "truly almost at an end." With all the rain we had this past week, some of us figured it was the end of the season. We even stopped by on Saturday and picked up our clubs from storage (we of little faith). Sunday it was a beautiful day, and I'm sure there were golfers enjoying the course once again.

The final event, the Kenai Night Ball tournament, scheduled for Sept 16 was postponed and may be rescheduled for this week.

Gordon Griffin, general manager, reported that the back nine will officially close on Sept. 28, and the front nine will officially close on Oct. 2.

This is the final column for this season and we wish to thank all the golfers who made the golfing season at the Kenai Golf Course a big success. As Shelley noted, thanks go to Gordon Griffin and his crew, Carol Morgan, Ron Goecke and Barry Jackman in the Pro Shop; the Snack Bar staff — Ed, Allison, Emily, Joanne and Kathy; and Bill Burtram and Tom Allison, Willie, Dusty and John for groundskeeping and maintenance, and a special thank you to Dick and Shirley Morgan for their continued interest in and support of the golf course.

Speaking of Dick and Shirley, here is more of the history of the course as told to me by them. After Dick's retirement from Morgan Steel and the Peninsula Clarion, Shirley continued to work at Morgan Steel. As Dick said, "Someone had to keep the books." Since Dick was "at home," Shirley always had a "honey-do" list for him. After a time, as Dick wasn't making much headway on the list; he decided to find something else to do.

They had been spending time in Hawaii and Dick took up golf and enjoyed it. About a year after he took up the game, he had an idea. The community of Lamont, Colo., where Dick had come from, had a nine-hole golf course. It was a community of about 7,000 residents, just slightly bigger than Kenai with about 6,000. The Kenai community had been good to them and Dick thought a golf course in Kenai would be a good thing too. When he first proposed the idea to Shirley she was not encouraged by the idea (to put it mildly). It would take a huge investment, much of what they had planned for retirement. But Dick was drawn to the idea and relished the challenge of creating and building a golf course on this land.

Dick talked to Tom Wagoner, then mayor of Kenai, about his idea. Tom thought the people should vote if they wanted a golf course and Dick thought otherwise. With a topographical map of the land he got from Tom Wagoner, he developed a plan and submitted a proposal to the City of Kenai. Among other things, it included a 20-year lease with an option to extend another 10 years. The council accepted his proposal.

In 1985, work began on the front nine with Shirley still saying no, and in 1986 the front nine opened with only seven holes, present Nos. 1 and 9 were not completed. The area across the gully had not been developed. By 1987, the complete nine holes were in operation. Dick and Shirley's son, Donny Morgan, became the day to day manager of the course and continued until his untimely death. Donny's wife, Carol, has been involved in the operation since the beginning.

The front nine was designed by Rip Collins, a pro at Turtle Bay in Hawaii. When Dick saw the initial layout, he said he couldn't accept the plan. There were too many sand traps and it did not take into consideration the natural topography of the land. Dick wanted to make use of the natural vegetation and contours of the land and he spent many hours walking the land and flagging the trees he wanted to preserve. The goal of using the natural vegetation was so successful that some of us earlier players thought too much natural vegetation was used (the rough was unbelievably rough).

Because he knew what type of soils were on the property, no sand or soil had to be trucked in to build the course. It was done almost totally with "Cats." On the sides of each fairway, trenches 12 feet deep were cut. The sand, soil and clay were dug out and put in piles. The trees were bulldozed down on the fairways and people were invited to take the wood. Many did. The rest were burned and the residue buried in the trenches. The clay was "walked" in layers over the burned residue and the sand and top soil not used for the greens and tee boxes was put on top of the trenches.

When the fairways were ready for seeding, Dick went to Delta Junction to pick up a load of nugget grass seed. When he got home, Shirley asked how much that had cost (they had all ready taken loans against his life insurance). He said, "$12,000" and Shirley said, "I'm going to throw up!"

The number of players the first year was a surprise to Dick. He said, "I was astounded by the number of players the first year." The great success of that first year prompted the development of the back nine. It was started in 1987 and was it first played on in 1988. The designer of the second nine was Merv Davis, who was the pro at the golf course from 1986 through 1987.

The land for the back nine was not as pristine as the front nine. The city had used some of the area as a sand pit for some years and had been dug out to the level of the water table. The land was not as easy to work as the front nine, but with some effort and imagination the back nine came out pretty good. To solve some of the water issues, a lake was dug and the sand taken out was used to build up the course around it. Today there are two ponds.

If you ever wondered why the tree is in the middle of the fairway on No. 11 and another in the front of No. 12 green, Dick explained it. Mike Dyer, Lloyd Dyer's son, was working the "Cat." When it came to pushing these trees over, Mike called Dick out there and said that the trees were just too nice to be taken down. After a bit of discussion, Dick agreed and therefore, the trees stand today. I suspect there have been times when some golfers think those trees should have been cut down.

The driving range, though not in the original plan, was put in when the front nine was in its second year of operation. Dick indicated that the space was there in the plan, but it really wasn't quite as much as they would have liked for a driving range. However, it works quite well for most of the golfers today.

Over the years, additions and improvements have made to the course. The original decking around the clubhouse has been replaced, new teeing areas for the driving range have been put in, a pavilion has been added (mainly through the contributions of the Kenai Golf Association, the Morgans, and volunteer efforts), and most recently creation and upgrading of the ladies tee boxes. Each year the sprinkler systems have been extended, enhancing the condition of the fairways and greens. Water makes a big difference in the quality of the greens and fairways, as does the regular maintenance of them. As many people have said, the course this year is in the best condition they have ever seen it. Dick acknowledged the many hours of volunteer labor that have been put in over the years and said volunteers make a big difference.

Today the general day to day management is carried out by Gordon Griffin. Dick expressed his great satisfaction with Gordon's managing abilities. As plans for the future, Dick indicated the plan is too continue to upgrade and improve what is all ready here, but with no major changes.

Gordon wants to thank everyone for making the golf season so successful; he is already looking forward to next year.

And so ends the 20th year of operation of the Kenai Golf Course. To all the golfers that played at Kenai, have a good winter season and see you on the links next spring. Shelley and I have enjoyed doing the column and hope you enjoyed reading it.

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