Pat Brockwell was philosophical about the conundrum he and the groundskeeping staff faced at Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe.
The recently hired superintendent of the golf course is in the midst of nursing the 21-year-old links through one of its most challenging phases — living on as little water as possible over a 10-day period from late June through early July. The course, as well as companion municipal course Santa Fe Country Club, and the Municipal Recreation Complex, was bereft of the liquid starting June 22 when the effluent water the courses and the MRC use to irrigate the grass was unavailable. The city of Santa Fe’s wastewater treatment plant produced water that wasn’t safe for use.
It led to all three facilities shutting down for a week from late June through the Fourth of July weekend to limit traffic on the grass while the groundkeeping staffs went into survival mode. Workers eschewed using potable water the city granted the courses on an emergency basis on the fairways, using it strictly on the greens while letting the fairways fade to an unattractive yellow hue.
When the effluent water was deemed usable again late last week, the courses reopened Monday, although the yellow fairways contrasted with the healthy greens. Within five days, Marty Sanchez had a checkered yellow-green pattern, and it appeared to be business as usual Friday.
Brockwell marveled at how quickly the course was rebounding.
“It affirms to me how much life wants to hang on,” he said. “Nature is an amazing thing. We all take our little hits in life, and we bounce back. It’s just one of nature’s habits. It gives me confidence going forward that this is a resilient and durable golf course.”
Even though both courses are recovering, the recent event prompted the organizers of the city of Santa Fe Golf Championship, scheduled for July 20-21 at Marty Sanchez, to move the tournament to Sept. 7-8. Alo Brodsky, Marty Sanchez’s PGA professional, said he and Brockwell agreed that the course needed time to rebound. Forcing golfers who are paying $150 to compete in the tournament to play on the course in its current status wouldn’t be fair, Brodsky said.
Brodsky said the biggest issue would be “ground-under repair” situations, in which golfers could move their ball if they deemed their lie unplayable. Given the amount of dry grass on the course, Brodsky and Brockwell felt it would have been in play a lot.
“We don’t want them to be hitting out of these extraordinarily dry spots after hitting a good shot and hitting a dry patch that is less than forgiving,” Brodsky said. “We’d have to mark the course with ‘ground-under repair,’ so we looked into the future at a time when it would be an equally good time to host a tournament like the city championship where the course will be healed and in a preferable condition.”
Brodsky said a point the staff at Marty Sanchez is emphasizing to golfers is care traversing areas that see plenty of traffic, whether it be on foot or with golf carts. Marshals are instructing course users to keep their carts on the paths constructed alongside each hole, instead of driving on the fairways, which is a common sight during better times.
“If those high-traffic areas — the inlets and outlets on and off the fairways where the carts travel — are worn out to where the grass is essentially determined to have gone from weak hay-like grass to dust. That’s what you really worry about,” Brodsky said.
One advantage in Marty Sanchez’s favor, Brockwell said, was that the resiliency of its Kentucky bluegrass, which he said can endure long periods without water. While it might appear to be dead or dormant, Brockwell said it doesn’t mean that it’s lost.
“It’s showing real good signs of life,” Brockwell said. “It’s gonna bounce back.”
While most of Marty Sanchez turned yellow, Brockwell said the week without water helped identify areas that were receiving an overabundance of it, as they were the last ones to change color. It helped him learn what areas needed water more and which ones could benefit from not turning on the sprinklers as much. Workers also found places where the sprinkler system developed leaks and fixed the problems.
“The little valleys, they held on real well,” Brockwell said. “Those valleys are pretty big, and they had three sprinkler heads, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I barely need to turn those on any more. If they are going to hold on for 10 days or more, why do I need to turn them on as much?’ ”
Brockwell said the break allowed him and the grounds crew to work on the finer details of the golf course, such as manicuring the bunkers that hadn’t been groomed in a while. Workers also trimmed some of dying brush and tree branches to help enhance those plants’ growth.
“We started doing projects that I was thinking about doing for the winter,” Brockwell said. “Our bunkers have been neglected for years, so we put the crew on edging the bunkers and they’ve done it on eight holes. We made progress in a lot of areas, and I am proud of the guys for jumping on that.”
The efforts of the Marty Sanchez staff did not go unnoticed. Gary Scott and Singh Khalsa, who are a part of a group that plays the course several times a week, indicated that the course is in good shape, considering what it went through.
“It takes a long time to build up good will, around the country and around the state, and with the cities here in New Mexico with this course,” Khalsa said. “Pat, that guy walks on water.”
Scott said he hopes the city learned about planning for these types of events, so the loss of the course’s water supply isn’t repeated.
“Before this calamity happened, everything was just beautiful,” Scott said.
It’s Brockwell’s hope that “beautiful” will make a return.