Don Worthington

Restoring Waterford Golf Course in Rock Hill takes time

At the height of its popularity, Rock Hill’s Waterford Golf Course had a reputation as a shotmaker’s course. With its compact but long fairways, rolling hills and greens, it could be unforgiving.

Often on the longer par 5 holes a driver was not the golf club of choice. The better option was to take two, even three shots to get close to the green and then chip and putt.

Years of management issues, however, took their toll on the course designed by Hall of Fame golfer Hale Irwin. Greens, fairways and bunkers fell into disrepair. The greens were so hard golf balls would run for what seemed like forever before stopping. Some greens, and many bunkers, had weeds. The grass in the rough was so tall golfers found it difficult to locate errant balls.

In August, Romspen Club Holdings LLC, a Toronto-based mortgage company, took over ownership at a foreclosure sale. Romspen hired Traditional Golf Management of Virginia to manage the course and others it had taken over in the Charlotte region.

The word “foreclosure” may have confused some golfers, said Dean Sigmon, Waterford’s general manager. The club, which opened in 1998, got numerous calls asking if it had closed.

“We never did close,” Sigmon said.

But memberships with the former management did not transfer to the new owners. Romspen offered a program that allowed former members to pay with no up-front fees and golf at a discounted rate from what the club charged the general public.

Club management is now working not only to physically improve the course but also to win back those who once frequently played Waterford, Sigmon said. Before the foreclosure, about two-thirds of the golfers at Waterford were club members. Now there are about 50 members, and Sigmon wants to at least double that number.

“We know it’s a period of recovery and it can be a slow process,” Sigmon said.

Most noticeable is the work on the bunkers. In many instances sand had washed from the bunkers, revealing Carolina red clay. The bunkers also drained poorly. A one-inch rain would be trapped for up to three days, Sigmon said.

Workers at Waterford are removing the old sand, fixing the drainage and installing new sand a hole at a time. So far the first three holes have been done. Sigmon hopes the bunker work is done by the end of the year.

The greens, fairways and rough are mowed with new equipment. The result: The greens are “in the best shape they’ve been recently,” said Rick Sibrans, eight-time seniors champ at Waterford. “There are no better greens around. They’re magnificent.”

Sibrans said the biggest change to the greens was aerating them, something that had not been done since Waterford replaced all its greens in the summer of 2010. That summer Waterford replaced its bent grass greens with a hybrid of Bermuda called Miniverde. Most of the golf courses in the South have made the change, as Miniverde is more resistant to heat.

Sigmon also said he developing a plan to cut back some of the older trees that line the course. They’ve become overgrown, restricting a player’s vision, he said. In some areas the shade is so complete that grass won’t grow. Course workers have covered those areas with pine needles.

Optimism is tempered with realism, however. With so many years of missed maintenance, “we have so far to go,” Sigmon said. Nonetheless, his promise to the golfers is “you will see improvements each week.”

With the consistent maintenance, said the threesome of Dennis O’Connell, Jack Stacy and Don Ballard during a recent round of golf, Waterford is “as good as ever.”