By Mark WogenrichOf The Morning Callcontact the reporter
Allentown Municipal Golf Course converts some land to help the honeybees
New superintendent at Allentown Municipal Golf Course balances ecology and playability
The quarter-acre of wildflowers, adjacent to the 15th green at Allentown Municipal Golf Course, used to be a pile of dirt. It was at least 10 feet high, covered in weeds, measuring more than 300,000 tons.
Once an eyesore, this plot of land now is part of an international program to restore the honeybee population. It's also part of a course-wide project to maintain both the ecological health and playability of the city's municipal golf course.
A sign denotes a field of plants and wildflowers dedicated to Operation Pollinator at Allentown Municipal Golf Course. The project is meant to restore native habitats and pollinators, such as honeybees, on farmland and golf courses across the globe. (THE MORNING CALL / MARK WOGENRICH)
"At the end of the day, we're part of the Allentown parks system," said Chris Reverie, Allentown Municipal's superintendent. "We want to maintain the integrity and beauty of the property. But Kyle [Krause, the course's greenskeeper] and I strongly believe that, since this is a public golf course, everybody deserves to play in good conditions."
Since taking over as Allentown Municipal's superintendent last year, Reverie has begun a long-term project to maintain, upgrade and beautify one of the Lehigh Valley's busiest golf courses. The job holds a personal element for Reverie, who is a descendant of Gen. Harry Trexler, the benefactor of Allentown's parks department.
After donating equipment to build Brookside Country Club in the late 1920s, Trexler thought so highly of the facility that he sought to build a public course in Allentown. His vision came true in 1952, when Allentown Municipal opened.
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Reverie, Trexler's great-grandnephew, said he's proud to work at a golf course that's part of his family lineage. As a result, he sees a responsibility to balance the course's busy tee sheet (Allentown booked about 44,500 rounds last year) with its maintenance and environmental needs.
In the past year, Reverie, Krause and their staff have removed about 50 trees and overgrown brush from the course, redefined the bunkers, overseeded the greens following winter damage, reconfigured the property's irrigation and added mounding to restore some of its original parkland design.
In addition, they also converted an overgrown mound of dirt — a blot left over from the 1999 redesign — into a small field of native grasses and wildflowers. This plot between the 15th green and seventh tee box is part of Operation Pollinator, a program that launched in Europe 10 years ago and has spread to the U.S.
More than 50 American golf courses participate in Operation Pollinator, for which they convert out-of-play areas to wildflower fields that attract honeybees and other pollinators. The project is designed to create more pollinating habitats for bees to help restore their dwindling numbers.
Jeff Wambold, Allentown Municipal's general manager, said he had planned to address that space for years. But his original ideas for restrooms or a snack stand changed when Reverie proposed the pollinator program. Allentown has planted wildflowers on other out-of-play pieces of land, expecting to convert about an acre in total.
There are several benefits. First, Krause said, he has seen a noticeable increase of bees and butterflies in the area. Second, the area requires less water and fertilizer and no mowing, lowering maintenance costs. Further, it adds and aesthetic component to the golf course.
"This property has so many beautiful attributes," said Reverie, who has worked at Indian Creek and Shepherd Hills. "We want to preserve and accentuate them."
Longtime players say the golf course's conditions are as good as they have been in years. Greens have recovered from winter ice damage sustained by many courses in the area. Reverie and his staff spent January and February shoveling ice and snow from the greens, then reseeded them several times during the spring.
On Monday, five truckloads carrying about 125,000 tons of sand arrived to replenish the course's 56 bunkers. That will be added to the 90,000 tons dispersed last year.
Tree and brush removal has improved the health of several greens, notably at holes 14 and 15. Most of Allentown's arbor vitae trees that served as yardage markers have been removed. While the tree removal continues, Reverie is planting smaller trees in other vacant areas to compensate.
Wambold admitted that Reverie's work is complicated by Allentown Municipal's operating schedule. The course finished the 2014 season with a deficit, according to city budget reports, despite its heavy play.
To help mitigate that, the course accepts players all year, weather permitting. That limits Reverie's ability to complete projects on an empty course.
This past spring, when private clubs closed damaged greens, Allentown's remained open. One Friday, Reverie examined several damaged greens and noticed some improvement. By Monday, after a busy weekend of play, the greens were trampled again.
"It's discouraging to some, but we got through it," Wambold said. "A private course can close six greens for a month and be OK. We can't do that. We can't lose the revenue."
Wambold also said that he has no plans to implement a mandatory cart policy on weekends, which would add revenue but also anger regulars who love to walk. As Reverie said, "This is the only course I've ever seen with pull-cart damage."
For the most part, the changes have been welcomed among Allentown's regular players, Wambold said. He added that there's more to come.
"What they've done for this place is unbelievable so far," Wambold said of Reverie and his staff. "They have the work ethic and organizational plan for what the golf course should be. The turf issues are resolved, and the condition of the course has never been this good."
See more at: http://www.mcall.com/sports/golf/mc-allentown-municipal-golf-course-condition-20150721-story.html