Good golf! Course may open this spring
The under-construction Newport Dunes Golf Course now is almost completely grassed, and the facility could open for play in late spring or early summer next year, project officials said in recent interviews.
The golf course boasts drought- and salt-resistant turf; a computer-guided irrigation system that controls nearly 2,000 sprinkler heads; and state approval for a golf cart bridge over State Hwy. 361, the officials said.
"I think the golf course is going to be spectacular," said Sunny Castor, a partner in Texas Gulf & Harbor Ltd., the development firm that is building the course and planning eventually to build hundreds of homes around the course.
"The grasses we're using - it's a grass that stays green year around, and with the manicuring that (work) crews are doing - it's very beautiful," said Castor, of Port Aransas. "… It's a marriage of natural grasses and topography with the manmade, which some people think even looks better than the natural."
The 18-hole links-style golf course, located on both sides of State Hwy. 361, will be an Arnold Palmer Signature course. That means the world-famous pro golfer personally is overseeing decisions about how the course is designed and built.
A driving force in the development is Craig Millard, former president of Merrill Lynch Real Estate and a principal in Texas Gulf & Harbor Ltd. Millard lives in Florida and Rhode Island.
The developers have said the course will be privately owned but will be available for play by the public. When it's finished, it will be the only golf course directly bordering a Gulf-facing Texas beach, Castor said.
In an interview with the South Jetty on Monday, Aug. 27, Castor and Jim Brown, the golf course superintendent, provided some updates on how their project is going.
The course contains 72 acres of turf grass and 84 acres of native vegetation including weeping love grass and three varieties of coastal blue stem grasses, Brown said.
"You get the sense, when you're on the golf course, that you truly are playing through a natural area, because you're bordered on all sides by these native areas," Brown said.
Castor said Newport is the only golf course in the state in which the turf areas are planted entirely with a kind of grass called paspalum, which is especially tolerant of dry, salty conditions.
While practically the entire course has been grassed now, Brown said, the turf still needs more time to mature, to develop deeper roots, before people start playing on it. Newport officials are hoping to tee off in late spring or early summer next year, but no exact opening date has been set.
Construction on the golf course has gotten a bit behind schedule, partly because a freeze damaged paspalum where it was being cultivated in Poteet, and heavy rains also delayed harvest, Newport officials said.
There are only about 35 acres of land in Texas where paspalum is cultivated, and the Newport golf course is covering far more acreage than that with the turf, Brown said. "So, getting the product here has been kind of a time-consuming process," he said.
Building a high-quality golf course in an environment like the one in Port Aransas, where difficulties include a salty dry, windy climate, "is not just your average commitment," Brown said. "It's about a nine on a scale of one to ten. … I've been fortunate that the commitment is there on (the developer's) part to make sure it's done correctly.
"You could go in and throw a golf course down in 180 days, but their commitment has been to do a firstclass facility," Brown said. "And anytime you try to do something that's a first-class facility, you're going to struggle at times, because it's not an easy thing to make something absolutely perfect."
Heavy rains this year in Port Aransas both helped and hurt the golf course. On the down side, the rain caused a lot of erosion, Brown said. On the plus side, the golf course has not required much irrigation, he said.
Asked how they've handled weeds, Brown said his workers have killed the unwanted plants with handthrown doses of simple table salt. Workers only "occasionally" have used herbicide, and no insecticide has been used this summer, he said.
At a recent Port Aransas City Council meeting, Councilman Charles Bujan expressed concern over the possibility that runoff from the golf course on the back side of Mustang Island might harm the waters of Corpus Christi Bay.
Nitrates and phosphorous, commonly found in fertilizers, can cause algal blooms that can be harmful to marine life.
During the interview with the South Jetty, Brown said golf course workers monitor the large fresh-water ponds on the golf course for contaminants on a monthly basis. That, Brown said, should provide an indication of what might go into the bay.
"Our testing, to date, because of the products we have used, has shown no measures of any types of high nitrates or phosphorous, or any herbicide" getting into the pond waters, Brown said.
Also, "none of that water at this point is available to go into the bay system," Brown said. "It's all selfcontained within the property."
The golf course has a sophisticated irrigation system. A weather station on the course computes, daily, how much water a plant consumes daily based on wind speed, temperature, humidity and solar radiation, Brown said.
Every day, the weather station transmits that information to a computer that calculates how much water should be applied to the golf course. The computer, which went online just this month, knows exactly how much water each of the course's hundreds of sprinkler heads need to put out, Brown said. The computer shuts down the irrigation system when there is a quarter of an inch of rain.
"You're truly watering in the most efficient way possible," Brown said.
More than a mile of perforated piping lies underground at the golf course. Irrigation water seeps down through the soil, is collected in the pipes and is pumped back into the irrigation system for use again on the course.
A question mark in the past has been how golfers would get from the east side of State Hwy. 361 to the west side, and vice versa, since the golf course lies on both sides of the twolane road that often features plenty of fast-moving traffic. A tunnel, a ground-level crossing and a bridge have been put forth as options in the past, but Newport officials now have settled on a bridge, Castor said.
Frances Garza, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Transportation, said her agency has reached an agreement with Newport officials to allow the developer to construct a bridge over the highway. The agreed-upon bridge design will provide enough clearance to allow the largest kinds of vehicles to pass under, including tractor-trailers and motorhomes, Garza said.
Newport officials are taking bids from construction firms for the bridge project, Castor said, adding that construction could begin in 30 to 60 days. The bridge will be for golf carts only and will be wide enough for two carts to pass each other, he said.
Seven ponds have been dug on the golf course, and another still is to be built. Five are stocked with fish including tilapia, bass and catfish. All eventually will be full of fish, Castor said. "We'll be introducing redfish this fall," he said.
Opportunities to fish in the ponds will be selling points for people considering moving into the Newport development, Castor said.
Four to twelve homes are expected to be built in Phase I of the development in the next six to 12 months, Castor said. Bordering the golf course, Phase I eventually will include 95 single-family residences and 500 multi-family units, plus some commercial space, he said.