Golf’s top players and fans are about to descend on Georgia and Augusta to see the beauty of Augusta National for The Masters. But at The Oaks, golfers and some of the top superintendents in the sport have been descending on the Covington golf course for years.
The United States Golf Association Greens Section was some of those visitors, observing the course and picking the brains of course superintendent Curtis Singleton and owner Dick Shulz. The reason The Oaks played host to the USGA Greens Section for the third time in late January was because of the greens that golfers in the Newton County area have known about for years.
Eight years ago, Singleton and Shulz decided to change The Oaks’ greens after seeing courses in Texas and Tennessee have success with Ultra Dwarf Bermuda grasses. The Oaks previously used bent grass, which had been the standard for greens throughout golf courses in the U.S.
Bent grass was a known quantity, providing a great playing surface and an illustrious green in the spring and fall months. However, those are only two of the four seasons, seasons that have a dramatic change in climate in Georgia which encounters temperatures in the upper 90s all the way down to low teens and near zero.
The Ultra Dwarf Bermuda grass was an unknown eight years ago, but Shulz, Singleton and The Oaks decided to give it a try and resod their greens in the new grass. The change has been a resounding success to both golfers and other courses.
"There were a lot of unknowns," Singleton said. "We were the guinea pigs. Everybody watched us to see how well it was going to do."
The experiment worked, and did so well that the percentage of courses that use it, nationwide, went from about 25 to 75 since The Oaks installed it back in 2005. The Oaks was the first course in Georgia to use Ultra Dwarf Bermuda grass, but now it is on courses such as East Lake and the Atlanta Athletic Club.
"The USGA said it was the first big trend in golf that was started by a club like us, and not by a higher end club," Singleton said.
East Lake and Atlanta Athletic Club came out to The Oaks throughout the summer years before installing it in their own courses, learning from Singleton and his staff in Covington.
"This grass is good all year round," Singleton said. "It provides an excellent playing surface all year round, even with the extreme temperatures we’re subject to."
Those temperatures are something Singleton is familiar with. Before being named course superintendent 10 years ago, Singleton started at The Oaks as assistant superintendent after graduating from the University of Georgia in turf management.
Prior to going to UGA, Singleton worked several other jobs outside of the world of golf and wanted to stay far away from grass, due to growing up with his parents running a sod farm right here in Covington. In fact, the farm was just the other side of the Yellow River from hole No. 5 at The Oaks.
"I didn’t think I wanted to do anything with being outside or mowing grass or anything like that," Singleton said. "But I came to love the game of golf."
He started working at the golf course to stay away from the sod farm before trying to get out of the golf business, but was brought back into it for his love of the game and its people.
"I just love being outside," Singleton said. "We have people who come out here and play the course five or six times a week, and I love being able to provide them with enjoyment and quality recreation and increase their quality of their life."
Not only has he helped to increase The Oaks’ patrons quality of life by helping maintain an area golf course, but also has helped increase the quality of play with some of the finest greens in the state.
The greens are not only revered by golfers and the members of the USGA Greens Section, but also a big part of The Oaks business.
For about three years, The Oaks has guaranteed its greens, offering to refund its customers greens fees if the play is unsatisfactory. So far, not one refund has had to be given out.
"We get compliments on them almost daily," Singleton said. "That’s the backbone of our business."