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Grass change proof Granddaddy still driving force on Grand Strand

As the two newest members of the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame were inducted over the weekend another legend quietly continued to grow its own legacy in the background.

Pine Lakes Country Club is home to the hall of fame and the annual induction ceremonies.

As the first course in town, known when it opened in 1927 as Ocean Forest Country Club and now, fondly, as the Granddaddy, Pine Lakes has seen it all.

Yet it is anything but old and faded.

If anything, Pine Lakes is finally finding its real muscle after an extensive renovation in 2009.

The golf course is the northern-most in the country grassed with paspalum – SeaDwarf – from tee to green.

Choosing that grass was a bold move at the time.

Even with its reputation for being able to tolerate poor quality, highly saline water, the paspalum had its doubters.

Skeptics weren’t hard to find, and nor were they too quiet about it when the grass struggled in its first two seasons.

“Yeah, a lot of people questioned whether we could grow it,” Alan Jarvis, golf course superintendent at Pine Lakes, said.

“And then they were probably saying ‘We told you so.’ ”

But last year and this, the paspalum is finding its comfort level and golfers are noticing.

Even before the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort put paspalum – albeit a slightly different strain – on the international stage with the PGA Championship earlier this month, the grass was winning friends and influencing people at Pine Lakes.

“Most reaction is overwhelmingly positive,” Jarvis said.

“We hear from so many golfers that they think the grass is so pretty and we even get some folks asking if it’s real, if it’s artificial turf.”

Like bermudagrass, paspalum greens handle ball and foot traffic well.

Approach shots rarely leave deep ball marks and any bruising that does occur is quick to recover.

Jarvis concedes that the paspalum was slow to impress but thinks that may have been more a result of what was beneath the surface than the grass itself.

“It was growing pretty much on pure sand and there definitely were some growing pains,” he said.

“But I think now that there has been a chance for some organic matter to build up in the soil, the grass is doing better.

“It seems to have good drought tolerance and the disease pressures have definitely gone down.

“Early on it seemed like we were fighting something all the time.”

Now, Jarvis said, the only occasional gripe comes from low-handicap golfers who prefer faster green speeds than the average player.

Jarvis said his paspalum greens generally run about a foot slower than an ultradwarf bermudagrass surface that undergoes a similar preparation.

In the meantime, he continues to play the role of guinea pig, nurturing a plant that has a great record several hours south in Hilton Head and below.

He has learned a few things from his colleagues down I-95 but it’s not only the climate that is different down there, where it’s warmer longer and not quite so cold in winter.

Whether the grass will sweep the Grand Strand remains to be seen, and maybe unlikely given the success of the new ultradwarf bermudagrasses.

So far, River’s Edge Golf Club in Shallotte, N.C., and The Debordieu Club in Georgetown are the only other courses in the region to go with paspalum, and then only on the greens and in the rough respectively.

Still, Myrtle Beach didn’t exactly become an international golf Mecca overnight.

It took a Granddaddy to break the ice and lead the way more than 80 years ago.

So it was appropriate enough at the weekend when one of the two hall of fame inductees was J. Egerton Burroughs, who chaired the board of Burroughs and Chapin Company when it stamped its faith, and a small fortune, on renovating Pine Lakes and pioneering with paspalum.