Mill Creek Golf Course Scores Birdie with Upgrades

Looking off the tee box on the first hole of Mill Creek Golf Course’s south course, the bunkers, recently restored and filled with bright white sand, are easy to spot.

That wasn’t always the case last year. With old, brown sand, the bunkers at a glance could be easy to miss, confused maybe for the rough or a patch of fallen leaves.

“No. 1, aesthetically, they’re much more visible,” said Brian Tolnar, Mill Creek MetroParks’ director of golf. “That’s compared to the brown we had in the past. They’re a bit more user-friendly and the drainage is 100% different to what it was before.”

Tolnar was joined by golf course staff and Mill Creek Park officials for a ribbon cutting to celebrate the course’s improvements for the 2018 golf season.

“[Course designer] Donald Ross said, ‘There’s no such thing as a misplaced bunker. Regardless of where the bunker may be, it is the business of the player to avoid it,’ ” said Aaron Young, executive director of Mill Creek MetroParks.

“If you happen to find yourself in one of our newly renovated bunkers, I’m sure it’ll be the result of a stiff wind or maybe some sun glare,” he continued with a laugh.

Last autumn, work was finished on a new cart staging area just outside the clubhouse, now replete with 124 new golf carts and 80 wheeled carts for players who prefer to walk. Each hole at the two courses now has new signage and the driving range has new practice balls. The pro shop has been remodeled and now offers fittings for Callaway clubs. Monday afternoon, Tolnar said, work began on restoring the north course’s bunkers, a project he expects to wrap up in late May.

Replacing the bunkers starts five or six feet below ground as drainage is replaced. Parella-Panunnzio Inc., Youngstown, and Golf Preservations Inc. of Middlesboro, Ky., are the contractors for the $510,000 project.

“It had been caving in over 90 years of use. There’s new drainage, new stone, new mesh so the sand doesn’t get in the drainage,” Tolnar said. “Then there’s the new sand, about eight inches of compacted, bright white beach sand.”

The project has been in the works since Tolnar arrived at Mill Creek in 2015, when he put together a list of improvements the course could use. The first of those are now being finished and plans are set for annual upgrades through 2020.

“The need certainly exceeds that, but the planning has lasted over a year and we’re pleased to bring it to fruition,” said Aaron Young, executive director of Mill Creek MetroParks. “Bringing more people to the park is what we like to see. The more, the better. When you have a high quality product, you have more visitors.”

Last year, about 66,000 rounds of golf were played at Mill Creek Golf Course. With the uncooperative spring weather so far this year, though, this year’s figures are already well behind 2017’s.

“Last year [through the first 22 days in April] we were open 21 days. This year, it was six days,” Tolnar said, adding that the course improvements could make up some of the ground as more golfers are interested in the course.

Taking advantage of the recent break in the weather were longtime course golfers Bob Banks and Jack Reese, who had ceremonial tee offs to christen the renovations and used the opportunity to fit a round in Monday morning.

“We’ve been coming here since we were kids,” Banks said after his tee shot straight down the fairway. “We used to ride our bikes down here and look for lost balls to use. To see this, it’s great.”

Pictured: Andy Santor, head professional, Mill Creek Golf Course; Justin Rogers, planning manager; Mark Winnick, Mill Creek Foundation president; Reid Schmutz, foundation board member; Lee Frey, Mill Creek Park Commissioner president; Brain Tolnar, director of golf; Aaron Young, Mill Creek MetroParks executive director; Stacy Butler, head professional; and Lance Bailey, superintendent cut the ribbon on upgrades at the golf course.

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