Dale Dorward shovels a rock onto a small flatbed trailer on the first fairway at Seven Hills Golf & Country Club.

Fairway repairmen are back on course

Volunteers spearhead repair of Seven Hills' first fairway.

SEVEN HILLS—As members of Seven Hills Golf & Country Club, Dale Dorward and Rick Milligan can often be found strolling the greens and fairways of the nine-hole course.

But this summer you’re more likely to catch them driving a truck or quad than a golf cart. And more likely to be swinging shovels than golf clubs.

Two years after undertaking a volunteer rebuild of part of the ninth fairway, the Port Hardy men are spearheading a similar — but much larger — repair of the first fairway.

The work, on a hilly section of the fairway beginning just below the tee box, is meant to remove a series of deep moguls and turn the grade into a smooth slope.

“(Fairway) nine was an experiment, to find out how the ground is here,” Dorward said last week while clearing rocks from the exposed soil on the site. “We weren’t even sure it would work, but we found out the ground here is in good shape.”

Dorward said the numerous moguls that plague the slope shared by the first and ninth fairways result from patches of hardpan interspersed with areas of mostly organic fill. Over time, that organic layer simply rots away, allowing the sod to sink in those spaces between the firmer bedrock.

“Given enough time, it will happen again,” he said. “Hopefully we can get another 30 years out of this first.”

The “patch” on the ninth fairway, completed in 2012, involved a rectangle of turf roughly the size of a football field. Rather than take on the steep part of the slope leading up to the ninth green, volunteers repaired an area of flat to gently sloping ground just below the hill.

The current area under repair is more than twice as large as the ninth hole fix, and has both down- and cross-slopes.

“It’s way bigger, and more complex,” Dorward said. “The drainage is a lot more involved.”

And resources are thin.

The project was approved by the club’s executive board, in consultation with course manager Kevin Black. Black admitted the volunteers’ success with the previous fairway rebuild helped them sell this latest project, but added there is always some trepidation when undertaking a job this large on a strictly volunteer basis.

“It’s scary because of the size of it, and every time they do something we need to see what’s there,” said Black. “But when you get two guys like that who want to so something, you don’t want to turn them away.”

The club is contributing a bit of funding to the project, but Dorward and Milligan have cajoled friends and North Island business for donations of equipment and expertise, as needed.

If that limited budget runs out before the fairway is completed, the volunteers will be on their own.

The work began earlier this year with the sod being removed from the fairway. The ground was then scraped with a mini-bulldozer blade to level the moguls and churn up rocks. The rocks were piled in rows before finally being picked up during a work party arranged by Dorward and Milligan last week.

“We can finally see some daylight, now that the rocks are out of there,” Black said. “If they get the equipment they need, and the weather stays good, hopefully it will all go well.”

Black noted the work done in 2011-12 on the ninth fairway taught the club some valuable lessons that have been applied to the current project.

“We’ll probably skip a couple of steps,” he said. “I think we’ll be more efficient with this one.”

After last week’s rock-picking party, Dorward returned with a large screen, which he planned to drag over the soil to churn and level it in preparation for seeding.

“If the weather cooperates, we’ll get some grass down in the next couple of weeks,” Dorward said.

When work began, the tee box on the 354-yard, par-4 hole was moved forward substantially and slightly to the uphill side fairway, leaving a 150-yard, par-3 hole that is expected to remain for up to a year while the new grass is allowed to establish a solid root system.

Meanwhile, though the main fairway remains unusable, players at least have a par-3 to start their round.

“And it’s a good par-3,” Dorward said, bending to his work.