Medora's Bully Pulpit back on courseMEDORA — When Bully Pulpit Golf Course general manager Dave Solga left Giants Ridge Golf and Ski Resort in northern Minnesota to help construct a golf course in the North Dakota Badlands, he knew it was going to be special.
By: Royal McGregor, The Dickinson Press
MEDORA — When Bully Pulpit Golf Course general manager Dave Solga left Giants Ridge Golf and Ski Resort in northern Minnesota to help construct a golf course in the North Dakota Badlands, he knew it was going to be special.
In Solga’s words, “the course is a diamond in the rough.”
However, last year’s flooding from the Little Missouri River left debris on the course and some holes unplayable.
Today, the course is inching back to normal and Solga plans for all 18 holes to be ready by April 26.
“In an effort to deal with this material, we chose to create a feature that boarders the river on a few holes,” said Solga, who said there was never a plan to eliminate any chance of the river flooding the course. “Our intention was to minimize the potential the river to affect us.”
The nine holes that were not in play last year and at the start of this year are Hole Nos. 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17 and 18. Solga believes minor alterations to select holes should help against future flooding.
“We built it up to an elevation that lessened or reduced future river levels,” he said.
The minor alterations made to the course now allow for better drainage from the rain water and when the Little Missouri River breaches its banks.
The river’s main impact was along holes three, six and 11.
“It’s the same design,” Solga said. “On hole six, for example, it used to be a split fairway up closer to the green. We eliminated the left side and put it back into a natural river bottom type vegetation.
“On hole 11, because it’s so low in its elevation and it’s right at the mouth of Davis Creek, we built up on the back side of that hole as well to minimize future river levels.”
The only hole that runs along the river that wasn’t affected by the Little Missouri River was No. 4. The reason why flooding didn’t affect the hole is because it’s at a higher elevation than Nos. 3, 6 and 11.
Dealing with river damage can be tough, but with help from the Bully Pulpit staff, volunteers and a contractor, the course started to get back on track.
“We rebuilt the Bully Pulpit Golf Course on the bottom,” said Fred Tooz, the founder and co-owner of Tooz Construction in Dickinson. “The Bully Pulpit staff there did a tremendous job, but it was getting late in the season and they needed some help.”
The companies that helped in the process were Butler Machinery, whose main office is in Fargo, O’Neil Rental in Gladstone, Tooz Construction and Missouri Basin Incorporated in Medora.
Tooz also had workers from Cordova Construction, a company from outside of Las Vegas whose area of expertise is building golf courses.
“They (Cordova) had been working up here, but didn’t have their company moved up here and they were working for us,” Tooz said. “They have since moved up their company that was down in Nevada.”
Payton Hughes, who is the owner of Cordova Construction, works with his brother, Lance, and said they weren’t sure if they would get a callback on the Bully Pulpit contract.
One weekend, Tooz went to a golf tournament in Fargo and was paired up with a man from Las Vegas. The man from Las Vegas told Tooz how good Cordova was at building golf courses.
“I’ve been in golf ever since I was a young boy,” Payton Hughes said. “That’s what my dad did when I was growing up. … Once we realized the severity of the golf course, we definitely wanted to be part of getting it back online and get Bully Pulpit back to being one of the top golf course in North Dakota.”
Butler Machinery donated Caterpillars, while MBI donated operators to run the Caterpillars. O’Neil Rentals donated pumps and hoses to drain water off the course.
“This whole process was a race against time,” Solga said. “Once everything was seeded, there was a very short growing window left in our season.”
Tooz Construction and the workers for Cordova, including their father, Kelby, were contracted to do the heavy dirt work. After the dirt work was complete, Bully Pulpit assisted in the first seed drop on the damaged holes.
“We spent quite a bit of time there,” Tooz said. “It was difficult to haul that equipment down there too, because there’s really no way to get it there. We had to take that equipment on country roads to get down to the golf course.”
Along with the construction to get the golf course back to standard, Bully Pulpit needed to get golfers back on the course to offset the construction costs.
“In the end, we pulled something off and reduced the severity of that potential financial blow by what was actually done in house here,” Solga said.
Despite having nine holes closed, Bully Pulpit’s three signature Badlands holes — Nos. 14, 15 and 16 — remained playable. In the original layout, architect Michael Hurdzan coined the phrases on holes 14, 15 and 16, “Oh my goodness corner.”
“He put those holes up in there, because he’s a golf fan,” Solga said. “We know ‘Amen Corner’ at Augusta because it’s Masters weekend.”
Solga, who is originally from Minot and received his turf degree from Penn State, has helped build multiple golf courses around the country. He knew in his efforts to maintain the course, the greens and tee boxes had to be main priorities.
“The greens are more expensive to replace, if you have to rebuild them,” Solga said. “Our first priority was to go out and protect the greens and then the tees, because those features are more fragile when it comes to reconstruction. We were able save all the greens and all the tees from any flood damage by just cleaning them off as quickly as we could.”
It was tough for Solga to see the damage done from the flooding, but this wasn’t the first time that he’s seen flooding on the course. The last serious flood damage affected eight holes in 2009. Solga laid the first set of grass seeds in 2000 and the course opened in 2002.
“The magnitude of what we went through in 2011 dwarfs anything I could have imagined,” Solga said. “…When you get involved in a golf project like this, it becomes your baby. When your baby is hurt, you feel hurt.”
Lack of heavy snow on the course during winter also helped speed the process of regrown the damaged holes.
“Right now, it’s been an ideal spring for us because we have an early growing season ramping up,” Solga said. “We’re seeing a lot of new germination coming up. We reseeded some areas because we wanted to reinvest in that reassurance that we have viable seed there that we know is going to grow.”
With the lack of 18 available holes, Bully Pulpit’s business dipped last year. The dip from last year has continued this spring.
To combat the dip in players, Bully Pulpit has been offering a special: golf all day for $49 with a golf cart. That special is being offered until April 26 when the rest of the course opens.
“People have this perception that we are only nine holes and the nine holes that we have open are probably the best nine holes in state in terms of condition,” Solga said. “The course isn’t overly busy, so you aren’t standing on a tee waiting to hit. You could come out here and for $49 you could probably get 54 holes in a day. It’s a great opportunity to play some great golf.”