Updates continue on former Rookery property

Terry RogersBusiness, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Piles of sand are an indication of the work being completed at the Southern Delaware Golf Club, formerly the Rookery North. The club plans to open in April 2024.

Newly named the Southern Delaware Golf Club, the former Rookery property is undergoing extensive renovations in order to open in the spring of 2024.

“There was information that was put out there from the very beginning that we may possibly open nine holes sometime in September. That was probably unrealistic, especially once we got in here and started digging around and finding what needed to be replaced and what needed to be redone,” Bill Kupfer, Director of Agronomy, said. “So, very, very, very, very soon after starting this, we decided that next spring of 2024 will be a more proper opening and that way we can open 18 holes and have everything ready to go. The September thing, we could probably rush maybe. But, you’re basically looking at 45 days of golf before it’s too cold.”

Kupfer explained that a lot of logistics have gone into getting the golf course ready, including renovation of the greens, which included sodding. He explained that bent grass sod is what they will use and it has been very difficult to find in the mid-Atlantic region. A new fleet of equipment was also required and it is taking six to eight months, even up to a year, for delivery of some of the items that have been ordered.

“If you’ve driven by, you obviously can see the whole front of the property is totally different now. We started with tree removal, which will eventually help with sightlines from Rehoboth Boulevard to where everyone can see the property and it’s not all covered up,” Kupfer said. “Some of them were safety issues, they were not healthy, so they could fall down and hurt someone. So, we started there. Then we went into the green renovation, we went through and we’re digging out up to about a foot of material out of every green of that material. When we go to put the material back in, we put drainage underground drainage in the green itself.”

There is also work being done on the sand traps, including digging them out, reshaping them and adding drainage before new sand is added. Kupfer explained that they currently have about nine holes dug out and three holes where the bunkers have been reshaped and with drainage completed. Kupfer stated that they will fill up the 12-inch or so cavity with an 80/20 mixture of organics and sand. The final step will be to create undulations in the greens. The plan is to seed them in the middle of August in order to grow grass throughout the fall.

“Hopefully, we will not have a crazy ice winter,” Kupfer said. “Snow would really be kind of okay for me because it would act as a blanket. The ice would be a little bit harmful to us. And then, we hope to have a good spring as well so we can meet our timeline. Right now, my timeline is, at the latest, tax day, April 15.”

As the bunkers get redone, Kupfer says they plan to sod them, then fill them with sand. They are also planning to redo the fairways.

“The fairways are going to be overseeded which means we’re going to seed them again. They’re already Bermuda grass, but we’re gonna seed them with a with a better type of more resistant to the Mid-Atlantic type Bermuda grass,” Kupfer said. “And the same with the tee boxes. That leaves the rough which is the tall grass. We’re going to overseed it right now. It’s like a little bit of a mixture of everything. There’s some fescue there, some blue grass, there’s some Bermuda grass, a little bit of everything. So, we’re going to overseed it with turf type tall fescue, which is like the same common grass that most people have in front and backyards in in the Mid-Atlantic/Delaware area. There will be some areas that we hydroseed with fine fescue, which we’ll let that grow up.”

Kupfer pointed out that anyone familiar with golf would recognize the tall fescue as it is common on courses in the mid-Atlantic region. It turns brown and wispy, providing an aesthetic view, but also adds a challenge to the golfer since it adds another challenge. After that, Kupfer plans to move onto tree removal.

The clubhouse is also under renovation, preparing the building for Big Oyster

“Somehow  people have gotten misconstrued, like we’re cutting down all these trees and not doing anything else. That we’re just cutting them down just to cut them down. Well, I don’t believe in that. I’m very eco-driven,” Kupfer said. “I understand we need trees to survive, but I also understand the ones I’m cutting down, some of them are safety issues. Some of them are agronomic issues, which the trees are applying shade, or they don’t allow airflow or the root system of the tree is fighting the turf and taking all the water in the nutrients so, at that point, the tree is gonna take all the nutrients and then the turf dies. Then also some of them are just for some aesthetic point of view.

Currently, about 500 trees have been removed and there is still  three quarters of the course to work through, Kupfer stated. When the course is complete, he estimates somewhere around 1,500 to 2,000 trees will be removed.

“But when I say that, it’s not like we’re cutting down 1,500 mature trees as what I consider a tree, it could be a sapling with a two inch around trunk that is just there,” Kupfer said. “Once we get done with that project, we will go back to look at plant species that will work better in today’s golf game, and today’s agronomics in spots throughout the golf course. I can’t say that I’ll replant 2,000 trees if we cut 2,000 out, but we’re gonna put a lot back in. We’re going to do landscaping everywhere. Lots of flowers. The owner, Mr. Johnson, he’s very big into that. He wants color with flowers. So, we’ll be doing that. Lots of that. The perennials that come back each year and then we’ll do different annual flowers and things like that each season.”

In addition to work on the course itself, Kupfer stated that the old pool house would become the pro shop, but would be totally renovated. Three of the four walls will remain, but the roof is being removed and the wall that is facing the golf course will be removed. The plan is to construct that wall higher than it is currently. Johnson’s staff has removed all the brick from the outside of the clubhouse to prepare the building for Big Oyster. Kupfer stated that he was not sure where they stood on renovations as the staff at Big Oyster was handling the interior of the building while Johnson’s crews worked on renovating the exterior.

“The old pro shop is being demolished completely, and that’s where there’s going to be a new building constructed and they’re going to brew all the Big Oyster beer there. Then the parking lot and the old tennis courts,” Kupfer said. “We’re going to do four pickleball courts, kind of like the ones that they have down across the river from Arenas. We’ll have four of them that will be available. And we’re gonna do some renovations to the driving range, which will be like a practice facility which will entail building a new driving range tee, building a practice putting green and possibly, at some point, a chipping green where you can practice chipping. That may happen at some point, but I don’t see that happening before next April. It’s something that will be off to the side that we could construct, and it won’t it affect anybody coming out here playing and things like that.”

The course will have a 19th hole which will likely be a shorter Par-3. Should issues arise where a hole on the course needs to be closed for any reason, this will allow for 18 holes. New irrigation heads are being installed, but the piping underneath is older which lends itself to failure. Should an underground pipe fail in the summer, the hole will need to be closed for repairs as quickly as possible.

“We had to purchase a whole new fleet of equipment. Like I said, we’ve had to basically replace the majority of every irrigation head, we had to have a new irrigation computer, put in the satellite controllers which there’s eight of them on the on the golf course property and they all had to be replaced,” Kupfer said. “We were basically starting from scratch with all of our core supplies. So, like the signs that are out on the course to tell the description of the hole all that stuff, tee markers, all of that has to be purchased and all that is still supply chain issues even though it’s been, what, three years, two years now after COVID. The whole backlog of everything. You know, so that’s when things get backed up.”

The fact that the course remained vacant for so many years has led to some of the issues Kupfer is dealing with.

“When the Johnson’s hired me, I expected some of the problems. Some of them not so much, but we’re getting through them. The Johnson’s have been amazing owners. They’re 100% committed to this project. And Mr. Tim is committed to the community because he does so much elsewhere throughout Milford. So, we’re definitely looking forward. We’re excited about the future to get this thing up and running.”

The next step is to seed the fairways at the end of the month or beginning of July with seeding the greens planned around the end of August into Labor Day. Once the greens grow in, the course will basically be playable. Explaining the entire project is one way that Kupfer hopes to dispel many of the rumors swirling throughout town.

This goes back to January when the Johnsons’ first purchased this, there were so many rumors, and then there’s so many keyboard warriors and they post things and then there are questions and things like that. And so, we’ve had this plan, and I just I went to Mr. Johnson and I was like, “Look, it’s probably a good idea if I start talking to people and get things out there. One, it’s good marketing for us for the future, but also lets the community know what’s going on. And then there’s not 1.000 rumors.”








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