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Verdant greens

The golf course at Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club is renovated, leaving club members a plush playing place.

This time last year, few people praised the greens at Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club. When the topic did come up, they often used words like "patchy" and "infested" to describe the aged putting surface.

But all that has changed. Three months after the completion of a major renovation of all 18 greens and the addition of a computerized irrigation sprinkler system, club officials and members proudly boast about having a revitalized private course in New Tampa.

"It's almost like going out and learning a new golf course because of those subtle differences," said Tom O'Brien, 65, a club member for 10 years. "It's been neat to go out there and try to play it, and notice all those new nuances."

Club officials closed the course in May during the project, which cost more than $320,000 and lasted all summer. The club arranged a deal for its nearly 380 members that gave them access to other area clubs until the course reopened in September.

During those months, Mike Blanchard, superintendent of greens for the club, led the effort to overhaul the greens, digging and ripping through mutated Bermuda grass that over time had developed a buildup of thatch that hampered drainage.

When the club reopened, Blanchard continued to monitor and maintain the new surface. With a few more months to finish growing, he expects the greens to be pristine by spring.

"All those areas closed in nicely and the greens are just in excellent shape," Blanchard said. "We did not over seed the greens this year. We wanted them to continue growing this winter."

Anne Gibaldi, the club's membership director, said 53 new members joined the club in the summer in anticipation of the newly renovated course.

"That was quite something, to do that while we were closed," she said. "For us, that was quite an accomplishment, to sell golf memberships when there was no (open) golf course.

Longtime members such as O'Brien noticed the changes immediately.

"You can tell just by repairing the marks (left) when the ball strikes the green," he said. "The old greens you'd notice a lot more sand, because the roots were not deep. (It is) much thicker and much fuller."

O'Brien, a retired IBM worker who first picked up golf as a teenage caddy, said he plays two or three times a week.

Since returning to Tampa Palms this fall, O'Brien has passed on taking out a golf cart, choosing instead to walk the course with his bag for a closer look.

"I think the members are in for a wonderful new experience with these greens," said O'Brien. "I play with quite a few, and they are just very, very pleased with what's happening."