Golf evolves. The game we play today is different than 10 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago. Clubs, balls, strategy, swings, instruction, competition, fashion — every aspect of golf as we know it progresses over time. The same can be said for the places we play the game. From Scottish cow pastures in the 1800s tended by a single greenkeeper to modern masterpieces that host professional events with unlimited budgets and high-tech agronomy tools, every golf course encounters obstacles — both collectively as an industry and unique to region and circumstances. And in recent years, a resurgent golf boom has supercharged these challenges while pushing the limits of land sustainability and water conservation, especially in the drought-stricken Western United States — and even more so in the harsh-climate of the Anza-Borrego Desert.
So we must adapt. And look to the future.
And that future is very bright.
Rams Hill is announcing plans to embark on a two-year multi-million-dollar bermudagrass conversion to create consistent and sustainable playing conditions, expand to a year-round golf season and anchor the community of Borrego Springs as leader in employment, infrastructure and sustainability — all while building upon our reputation as one of California’s premier golf destinations and an “America’s 100 Greatest Public Course” by Golf Digest.
“It’s the right time for us to make this full-scale change,” General Manager Harry Turner says. “Our complete bermudagrass conversation will ensure Rams Hill’s best-in-class playing conditions both now and into the future as we continue our trajectory toward becoming a full-fledged remote-destination golf resort. And more importantly, Rams Hill will expand its water conservation efforts, continue to lead on the environmental front and eventually extend our golf operations to 12 months for our 90-plus employees and tens of thousands of visitors each year.”
Beginning in June 2023, Rams Hill will launch Phase 1 of its agronomy transformation, converting the greens from bentgrass to Mini Verde bermudagrass while also replanting the practice areas with TifTuf bermudagrass.
In addition, Rams Hill has invited Tim Jackson — who worked on the original redesign and was instrumental in re-opening the Tom Fazio design back in 2014 after co-founding his own Jackson-Kahn Design — to return and consult on any necessary restoration work needed on the masterpiece he originally helped create in 2005 and later revive.
“We want to make sure Tim’s hands are on everything we do to keep intact the design integrity and original playability intent — because we know golfers love the architecture of our award-winning golf course,” Turner says.
Among the Phase 1 plans for Summer 2023, fifteen of Rams Hill’s greens will be restored to their original sizes and shapes, with three of the putting surfaces expanding in square footage as well as adding new pin locations.
In Phase 2 the following summer (beginning June 2024), the TifTuf conversion will expand to all tees, fairways and surrounds in a move that — combined with the Phase 1 work — is expected to reduce the amount of water required by as much as 30 percent when stabilized.
This agronomy plan brings together years of thoughtful study and research of many alternatives, resulting in this selection of turfgrasses designed to reach Rams Hill’s goal of minimizing both water usage and chemical applications while providing the best playing conditions possible in the demanding environment of the Southern California desert where temperatures rollercoaster between freezing and triple digits and soil conditions are less than ideal. Throughout the process, Rams Hill has worked with experts in the field and surveyed the golf agronomy landscape for best practices among some of America’s highest-rated golf courses.
“With ryegrass and bentgrass, we’re always at the mercy of a very small August window each year when the hot-humid summer weather breaks so we can get the fairways and greens ready to open in November,” Turner explains. “Many chemicals are needed to fight various forms of fungus and other disease associated with growing cool-season grasses in a desert climate — and these challenges have grown exponentially as thousands more golfers have found Rams Hill during and since the pandemic. Eventually you get to the point where it just makes more sense to ‘match your crop to your environment,’ as successful farmers say. Bermudagrass, which thrives in warmer desert weather, gives us much more flexibility as a golf operation, plus the new drought-tolerant turfgrass technologies will allow us to maintain playing conditions to our high standards at Rams Hill while substantially reducing water usage.”
Water usage has been at the heart of Rams Hill’s sustainability philosophy since the golf course’s rebirth in 2014 with ownership offsetting its use of water by acquiring and fallowing other agricultural uses in the valley to ensure that the groundwater source was protected.
“In an effort to operate in an environmentally responsible manner, it just makes sense to grow a drought-tolerant crop — turfgrass, in our case — that is compatible to our weather and soil conditions while reducing our use of water, which is the lifeblood of our region,” Turner continues, emphasizing that Rams Hill’s bermudagrass conversion is yet another step in the company’s ongoing environmental efforts, which include construction of a solar array, working behind the scenes to secure Borrego Springs’ water infrastructure decades into the future, and even smaller initiatives such as transitioning from plastic water bottles to refillable aluminum bottles.
“Our golfers are at the heart of everything we’re doing,” Turner says. “There are certainly many reasons that friends, families, couples and groups return to Rams Hill year after year, but one of the primary reasons we’re talked about in that top tier of California golf is our course conditions — and we’re sparing no expense to make the Rams Hill Experience the best it can possibly be out here in the middle of nowhere, now and for many years to come.”