The Impossible Dream

Published on Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 in Features

Coeur d’Alene Resort, Hole No. 5

This disparate cast of characters that contributed to the success of the course included a crack team of engineers, a family of golf course builders, a former Jack Nicklaus employee on his first solo project and, of course, Steve Maas. The construction superintendent who had grown-in Colorado’s Castle Pines Country Club and Arizona’s Forest Highlands, Maas passed up an offer of a similar role at Loch Lomond in Scotland to go Idaho instead.

“Mr. Hagadone wined and dined me, and took me to Riviera,” says Maas. “He made it very difficult for me to turn him down.”

Another member of the Hagadone fan club, Maas says the owner told him to “work smarter, not longer,” after he remarked on how long some of the days were becoming. “That has stuck with me ever since.”

He’d argue that every green, tee and fairway was as important as the next, but surely Maas’s most crucial job during his two years at Coeur d’Alene was ensuring the surface of the floating green rolled smooth and quick. After the engineers had delivered the barge, and Miller had established his routing, Maas became the man whose performance would most influence the world’s perception of Coeur d’Alene. A beautiful putting surface and well-manicured island would score the resort serious publicity points. Anything less and Maas would never hear the end of it.

The barge was moved from Blue Creek Bay out into the lake by tugboat operator Fred Finney, who skillfully avoided the stanchions suspending I-90 above the lake near Higgins Point.

“He had a few inches to spare on either side,” says Maas. “I think there were some Highway Patrol or other law enforcement people out there. It was pretty nerve-wracking for a while.”

Once the barge was in place, with the cables and drain lines (which Maas referred to as the “umbilical cord”) hooked up, Maas got to work. Four inches of pea gravel and two inches of coarse sand went down beneath 12 inches of greens mix. Maas ordered the PennLinks sod – “We needed sod for the floating green, not seed,” says Maas. “We needed it to look good quickly.” – from West Coast Turf in Palm Desert, Calif., who transported the turf rolls in a refrigerated truck.

“We had the tugboat and a small barge ready to load it onto the barge and then onto the green to be laid,” says Maas. “We walked on plywood. The green was rolled and we made sure the irrigation was working as planned.”

Maas then mowed, top-dressed, and rolled the green a number of times before sitting back and praying for a mild winter.

So it was that on May 1, 1991, the entire golf industry had its eyes on a Pacific Northwest public course, eagerly anticipating the first day of play on a course with a hook so novel that it captured the imagination of the nation. Golf writers from all the major magazines were there, as was seemingly the entire population of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, all eager to see the floating green in action.

“The idea of a floating green seemed somehow straight out of the western ideal,” recalls Tom Cade, editor of Pacific Northwest Golfer and the director of communications for the Pacific Northwest Golf Association.

A few hours after play got underway, however, clouds started to gather overhead, a southwest wind began to blow, and whitecaps jumped and splashed across the lake. Before long, the anemometer read 40 knots and five-foot waves began slamming into, and breaking over, the pontoon’s back wall. Sand was blown out of the island’s two bunkers, and the handful of trees dotted around the edge came down. All play, on this most important of days in Northwest golf history, was ground to a halt.

Did engineers pace their offices, dreading the call telling them their barge had succumbed to the elements and run aground, or worse, been torn apart and sunk?

“I wasn’t even aware there was a storm until I heard from Glosten a while later,” says project engineer Craig Funston, referring to the Seattle-based company that played a crucial role in developing the “floater” alongside his own firm, Geiger Engineers of Bellingham (Funston is now the founding principal at Redpoint Structures). Similarly unperturbed, about the floating green at least, was Maas. He was more concerned about the strength of the wind causing the bentgrass seed he had only recently sown on the fairways at 11, 12, and 13 to mix with the Bluegrass seed in the rough. Sure enough, he would have to germinate the seeds, kill the resulting turf, and re-seed the affected areas.

Such lack of concern for a structure that one assumes cost millions of dollars to build (every company involved in its creation had to sign a non-disclosure agreement forbidding them from ever revealing the cost) and upon which the reputations of dozens of individuals, construction and design companies – not to mention the future of the Coeur d’Alene Resort itself – ultimately depended, is perhaps a little surprising.

But if you’d had the benefit of watching it be built, if you had seen the care, effort and ingenuity that went into its creation, you’d be at peace, too. These guys knew what they were doing – and they knew they had done a masterful job.

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