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Back to the Future

TPC Avenel moves forward with renovation plans.

Human enterprise transformed and damaged Rock Run stream through gold mining in the 19th century. Now another human enterprise — golf — might bring it back to a more natural state.

The Tournament Players’ Club at Avenel cleared the first obstacle on the road to renovating its golf course when the Montgomery County Planning Board approved plans to renovate the 23-year-old golf course on Thursday, July 19. A significant part of those plans will involve rerouting Rock Run and increasing the wetland areas and floodplains on the golf course, changes that the county’s planners say will make the stream healthier than it has been in years.

"It’s clear the overall environmental conditions here are an improvement," said Planning Board Member Gene Lynch.

The extensive nature of the environmental engineering involved in the project required a project review from the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services and the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection in addition to the Planning Board’s staff.

WHEN THE 260-acre course was built in 1984, much of it was built below the flood plain, said Robert Kronenberg of the Planning Board’s Development Review Division. The result of that design has plagued the course over the years, including the 2006 Booz Allen Classic tournament, when completion of play was suspended for two days because of flooding on the course.

Trees will be added to the existing forest on the western side of Rock Run near the green for the sixth hole, as well as the stream buffer near the tee boxes on the ninth and tenth holes, according to the Planning Board’s staff report.

The wetland restoration was the most important part of the renovation plans, Lynch said.

"The proposed work would reconnect the stream to a wider floodplain by removing the built-up sediments and re-establishing wetlands and native vegetation in the more frequently inundated areas along the stream edges in a new floodplain," Candy Bunnag, of the board’s Environmental Planning department, wrote in a report on the project.

"[The] proposed stream and floodplain restoration and reconstruction work provides a good potential to improve environmental conditions within this environmentally-sensitive area," Bunnag said.

"This is a good compromise between stream restoration and construction," said Ginny Barnes the president and environmental chair of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association.

As part of the renovation plans TPC Avenel will be required to be certified under the Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, Kronenberg said.

The renovation of the course itself will focus on holes nine through thirteen and will reduce the overall par of the course.

"It’s a vast improvement, believe me," said Rich Brogan, the senior project manager of construction services at PGA Golf Course Properties.

Clubhouse Drive, the road leading to the course, will also be widened, Kronenberg said, and the clubhouse is being renovated and expanded.

"It’s a step forward for the whole community," said Stephen Kaufman, an attorney with Linowes and Blocher LLP who represented TPC Avenel at the July 19 hearing. "The [PGA] Tour is going to make the best course it can. It’s not just for the Tour, but for the community, and it will also be a very good example of an environmentally [friendly] course."

Kaufman said that TPC Avenel hopes to begin the renovation in August with the goal of being completed in time to host a Professional Golf Association tournament in 2009.