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  Mill Creek Park’s North And South Golf Courses Continue To Undergo Major Improvements  
  Currently In Third Year Of 5-Year Plan:   October 3, 2019 Edition  
     BY GREG GULAS
      Boardman News Sports
      bnews@zoominternet.net
      In 2015, Hubbard native Brian Tolnar was serving as general manager and PGA director of golf at Blue Heron Golf Club in Rochester, New York, happy with his position and the progress that he was making at one of the nation’s most respected golf establishments.
      The opportunity to return home, however, to become PGA director of golf for Mill Creek Metroparks’ two championship courses was an opportunity he simply could not pass up.
      Mill Creek’s North and South courses continue to undergo improvements and changes as part of its five-year capital improvement plan, a plan that Tolnar – who is currently in his fifth-year at the helm – laid out when he was going through the interview process.
      “I played many rounds at Mill Creek as a junior golfer, then as a member of the Hubbard Eagles’ golf team and I’ve always loved everything about the course and its setting,” Tolnar said. “I spent a month preparing for my interview, looking at areas and ways to improve the course.”
      Incidentally, Tolnar’s interview coincided with Mill Creek Metroparks’ plan to make multiple improvements to the entire park. “I was hired in March of 2015 and from the minute I came on board we pretty much hit the ground running,” Tolnar added. “I had numerous meetings with Aaron Young, executive director of Mill Creek Metroparks as he was already in the process of doing the same thing for the entire park.
      “We spent the majority of 2016 getting prices, quotes and costs together and the following year rolled out our aggressive, five-year capital improvement plan. The plan will cost a little over $2 million and we’re already in the third year of the plan. We obviously wanted to be further along when the AJGA [American Junior Golf Association] came here last June, but Mother Nature had other ideas, didn’t exactly cooperate and because of the rain the land was saturated.
      “A couple vendors were behind as well due to the weather we have in the Northeast part of the country. We’re hoping that the 2019 portion of our plan will be completed by Thanksgiving, if not sooner as long as the weather cooperates.”
      Mill Creek opened in 1928, will turn 92 years-old in 2020 with its two courses attracting between 68,000-72,000 golfers each season.
      They play host to 41 leagues---the oldest is the YMCA League, which completed its 90th season this past year (second oldest is the Sigma Club); over 60 golf outings and eight local teams, including the Boardman Spartans and Cardinal Mooney Cardinals’ boys and girl’s teams, Canfield Cardinals boys, Poland Bulldogs girl’s, Ursuline boys and Ursuline Sr. co-ed squads.
      “We also host YSU’s Roseanne Schwartz Invitational each fall while the AJGA Nationals, which attracts players worldwide and is the No. 1 event in the world for juniors, generates over half a million dollars in revenue for the Mahoning Valley,” Tolnar stated. “Max Moldovan is a senior at Uniontown Lake High School this year, is the two-time defending OHSAA state champion and has won the last two AJGA events that we hosted. He’s ranked No. 1 in the world and in December will represent the USA in the U.S. Jr. President’s Cup in Melbourne, Australia. Those are the types of players we’ve been able to attract when we host the AJGA.”
      Attracting that type of talent and hoping they keep coming back involves constant improvements and Tolnar is pleased with the progress that they have been making according to their capital improvement timeframe.
      The timeline for improvement to both courses began in 2015 when Mill Creek’s management team engaged in a full-scale assessment of where they felt the facilities were deficient and in need of vital improvement for the longevity of their golf operation.
      In 2016 they developed their five-year capital improvement plan, addressing areas in need of upgrades and repair and in 2017, the process commenced with complete bunker restoration on its South Course.
      They added a golf outing tent on their South course, added a new tournament leaderboard, installed a weather safety alert system on the grounds, added a new cart staging area in front of the fieldhouse and upgraded the Pro Shop merchandising area.
      Leadership and implementation of the plan has been key during the upgrading process.
      “We have a great leadership group here at the MetroParks, from our commissioners and executive director on down to the directors and management team,” Tolnar noted. “I’m glad to be a part of the team with the vision toward making our facilities better than how we found them five years ago.
      “The people of the Mahoning Valley deserve the very best when it comes to the quality of the facilities and it’s been fun to be a part of the many positive upgrades that have been made thus far.”
      In 2018, bunker restoration continued to its North course, painting to the exterior of the fieldhouse began while fieldhouse rest room facilities were upgraded. They added new hole signage, designed a new outdoor short game area and added new golf cart and pull cart fleets.
      “This year we started the season with upgrades to the fieldhouse lobby and Hole #55 Restaurant, currently undergoing bunker restoration on the North and South courses which will conclude in mid-October, weather pending.” Tolnar said. “A new short game area will begin construction later this fall and new tee markers will be added in October.”
      Drainage to its North and South greens, which began this year, is something that all top-notch courses worldwide take seriously.
      “Drainage in the 1920’s was very limited to non-existent in some cases,” he added. “All newer courses and modern-day designs currently receive this process during construction. The greens drainage project at Mill Creek is vital to the long-term stability of our green complexes.
      “When the project is completed, our patrons will have greens that are more consistent with faster speeds. Faster green speeds are something every golfer enjoys and we’re excited to give our golfers a new and much needed experience.”
      The greens drainage process includes trenching a main drain line on the lower portion of the green, removing the existing soil and clay within the green, installing drainage pipe throughout the entire green, connecting cross-line drainage trenches all across the existing greens every 5-6 feet, filling the trenches with material that will allow the green to drain properly, replacing existing sod to the surface and rolling the finished surface so it is ready for immediate use.
      The benefits will begin in 2020 and last well beyond with head superintendent Lance Bailey appreciative of the many upgrades.
      “The future health of the turf quality on our greens will be much improved when this project is finished,” he said. “We’re looking forward to giving the golfers a more enhanced surface on which to putt during tournaments, our weekly leagues and open play. In addition, the more modernized greens will make for more management by the staff as we maintain them daily.”
      Tolnar feels players will appreciate the upgrades.
      “In addition to faster green speeds and more consistent greens, it will decrease the number of ball marks on the greens and eliminate soft surface and sponginess in those greens,” Tolnar stated. “As far as maintenance, it will allow greens to finally drain properly, provide a healthier root structure with much deeper growth because our current root depth is 1-3 inches while a healthy root depth is anywhere between 11 and 16 inches.
      “It will allow us to cut the greens at a shorter mowing height without the green dying out, making greens less susceptible to disease. On the cost-saving side of things, greens with proper drainage will be less dependent on chemicals to stay healthy and decrease in expenses yearly as we move forward. It lessens the number of man hours needed to maintain them on a daily-basis.”
      The short game area and new tee markers will also have added benefits.
      “We’ll merge our current three practice greens together to create one, extra-large practice putting surface,” Tolnar noted. “We’ll add two, new additional greens of which one will be used for chipping practice and the other for bunker practice.
      “We‘ll install a practice bunker with the installation of drainage and irrigation also slated. New tee markers will be installed in October, branding the Mill Creek MetroParks’ logo into the blue, white, gold, red and silver tee markers, all of which was purchased locally from a company in the Mahoning Valley.”
      Former Cardinal Mooney High School and Kent State University golf star, Andy Santor, serves as Mill Creek’s South course head golf professional.
      “Overall, what we are doing will make the day-to-day conditions great for those who play our course,” he said. “It will also make it a better playing venue for the events that we are trying to attract.”
      Stacie Butler, former Boardman High School and Methodist University star, is North course head professional.
      Being a public facility means showcasing both courses as much as possible, according to Tolnar.
      They also embrace the private sector funding support that they have received.
      “Our facility is a little different in that it is a public facility and we want to host as many events as possible,” Tolnar concluded. “Without naming the groups, we are close to securing two or three more highly visible events and we should know between Thanksgiving and the New Year where we stand with those.
      “The capital improvement process has been something that our staff has worked on for a long time and it’s exciting to see all the progress that has been made to date. We want to make the overall user experience something the people in the area can be proud of and we’re confident that when the entire process is completed, we will instill the legacy of Donald Ross who designed the facility over 90 years ago.
      “A special thank you to the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation and CEO Mike Senchak who have generously donated $100,000 for a four-year title sponsorship agreement for the AGJA Tournament, $300,000 to create the golf department’s first ever endowment called the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation Golf Endowment and donation of the South Outing Tent, Tournament Leaderboard and numerous Beautification Projects.
      “Private funding, grant funding and outside individual and foundation support with financial contribution will play an important part of where and how we grow moving forward. Partnerships, like the one with the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation, are vital in looking toward the next 90 years as well as the generations of golfers to come,” he said
      “I am extremely excited about the projects happening at Mill Creek Golf Course, from the bunker restoration to the clubhouse renovation to the short game area and carts paths. I grew up playing here, which special in and of itself so being part of this transformation is just as special. I love hearing all of the positive feedback from our residents that play here daily and sharing stories of how the facility has improved and continues to get better with each of our projects. We all truly appreciate what is taking place.”
 
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