Butler’s Golf Course’s 90th Anniversary

4th Quarter Story… The Fourth Nine

An architect by the name of Ed Ault was hired by Butler’s to expand the course from 18 to 27 holes in 1963.  Ed completed the job, but he also mapped plans to get to 36 holes at the time.  Ralph Nill, grandson of J.W. Butler, began full-time work at the course during the same year the third nine was constructed.  He was asked to help out for a little while by his mother and aunt when Tom Fox, the superintendent, left.   

Over 30 years later, toward the beginning of the golf season of 1998, Tom Fox’s son, Tom Fox Jr., walked into Ralph’s office and asked him when he was going to build the fourth nine.  Ralph hadn’t seen him in years, but the expansion had definitely been on his mind.  Tom now owned a company called GolfScapes, specializing in shaping turf and building golf courses.  It was not long before the two of them, along with the rest of the family and staff, were hiking through the woods, scoping out potential course routings.  Even though Ault’s plans from ’63 were still available, Ralph had been thinking about this for years and already knew the original design would be altered.  With the naturally hilly terrain they had to work with, it was essential to minimize side-hill lies and blind shots.  Carmen Costa, the Golf Pro, also helped with figuring out challenging but fair options.  Plans were drawn and tweaked endlessly on-site.  Great American Federal S&L, the bank, provided construction loans for this proposed expansion.

Ralph and the team broke ground in December of 1998, and the first step was to clear an enormous amount of trees.  The Bahmer brothers and their Triple B crew from Ohio were hired for the job.  If you’ve played the Lakeside back nine, you are familiar with how dense the forest is surrounding the holes; it was just as dense in the area that needed clearing.  Much of the area had been pasture, so there was thick underbrush.  They brought with them serious equipment, capable of felling and chipping entire trees rapidly.  Many permits were required, and in place, to complete this work.  A permit was even needed simply to grind the remaining stumps to ground level.  As the Bahmers finished grinding a complete area for a hole, Tom Fox Jr. and his crew jumped in to start building.

Tom did much of the coordination of various crews during the project.  GolfScapes was responsible for almost all of the shaping and design of features, with the exception of some major moving of dirt.  Independent contractors were hired for this, most notably in the areas of Hole #14 and Hole #16.  Also, Dale Campbell dug in with his classic equipment.  E.H. Griffith continued to be a solid resource for advice and equipment.  Henry Greenawald, then assistant superintendent, was responsible for the majority of the irrigation work.  His family’s Greenawald Brothers business also assisted.  Miles of channels had to be dug to properly install the irrigation piping and wiring. New two-way radios were needed for communications and to control the irrigation system.

In addition to adding irrigation for the back nine, the course was tasked with building a new pump house.  The old one wasn’t powerful enough to handle an additional nine holes, not to mention the fact that most of Lakeside back nine requires water to be pumped uphill.  Work on the pump house began right away in December while trees were being cleared.  Dennis Quattrone and his DEL Enterprises helped with this project.  A large amount of water had to be drained from Lakeside #18 lake to accomplish this.  Although fall was mild, the winter of 1998-1999 was frigid and put a damper on the project, by spring of ’99 the foundation of the pump house, including walls, was built and the pumps and motors were ready to be lowered in.

As weather broke in spring of ’99 it was time to kick the construction into overdrive.  The last of the trees were cleared and stumps ground.  GolfScapes continued its work on shaping holes, creating green complexes and tee boxes, and mapping out fairways through what would eventually be the rough.  By June and July of ’99 it was time to seed many of the areas.  Up to this point in the year, Pittsburgh was experiencing a drought, which was great for construction but concerning for germinating seeds.  Plenty of water was available through the new irrigation system for fairways and greens, but Mother Nature would be needed to provide for the rough.  The need for light consistent rains ended quite abruptly on July 28th.

In just a few hours, the NOAA reports that 3.48” rain fell in the Pittsburgh area, but it was much more locally.  Men running the large equipment reported it “shaking something fierce.”  Staff in the cart barn could not see the restaurant for several minutes due to the wall of water.  Water entered the clubhouse for several feet in the banquet room.  Hundreds of trees were blown down across the property.  The biggest setback in the design of the new nine came from complete washouts of areas that were just recently seeded, including many fairways and a few greens.  The crew had to switch to chainsaws and chippers for several weeks to clean up former ‘features’ that had turned into debris.  The engineers’ erosion and sedimentation plan was not adequate for a storm of this intensity, and super silt fences and temporary sediment ponds were overwhelmed.  The worst green affected was what is now #10.  The storm was eventually ruled a microburst and was largely responsible for the shape of #10 green until its renovation in October 2017.

Much of the rest of the summer of ’99 was dedicated to cleaning up after the storm, reseeding and shaping areas, and grass growth.  A large project that took place around September was paving cart paths around the entire nine holes, by aptly named TAR.  In addition, another 80 spots were added to the parking lot, and additional golf carts were delivered in anticipation of more golfers on a daily basis, with 36 holes.  By the end of growing season, the new nine was in various stages of grass density and health, with many areas reseeded for one reason or another.

Not too much occurred in the winter of 1999-2000 in terms of construction, but the world got its first glimpse of the potential fifth generation in the Butler family as Ralph’s first grandchild, Emma, was born in December 1999.  Now there are five in this branch of the 5th generation!  By spring of 2000 it was time to really notch it up.  The snack shack for the Lakeside Course, known as Arrowhead, was erected during March through June.  Many areas of the nine were overseeded again, to fill in gaps and increase grass density in preparation for future play.

All hands were on deck in order to get the course open in time for the July 1st self-imposed deadline.  Jake Nill had returned to work at the course; much of the grounds crew and even golf shop staff, including Dave Barowich, became course construction crew; Jack Deutsch, then superintendent, focused on keeping the first 27 holes growing well; Helen Bergman and Nancy Kite were minding the restaurant and banquets; Anna Dormihal kept all of the bookkeeping straight; and building construction folks took on irrigation and landscaping tasks; and we apologize that we can’t acknowledge all of the people who contributed to this project.  Many bunkers were getting filled with sand, all the way through opening day, as it turns out.  Tee signs and ball washers were put in place.  Grass slowly filled in.  And finally, it was time.  On June, 21st, over a week prior to goal, the back nine of the Lakeside Course was open!  Fittingly, the same man that unexpectedly oversaw the expansion to 27 holes, Ralph Nill, hit the first “official” shot on his much anticipated fourth nine (pictured below).

For the first season, the holes were numbered such that the tee by Arrowhead was Lakeside #8, instead of #10.  After playing what is currently #18 (then #16), golfers would play what is now #8 and #9 to finish their round.  Due to the large amount of 9 hole play at Butler’s, this numbering system didn’t work.  It was not long before new signage and scorecards were re-ordered to change to the numbering of the holes that exists today.

Thank you for helping us celebrate our 90th Anniversary by reading our stories.  We look forward to great weather in year 91!
Evolution of Lakeside #10

Ralph Nill’s Opening Tee Shot

History Archives

January's Story - Remembering the Beginning
February's Story - Silent Park Lake and Picnic Grounds
March's Story The Tornado of 1963
April's Story - The Third Nine
May's Story - Honoring Our Long-Term Staff
June's Story - Butler’s and Our Community
July's Story - The Purple Martin
August’s Story - Irrigation at Butler’s
September’s Story - Butler’s and the Environment