After nearly two dozen years in industry top jobs, odds are good that Troy Flanagan had at least worked on — if not also spearheaded and orchestrated — any golf course improvement project you can imagine.
Before this summer, Flanagan, the director of golf maintenance at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, had never opened a new maintenance facility. He finally checked it off his list in June, but not before learning that maintenance facilities — or at least this maintenance facility, an almost-30,000-square-foot gem more than three years in the works — are a different sort of administrative challenge and that sometimes it can be more beneficial to step back and, seemingly counterintuitively, do less.
“Even if contractors are doing the work, I know what the next steps are and I can kind of control the outcome if I see things going sideways,” Flanagan says. “But with this building, there were so many different things going on, and it was a learning experience. I really had to rely on the experts and do what they needed, help them out when I could.
“It was very hard for me, because this was a project that I couldn’t steer.”
After working out of a double-wide trailer for his first three years at The Olympic Club, Flanagan dreamed about a new maintenance facility for his 45-worker crew, and he has the Word documents to confirm the desire. He drafted his first plans for the new building in March 2017, different lists for different rooms, needs and wants marked and separated. Membership supported the plans and earmarked about $8 million, a fair sum for a 45-hole club that will host the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Amateur, the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup over the next 13 years.
What he did not envision were all the legislative details and delays.
Flanagan says he expected the facility to open “about two years ago,” but the project was delayed before ever really starting because of “very unique” property lines. The new facility is located on the same land as the old facility, hard by the eighth hole of the Ocean Course. The land was a gift granted years ago by San Francisco provided it remain part of a golf course for perpetuity. Unfortunately for Flanagan, that land — and the facility itself — now bisects San Francisco and San Mateo counties, which means both counties need to sign off on even the smallest details.
“Everything you’re doing is in duplicate,” Flanagan says. “It might be easy in one county and in the other, they hold it up. At one point, one county official said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s no problem, don’t worry about it,’ and then somebody else came in and said, ‘You can’t have a parcel line in the middle of your building.’” That led to a line adjustment, pushing back the start of the project.
“If this sounds really complicated,” Flanagan says, “it is.”
After ironing out property and county lines, Flanagan hired an outside project manager and contracted MacCracken Architects, a local firm, and took them all to a pair of other top courses — Pebble Beach, which built a still-well-regarded maintenance facility about 20 years ago, and The Peninsula Golf & Country Club, which opened its new facility in the late 2010s — for guidance on how to handle the project. “It’s not like there’s a plethora of golf course maintenance building designers out there,” Flanagan says. “So, we went and walked those facilities, which really helped the architects and the project manager understand not just what they looked like but the function, the flow. That was huge. That really helped them get a grasp on what I wanted.”
Work started in February 2019, “the day after Presidents’ Day,” Flanagan says, and was scheduled to run for 10 months. Flanagan, though, “always thought in my head it was going to last 12, because when does anything ever finish on time?” Sure enough, while the crew worked out of a temporary facility on a tennis parking lot that covered less than half the area of their previous yard, the project went long. Ten months turned into 11, then 12, then 13. The project appeared close to finished in March, but there was an electrical delay. Three days later, with the COVID-19 pandemic just ramping up on the West Coast, San Francisco mayor London Breed ordered the city to shelter in place. “We were stopped in our tracks for six weeks,” Flanagan says. When work resumed in late May, fire approval delayed the project for another four weeks.
“My team had been working in poor conditions for a long time,” Flanagan says. There was the breakroom whose gaps cracked wide at the top of plywood walls and forced crew members to eat their lunch bundled in winter coats. There was the bathroom built on a sinkhole, which resulted in a considerable slant and eventual water intrusion and mold. And there was all the equipment, sitting outside every night and still damp every morning. “They would come out and the seats were all wet,” Flanagan says, “and no matter how much they tried to dry them off, they were still wet.
“It was that bad.”
With social distancing still in full swing, Flanagan scheduled the crew to tour the finished facility in three different groups. After all the planning, all the construction, all the delays — after so many cold and wet mornings near the banks of Lake Merced — their joy was pure. “All of a sudden, to have a state-of-the-art facility, to have this break room that’s gorgeous, new lockers, it was like Christmas,” Flanagan says. “It was really, really exciting.”
Now the equipment is indoors, the breakroom has air conditioning and heat, a trio of 75-inch television are mounted on the walls. “Morale is through the roof,” Flanagan says. “It was a long time coming. The project manager and the architect said they had never had this much feedback on a project before. It was my one chance to get it right, so I was happy to hear them say that. Now that we’ve moved in, I’ve been trying to figure out what I might have screwed up. So much of it’s about flow, how people use the building, and yeah, the flow seems like it’s right.”