COLUMBUS, Ohio — The science of golf isn't just reading the greens and lining up putts. At the Phoenix Golf Links, everything depends on solid waste management.
The Phoenix, which opened May 27, sits atop the former Model Landfill, the Columbus area's garbage dump until it was closed by Franklin County commissioners in 1985 because it was full.
Designers upgraded the landfill's clay cap, which conceals garbage that once rose 60 feet high, then built extensive piping systems for drainage and irrigation and to burn off gas buildups.
"It's almost as much of an engineering project as it is building a golf course," said Barry Fisher, who runs the course for owner-operator Petro Environmental Technologies Inc. of Cincinnati.
Since moisture would dissolve the garbage and wash it away, the drainage and irrigation systems were built to filter water from the landfill.
As waste decomposes, it produces methane and carbon dioxide that, if exposed to the surface, would kill the golf course's freshly planted grass, said Petro project manager Kevin Iler.
So gas extraction wells pipe the gas from the landfill to the southern edge of the course, where it is burned off in a bright red flare that sends thick black smoke into the sky.
The flare, which motorists can see from nearby roads, is one of many things Petro hopes will catch a golfer's eye.
The Phoenix is a links-style course, meaning it has no trees. Their roots would break the clay seal that protects the landfill. Players do have a scenic view of the downtown skyline, about four miles north.
The course has standard hazards such as bunkers and ponds. But sitting between some holes there are also gas extraction wells, which are surrounded by wooden fences marked with signs that read, "Warning, flammable gas."
There's a 19th hole in case the cap settles and the garbage gives way under one of the other holes, taking it out of play for a day.
The par-72, 6,800-yard Phoenix has greens fees of $13.50 to play nine holes and $25 for 18, comparable to other courses open to the public in Columbus. The operators expect it to be competitive because it is a 10-minute drive from downtown offices and is so unusual.
"I think people are going to be curious," said golf pro Tony Cardinali. "People are going to want to look at it."
Charlie Castle, golf director at the nearby Grovebrook Golf Club, said he expects competition from the Phoenix at first but figures to keep his regulars.
Players used to a traditional golf course will have trouble adjusting to the Phoenix's wide open layout, Castle said.
There are no trees to circumvent, but the Phoenix has other features, like mounds and uneven greens, that pose problems for average-skill players, Castle said. Also, with the course located off Interstate 71 and on the highest point of the city, wind will be a factor.
"Your average golfer is not going to want to go to a course where he's going to get beat up. He wants to go to a course and be happy," Castle said. "If it's too tough for him, he's not going to put up with it."
Fisher said players will enjoy playing on a bent-grass surface rather than the bluegrass found at other courses.
"With the bluegrass the ball has a tendency to settle down on it," he said.
Petro is leasing the 185 acres the course was built on from the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio for $1 a year for 40 years, with the option for 10 more.
Maintaining the land was a $15-million liability that the authority wanted to get off its books, said Mike Long, executive director. Also, he said, turning the land into a golf course could help revitalize a part of the city choked with heavy industry.
"It was called the Model Landfill because in its day it was a state-of-the-art facility," he said. "Now we think this is a model of taking an unwanted facility after it hasn't become useful and turning it into something that is beneficial, useful to our community and needed."