Come to Baywood Greens and Bring Your Pruning Shears

By Alan B. Nichols, Staff Writer

LONG NECK, DE -- It is not surprising that a golf course as good as Baywood Greens would draw golfers from far and wide. What’s remarkable is that people visit the course who have no interest in playing it.

“Occasionally, we get requests from garden clubs to come out and see us,” explains Warren Golde, Baywood’s horticulturist. “Depending on the size of the group, they’ll either walk or we’ll send them out in golf carts.”

“In the mornings or early evening, residents like to stroll out on the course,” he added.

Straw-hatted men and women toting flower guidebooks around a golf course are not usual, but then Baywood Greens, for all its floral opulence, is no garden variety track. The course is adorned from first tee to 18th green with an estimated 200,000 planted trees, flowers and shrubs including rhododendron, 2,500 azaleas, and 4,000 rose bushes. There are 20 acres of planted annuals and perennials include zinnias, bachelor buttons, poppies, mums, day lilies and a mind-boggling 40,000 daffodils. Also, the place is beautified with meadows of multi-colored wildflowers.

How much does all this gardening cost, Golde was asked. “He gives me an unlimited budget, and I manage to exceed it every year,” joked Golde, who employs a crew of only six year-round and five seasonal workmen.

“He” is Rob Tunnell, managing partner of Tunnell Companies, L.P., which owns and manages Baywood Greens and six other land-lease or Pot-Nets residential communities in this unincorporated town just west of Delaware’s coastal resorts.

Pot-Nets was coined from crab pot and fishing nets, fitting symbols on this sliver of land between the Indian River and Rehobeth Bays. Advertised for their affordability and proximity to excellent marine amenities, the communities feature manufactured houses on attractively landscaped lots.

Tunnell, a southern Delawarean, has substantially enhanced the land-lease portfolio founded by his attorney father, while starting other successful ventures.

Tunnell is a walking, talking bobble-head. He’s constantly on the go and when you can get him to sit down and chat, he reveals a refreshing unpretentiousness and candor that encompasses engaging touches of self-deprecation.

As a businessman, Tunnell has the Midas touch. He is not afraid to take risks. He hires competent people and then lets them do their jobs. Tunnell loves a challenge. “When people tell me it can’t be done,” he said, “I can’t wait to show them wrong.”

In the early 90’s, before Baywood was conceived, a community resident encountered Tunnell in a local coffee shop. “Rob,” he asked, “have you ever considered building a golf course?” Tunnell, a very infrequent golfer who knew nothing about golf course development, nonetheless liked the idea.

Before the year was out, he had hired Bill Love, then with Ault Clark & Associates, a well known design firm in Kensington, MD, to do the blueprints.

The course would be built on a portion of what eventually was the Baywood tract, 750 acres purchased in a series of piecemeal acquisitions. The tract is at the juncture of Delaware Rt. 24, which leads directly into Rehobeth, and Long Neck Rd., which leads out to the canal between the two bays. With its variegated features, the land was ideal for golf.

Portions of the site are thickly wooded with loblolly pines and hardwoods of white and northern red oak, maple, hickory and sweet gum. It also has protected wetlands and tidal marshes, and a sizable acreage of open flatland.

During initial construction, Love left Ault Clark to go on his own. Tunnell wanted to retain Love, but the contract was with Ault Clark. Tunnell recalled his attempts to negotiate with Ault. “I told Brian, ‘Design me a Cadillac. I want it to be the best it can be.’” Tunnell said he offered Clark virtually a blank check.

But because of their conflicting visions for the project, Tunnell and Clark parted ways. Instead of hiring another design firm, Tunnell decided to go in-house to finish the course. He put to work his own landscape and maintenance crew, led by Tunnell’s then land sculptor Larry DeWitt, who performed the actual shaping.

“Using Love’s design as a template, Tunnell and DeWitt superimposed their own ideas, adding a bunker or mound here, creating an additional lake or enlarging a planned one there, raising or lowering a green to blend with the other evolving features, and otherwise relying on instinct and restrained judgment.”

What they wound up with was a design that shows superior artistry and maturity marked by self-discipline. The course is a simple yet elegant design. Each hole has its own distinctive character, but it blends seamlessly with the whole. The same can be said for the greens whose slopes will test, but not detonate a round. The fairways are consistently generous and largely flat to fit the overall terrain. And the 27 acres of created lakes, mounds, and some 70 bunkers are placed to challenge players but not make them feel they are at a penal colony. For all its design elements, the course is the product of a remarkably coherent vision.

The course on some holes departs dramatically from the original design. The builders nearly doubled the size of the lake on the second hole and, in a moment of brilliance, they built stunning flower-decorated island tee boxes out on another lake on # 18.

The 14th was originally designed as a moderate right to left dogleg with no water. As they were shaping this hole, DeWitt needed more dirt which led to creating a lake. Then the pair decided to add an island fairway. The experiment worked so well, #14 is arguably Baywood Greens’ signature hole. It is stunning. From the back tee of this 425-yarder (409 yards from the blacks, 385 yards from the greens), the bulkheaded and beautifully landscaped island fairway seems dauntingly small. Land safely and players cut 100 yards off the hole. The less daring have the option of a right-hand fairway that leaves a much longer approach. The builders never forgot who their market is. They always designed in plenty of bail outs.

The beauty and originality of the course prompted a player from Minnesota to exclaim, “Last year I played Aviara in California and at the time I thought it was the prettiest course I had ever played. But this (Baywood Greens) is real close.”

The first 12 holes of the layout are set amidst the hardwood-pine forest, while the final six holes are in an open setting. The tee boxes, fairways, and greens are composed of L93 bent, and the first cut of rough is a fescue-rye mix. The course plays to par 72 and ranges from 3,539 yards (from the junior tees) to 6983 yards.

The course is excellently maintained, as are its amenities. The restrooms are carpeted, wall-papered and air-conditioned and look like mini-clubhouses. The shelters have breezeways furnished with wicker chairs and overhanging plants. The building serving the large practice facility includes restrooms and sheltered hitting bays, in addition to short and long game hitting areas off grass plots. The two-laned cart paths are first class. The wooded areas of the course are enhanced with pine straw imported from Georgia. Park-like signs which read, “Scenic view ahead,” and, “Oooo, aah, beautiful” draw attention to the floral areas.

Though it is open to the public, Baywood Greens has the quality and atmosphere of a private golf club. The concept is captured in the phrase, “Exclusively Public,” a Tunnellism used in course promotion.

The pro shop and snack bar are currently housed in the community center adjacent to the community pool. The permanent clubhouse, which will include banquet rooms for 240 guests, a bar/grille, pro shop and locker rooms will sit behind the 18th green. It is expected to be completed in April 2004. Also planned is a third nine to be designed by California architect Cary Bickler. Seven holes will be constructed across Rt. 24 on flat topography. The third nine will be completely different from the current 18. It will be a open, windswept Scottish style course featuring dramatic elevations. “We will move as much dirt (for the new nine) as we did for the existing 18,” Tunnell said.

Tunnell’s vision of excellence has resulted in a golf course that is the class of the Delaware-Maryland shore. When you are finished playing it, you can enjoy other attractions such as the area’s fine seafood restaurants and the boardwalk amusements at Rehobeth and Bethany Beach, DE and Ocean City, MD. For the history buffs, there is the maritime museum in historic Lewes, DE.

Rental homes and apartments, priced at a premium during the summer, are widely available at lower rates after Labor Day, when the weather is still pleasant. Motels line busy Rt. 1, convenient to the course and include The Heritage Inn & Golf Club, which has a 9-hole course directly behind it. For reservations at the inn, Call 1-800-669-9399.

Alan B. Nichols, Staff Writer

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