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It was obviously going to be a windy season and new tactics were required. Instead of working over the whole course at once, only small segments were fertilized and planted at a time, then hovered over day and night. No more than 15 yards of ditch were kept open at a time. Even so the winds almost had their way. Every green blew away at least twice more, the 11th eight times. The 6th green was such a problem, it was kept covered for eight weeks with burlap bags, with hoses playing on them continuously, till the grass was strong enough to face the winds.
Hughes, who kept coming back for an agonized look and a quick vertical adjustment of his estimate, decided to take a chance and try to turn the winds to some advantage. Instead of using Bermuda grass, which is tough but turns yellow in cold weather, he put in bluegrass and fescue. These provide a rich green surface but are liable to fungus growths in hot climates. Hughes thought the wind might discourage the fungus as much as it did him, and he turned out to be right. Constantly enriched, aerated, watered, the sand has become a rich black soil, going down several inches in favorable spots.
Not all the spots are favorable, however. One great corner of the course, consisting of the first, 2nd and 10th holes, was found to consist of a great outcropping of caliche, a whitish rock-hard alkali formation, impervious to plant's root or man's pick. To get water pipes through these holes, they had to blast the ditches with dynamite. Even the Desert Inn couldn't have paid for grinding up all the caliche. They bulldozed two inches of sand over it and that is what the grass must grow in, to this day.
With the soil tamed, there remained the problem of water. Las Vegas had 5.40 inches of rain last year. In flood times it may go up to double that. On summer days the temperature is in the 110s and the humidity rarely over 2%. Under these conditions it takes more than half a million gallons of water a day to keep the course green and it took better than a million daily to get it to grow in the first place. The water has to come from wells, and the wells come from the Las Vegas water table, which has been dropping steadily since the white man began to tap it. Grateful as they are for the business brought to them by the gambling halls—after all, Las Vegas has no other industry, except the divorce and marriage trade—the local inhabitants were apt to show a certain sullen resentment when they had to cut down on their own bath water and see vast sprinklers showering all day over a golf course. The Desert Inn magnanimously decided to reduce its well consumption and, for an extra $80,000, build a disposal plant which treats all the bath and kitchen and toilet water from the hotel and the houses on the real estate development. In a plant strategically located between the 8th and 14th fairways, only one of which need fear the consequences at a time depending on the wind, all this water is led through four vast tanks. In the first two the sewage is reduced to a sludge, which is later dried, crushed and used as fertilizer for the course. The third tank releases the soap, which floats up in great rainbowy clouds when there is a breeze. In the last tank the water is so pure that salesmen for the Refinite process scoop it up and drink it with smirks of pleasure. Thence it goes off to fill the seven lagoons which function as water hazards and also as reservoirs for the course sprinklers.
Use of this water on the fairways turned up a peculiarity of the Refinite process. While all other foreign matter was being squeezed out, tomato seeds from the hotel's salads went through everything, and every spring they send up a rich tomato crop which has to be kept down by mowing.
Once the water gets into the lagoons, it is another big job to keep it there. On hot days it evaporates at the rate of 5,000 gallons an hour. Moreover, if it were left alone, it would all sink right down into the sand. So a product called Bentonite is mixed in liberally and forms an impervious crust on the floor.
Despite the Bentonite, anyone who goes wading into the water for a lost ball is liable to get an alkali foot bath. Luckily the Desert Inn is a high class place, where the waitresses will tell you haughtily, "We serve only Eastern beer"; and as the vice-president in charge of golf says, "We have very few of the type client who will take off his shoes and stockings and go wading just for a one-dollar golf ball."
Once the water problem was licked, the worst seemed to be over. There was nothing left to fix up but the sand-traps, and there was plenty of sand around. Alas, it was the wrong kind of sand: it was too fine and any wind would blow it away when dry; if you wet it, it hardened and wasn't a sand-trap any more. So sand had to be imported from Los Angeles, at $17.50 a square yard.
There were a few human troubles too. Scorpions stung the workmen, rattlesnakes hissed at them. But as the grass took root these desert dwellers had to retreat and birds came down to replace them. Geese sampled the lagoons and as trees were planted, the publicity office announced an invasion of song birds from the mountains—and to prove it organized an Audubon Club. Since bird-watching time coincides with the heaviest play at the crap tables, the club never amounted to much more than a science teacher from Las Vegas High. He did report seeing two unusual kinds of woodpecker.
The course was supposed to be completed in six months, and at that time the professional, Howard Capps, turned up. He looked at the five holes already completed, looked harder at the stony waste where the others were supposed to be and almost yielded to despair. The workmen however did not lose hope. Neither did Hughes, who simply extended his time limit and upped his estimate again.