COURSE CARE
How Are We Going to Get This Done? September 16, 2013 By Elliott L. Dowling

Fall/winter is a good time to complete long-range improvements (e.g., drainage, tree removal/additions or renovations). Retain adequate staff levels through the "off-season" to ensure projects are completed as well as daily maintenance, before spring.

I am watching football on my television which means one thing: fall is near. For many, this is a celebrated time of year. Difficult weather and heat stress is primarily behind us (although not entirely gone) and we shift focus from summer maintenance to fall projects. 

For most golf facilities, the number of employees gradually declines following aeration in late summer or fall. Be careful not to let staff numbers get too small, too fast. Fall and winter are great times to gain momentum on projects that are difficult to complete during the growing season. Invasive, time-consuming projects such as drainage installation, tree removal or renovation work enhance the course but require significant labor to complete. 

As temperatures cool and leaves change color in October and November, fall can make for beautiful scenery and wonderful golf conditions in the Mid-Atlantic region. However, leaves eventually drop and leaf cleanup can become a major task for many golf facilities. For those with tree-lined fairways, leaf cleanup never seems to end. Decreasing staff this time of year has a direct impact on the amount of time it takes to clean leaves from the playing surface. There is no “leaf rule” in the Rules of Golf although many players evoke one this time of year. Mulching and removing leaves is an important job that requires daily labor. Leaves left on the ground block sunlight to the turf, and sunlight is very important for turf health during the winter months. Remember, leaves often need to be cleaned up BEFORE grass can be mowed and bunkers raked. A skeleton grounds crew can only accomplish so much. 

For many, equipment repair is a major focus during the winter. This time-consuming work requires an experienced mechanic and possibly an additional staff member or two. Teeing ground accessories such as ball washers, tee markers, benches and trash receptacles are sanded (or sandblasted) and painted to give them a fresh, new look for the following golf season. This process is also very time consuming if done correctly, requiring one or two staff members for several weeks. If this is the extent of the winter crew, any outside work, i.e., drainage, tree removal, renovations, etc., takes away from routine offseason tasks. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, as the saying goes, is an unfortunate reality for many superintendents. Knowing that equipment must be repaired and course accessories made to look new, completing other jobs becomes difficult. 

During the budget projection phase of the year, communicate to course stakeholders the need for adequate “offseason” labor. Those who carry enough staff through the offseason are able to target course improvement projects during the winter months. When spring arrives, it is those that have completed their winter projects that can then quickly shift their focus to course preparations as the upcoming season is set to begin. Spring is a very busy time for golf facilities because staff levels are still low from winter layoffs, course cleanup is a top priority as the grounds must be prepared for early-season play and finishing projects that were left from the previous year lead to stressful times for turf managers and staff. As such, be sure to not overlook the importance of offseason staffing levels. Your spring golfing season may just depend on it. 

For more information on making sure your golf facility is adequately staffed during the winter months, please see Winter is Not ‘Down Time’ on the Golf Course

Source: Elliott Dowling (edowling@usga.org)

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