Reflections From 2010 - Thoughts For 2011

By Stanley J. Zontek, director, Mid-Atlantic Region
December 16, 2010

 A golf course in winter is a beautiful place. 

It’s the time of the year when all of us take a few minutes to reflect on the past year, although many of us wait until 2010 is officially over to begin thinking about next year.  Several thoughts come to mind as we are in that transition period. 


  • Down Time.  The longer we are in this industry, the more we realize that there is no such thing as downtime. If there was a positive aspect of the good old days, when we sat in maintenance buildings with earthen floors and only enough heat for a small workplace, it was that the only real winter chores were small course improvement projects and working on equipment and tree care. 


Essentially, every job on a golf course is becoming more complicated.  Winter golf means that players expect turf quality, even when the grass is dormant and the ground is frozen.  There always is winter work, including overhauling of turf equipment and attending turf conferences to stay current with the best turf management information, and acquiring continuing education credits. 

Ask yourself this question.  Do you take your allotted vacation time?  If not, then you are part of a group, a large group, of golf turf professionals who place the importance of the work they do on the course above taking time off.  In today’s economy, and with so many uncertainties about the future, it is easy to understand how this happens.  As with anything, it is all a matter of balance, i.e., balancing the needs of your personal life with the requirements of your professional life.    


  • The Basics.  We have all heard a thousand times that the basics never change.  Keep reminding yourself of this point when you ponder what worked and what did not work this past summer.  Did you try to substitute a biostimulant package to grow roots, as opposed to actually punching a hole to grow better roots?  Did you try to replace a golf course maintenance task, like topdressing, by applying a product that is supposed to decompose thatch?  Are you replacing basic maintenance with products that provide hope versus a real improvement? 


I am always reminded that when one of our golf club technical experts was asked, “Will buying a new graphite shaft result in lower scores and longer drives for the average golfer?”  The technician smiled and said, “With the swing you have, this equipment will do little to provide some hope that you will hit the ball farther and straighter.”  Are we doing the same thing in turfgrass management by substituting what we all know about the needs of grass -- vs. technology (hope) in a bottle (or a bag)?

There is no doubt we have some of the best materials and products to help us do our jobs than we have ever had before.  They may be expensive, but properly applied, according to the label, they do pretty much what they are supposed to do.  You must always balance, and never compromise, the basic turf needs. 


  • The Weather.  The Mid-Atlantic Region is experiencing another early cold winter.  This makes the whole issue of winter golf rather academic.  No matter how good we are at what we do, or how good the grasses or products are, the weather affects everything.   


Are mowing heights appropriate to the weather?  Is “defensive maintenance” practiced, i.e., mow one day, roll the next, maybe even skip a day of mowing and rolling altogether?  Are golfers’ expectations realistic?  Balance the needs of the golfer to the needs of the grass.  It takes good communications to get this point across.  Outside groups like the USGA Green Section’s Turf Advisory Service, state university extension personnel, etc. can help. 

If you are not sure about what to do -- do nothing, and start asking questions.  Once something has been applied or a maintenance operation performed, most are irreversible.  Be conservative and act defensively. 


  • Trust Your Agronomic Intuition.  Learn to listen to it and trust your agronomic intuition.  This is the art of greenkeeping 


  • Give Thanks.  All of us have much to worry about, but we also have much to be thankful for.  We need to take a few extra moments, especially at this time of the year, to sincerely thank those you work with and those you work for.  Appreciate your staff and your family. 


This is the last 2010 Mid-Atlantic regional update.  On behalf of our entire staff, Keith Happ and Darin Bevard, senior agronomists, Administrative Assistants Laura Niehaus, Marti Zontek, and Pat Stairiker and me, Stan Zontek, we wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, a happy and healthy holiday season, and a great New Year in 2011. 

Contacts:  Stan Zontek ( and Darin Bevard ( at 610/ 558-9066 or Keith Happ ( at 412/ 341-5922.


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