Many courses have started mowing putting greens with triplex mowers to save labor. Walk mowing often requires between four and six employees depending on the size of greens while triplex mowing only requires one or two staff members. Updates in triplex technology make it possible to produce the same quality of cut as walk mowers with fewer labor hours. Golfers may notice wider striping patterns on putting greens, but this is only cosmetic. For reference, triplex mowers have been used at numerous USGA championships for putting green mowing. There is no question that consistent and smooth conditions can be produced when using triplex mowers.
Rolling is often utilized to improve putting green conditions but rolling requires a skilled operator. When labor resources are reduced, a decision will have to be made as to where rolling falls on the priority list. This is not to say that throughout the golf season putting greens will not be rolled, but an adjustment will likely have to be made to how frequently rolling is performed. Some superintendents may experiment with alternating between mowing and rolling to reduce turf stress with resources stretched thin. This strategy has been proven successful at courses where it has been implemented.
Along with beginning to mow in the spring, applications of plant protectants for preemergence weed control, insect control, disease control and reduction of localized dry spots are made. Timing is critical when applying these products and, depending on labor availability, some applications may need to be made outside of the ideal time period or skipped entirely. Golfers should not be surprised if they see more weeds this year and some turf blemishes because of insect feeding, disease damage and chronic dryness.
Golfers will likely see increased weed pressure in native areas. Even during an average year, weed control in native areas is a challenge for most courses. Given the current circumstances and the fact that these areas are typically not in play, any expectations for weed control in native areas should be put on the back burner. Some courses may also selectively expand their native areas this season to reduce the time dedicated to mowing rough.
As the season progresses, there are some areas of the course that will not be maintained as intensively. This would include detail work such as string trimming around trees and water features, or maintaining flower beds. It is not that these areas are going unnoticed, but they have little impact on play. In time these areas will receive attention but there must be an understanding of why they do not rank high on the priority list when staff time and maintenance resources are severely limited.
Under normal circumstances, some courses dedicate more resources to maintaining bunkers than putting greens. With less labor and resources available at most courses this spring, bunker maintenance will not be performed as regularly. This may involve switching from hand raking to machine raking, using the “Aussie method” of raking, or completely raking bunkers less frequently and only touching-up areas that were disturbed on most days. Regardless, if a shot ends up in a bunker, this is not where the golfer intended it to land and the lie does not need to be perfect. As Old Tom Morris said, “Bunkers are not a place for pleasure, they’re for punishment and repentance.”
If heavy rainfall is experienced and bunker washouts occur, it will take time to repair all the bunkers. Depending on the severity of washouts, it can take more than 100 labor hours to repair bunkers. Don’t be surprised if only the greenside bunkers are repaired initially, and fairway bunkers are repaired a few days later. A balance between all the other scheduled maintenance practices and repairing bunkers will have to be found based on the resources available.
The timing of certain maintenance tasks will likely have to change and golfers will need to become accustomed to the sight of more maintenance being completed during play. Many maintenance practices are typically scheduled for early in the morning, but the logistics of completing the same necessary maintenance practices with less employees will force some practices to be scheduled as second or third assignments later in the day. Golfers should take it upon themselves to practice proper etiquette towards maintenance employees.
Many golf courses have made changes to reduce touchpoints on the course. This includes removing bunker rakes, removing flagsticks, adjusting the hole liner so golfers do not have to reach in to retrieve their ball, limiting cart usage and removing course accessories such as ball washers. If only one person is allowed per cart, rounds may be shorter but the additional traffic will have serious turf health implications if it continues all season. Golfers will likely notice wear patterns and even turf loss from increased traffic if a single-user cart policy is in place. If this is something that becomes a long-term policy, new strategies will have to be implemented to manage cart traffic.