Golf course keepers work to keep ahead of the elements

01/25/2014 11:08 PM

01/25/2014 11:08 PM

Golfers wearing short-sleeve shirts — and some in shorts — filled the tees on the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, but the weather changed and by Friday, play had dwindled to nothing.

The result: the bottom line takes a beating in lost revenue and increased labor expenses, and superintendents’ skills are put to the test with the huge swings in temperature.

“Very challenging,” said Tim Kreger, executive director of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association. “The new ultradwarf Bermuda grasses are very susceptible to cold temperatures, and if you don’t take care of greens now, you will have problems later. The thing is, cold weather could ‘get’ the greens now and you wouldn’t know until the spring.”

To protect greens, some clubs have covers. “They’re costly and obviously very labor-intensive,” Kreger said. Putting them on for the night, then taking them off (for play) in the morning is a lot of work.”

Jeff Connell, Fort Jackson Golf Club’s superintendent, protects the greens at the 36-hole facility by watering them late on afternoons when freezing temperatures are forecast, and allowing a thin layer of ice to form a barrier. The principle, he said, is like farmers’ spraying water to protect tender crops with the ice acting as a mulch or a cover.

Other clubs will use mulch or pine straw to cover their greens, which again adds to labor costs.

“That’s a lot of area to cover and then uncover,” Kreger said.

“But that’s what (superintendents) have to do,” Connell said. “Our job is to protect the golf course and on a day like (Friday), or during that really cold spell a couple of weeks ago, the greens won’t even thaw out during the day. I know some guys will say, ‘Hey, I wanted to play today,’ but would they rather play today in the cold, or have good greens when the weather warms up?

“I went to Nashville to an agronomy meeting not long ago and they had covered the greens and closed the courses for the winter. We don’t have that option. Golf in South Carolina is 12 months a year, and we have to have the courses prepared all the time.”

The good news, Kreger said, is weeds are not a problem during the cold weather and, more important, the caliber of golf course superintendents continues to climb.

“We, in the Columbia area, have outstanding superintendents,” Connell said. “Look around at all the courses and they are always in excellent shape.”

Golf is like any other sport or business at the mercy of the weather. Every tee time that goes unused cannot be recovered. “If you have, say, 500, rounds budgeted for January and there is no play, every day is a lost opportunity,” Kreger said.

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