Monday, January 31, 2011

A "New" Normal for Golf Course Maintenance

This article was submitted by Ty McClellan, USGA Green Section Record Mid-Continent Region Agronomist.

We’ll get back to (insert any maintenance practice or budget line item cut in recent years) as soon as things return to normal.” Sound familiar? At face value, this comment suggests that, while the business of golf is down, the situation is only temporary and operations and staffing levels will return to normal. So, what exactly is normal? For many, normal is the general state of golf that existed prior to 2008.

The 1990s and early 2000s can certainly be referred to as the good ol’ days when golf was bursting at the seams with optimism in every sense of the word. There were an increasing number of golfers, new course construction, and strong revenue streams at golf facilities of all types. Positions for superintendents and assistants were being created faster than turf students could finish their education. In an atmosphere of pure optimism, golf courses were also being designed for the best of times and maintained to achieve the wow factor. This meant extravagance at many levels, including more bunkers with high faces, more tees, more yardage, and more acres of manicured turf. None of this came cheap, and courses became more expensive to maintain with unsustainable business models.

In response to the recent economic recession and fewer rounds, golf facilities needed to reduce expenses. As a result, golf course budgets have generally decreased, and important cultural practices have been scaled back. Central to cost-saving plans were fewer staff and less overtime, which consequently meant less detail work on the golf course, use of inferior products, and fewer capital improvements. Many, if not most, of these cost-cutting measures have at least some adverse effects over time, and some even have detrimental effects with costly future implications. Educating golfers about the difference between frugal spending and harmful cost cutting is a whole other topic of great importance to the Green Section.

While the economy will eventually stabilize and create greater financial security, I believe there may be a “new” normal for golf course maintenance and golf operations. Many of the same management and operational philosophies that worked in the good ol’ days simply won’t cut it any longer. For those who consider 2009 and 2010 to be years during which maintenance operations, staffing levels, and budget cuts were only temporary, the “new” normal for golf course maintenance is more likely to include a sustained focus on efficient operations. At first glance this view may appear gloomy, but this is not necessarily the case. Sure, the number of golf courses (supply) must be further reduced to better align with play (demand), and this adjustment will be painful at times. But golf course superintendents have always proven to be innovative and resourceful, and now is their time to shine.

To help close the gap between limited resources and high expectations, research will also continue to produce more effective products that meet stringent regulatory policies. Equipment, tools, and irrigation systems will continue to become more specialized, more accurate, and more efficient, given the need for fewer inputs and greater environmental awareness. In time it will be commonplace to recycle grass clippings, food waste, and other kitchen byproducts into bio-fuels that can then be reused as electricity, natural gas, or equipment fuel. Golf course superintendents will continue to become better educated and more fiscally savvy. Again, science and innovation will help lead the way, and golf will survive. Will it return to normal as it once was? That’s a different question altogether.

What we do know is that maintaining golf courses during the last golf boom was reflective of the times — somewhat extravagant and rarely sustainable. This should not be viewed as normal. Many of the adjustments that were necessary during the past few years may not be as temporary as some would like to believe. There may be a “new” normal in golf course maintenance, and it will likely resemble the philosophies, budgets, and practices in place today. So, rather than playing the waiting game for a return to normal, start planning for the future by finding ways to get things accomplished.

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, do not hesitate to contact either of the Mid-Continent regional offices: Ty McClellan at or (630) 340-5853 or Bud White at or (972) 662-1138.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Nick Christians
January 27, 2011

The following is part of an internship report by undergraduate student Josh Conner, who was at Saucon Valley Golf Course in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania during the summer of 2010. Each page is a snapshot and the font will be small. To read the pages, click on them separately.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Iowa Turfgrass Conference and Tradeshow Recap

The 77th Iowa Turfgrass Conference and Tradeshow took place last week. Conference season is always a great time to enjoy and reconnect with friends and colleagues and become energized for another growing season. This year’s keynote speaker Charles Marshall provided the humor and motivation during his Wednesday morning presentation. Below is a snippet of some of Charles’ work.

Personally, I always enjoy listening to the seminars and watching the presenters. This allows me to brush up on information I may already be familiar with while also thinking about new ways of doing things. The presentation that comes to mind as I type this was by Dr. Brian Horgan from the University of Minnesota. He presented some of his latest research relating to the environmental and economic considerations relating to nitrogen fertilization and soil testing. Traditionally, late fall fertilization has been a popular practice and is thought to stimulate root growth and provide early spring green up. So far Brian’s work is suggesting that late fall fertilization may not be the best time to apply fertilizer from an economic or environmental standpoint. Their work is still ongoing so stay tuned for updates on this matter in the future.

I also had the opportunity to present at the conference. As many of you read in an earlier post, Brett Hetland, CGCS Brooks National Golf Club, and I presented about how to plan and implement integrated pest management. Hopefully, the information we presented will encourage and provide you with the necessary tools to start an IPM program at your facility if you have the desire. As we mentioned during our presentation, golf courses can be successfully blended with the natural environment to preserve natural habitat while providing a community asset. Those of you in the turfgrass industry work directly with nature on a daily basis and you are in a unique position to make a positive impact and IPM can serve as a catalyst for this action. In case you couldn’t make it our presentation can be seen below (without the bravado and wit that Brett and I presented with though).

If you receive articles via e-mail subscription, you will need to visit the blog homepage to view the video and presentation.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention two Iowa GCSA members that received impressive honors. Rick Tegtmeier, CGCS Des Moines Golf and Country Club, received the second annual Environmental Stewardship Award, and it was announced that Doug Snook, CGCS Waverly Golf Course will be inducted into the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame. There will be more coverage on these awards later in the week.

Marcus Jones
Graduate Research Assistant

Monday, January 17, 2011


Nick Christians
January 17, 2011

We're going to do a little change of pace in this post. This is part of an internship report by undergraduate student Derrick Peterson who completed a an internship at Hawcott Lawn Service in the summer of 2010.

The address of Hawcott Lawn service is:

Ben Hawcott


PO Box 37

Nevada, IA 50201

Voice: 515-382-8830

Derrick Peterson

History of Hawcott Lawn Service:

Ben Hawcott established Hawcott Lawn Service in 1998, at that time the only service that he offered was mowing and the only town that was serviced was Nevada. Since then it has grown every year, even with a struggling economy, and now offers a full line of lawn and landscape maintenance services. The primary service area is Central Iowa, focusing on Ames and Nevada.

Business overview:

Hawcott Lawn Service is run by owner and founder, Ben Hawcott, and has one full time employee. At any given time of the year there are 8-12 seasonal employees. The business is run out of a 3,000 sq ft pole building near Nevada, Iowa. This facility stores all of the equipment needed to operate a full scale lawn and landscape business. Some of the equipment includes a skid loader, a garden tractor and brush mower, core aerators, dethatchers, multiple trailers for leaf removal and hauling mowers, blowers, trimmers, chain saws, push mowers, walk behind mowers, zero turn mowers, ride-on treatment applicator, landscape materials, and all of the fertilizers, pesticides, and ice melt just to name a few. There is a lineup of six pickup trucks that keep Hawcott Lawn Service and all of its equipment on the move.

Services offered:

The lawn maintenance services offered include mowing, edging, core aeration, dethatching, overseeding, fertilization, weed control, and preventative grub control. The newest addition to the lawn service branch is topdressing. An application of 1/8” - 1/4” of compost is added to all the turf areas. Many of the customers for the topdressing application are home owners in housing developments. These areas often need this application because the topsoil is scraped off during construction, which creates a less than optimal soil structure for growing grass. With a lapse in the strength of the economy there have been few people who have taken advantage of this service. Hopefully within the next few years these numbers will pick up.

A few of the landscaping maintenance services that are available are spring and fall cleanups (consisting of removing leaves and debris from the lawn and landscape), pruning/hedging, gutter cleaning, ornamental treatments, and aquatic treatments (for ponds and large fountains).

Full landscape installation is also a service provided by Hawcott Lawn Service. They are able to create and install any landscape plant design, edging, mulches, patios and walkways, and walls. Their newest installation service is small fountains and ponds.

Snow removal and salting is offered during the winter months and helps to offer year round cash flow for the business.

Personal responsibilities:

As an intern, I played two important roles this summer; I was a crew leader for the mowing routes and a spray technician. At the beginning of the year I told Ben that I would like to take on more responsibility and gain more hands on experience with lawn treatments, he thought this was a great idea and immediately began training me as to how he wants the treatments done. With letting me do treatments, Ben then had more time to focus on meeting customers and getting more jobs and accounts lined up. Some of the areas that I helped managed, both with mowing and with treatments, ranged in size from 500 sq ft to 20 acres of turf.

Some of my tasks included:

· Perform routine equipment maintenance

· Load, unload, and drive the truck with trailer

· Keep proper and accurate records of work that is done

· Train team members

· Assign duties to team members

· Fill and mix chemicals in the sprayers

· Calibrate the granular spreaders

· Communicate with customers to address any problems or concerns

Part of my responsibilities, concerning the mowing side, was to create a mow list every morning for all of the crews. It was important that I wrote out the properties in the correct routing order that way the list would be done in the most efficient manner. I also had to prioritize the properties, not only week to week but over the course of the summer. During the spring everything was mowed once a week, but once summer hit and things started drying out it became essential to space out each mowing more than a week.

The other side of my responsibilities was doing the lawn treatments. On these days I would clean out the hopper of the spreaders that I would be using, usually this was an Anderson push spreader and a Turfco T3000 stand on applicator. The next step would be to load all of the fertilizer, the chemicals for the day, and to fill the 200 gallon spray tank with water and chemicals. Probably the most important aspect of doing treatments is realizing that not all people think lawn treatments are safe. It does not matter what statistics or facts you may give them, they will still disagree with the treatments and those ideas need to be respected. In order to still maintain a positive business image, especially for these people, you need to act professional at all times, be able to answer any questions that may arise, and wear the appropriate protective gear. A final responsibility for the lawn treatments is maintaining proper records. There is a lot of information that needs to be recorded, such as the time, the amount of product used, temperature, wind speed and direction, and it needs to be accurate. This information is not only there because it’s required by law, but it also allows Ben to analyze the numbers and see how long we are spending at each property and make sure that the proper amount of product is being put onto the lawn.

Challenges and Perks:

One of the challenges this year was the occurrence of Aschochyta leaf blight and its damage that it causes to many lawns. Aschochyta causes a bleached out appearance on the leaves of the grass, usually Kentucky bluegrass. It began showing up around the beginning of June and did its damage quickly. Many customers were concerned with their lawn and we told them what it was, that it would recover within a few weeks of growth, and we directed them to an article written by Dr. Dave Minner that explained what Aschochyta was and how to handle your lawn’s future. Fortunately we didn’t lose any lawns over this outbreak.

Another challenge that we dealt with was the severe flooding of the Ames area on August 11th. Most of the roads leading out of town were over run with water and the city was without drinking water for a few days. This did not affect our work schedule too much; the shop for Hawcott Lawn Service is located between Ames and Nevada and is out of the flood plain. The only issue was finding a route to get to work and once we all made it there we had enough things to do in Nevada and the rest of eastern Story county that the whole crew could continue to work. Finding a route back to Ames in order to go home was a challenge but by the time we got off work, there was a road that had opened back up. Luckily for us the properties that we manage were not damaged by the flood and so there was not any clean up that we had to do.

One perk for working with Hawcott Lawn Service is that Ben likes to give the company challenges and if we meet those proposed goals we are rewarded. This year two challenges were given, both of them were to complete our week’s mowing schedule by Friday at noon. We accepted and met both challenges. One of the rewards was an afternoon of pizza and bowling, while on company time, at Perfect Games in Ames and the other was an afternoon of pizza and a kickball game, also on company time. One of the great things about working for Ben is that he is generous to his employees and he likes to keep them satisfied so they want to continue to work for him.

Here are a couple of pictures from the flooding on August 11th. The top picture is from the Des Moines Register and shows the Iowa State University football field, Jack Trice Stadium, surrounded by water. Most of the roads leading in/out of Ames were closed down by 10 a.m. and by 4 p.m. that same day only two roads were reopened. The bottom picture shows one of the commercial properties in Nevada that also had excessive water. Luckily after a couple days the water receded and all roads into Ames were reopened.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Nick Christians
January 14, 2011

I will be presenting a new seminar at the Golf Industry Show in Orlando this year. It is called Plant-Soil Interactions. It will be presented on February 8 from 8 to 12 noon. The primary focus of the seminar is soil test interpretations and how they can be used on the golf course.

Mike Agnew and I will also be presenting the "Calculations and Practical Mathematics for Use in Golf Course Management" seminar from 8 to 5 on Monday Feb. 7.

If you are interested in either of these, register through GCSAA.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Nick Christians
January 12, 2011

This blog is from Tyler Boley. Tyler completed an internship at the Club at Mediterra in Naples, FL in the summer of 2010. This is part of his internship report on the experience.

The Club at Mediterra
Naples, FL
Summer 2010

Tyler Boley

Iowa State Univeristy

I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Naples, FL for the summer of 2010 to intern under recent ISU graduate Aaron Ohloff. Mediterra consists of 2 18-hole championship courses that were constructed around 2000. It was designed by Tom Fazio and built by a company called Bonita Bay Group and remained under them until recently when it was sold to the members.

It was a great experience to be down there during the summer because unlike here, the summer is their off-time beings that all of the real estate down there is strictly vacation houses. The houses that suround the courses range from $800,000 to $7,000,000. During the summer, we closed one of the courses completely for renovation while keeping the other open that was only averaging around 50 rounds a day.

My responsibilites and duties ranged every day but I received a lot of good experience. I was able to work with the IPM manager quite often doing things such as scouting, spraying, and fertilizing. I also worked with the irrigation tech and learned about the hydrolic irrigation system. I also got the chance to work with some of the crew doing daily maintenance like mowing and detail work.

By far, my biggest experience was the chance to work with a construction crew that we had hired for reconstruction on the closed course. There were a few goals of hiring this company to come in and complete, re-constuct some of the sand bunkers, help with a regrassing process, and expand the existing greens. All of the rough and fairways were 419 Bermudagrass that struggles a little bit with shade tolerance. Our goal there was to kill the areas of 419 that we wanted to replace with 3 applications of glysophate and sprig in new Celebration Bermudagrass. We replaced some turf on every hole on the south course including wall to wall turf excluding the greens on 2 holes. The 419 Bermudagrass was the toughest most persistant grass I have ever dealt with because even after 3 applications of glysophate, lome of the grass still came back. We sprigged the holes around the end of June and the surface was ready for play by the middle of August. We fertilized the turf approximately 6 times in that month and a half and watered about 6-8 times a day. There are some pictures to follow that show the beginning stages.

Just like on every other course, one of the issues that Mediterra was having was the constant downsizing of their greens. When the course was constructed a litlle over ten years ago, they put a tracing wire in the vapor barrier of the original green size so our first challenge was to locate the tracer and paint the outline of the original green. We then sprayed the area between the existing green and the new outline with three applications of glysophate and then cut out the sod in that area. The greens were Champion Bermudagrass while the collars were Tiffdwarf that had encroached the greens very badly. In order to propogate this new area, all we did was core aerate the green and push the plugs out to the trench and fertilize and watered it in. There are some pictures on the following pages.

Our last goal of the reconstruction was to redo some of the bunkers. Both courses at Mediterra were designed by Tom Fazio and as we know he is know for his deep, large sand bunkers. The memebers at Mediterra were having a lot of problems with balls plugging in the faces of some of these bunkers. Also, when the course was built, a plastic bunker liner was installed on the outside that was starting to show and make a ugly sight. Some of these bunker faces had up to 10-12 inches of sand on them and our final goal was to only have 2-4 inches. In order for that to happen, either the top had to come down of the bottom had to go up. For most of these problem bunkers we were able to cut the sod around the areas needing fixing, and dig out some soil and cut the bunker liner before replacing the sod and making it a smoother face. We also took out the mojority of the sand that was in the bunkers to end with 2 inches on the face and 4 inches on the floors. On some of the larger problem bunkers we completely took out all of the sand, replaced some of the drainage or added more, put in new bunker fabric, and added new g-angle sand that will help the plugging of balls.

Attached are some of the pictures from my internship. There are some pictures of my bunker crew, the plugs on the greens, and the new sprigs on the holes that we regrassed. Another one of the pictures shows a 16 inch water main break that happened because they had originally place the pipe on a rock and after 10 years of rubbing and vibrating it finally broke. Another picture shows me spray hawking a green, that is how we sprayed greens everytime because they didn’t want any equipment driving on the greens. A few of the pictures show some before and after pictures of the bunker edges including the bunker liner and new sod. There are also some pictures of just different holes and landscapes on the course including a couple of examples of what the houses are like around the area.

This was such an amazing opportunity and I would recommend it to anyone. I was able to experience so much that will help me further in my career including daily duites and also the construction side of golf course maintenance. We had great living arrangements and they really take care of you down there.