Monday, August 30, 2010

First Weeks Results from Greens Survey


After 337 responses these are the preliminary results on just one cross tabulation. I post this information after just six days but have yet to put a report together to explain some of the results. I will leave this survey active until September 3rd at 12:00 Noon.

This short survey is compliments of me, I guarantee the results have not been tampered with and there are no duplicates surveys allowed. The five questions have been designed by me with no conceived bias to any entity or methods of golf course management. A complete analysis of the survey will be forthcoming.

Considering the amount of responses the survey has a confidence level of 95%, and an accuracy of + or – of less than 5%.

Thank you to all participants.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Manageable Greens

In most cases private club golfers should be treated to well populated, firm, fast greens. When these conditions stray from densely turfed, firm, fast greens superintendents themselves are partially responsible and until they develop a cultural and agronomic program they’ll never give the golfer these desired playing surfaces.The majority of superintendents consistently provide optimum playing conditions on greens surfaces throughout the year, the year of 2010 may be an exception rather than the rule.

It has been proven since the inception that modified sand based greens and the USGA specification greens can not function properly with thatch accumulations of greater than 2% in the upper three inches of the rootzone. The superintendent’s duty is to mitigate these excess accumulations of thatch and organic material. This is accomplished by a carefully planned program to cultivate, remove and dilute the thatch and organic layer and restore the original design characteristics and the air and water movement specifications to the rootzone.

The program for thatch and organic matter management with sand based greens

Late Winter – Early Spring

This program deals mainly with fall cultivation; however success is due to a season-long management program. The ideal program begins in late winter to early spring with a greens aerification using 5/8-inch tines. Cores are removed; then straight sand topdressing matching the original mix is added to fill the aerification holes. At this time you may also add a laboratory recommended soil amendment to be added to or with the sand. Dictated by on soil tests, a program may call for additions of slow release mineral or organic fertilizer or other minerals needed by the rootzone to supply the turf with balanced recommended nutrients. This early-season heavy cultivation allows the greens to weather the stresses of June, July and August.

 Aerification Hole Filled with Sand

Throughout the Seasons

Once greens are healed from the initial work, you should begin a season-long verti-cutting and topdressing program at approximate three-week intervals, you should vigorously verticut in two directions then follow up with a light topdressing, applying the material in two or three directions with a spinner type spreader. Depending on rate of application, the top dressing is either brushed in or lightly watered. Greens should then be rolled mowed using backup units or just rolled; the golfer should experience virtually no disruption to the putting surface. Depending on weather, you should strive to maintain an aggressive verticutting/topdressing schedule during the spring and early summer. During the height of the summer, adjust this program as necessary and perhaps substitute with HyroJect applications because of weather extremes.

Late Summer

When late August arrives, you should begin the fall cultivation program. On the Monday and Tuesday before the Labor Day weekend, all greens are serviced with DryJect or HyroJect. These machines fracture the rootzone using water at high pressure. The DryJect creates an opening in the turf and then the machine injects a topdressing material into the hole. Light topdressing when using the HyroJect is recommended since sand is not injected with is brand of aerification machine. Since water is used in the process the greens should be allowed to dry. They are then brushed, mowed and opened for play. The advantage of using the DryJect is that a green of 5,000 to 6,000 square feet can be aerified, sand injected, cleaned and mowed in approximately 1/1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, Minimum disruption occurs with this process and greens are very playable after rolling and mowing.

Contracting these aerification processes out to a specialized contacting company make for a fast process. The companies generally use three or four machines. You would provide the topdressing material; with the addition of one laborer with each machine, your crew would also be responsible for the final cleanup and mowing. Two full days should be dedicated to this process.

It should be noted that DryJect and HyroJect is not a true aerification process, since no cores are removed and no organic matter management is achieved. The main objective in this initial step is to relieve some compaction, generate new root growth at the aerification site, develop a better gas exchange, help in water infiltration and incorporate fresh topdressing material into the green profile.

Toro HyroJect

With reasonable growing conditions, the greens show no evidence of the DryJect or HyroJect service seven to 10 days after the procedure.

During this time it is also the ideal time to incorporate seed into the green surface as needed. There are many methods that can be used to accomplish this procedure. The Graden or deep Verti-Cutting will work well to prepare a seedbed. Bentgrass seed should be place no deeper than ½ inch with ¼ being the minimum. The seed should be placed with a drop-spreader and lightly dragged into grooves created by the slicing process. The recommended seeding rate for bentgrass seed is ¼ pound per 1000 ft². The seeded areas should be kept moist for at least ten to fourteen days to hasten germination.

Mid - Fall

Mid-October begins step two in this process. This consists of heavily dethatching all greens using a Graden dethatching unit from Australia. This unit can penetrate a turf surface to a depth of 1 1/2 inches. You should set spacing of the blades at 1 inch. Using the thicker 9/64- inch blade, the dethatching operation can impact slightly better than 14% of a greens surface area. An option available is to use a 5/64-inch blade, which then impacts nearly 8% of the surface. The intent is to aggressively manage the organic material profile in the mix so the thicker blade is the one that should be used.

Graden Vertical Mower

An average green can be dethatched in less than an hour depending on its size. Cleanup takes longer since a considerable amount of material is generated. It’s best to use blowers to clean the surface. Once the green is cleaned, topdress it with sufficient material to fill these newly created grooves. The material is brushed or blown in, greens all mowed with back up units and you will again ready for play. An average size maintenance staff of six should complete nine holes of dethatching, cleanup and topdressing in a normal eight-hour workday.

Though not a traditional aerification, the heavy dethatching, can be is as effective as coring with less putting disruption, Using 1-inch tines on a spacing pattern of 1 inch by 2 inches will impact slightly more than 15% of the surface area, so deep dethatching work is comparable to pulling cores. The positive outcome to this operation is less putting disruption and more content golfers.

Depending on weather, healing takes from 10 days to two weeks. During that time a light spoon feeding of liquid fertilizer will be applied to aid in the recovery process.

It is paramount that organic material management is practiced throughout the year. A constant effort to keep organic matter in the 1 to 2 percent range is critical to plant health as well as playability. Organic matter percentage is measured by taking undisturbed core samples and sending them off to a lab for analysis not an inexpensive process, but one that needs to be performed if you wish to track the level and success of your management program.

Early - Winter

By early November a decision must be made whether to put the Graden on greens for dethatching in a second direction or to aerate using 1/4-inch tines. These 1/4-inch tines on a 2-inch by-2-inch spacing only impact slight more than 2% of the surface area, so the question becomes, is the impact significant enough to justify the effort? Usually we just go back with Gradens equipped with 5/64--inch blades. This operation impacts about 8% of the surface area. With two fall dethatching procedures combined, you will have impacted nearly 22 percent of the green surface area. Because firm greens and a removal of organic matter are the goals, this double dethatching should works well for most USGA or sand modified greens rootzones.

Mid - Winter

By December most play will be considerably low. At that time it would be advisable to apply snow mold materials for winter protection. A final heavy top dressing is then applied to all greens (between ⅛ and ¼ inch). After topdressing brush all greens so a uniform covering is achieved.

This late-season topdressing allows for winter protection, since snow cover may or may not be a normal occurrence in you part of the world. Also, after a few early-season mowings, the greens, although not yet quick, are quite smooth and true.

As important as golfer satisfaction is, the agronomic needs of the plant should also be considered. Because most of us manage USGA greens or sand modified rootzones, our major intent is to manage the organic matter portion in the rootzone (upper 3 inches). Compaction is a consideration, but not the major factor in how the program was developed. If you can achieve balance in fertilization, watering, cutting height and pest management programs then aggressively manage the organic matter in the top three inches, I feel confident your greens will perform much better.

I also feel comfortable that this approach to greens cultivation and organic matter management will be effective on older-style push-up greens. Most of these greens have been modified by years of topdressing so the profile is in many ways similar to that of a sand modified rootzone green.

Aerification a golf course is a balancing act between making strong agronomic improvements vs. politics and playability. As technology evolves, newer and different equipment will come to the marketplace, changing our approach to many facets of our profession. The modern superintendent will examine these changes to determine what portions best fit his or her programs. This constant experimentation and innovation give golfers the wonderful turf conditions they now enjoy. Continued experimentation and innovation will move our craft and the game of golf forward.

The strength of this program lies in its season-long approach. All of these operations, equipment and procedures play important roles in this cultivation philosophy. In severe thatch and organic matter percentages these programs may not substitute for deep core aeration, but I have found them to be very effective tools in an effort to produce top quality turf. They are less disruptive to play and a machine such as the Graden does remove a great amount of thatch. An integration of various approaches utilizing different machines makes this program successful.

In discussions with many superintendents, I often hear that attempting to balance the needs of the plant versus the needs of the golfer difficult work. The answer is that it cannot work easily. There will always be some golfer discomfort any time disruptive management practices are undertaken on a green. Only through continued member education will the process become more harmonious. The superintendent’s efforts should always be aimed at meeting the needs on both sides of the equation and, hopefully, getting all parties on the same page of the book.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Take the Greens Survey

In an effort to gather important statistics on weather and its effect on golf greens during the spring and summer of 2010 I have initiated a short 5 question survey. Superintendents that have taken the survey spent an average of less than one minute, even though a short survey takes so little time the results may be significant as I have already witnessed. I already have over 100 respondents.

I will supply the information to all on this blog in approximately two weeks. Just follow this link, nothing for sale, no promotions, no catch, just a service to the industry that may need some stats on one of the worst weather seasons in recent memory for turfgrass.

I also send a weekly bulletin with information pertinent to golf course management, if you would like to receive, by email, please use the email (to the right) link and simply mail to me, in the subject line type; BULLETIN.

All my best, Mike

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Supers Ever-Expanding Role

I get an opportunity to view the business of golf course management from a different perspective that I did when I was a practicing golf course superintendent. For the most part I now focus my time on the business side of golf course management helping clubs and superintendents fine tune the skills necessary for the success of proper capital and operational resources.

These managerial skills are often the deciding factors for the prosperity of the club. The old adage that “clubs are managed like nobodies business” holds true in many cases. The emphasis on business skills can not be underestimated and sadly are not stressed in many of our fine turfgrass programs administered by universities. Agronomic skills are most always very sound at the clubs I visit, however, at the root of many failing clubs is a maintenance department that can be fine tuned by simply bolstering the basic fundamentals of business management.

Turfgrass management is mystical; unseen fungi, soil chemistry, water quality and weather conditions that can turn a perfect green to a bare patch of sand, these are subjects that the average member can seem to get their head’s around. I strongly believe that the superintendent in residence is the expert, period, no one spends more time and effort than the superintendent battling the elements to produce the great golf conditions we all enjoy so much.

The federal government, by example has shown us that if we allocate enough money to a problem we generally can arrive at a solution. Golf course budgets have followed suite and swelled to levels that far exceed the inflation factor over the last 30 years. Common to private clubs is one million dollar plus budgets to maintain 18-holes of golf. Of course conditions have improved dramatically and many members demained TV golf, that is fact.

Adding fuel to the fire is the USGA is beginning that same old song, again, similar to the 1980s, (the last economy that faltered). The USGA’s recent battle cry for golf course conditions of firm and fast, brown is okay, less water, less inputs more economical golf, also playing the number one USGA golf tournament at public courses, what are they trying to say? The political correctness of the USGA will never state that maintenance budgets are too high and business skills need to be brought to bear at golf facilities to keep golf alive and well.

Management skills by definition are:

Organization and coordination of the activities of an enterprise (the golf course) in accordance with certain policies and in achievement of clearly defined objectives (golf course maintenance standards). Golf course management is a factor of production along with machines, materials, and money. In the world of golf course management failures are becoming common and efficiencies oftentimes live only in the world of golf management companies. Does Troon Golf scare you, maybe it should.

Management companies are not the Darth Vader of the golf world but, (there’s always “a but”) it’s been easy pick’n for companies to bolster there contracts and outright purchases lately because of distressed assets. Clubs in financial trouble can be fixed in most cases without the help of management companies, just common business practices and management within the means of income.

Is the golf course a strictly expense entity of the club? I believe the answer is NO! Without the golf course no income would be realized from:

• Cart rental revenue
• Guest fees
• Outing income
• Full dues paying members

In fact, a full 78% of all club members are members because of the golf course. The golf course IS the engine that supplies revenue to golf and country clubs the world-over. If the superintendent does not have an understanding of revenue created by the golf course there will be no way to draw a parallel between maintenance expenses and income. All businesses need to know how these income and expense numbers figure into logical, proper budgets and spending metrics.

Management companies and the USGA is aware of the fact that good golf conditions do not require as much resources as are being spent at most clubs. If you limit inputs (the USGA plan) and tighten up business management (management companies plan) most clubs can be made well and whole without many changes in condition and services to the membership.

I believe you will agree that golf course management is a business activity. Even not-for- profit clubs must look at golf course management as a true business requiring a high level of business management skills. To be an accomplished golf course manager, superintendent, greenkeeper, director of agronomy or whatever title you choose the following four points are basic to your success:

You must be an expert in Planning: - Planning involves identification of your golf course business goal and the way to reach it. It involves the estimation of the costs that will be incurred and evaluation of the time required to attain the business goal. A business plan has to be documented and reviewed on a regular basis. A plan is worth it if the attainment of the business goal is feasible with the planned resources.

You must be well versed in Organizing: - It involves the assignment of tasks and allocation of resources throughout the golf maintenance organization. It includes determining the primary goals of the business and specific strategies to reach them. Divide the activities into tasks and assign the tasks to suitable and deserving employees. After all, most of the golf course management activities are production.

You must be recognized as a Leader: - Leadership is a management skill in itself. A true leader inculcates feelings of confidence, admiration in the followers and a sense of commitment towards the success of the golf course business. A leader, through his demonstrated efficiency and effectiveness, influences the others on his team to act efficiently and effectively. Being innovative is important for a leader and it is again a skill. Delegation is an important activity of leading. It is allocation and entrustment of responsibility often not very practiced by the people in the golf course management business.

Your abilities must be keen to Coordinate and Control: - They are important for the success of a golf maintenance business. Coordination is the process of communication to track the activities towards the goal and make decisions about the next line of action. Control is better implemented in the form of prudent guidance given to the employees by their superintendent. Timely evaluations are critical and necessary to evaluate business performance.

Business implies being busy (no problem for most superintendents), doing commercially practicable and productive work. Functionally, management is the process of measurement of the quantity of work while assessing its quality.

Another attribute possessed by a skilled golf course manager is the willingness to strive to deploy effectiveness. The often quoted management expert, Peter Drucker made a distinction between efficient and effective business skills. According to him, performing an activity swiftly and economically is ‘efficient’, while doing the right thing well is ‘effective’. Good business management skills lead you towards the right goals, but doing the wrong thing is the exercise of efficiency to no avail. Learn to prioritize your business activities. In golf course management a key skill is to understand what’s important for the business and differentiate it from what is urgent.

As a manager, you should be able to understand and evaluate the weaknesses of the organization and try to improve in them. You must be able to concentrate on the threats to your business and fight them effectively. You should have the skill to endure every setback and learn from your mistakes. Successful business development strategies used by others, help you to implement your own. This is when your skill to ‘experiment’ comes in the scene. Experimentation has to be accompanied by skillful judgment of your actions and results.

Business management includes management of money and time. Being a manager, you have to time yourself and schedule tasks for your team, so that deadlines are met. Management of money is an integral part of running a business. Business management requires a large skill set. It is everything right from planning, supervising, and at times, being the spokesperson for your business.

People skills, as they are nowadays called, are important for a golf course superintendent to acquire. After all, management is about handling people. Bringing out the potential in the people of your team is a skill. Stonewallers need to be dealt with, by motivating them towards constructive change or eliminating them from the team if change can not be achieved. You need to improve yourself and imbibe in the minds of others that improvement is a continuous process. Learn to celebrate the success of staff members always encourage them to contribute to the fullest of their capacities, towards the business organization. This helps create enthusiasm in the staff. It’s a human psychology to work to get noticed. Human expects recognition for his work. So encourage your team members to put in their best and congratulate them for doing that. It is a good practice to assign relatively experienced employees as buddies to the new ones.

'Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.’

–Henry Ford

This is what a team is all about and developing and maintaining a team spirit is indeed a management skill.
You need to have excellent communication skills to be a good manager! Being able to convey your idea to the people, and getting work done form them is a skill. Communication encompasses a range of activities, right from internal communication in your organization up to your business negotiations. Thus it requires for you to be a good communicator for the growth of your business.

Foresight is another skill to be acquired. You need to sense trouble ahead of time. You need to be prepared for it and plan accordingly. You are required to think ahead. Think far so that your business targets seem near!

Simply stated: management skills are about making the right decisions at the right time and getting them implemented by the right people!