Maintaining a golf course perched above a body of water in a notoriously sultry region is a taxing endeavor once summer arrives.
To let bodies and minds drift from their work at TPC River’s Bend, superintendent Jeff Reich organizes a staff canoe trip each July on the Little Miami River, a scenic waterway flowing below the 200-acre Mainville, Ohio, property. The trip and ensuing cookout offers separation from the unavoidable.
Summer respites are rare at TPC River’s Bend, a PGA Tour-owned facility 25 miles north of downtown Cincinnati. The course resides in a sweltering part of Ohio. Neither the turfgrass variety nor the facility’s mission statement offer relief. The greens, tees and fairways are bentgrass; the association with the PGA Tour means producing spectacular conditions are a must.
Solaces come from within and through savvy maintenance practices and decisions. If a few hours on the river further unifies the crew, Reich knows it’s a worthwhile pursuit.
“Late July into August, it’s heavy golf,” he says. “We are not focused on things like getting drainage projects done. Our main focus is survival. The guys that have been here for a long time really help with new staff. They understand this is the go time. It’s kind of built into them. We try to gear them up and keep them happy.”
Turfgrass has been known to struggle for unexplainable reasons in southern Ohio, a far different climate than the one Reich experienced growing up in Minnesota. In fact, he defines it as “a petri dish” come summer.
“June and July you have a pretty good handle on it,” he adds. “You feel good about yourself, everything looks good and then August hits, and it’s oppressive heat and humidity. The nighttime temps can stay in the high-70s to low-80s overnight with the humidity. The disease pressure doesn’t stop, whereas, in Minnesota and other northern areas you have those cooler nights. You can have a couple of days like that here, but [the disease pressure is] just constant from the middle of July to mid-August and early September. It’s just unrelenting.’”
The diseases Reich encounters comprise a list of everything turfgrass pathologists warn superintendents to guard against. He considers dollar spot, fairy ring and Pythium as the three biggest threats TPC River’s Bend bentgrass, but Reich adds summer patch, brown patch and anthracnose are capable of causing problems.
Providing TPC-level playing conditions requires a preventative approach to managing diseases using a spray program beginning in mid-March and ending in October. Applications to greens are made every seven days; tees and fairways every 14.
Syngenta products, including Secure and Daconil Action, are staples of Reich’s rotation. Secure is a multi-site contact fungicide with fluazinam as its active ingredient. Daconil Action combines chlorothalonil with acibenzolar-S-methyl, which triggers a plant’s natural defense response.
“We try to keep it simple and don’t try to get too convoluted,” Reich says. “We rotate Secure and Daconil Action. We will go with Secure a couple of times in the spring and then switch over to Daconil Action when the dollar spot pressure is high, and then rotate between Secure and Daconil Action and sometimes rotate those two for dollar spot and brown patch.”
Staying ahead of dollar spot is critical because the disease causes gruesome sights. By using Secure and Daconil Action, Reich avoids the dollar spot resistance issues that can perplex Cincinnati-area superintendents. Cutting DMI fungicides from the rotation also allows Reich to keep tidy bentgrass. Few superintendents in the region are managing as much bentgrass as Reich. TPC River’s Bend fairways are 40 acres, tees six and greens four.
“The dollar spot we have here vs. what I have seen in Minnesota will rip through the crown and deplete the turf,” he says. “If you let it get out of hand, you will be fighting it all summer, even all year long. It’s hard to get control back if you have bentgrass in our area. Our scouting each day is huge and just knocking the dew off. Preventatively we knock the dew off every day. The dew out here … I don’t even know what a dry mow is anymore.”
Keeping Poa annua from encroaching into the bentgrass is another goal Reich has established, because he says the membership wants a “lean, mean and fast” golf course. Reich uses the Plant Growth Regulator (PGR) Trimmit to suppress Poa annua plants and encourage bentgrass to take over on key parts of the course.
Instead of dabbling with products from multiple manufacturers, Reich turns to a small group he trusts. His local Syngenta representative Gregg Schaner provides what Reich calls a “realistic approach” to solving problems. He also has worked with Syngenta’s Walt Osborne, Dr. Lane Tredway and Dr. Mike Agnew.
“I think guys can get caught up in what they call, ‘spreading the wealth around to different salesmen,’” Reich says. “But I think what you are doing is not only robbing yourself of time, but robbing the company of time and not focusing in on finding a central person who has great knowledge, such as a Gregg Schaner.”
Establishing test plots for new products provides further opportunities for Reich to strengthen relationships with suppliers. Reich doesn’t swtich to new products immediately, but he says he tries to “stay on top of the curve” because he wants to continue finding proactive ways to help TPC River’s Bend maintain its reputation as one of Cincinnati’s top clubs.
Osborne, Syngenta’s Key Account Manager, works closely with the TPC network. Regular communication with superintendents like Reich helps Syngenta understand what concerns might be looming.
“When it comes to the new product development, we listen,” Osborne says. “It’s one of the advantages of our structure. With experienced territory managers and the strong support of our channel partners, we can make a difference. That communication flow helps us anticipate challenges and really focus our efforts on particular issues so we can come up with solutions.”
Opened in 2002 and designed by Arnold Palmer, TPC River’s Bend was created to service players on the PGA Tour and associated professional circuits. The club hosted the Champions Tour’s Kroger Classic (2002-04) and the Web.com Tour’s Chiquita Classic (2010-11), and Reich says the course is ready to host another professional tournament.
TPC River’s Bend is one of 36 TPC facilities, and Reich exchanges information with other superintendents in the network, including TPC Potomac’s Stephen Britton and TPC Jasna Polana’s Tim Connolly, who maintain courses with similar growing conditions. PGA Tour agronomists Dennis Ingram and Collier Miller are also available to provide support.
“We are very proud we are the PGA Tour,” Reich says. “I can’t emphasize that enough. I’m proud to work with them. They do it the right way, they want to do it the right way and they support you. They give you the tools. It’s not just a company trying to do it the cheapest way possible. They give us the resources to do it right. That’s why I came here.”
Osborne has conducted seminars with TPC superintendents and agronomists. Feedback from those seminars allows Syngenta to develop solutions to help facilities associated with the PGA Tour meet lofty expectations. “Expectations are high, but meeting expectations is part of the challenge and also the fulfillment of doing a good job,” Osborne says. “People can come and play the course. Whether it’s the public, a member or a guest, they get to enjoy tour-like conditions on a special golf course they get to play.”
Managing a PGA Tour-owned golf course in southern Ohio wasn’t on Reich’s radar as a teenager. Unsure of the proper career path following high school, he took a series of tests proctored by a vocational psychologist. The tests revealed multiple careers matching Reich’s interests – including groundskeeper. Once Reich started reflecting, the match made sense. Reich mowed lawns and enjoyed the interactions with homeowners who used his services. He earned a turf degree at nearby University of Minnesota and launched his career at the PGA Tour-designed course and The First Tee facility at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn.
Stints at TPC Treviso Bay and TPC Sawgrass, a pair of Florida facilities, entrenched Reich in the TPC Network. He was then brought to TPC River’s Bend for a 1 ½ year of grooming under Dave Faucher, the respected superintendent he succeeded in 2014. Working with Faucher introduced Reich to a region unlike anything he has experienced. It’s a region where providing tournament-caliber playing conditions throughout summer brings incredible satisfaction.
“I would say it’s as fulfilling as getting your diploma,” he says. “It’s four years jammed into six months of non-stop running. It feels good when you are through that last aerification of the year and you can take a sigh of relief and say, ‘We did it again.’ It’s all about we. There’s no me in this at all. These guys make me look good and they appreciate it, and we really try to make it all about them.”