The two things superintendents have no control over are the weather and golfers. Some days, I’m not sure which is the bigger annoyance.
If you’re like me, you have half-a-dozen or so weather apps on your phone, which we use as best we can to make our lives easier. Me, mostly to figure out how to pack for my next trip. You, to do your job.
Someone should invent an app that tells golfers what the weather means for their golf course. For example, if a storm just went through, even though the sun is now shining, doesn’t mean the course is dry and ready to play.
On second thought, even if golfers had that app, they wouldn’t believe it. How many of you have asked members or players to wait a few minutes and let your crew do its job, only to see carts speeding off across soaked fairways and through puddles, causing more damage? I know — all of you.
Even though I’m sure it will fall on deaf ears, I’m going to try to help. What follows is a “Dear NARP” letter. NARP stands for “Non-Agronomic Real Person.” In other words, your member, player, guest or anyone else who look out the window and, regardless what the weather is doing, asks, “Can we play now?”
You want to play golf. Everybody knows that, especially your course superintendent, whose job it is to make the course ready for you. But you have to believe him or her when they ask you to wait. Or announce that the course is closed. Here’s why …
If the sign says keep your cart on the path, do so. Even if the sun is out. After heavy rain, the turf will be soft and the cart can damage it and maybe get stuck. Which is bad for the course and the cart. And it could cause an injury to you, too. It doesn’t matter that the course down the street is letting carts leave the path. No two courses are exactly alike even if they’re next-door neighbors.
You’ve heard the expression “sh*t flows downhill?” That really is true on a golf course. Silt, soil, grass clippings and other debris will head downhill when dislodged by heavy rain, and seek the lowest areas collecting there. Drainage and evaporation will be slow, so those areas should be avoided.
I heard of a club member who complained to the green chairman that “I noticed the fairway was really wet as I drove across it. When are we going to get the superintendent to fix this?” We’re good at our jobs, but we leave the weather to a higher power.
Live along the Eastern Seaboard or in the middle of the country and you’re familiar with the three Hs: heat, humidity and high dew points. On those really hot, sticky days, there’s no evaporation — it’s “air you can wear.” With that much moisture in the air and in the ground, the grass will be soft, the greens slow, and the bent and Poa won’t grow. Forget firm and fast; ask the pro in the shop if you can lift, clean and place!
There’s no let-up in sight as changing weather patterns bring more heat and frequent heavy rains. Your superintendent will do what they can to protect the turf, which is a minor inconvenience compared to having to close the course for major turf repair and care.
And please don’t be like the NARP who recently asked me to talk to the superintendent at my New Jersey club because “the greens are slower than my living room carpet.” Wiping the sweat off my face, I asked him, “Do you keep your living room at 104 degrees?”
In areas free from snow or deeply frozen ground, it’s possible to play almost year-round. Unless there’s frost, which won’t dissipate until the temperature gets above 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Even then, the superintendent will need a bit more time to prepare the turf for play, which is easily damaged until the ground and the turf warm up.
Just because you see the grounds crew out on the course working doesn’t mean it’s time to go play. Not yet. The crew knows where to go, where it’s OK to walk and work, and keep their vehicles on the paths.
“But there was no frost on my windshield this morning,” one NARP said to me. I asked, “Did you park your car in the garage overnight?” Just because you don’t see frost doesn’t mean it isn’t there, affecting the turf. Sit tight, have another cup of coffee and wait until the superintendent tells you the course is ready.
Winter Play/Frozen Ground
If you live somewhere with real winter, you know how quickly temperatures and conditions can change. Ground can go from frozen solid to thawed in a matter of hours. The grass covering the ground may appear ready for play, but the soil is still frozen, making the plant susceptible to root fracture or crown crushing. Those terms mean exactly what they say.
Unfortunately, sometimes operators have to allow winter play at the expense of the golf course. It’s an economic reality that might, in the long run, cost more in repairs and additional labor once winter is over. So, your round in January could severely affect your rounds in June.
If you are lucky enough to play on a winter’s day, enjoy it but don’t expect perfect conditions. Last December, I was able to get in a round with a NARP who nearly ruined it when, while tallying our scores, he said, “You need to talk to the superintendent about the slow green speeds today.” I wanted to stab him with my pencil.
Let’s hope none of us has to endure tornados, hurricanes, hailstorms or other freakish acts of nature. But they occur, and just as you worry about the damage they’ll do to your home, your super has to deal with their effects to the course. Even if it’s nothing serious, cleaning up after any of these events is long, hard, messy work, which doesn’t go any faster because NARPs want to know when they can get back out and play.
Believe it or not, dealing with severe damage to the course is an emotional experience for superintendents and their crews. It’s really tough to see all their hard work washed away or chewed up. Months of planning and effort can be wiped out in minutes. The staff knows you want to play as soon as possible, but a golf course is a living thing that doesn’t heal from major trauma with a snap of the fingers.
No matter what the weather – and for the record, I believe that climate change is real and will continue – please be considerate, understanding and patient as your superintendent and crew do all they can to get the course back into shape.