The toughest part of the golf season is arguably the 97 days or so that we call “The Test.”
This is more popularly known as the summer golf season, and in the United States it spans from Memorial Day until Labor Day. It comes each year full of promise and panic. No matter where you are on the map, or what sector of the industry you ply your skill as a golf course superintendent, you know that summer means stress. And a quick glance at the cell phone weather app you know the heat is on – and on the prowl.
So, are you prepared? No worries. Let’s take a walk through some strategies to keep you cool and successful even when the thermometer melts and you start thinking that ET (evapotranspiration) is just an old sci-fi movie.
I have worked more than 35 years in two markets: Georgia and Texas. So, I have some first-hand experience in the many ways the heat will test you, your staff, your turf, your equipment and your members. Let’s start with the heat that is on you, the superintendent and your staff.
Heat, stress and the human element
Often, superintendents place themselves at the end of the priority list, especially in the summer. We justify long hours, high stress, too much caffeine and sugar, emotional outbursts, and general chaos in the operation with words like “driven,” “tough” and “resilient.” Here is the summer truth I want to pass on more than any other, and I got it from my grandfather during a drought that brought tough times to everyone I knew (I was five years old). Everything in nature has a breaking point. Everything. Usually, what tips the scale to failure is a collection of stresses without time to replenish/recover. The superintendent and his staff are not immune to this law. As integral parts of the golf course ecosystem, they must be aware of the ebb and flow of all the processes and programs. This awareness allows for making sound decisions that ultimately lead them through the stress to success.
Prepare for the physical stress
Drink plenty of water (avoid sodas and teas) eight, eight-ounce glasses per day is a good start. Drink more as temperatures rise.
Use sunscreen SPF 30 or higher and reapply often, wear broad-brim hats and lightweight breathable clothes Take breaks out of the sun exposure. And schedule your yearly physical with your doctor prior to Memorial Day.
Take more breaks
Get out of the sun and rehydrate. Take a status check – both physically and mentally – and then move on to the next task. Remember recovery/replenish applies to people and plants. Watch for signs of heat stress in people – just like plants. We are trained to see the heat stress in turf, slight discoloration, moisture probe readings in the single digits but what about heat stress in people (staff, golfers, vendors/contractors). The symptoms of heat stress and the more severe heat stroke include heat stress – very hot to touch, dizziness, mild headache and heavy sweating; heat stroke symptoms include lack of sweat, throbbing headache, core temperature over 104 degrees, fainting. In both cases call 911 or emergency services and then get the person out of the sun, apply ice or cool water and fan them until help arrives. I have maintained active CPR and First Aid certifications throughout my career and I have been the first responder numerous times, and truthfully 90 percent of these incidents happened in the summer and were compounded by heat stresses. Consider having you and your assistants certified in CPR and First Aid.
Review and practice emergency response procedures
Make sure that everyone in your staff are trained on what to do if they see or suspect heat-related or other emergencies. Time is critical during these situations and every minute lost can have severe consequences. Place posters or give out business cards with phone numbers and procedures.
Keep good records.
Weather data, work assignments and history, budget items, Integrated Plant Management notes and the list goes on. In the summer, it can be tempting to let a few housekeeping chores like record keeping slide but that is exactly when you need to capture accurate data the most. This data will help plan next summer.
Set a good example.
Take care of your business, guard your assets, especially your staff and members. And just like every airline flight attendant reminds us to put your oxygen mask on first so you can then help others, you are the asset at the club that connects all the parts so take care of yourself.
Agronomics, high temps and expectations
Our success as superintendents is measured by our ability to bring our agronomic assets (especially greens) through the stresses of summer at or above property expectations but within budget guidelines. Stresses that stand in our way include everything from heat stress, traffic, budget cuts, water management, disease pressure, mechanical injury or the collective diagnosis of summer turfgrass decline. It can be overwhelming, thus it must be managed so that we are not pushed to our breaking point.
In general terms, the healthier your turf is going into the summer, the better it is likely to perform throughout the summer. An active spring with well-timed aeration, fertilization, weed control and preventive fungicide applications is good insurance toward a successful summer. However, let’s say you just arrived on property in mid-summer and there are no records of anything happening prior to your arrival. Now is the time to rely on the basics of “Summer Turf Survival 101.”
First, gather soil and tissue samples to set a bench mark and guide future decisions. Second, test your irrigation water quality to see if there are issues, followed quickly by an in-house irrigation audit. Start with the pump station or delivery system and confirm every part of the irrigation system and its percentage of function including control systems. If you have not already done so, acquire and calibrate as many moisture meters as you feel you need to establish measured benchmarks on how you will be watering greens and other high-value areas. In the heat, it is important to know the difference between watering and misting especially on bentgrass in South. Watering is key and each property will have a complex set of water factors that must be understood and maximized to handle the survival of turf and other agronomic assets on near 100-degree days. That’s when a well-placed phone call and a lunch with an established superintendent(s) is priceless.
Gather quality information from reliable sources, trust your instincts and training, and persevere. This information will help you sail through the summer like a cool breeze. There are few things as rewarding as seeing the arrival of fall after a well-managed summer golf season. Be safe and help grow the game through the people that you touch each day and may you always get rain when you need it, enough to revive you and the turf without washing out your bunkers.