Old Tom Morris once said, “Th’ coorse needs a rest, even if th’ gowfers dae nae.” Translation: the course needs a rest, even if the golfers do not. This is why the Old Course at St. Andrews is closed every Sunday, except when hosting The Open Championship like later this year.
Now, 150 years ago, Old Tom and David Honeyman were not taking advantage of this closed day to topdress greens, but that was mostly because of the Sabbath. Little did Old Tom know his insistence to give the course a day off from play would one day revolutionize modern golf course maintenance.
I know not everyone out there has the good fortune to have a dedicated maintenance day, but you should. Owners, general managers and green committee chairs … I am pleading with you to give your agronomy teams that opportunity.
Golf course maintenance is difficult enough work without the added potential hazard of being struck by flying objects. If you can carve out one full day or even a partial day to allow your agronomy teams to perform important tasks that are most disruptive to play, you will be doing both your teams and regular golfers a huge favor.
Some might be wondering how it’s possible to take away a partial or entire day considering increased demand for play and course accessibility since the COVID-19 pandemic. But what if I told you that the amount of work that could be accomplished by your golf course superintendent and his or her staff during those dedicated maintenance hours would permit more folks to play their rounds the remainder of the week unencumbered by the sights and sounds of ongoing course maintenance?
Our Carolina Golf Club team has been blessed with Maintenance Mondays except for holidays for nearly my entire 17-year tenure. When there’s a holiday, we get our maintenance day on Tuesday. Perhaps the golf course does not get a full day of “rest” like in Old Tom’s days. But the course definitely has a glow about it late in the afternoon after spending the day at the “spa.”
A typical maintenance day during the growing season results in the mowing of all our practice facilities. The 10 acres include both a primary and back range tee, 11 target greens, dedicated short game area, two practice bunkers, and a large landing zone maintained at both fairway and rough height. When finished, clippings are blown and divots patched with a sand/peat mixture.
If our practice facilities were not closed at least one day weekly, I don’t know how we would manage those maintenance needs around the facility’s high usage the other days of the week. Not to mention the time required to perform all those necessary practices that would take away from our ability to prepare the golf course in a timely fashion for regular play.
When the practice facility is completed, we move to the rest of the golf course. We mow tees, fairways, approaches and surrounds along with the rough on 10 or more holes. This means we can easily complete rough the following day and stay ahead of play. This also allows us to schedule a second mowing of rough before the week is complete. The second mowing takes less time and interruption because the first mowing is always the thickest.
We have 81 sand bunkers on the property and each week slopes are fly mowed and clippings removed from the sand. We also trim the bunker edges when necessary. Fly mowing is the most laborious task required of us, and if we are not able to complete this necessary maintenance without interruption, the work can take up to three days whilst navigating course setup needs and golfers.
Our bentgrass putting greens do enjoy a break from heavy play and benefit from other cultural practices when necessary, such as solid-tine venting, light topdressing or wetting agent applications. Considering wetting agents require watering in, it’s way more efficient to do so without interrupting ongoing play.
Another added benefit to dedicated maintenance days is contract work. If you find yourself needing to bring in a tree service or other company to tackle something you cannot accomplish in house, it’s much easier to schedule and accomplish the needed work without having to dodge golfers.
With many golf course maintenance departments around the globe lacking sufficient staff numbers, dedicating a day to maintenance would be a huge boost, thus allowing those small teams to make an even bigger impact. For those of you slogging away seven days weekly, I tip my cap. And I pray your leaders read this and inquire about giving the golfers some rest.