Superintendent Magazine - October, 2012

COLUMNS

Firm & Fast: Christmas Comes Early for Walnut Lane Golf Club

Takes on Industry Happenings
By Anthony Pioppi

Inside Wissahickon Valley Park resides Walnut Lane Golf Club, a relative unknown in the Philadelphia golf world where the likes of Merion Golf Club and Philadelphia Cricket Club garner all the attention.

In August, Walnut Lane was the site of an impressive two-day performance that had nothing do to with a golf tournament.

The Philly turf community came together to aid an affordable daily-fee course with an understaffed and underbudgeted maintenance department that is also the home of The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia.

The property on which the golf course sits is owned by the city, but Impact Services, a nonprofit company that aids unemployed Philadelphia residents, runs The First Tee program and the course.

"Every dollar we generate goes back into the facility and The First Tee program," said Dave Smith, director of golf operations at Walnut Lane and site director for The First Tee.

Jay Parisien, golf course superintendent at Bala Golf Club in Philadelphia, realized that Walnut Lane needed some agronomic assistance. So Parisien, president of the Philadelphia Association of Golf Course Superintendents and a board member of The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia, came up with the idea of area turf professionals volunteering to aerate Walnut Lane. He contacted Bill Corcoran, commercial territory manager at Turf Equipment and Supply Co., the local Toro distributor, who loved the idea and immediately started obtaining equipment. "I locked up our demo fleet for three days," Corcoran said.

Corcoran told Parisien, "Whatever you want to do, we'll support [it]." Within a week of word getting out, volunteers stepped forward - employees from Turf Equipment, area golf courses, turf supply companies and a tree company. Manpower wasn't all that was given to Walnut Lane. More than $10,000 in seed and fertilizer made its way to the maintenance department.

Those donated supplies meant a savings for the course's tight budget. "It's money we can spend elsewhere," Walnut Lane Superintendent Gary Hite said.

The golf course was aerated wall-to-wall in two days. On the first day, 15 volunteers showed up to help the Walnut Lane staff, and 19 volunteers joined the staff for day two.

"This is something we do, but not as efficiently," Hite said.

In a normal year, Hite aerates 18 greens over two days. Tees are done over a three-day period and fairways when time allows.

Hite and his assistant are the only full-timers on the maintenance staff. There is also a part-time mechanic and three part-time seasonal employees. "We have to let some stuff slide by," Hite said.

Even though he only has 18 bunkers, Hite said they are raked only twice a week at most. Some of his equipment is so old that replacement parts are no longer available and his mechanic, Paul Filanowski, must fabricate them.

"He's worth a gold mine," Hite said of Filanowski.

According to Hite, the volunteer days not only resulted in better turf, but it also allowed his crew to tackle problem areas on the course, thanks to the time saved.

"Lots of tree work needs to be done," Hite added.

Because the layout is located inside the city-owned Fairmont Park, Hite is responsible for maintaining areas along the streets that the course borders. Trimming the long grass outside the fence can be a higher priority than mowing the short grass inside the fence.

Walnut Lane is a 5,300-yard Alex Findlay design that opened in 1940. It hosts 19,000 rounds annually. Weekend green fees with a golf car are $40. In addition, about 1,100 children come through The First Tee program.

"We're teaching golf and life skills," Smith said.

For adult golfers, the idea, according to Smith, is to create, "value golf entertainment." An improvement in course conditions helps do just that.

In a video that can be seen on YouTube, John MacDonald, president and CEO of Impact Services, pointed out similarities between golf and life.

"The two are very compatible - hazards in life, hazards on the course, how you react to them," MacDonald said.

What MacDonald failed to mention, and Aeration Days at Walnut Lane Golf Course proved, is that in life, as well as in golf, you occasionally get the lucky bounce - and it's great when it happens.

Pioppi, senior writer for Superintendent magazine, can be reached at apioppi@earthlink.net.