Expert say on everyday issues

Fairway divots are kind of like shaving – something you don’t really want to deal with, but you pretty much have no choice. I guess that is unless you grow a beard, which makes my analogy completely irrelevant. OK, just pretend no one has a beard. Now it makes sense!

Fairway divots are usually pushed to the very back of the priority list for most golf course maintenance operations. Their importance falls somewhere between string trimming trees in the rough to painting hazard stakes.

Actually, I should rephrase that. It’s not their importance so much as the reluctance by many superintendents to give them a higher priority. They are important. If you think about it, fairway divots are one of the more visible things golfers encounter from shot to shot. And if their ball lands in one that hasn’t been repaired, it suddenly changes from a visual occurrence into a playability one, so we fix them.

Depending on the climate you live in and your grass type, how you “fix” them can vary slightly. You might just fill them with straight sand. You might try and replace the ones that the golfers haven’t, picking up the little puzzle pieces of sod and fitting them back into their home. Or you might do a sand/seed mix, as we do here in the Pacific Northwest.

Finding time for crew members to fill divots has always been a challenge for me. I fall into the trap that many of us do – not giving the divots the importance they deserve. Thus, it was often a weak link in our operation – something that was never quite good enough.

About three years ago, one of my long-time crew members (Les) approached me with an idea. He had a friend (Kenny), a retired fellow who loved to golf, but wasn’t really looking for a paying job (as with many golf courses, workers at Avalon enjoy golf privileges as part of their benefits).

According to Les, Kenny just liked to get out of the house, and being on a golf course was one of the places he gravitated toward. And he wanted to do something. He missed the daily routine of a job. He needed to fill a void.

Although not so much looking for a paying job, he wasn’t rolling in dough enough to the point where paying for golf wasn’t an issue. Thus Les’ idea: Kenny wanted to work on the course as a volunteer, basically to pay for his golf, but nothing heavy-duty. How about filling divots, Les thought. Kenny, he assured me, would be perfect.

I was skeptical at first. For one thing, I’d never had an unpaid worker before. It was new territory. How dedicated would he be? Would there be a level of responsibility? Money tends to make people responsible, I’ve noticed.

But I gave it a shot. We decided on three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – four hours a morning, basically 12 hours a week from March through October. Roughly 400 hours a year. If I were to pay that at $12 an hour, we’re talking in the neighborhood of $5,000. That’s $5,000 not coming out of my labor budget. The idea was starting to grow on me.

Now, three years later, Kenny is still going strong, and the divot program is now something I never even have to think about. It’s all Kenny. He loves it, and the percentage of filled divots on the course has never been so high.

One of the advantages here at Avalon is the fact that we are a 27-hole course, broken up into three nines. So every day we have a nine that isn’t being used for the first few hours of the morning. This nine changes from day to day, so Kenny is able to pretty much avoid golfers and attack his divots without looking over his shoulder every few seconds for an approaching foursome.

Although I still believe volunteers have a limited contribution in golf course maintenance, I think the divot program is definitely one area where it does work. If you can find the right person in the right situation, it can be one less thing to worry about out there.

Read more: other golf courses, including Bryan Park Enrichment Center, are using retirees as volunteers to fill in labor and budget gaps.