I have a question for you. First, though, take a few moments and think about all the major maintenance practices and techniques you do on a daily or weekly basis during the growing season, from mowing greens to cutting cups to raking bunkers. Consider everything, including string-trimming, landscaping beds, pruning trees, making spray applications, rolling and anything else.
Now, think about not doing one of these major maintenance practices anymore; that is, completely removing it from your arsenal. Mowing greens probably wouldn’t be a wise choice to stop doing. Nor would putting an end to cutting cups. But how about a few of those items a little farther down the old priority list?
As industry revenues continue to slide, and budgets drop along with them, golf course superintendents are being tested like never before for their level of creativity.
Mind you, there is a difference between finding a new, creative and less expensive way to do an old job, and eliminating the job altogether. By all means, keep finding those creative alternatives, which is positively crucial in being able to keep doing that job. But I also want you to consider that other alternative – the elimination of the job altogether.
One thing I’m finding as my budget slides a bit each year is that all the creativity in the world can only go so far. At some point something else has to be done. However, one thing none of us wants to do is to go to our boss or the powers that be and tell them you can no longer produce the same quality product you have in the past. Trust me, they don’t want to hear that, no matter how much your budget has been cut.
That’s where eliminating a certain job or task may come in handy. Find something you do that costs time and money that can be done away with and not affect the quality of the product you are presenting.
Sounds like a plan, right? But just what could this job or procedure be? What could you eliminate that would not affect the overall appearance and playability of the golf course you have been put in charge of?
Well, each golf course is going to differ. What may be a big job for one operation may not even be on the radar for another. However, we share many common techniques and practices.
Below are 10 possible modern-day maintenance practices that you might be able to stop doing. But please, don’t do all 10 right away. Look for a couple, maybe three at the most, that you could cut and still have that golf course you’re proud of each day when you leave work.
1. Mowing deep secondary rough. What we’re talking about here is that rough beyond not only the primary cut, but out past the secondary cut as well. I like to think of rough in three stages. Primary, secondary and deep secondary.
Deep secondary is that stuff a golfer seldom ends up in – areas that are seen off in the distance and rarely come into play. If you’re still mowing these areas on a regular basis, stop it! Introduce some attractive, maintenance-free native grasses and never worry about them again.
2. Pond and lakeside edge maintenance. There are two ways to handle the edge of a water feature: manicured and detailed, short grass right to the edge; or wild and natural, long grass up to the cat-tailed water’s edge. In this day and age, you’d better be leaning toward the latter. Not only for the sake of saving on labor and maintenance, but if for no other reason than to keep that buffer between chemically treated turf and open water.
3. Landscape bed maintenance. This seems like an odd thing to suggest: eliminating bed maintenance. What I’m actually proposing here is a reduction of the landscape beds. Let’s say you have 85 beds on the golf course. What if you had 20 instead?
Don’t get me wrong, I like landscaped beds as much as the next guy. However, often I see golf courses that have so many beds on the course they can’t keep up with the maintenance of them. As stunning as well-maintained landscaping can look, neglected, grown-over, weed-covered beds can be equally stunning the opposite way.
In fact, the golf course I work at was one of those. We found that by eliminating many of the beds and grassing them over we were able to save countless hours and material on bed maintenance. Running over them with a mower is much more efficient.
4. Fairway divot repair. This one is a little different, in that I’m not suggesting eliminating repairing fairways divots, but eliminating them from a paid maintenance job. For the past few years I’ve had a volunteer doing this job – a retired gentleman who puts in about 15 hours a week (three days a week, five hours a day) in the growing season filling divots. He trades his work out for golf.
This could be a retired person, or, if you have a high school or local college that uses your course, make an arrangement with the coach to have the kids fill divots in the evenings after they play.
Remove this job from your labor budget.
5. Irrigating rough. Last year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst taught us that it’s OK to take a step back and remember how golf used to be played and how golf courses used to be maintained.
Single-row irrigation and eliminating the need (or eliminating the thought process) of watering rough. I’m referring not only to the deep secondary, but the secondary cut as well. And, in many cases, the primary rough also.
If you think of your irrigation system in sections, and you completely eliminate the need to use some of those sections, are you eliminating not only water but the labor and materials involved in keeping those sections up and running?
6. Insecticide use. I’m not nave enough to tell you to simply go cold turkey on using insecticides, which serve a valuable purpose within our industry. In many instances we’d be lost without them.
However, as with the use of any maintenance practice (and especially those involving chemicals), make sure you need to be using them. Personally, I have not applied an insecticide in more than 10 years. I used to spray immediately when I’d spot cutworms on the greens or crane fly larvae going to town. I’ve seen enough damage to fear these little buggers.
But about a decade ago I decided to get a little risky and monitor their damage instead of treating it. I discovered the damage – if there was any at all – was not very extensive and went away quickly. Of course, levels of invasion and damage vary, and this doesn’t work for everyone. But it’s probably worth it to see if it might work for you.
7. Off-season maintenance. What I’m talking about here is some of those jobs we consider daily but maybe, at certain times of the year, are not daily. Many cold-weather golf courses shut down completely in the late fall and don’t open again until spring. Those courses probably wouldn’t fall into this area of reduction. But for the courses that operate year-round, or nearly all year, there is an opportunity to eliminate a handful of jobs during this time of year. Maybe “eliminate” is the wrong word. “Reduce” probably fits better.
Consider, for example, cutting cups in the off-season. This surely does not need to be a daily job. What if you cut cups on Monday and, because of some poor weather, had only about two dozen golfers on the course all day? Do you need to change them again on Tuesday? Probably not. A lot of our seasonal daily jobs turn into once- or twice-a-week jobs in the off-season. Stretch this as far as you can.
8. Weed removal. I’ve written an article or two on this subject in the past. I’m a believer that some weeds are certainly OK in golf course turf grass. If I were to pick one thing I think superintendents might be a bit overly obsessive about, I’d probably pick weed elimination.
Don’t be afraid to introduce the idea to your superiors of an “acceptable level of weeds.” And that’s the key, I think, to have those set levels. Once thresholds exceed your levels, treat them. But, until they do, don’t run for the backpack sprayer every time you spot a clump of clover in a fairway.
9. Non-maintenance jobs. A few years ago my crew was still in charge of water coolers. Changing the liners daily and adding new water and ice. Easy enough, right? But this little job took one worker about 45 minutes each day. Let’s call that about five hours a week; roughly 20 hours a month. Coolers are out on the course from March through October. That’s what, about 160 hours a year devoted to coolers? 160 hours X $12.50 an hour equals $2,000.
The golf pro now has his volunteer marshalls do this job daily. A no-brainer if there ever was one.
This doesn’t have to be limited to water coolers or the fairway divots I mentioned earlier. Find jobs that volunteer pro shop staff might be able to do.
10. Range perfection. I’ve seen some truly wonderful driving ranges over the years. Ranges with little greens mowed down to 0.110 of an inch. Ranges with striped fairways surrounded by a beautiful mowed step cut. Ranges with bunkers (not usable bunkers, but bunkers out on the range that are aesthetic alone in their purpose).
But other than golfers standing on the range admiring them for 10 minutes as they loosen up, what’s really the point? More time and labor can be lost on the overkill that is range maintenance than almost any other job on a golf course.
I’m not saying don’t have a nice range. Do! But maybe you need to reel in the concept of just what a nice range should be (practically speaking).
The range tee itself should not be skimped on. What we’re talking about here is that mysterious range rough or range fairway. That little “pretend” golf hole. Keep that thought in mind. It’s only pretend. Golfers only see it. They don’t touch it.
Keep it green (although brown can be beautiful in mid-summer) and keep it mowed. Have nice clear yardage poles or monuments. And that’s it. That should be your range maintenance.
A good way to think of all your maintenance practices is to consider them each as a single job that could possibly be eliminated. For example, think of your spray program not as one job, but as many – like the insecticide use we talked about. Think of applying insecticides to the greens as one single job. Then think of applying insecticides to the tees as one single job. Think of all the mowing your workers do. Break down each area that gets mowed.
And so on and so on. Break down everything you do, then go through your list and see what the candidates are for possible elimination. Odds are you’re going find a half-dozen things you just might be able to do without.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.