A new elementary school went up about seven or eight years ago in the city where I live. Nice, modern building with a sleek design. I drove past its construction twice every day on my way to and from the golf course where I work.
They began the landscaping toward the end of construction. They went all out, landscaping this large hillside that separates the school from the main road in front. It was an enormous landscaping project by anyone’s standards.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize they were making critical errors. The hillside clearly wasn’t irrigated, yet they were choosing many plants that needed water daily in the summer. They were also putting large plants in front of smaller plants. They capped off the project with a 4-inch layer of beauty bark.
Looked good at first, yet I knew it was destined to be a nightmare. No irrigation. Poor plant selection. Poor placement. Way too big to keep up with.
Neglected landscape beds are one of my pet peeves. The best way not to neglect a bed is not to put in a bed in the first place. Think of the money spent on this project, which, had they asked me, was doomed to fail.
Safe to say, the hillside is now a huge eyesore. As is the case nationwide, our schools never seem to have enough money. They have no choice but to cut corners. These corners are usually cut outside first, not inside; which, speaking as a parent, makes a lot of sense to me.
But now I have to look away every time I pass the huge hillside. Most of the plants have died. Many of the ones that haven’t are hidden behind large, dead shrubs or massive grassy weeds that have taken over the bed.
The lesson here for those of us in the golf course maintenance industry is clear. Although well-kept landscaping can be beautiful and enhance any golf course, neglected landscaping is absolutely taboo.
Golf courses love to landscape, especially in America. This was definitely true with courses built last century. Superintendents hired on at venerable old courses often find a headache they weren’t expecting when they took the job. How on Earth to keep up the golf course and all the landscaping that has to be done?
Sure, we hire landscapers, but often this isn’t enough. Budgets are cut. Labor is trimmed. Choices have to be made. These choices, for a superintendent who wants to keep his or her job, usually start with the golf course itself. It’s hard to justify the upkeep of landscape beds at the expense of anything that affects the beauty or the playability of the golf course.
It doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to make the right choice between raking bunkers in the morning or pulling weeds. Those bunkers are getting raked.
So what’s the answer? If we’re not going to sacrifice golf course labor for landscaping, and we don’t have the manpower to do both, what to do?
One option is to ask for more money in the budget. You can certainly try, but … well, let’s find another option.
How about shrinking those massive beds? This, too, of course, takes money and time. But this is something that can be done off-season. It also can be done in stages. In fact, I’ve been at the same course for 13 years, and we’re still reducing and eliminating landscape beds.
But how far should you take it? That’s a different answer for every super and every golf course. Clubhouse beds are always going to exist. But, can you eliminate some? Eliminating a percentage of clubhouse landscaping will no doubt improve the landscaping that you leave (a good way to sell it).
Landscape beds shouldn’t make you shudder every time you think of them. Reduce them significantly and enhance the ones you can leave and keep up with.
There is a way out of all these weeds after all.