If I had a dime for every time someone has asked me, “So, what do you in the winter on the golf course?” well, I’d have a lot of dimes. And the question is usually asked with a hint of wonderment, as though it’s utterly crazy to think people actually worked on golf courses in the winter.
Of course, the answer to this question will vary greatly depending on your geographic location. Winter just might be your busiest time of the year (a la Florida). Or, perhaps nearly as busy as summer (a la tranisition zone). Or, you could be snow-covered and closed (Minne-snow-ta). Or, like we are here in western Washington, you’re mostly open but subject to occasional closures due to snow and a heck of a lot of rain.
But wherever you are, it’s a question you’re likely to get asked.
I’ve had the opportunity to work on a course in Florida, a few in Minnesota, and a couple here in western Washington. Safe to say these are three very different winter experiences.
In Florida we were hopping busy in the winter; in fact, we had a Senior PGA event in November. In Minnesota, we were completely closed for several months, usually from early to mid-November (whenever that white stuff started to fall) to mid-March. Or, if winter hung on a bit, closed until early April. And here in western Washington, well, it’s kind of a mixture of the other two. Open, for the most part, but some snow here and there closing us for periods, and lots of rain, which, although it doesn’t close us down, makes golfer sightings pretty rare.
For the sake of addressing this “What do you do in the winter?” question here, I’ll answer it using a western Washington winter, as I’ve been here for 20 years and my memories of snowy upper Midwest winters and sunny Florida winters are beginning to fade. Just a bit.
If you’re at a course that is open throughout the winter but play is extremely low due to cold, rain or occasional snow, winters can be a challenging time to maintain a golf course. The main reason for this is unpredictability. I staff way down in the winter months, which is basically November through February. Our golf course is staffed up to about 16 to 18 in the summer, but down to five or six in the winter, which is counting myself, my assistant and the equipment technician.
This is fine when it’s raining or snowing, but often the sun will pop out for several days, the temps will climb into the 50s, and the course once again becomes a beacon on the hill. Golfers shake off the rust and flock to the course. Trying to maintain a 27-hole course with just a few crew members can be challenging, to say the least. This is where that “unpredictability” comes in. You just never know what you’re going to get weather-wise.
The best way to try and maintain a golf course in this type of situation is to rely on history – rainfall, snowfall and temperature averages in the past. But these are only guesses, and climate change is starting to play a part here. Still, budget-wise, it’s hard to staff up for winter play when winter play most likely won’t come, and if it does it’s going to be temporary. What I’ve found works best is to maintain a bare-bones staff, but let golfers know what to expect. Winter conditions won’t be the same as in-season golf. And, for the most part, they aren’t expecting it to be. Golfers are just happy to be swinging the clubs in January. They don’t need freshly cut fairways or greens stimping at 10.5.
So, the best way I answer the winter question is to say we maintain the course minimally, open after frost delays, service equipment, take down dangerous trees here and there, plant some new trees and, occasionally, when winter gets confused and thinks it’s summer, three or four of us do the work of 15 or 16.
That’s how I answer. What about you? What do you on the golf course in the winter?