Maintaining a championship quality golf course may cost a million dollars a year or more depending upon location and the owner’s desired quality. This coupled with the fact that much of the work of grooming, setting up, and maintaining a golf course is labor intensive makes the Golf Course Maintenance staff one of the larger staffs in a golf operation. Managing this large, highly specialized operation requires a professional turf management expert as well as a sound business manager.
Modern Golf Course Superintendents are typically graduates of collegiate level turf management schools. Before ascending to the Superintendent position, they typically work a number of years at golf courses learning the practical skills of their trade and working their way up to Assistant Golf Course Superintendent. They are typically compensated with a base salary commensurate with their education, background, and experience. On top of that they may be offered a bonus opportunity for meeting budget or other specified goals.
Their challenge in the golf business is unique—how to maintain an artificially created playing environment with specialized grasses in various regions of the country with a host of micro-climates and conditions at the highest possible level while meeting the desires of the owners and players. A superintendent’s knowledge base includes agronomy, pesticides (herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers), soil composition, irrigation techniques, turf care equipment and techniques, equipment maintenance, tree and shrubbery care, and a deep knowledge and love of the game of golf.
Every golf course is different; in fact, every hole on every golf course is different. Combinations of soil, water, grass, sunlight, weather, temperature, and the knowledgeable application of chemicals make each area of the course a microcosm of nature. This, the Superintendent is responsible for knowing, tending, and nurturing throughout the year. Ironically, the end of all his efforts—the players for whom he is trying to provide ideal playing conditions on the course—are the very ones that damage and degrade the course with every round played. All this requires the Superintendent to monitor conditions on the course very carefully day by day.
The Superintendent and the Head Golf Professional need to work closely on a number of important issues —course set up, pin placements, tournament and event schedule, major turf treatment schedules, and playability. Like the Head Golf Professional, the Superintendent in a private club setting reports to a committee of members—the Greens Committee. Often his greatest challenge will come from individual members with an uninformed opinion and vision for the golf course.
The Superintendent hires, trains, and supervises a large staff of specialists and laborers to set up and maintain the course. In larger operations he will usually be assisted by an Assistant Professional, an Equipment Mechanic, a Chemical Applicator, an Irrigation Technician, Crew Leaders, Equipment Operators, and Greenskeepers. Throughout the year there are different tasks confronting the GC Maintenance staff. Various applications of fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides, mowing the fairways, roughs, collars, and greens during the growing season, setting up the course each day with pin placements, leaf blowing in the fall, repairs from storm damage, and constant repairs to course equipment. During the slower winter months there is a large effort to service the specialized course equipment—including fairway mowers, greens mowers, aerators, utility carts, and other equipment.
In many parts of the country, golf courses need to be irrigated to maintain the growth and vitality of the grasses. Modern golf courses used computerized irrigation systems that allow the Superintendent to adjust the amount and cycles of course irrigation with pop-up sprinkler heads, all controlled from the Superintendent’s office by a computer. The downside to irrigation systems are the inevitable breaks and washouts on the course caused by pressurized water.
Most Golf Course Maintenance staffs are made up of a core staff of year-round, full time employees. During the busy season this staff is augmented with seasonal workers. While most private clubs close their courses one day a week, very often that day is reserved for golf outings—a great way to increase overall club revenues. Naturally these outings come during the busier, more popular times of the year for golf play. As a result, the Golf Course Maintenance staff must frequently work long hours and long weeks to maintain the course. In other operations such as resorts, golf is played 7 days a week, thereby increasing the wear and tear on the course and challenge to maintain the course in optimum condition.
While the Superintendent makes every effort to give players optimum playing conditions on a daily basis, he also adjusts fertilizer applications and water schedules in the weeks before major events and tournaments to give the course the fast and firm conditions that are difficult to achieve all the time. This necessitates the Head Golf Professional and Superintendent working closely together to schedule major course maintenance at times that won’t impact major events.
In addition to the ongoing maintenance of the course, the Superintendent is responsible for the daily set up of the course. This requires a team of employees to change the pin placement, mow the greens and collars, replenish the on-course water, refill and service the ball washers, empty the course trash containers—all before the first players tees off.
Throughout the year the Superintendent must monitor weather and course conditions and make daily decisions about whether carts must remain on the cart paths or whether the ninety degree rule will permit carts on the course. Whenever inclement weather occurs, the Superintendent must quickly mobilize his staff to repair any damage on the course. This can include rebuilding bunker walls, storm debris cleanup, tree removal, marking any parts of the course under repair, noting drainage problems for scheduled repair work, and ensuring that all sprinkler heads are operating properly.
Though Superintendents operate from a golf course maintenance facility, they are usually on the course and can best be reached by cell phone or radio, especially during the busy season. While most Superintendents will tell you that theirs is a tough job, most wouldn’t trade it for the world.
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