The Life of a Golf Course Superintendent: Weather
By Chris Carson, Superintendent, Echo Lake Country Club
My wife hates taking road trips with me during the summer, as I have a habit of punching the buttons on the radio to hear weather updates. I know exactly when each station will have this information-on the ones… on the fives… on the eights-and I often find myself in a loop, keenly listening for a flicker of hope. Wife: "You just listened to the weather! How many times do we have to do this?!" Me: "Just once more around the horn…"
You see, superintendents live and die with the weather. Last year's incessant rains, for example, wrought havoc on maintenance schedules, on disease protection and on members' ability to enjoy their course. There were too many rainy days in the metropolitan area to provide the conditions we strive for.
Rain events call for careful thought and planning. Effectiveness of disease controls are compromised by excessive rain, causing unplanned and unbudgeted applications. When soil is saturated, the weight of machinery can damage fine turf, and there are times when there are no easy choices on how to proceed. "To cut, or not to cut" was a common question in many minds last year, and superintendents were forced to knowingly inflict damage on their courses-as the lesser of two evils-by cutting grass under poor conditions. When we make these difficult decisions, we hope that our members and decision makers have trust in us and that they know these choices are made after thoughtful consideration.
It's not just rain that tries superintendents' souls. Heat, drought, and too-much or too-little humidity are all variables that require difficult decisions that are not fully understood or appreciated by members. Let's consider that beautiful, low-humidity summer day that encourages golfers to linger at their club and enjoy the day. For superintendents, "high and dry" means a long and difficult day of monitoring soil moisture and applying water as needed. Those conditions can cause turf plants to lose water faster than replenish it, and that can mean wilt and turf loss if vigilance isn't demonstrated.
Frosty mornings mean that we have to delay the start of golf, which is an annoyance to our members, but they also mean that we have to plan the morning work so that we can prepare the course to get golfers out as soon as possible. That might mean, for instance, cutting certain areas out of order because they are sunlit and thus able to withstand maintenance earlier than shaded spots. This is the reason we cannot shotgun after a frost delay. We know it is frustrating at times but we are trying to get all areas cut (and we are already behind schedule) so that every player can enjoy the course that day.
Soil temperatures are carefully monitored in springtime, as there are soil pathogens that require preventive treatment once threshold temperatures are reached. Miss this threshold, and the risk of season-long stress from patch diseases can result. Soil temperatures can affect spring aerification and a cool spring usually means that aerification holes will linger, causing member frustration. It is ironic that a cold spring can yield hot criticism from our golfers.
Superintendents everywhere would love it if our members were just a little bit more understanding of the challenges weather causes. If you'd like to stand out as a hero, try saying something like this the next time your club is experiencing weather extremes: "What a difficult spell of weather you've been dealing with! Please let the crew know how much we appreciate all they are doing to help us get through this difficult period."
And if you really want to stand out, try this the next time it's appropriate: "Thanks for aerifying the greens! I know that will make our course better throughout the season."