A common question asked by golfers and non-golfers alike is, "What do you do in the winter?" This question used to annoy me, as I felt the person asking the question was being cynical or critical. Over time I have come to realize that most people really have no idea what a golf course superintendent and team does in the summer, let alone in the winter. Now, when someone asks me what do we do in the winter, I take the time and explain this unique world of a golf course superintendent and greenkeeping.
Since our golf season in northern Vermont is relatively short -- from early May until late October -- proper preparation leading up to the beginning of the golf season is crucial. We take advantage of winter "down time" to "put the course to bed" properly in November and then spend the balance of the winter and early spring preparing for the intense six month golf season ahead.
A look at the winter of 2017/18 provides a great example of the work we do.
Our fleet of turf care equipment includes very specialized machines. The cost for one mower can run anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000. The replacement value of an average eighteen hole golf course equipment fleet can easily reach and exceed $1 million. Our goal in the winter is to look over each piece with a fine tooth comb and do all the preventive maintenance necessary to withstand six to eight months of constant use. Without this thorough winter maintenance the risk of a mid-season breakdown becomes much more likely. Avoiding a major mid-season repair is our goal.
Quality of cut is of high importance to us. The majority of our mowing fleet are reel mowers. A reel mower is used because it can mow turf at low heights due to a cutting action like a scissor. A reel with multiple blades spins at high speeds while a stationary bedknife rides along the ground creating a cutting effect. Both reel blades and bedknives need to be precision ground at least once a year during the winter. This precision grinding is done on specialized grinding lathes in our shops. Think of this grinding process like the way skis and snowboards are ground. Sharp edges with proper angles are needed for the equipment to perform properly.
Brush Clearing and Tree Removal
Golf courses in New England are usually built within some type of forested setting. These forested settings, whether interior or exterior, want to grow. Without the occasional cutting back of the wood lines the forest will choke out the golf course.
|Rocky hillside at SMC being cleared of brush.|
At SMC, the team did great work cutting back the edges on hole seven, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen. A huge brush cutting project was also completed between hole sixteen and seventeen. This rocky hillside was cleared in 2004 to prepare for the construction of the course. Since then, all of the first growth species (cherry, birch, and poplar) vigorously grew back. This new look provides incredible views from sixteen tee and gives seventeen green a much better feel.
|Cutting, clearing, and burning on fourth tee at SCC|
At SCC, the team worked hard to cut back the edges on hole one and three. On the fourth hole the brush was cut back to the left of the teeing area. This cleared area will be the home of a new back tee. The October wind storm created multiple blow downs that needed to be cleaned up. The wooded area behind the fifth green was hit with six hemlocks that blew over due to the storm. After these areas were cleaned up, we continued with the tree removal program. Our efforts were focused on trees near greens and tees. The criteria for removing a tree has been laid out in a previous post SCC TREE REMOVAL PROGRAM . Most of the trees removed are white pine trees. These trees reduce the turf quality because of heavy shading, shallow roots, and copious amounts of tree litter. Along with better playing conditions the removal of white pines allows us to focus man-power on providing great conditions and not spending valuable time picking up pine needles, cones and branches. The added benefit is that previously obstructed mountain views are opened up.
|Production line of SMC tee markers|
The winter months provide us the opportunity to take stock of all the accessories that are used on the golf course. Items like ball washers, bunker rakes, cart signs, and tee markers are refurbished to make look new again. This year it was determined that new tee markers were needed at both courses. In the spirit of good old fashion Yankee ingenuity and frugality we made them ourselves.
|Painting SCC tee markers. |
Notice the finished water cooler station in background.
At SMC, we made the markers out of white birch logs that came from the property. The logs were dried for several months, cut to size, spikes installed, and then the ends were painted. The natural look will fit in with our mountain golf course setting. At SCC, we used cedar posts cut into blocks for the tee marker. The cedar was stained, the sides painted with the appropriate color, and a spike was installed. Both teams did a great job paying close attention to detail and craftsmanship.
The other big in-house project at SCC was to build new water cooler stations. The old plastic stations were faded and simply had seen their day. These new stations were built by Mark Finch, SCC superintendent. Mark is a great woodworker and put his talents to work with these structures. This new look to the course will be striking.
|One of six water cooler stations under construction.|
The "off" season provides us with the opportunity to attend conferences specific to turf and golf course management. At these events, the networking amongst fellow industry professionals and the educational classes are extremely valuable for our professional development. There are two premier conferences that are not to be missed. The Golf Industry Show put on by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America is an incredible educational experience. This year it was held in San Antonio, TX and attended by 12,000 golf course industry professionals from all over the world. The trade show and educational opportunities are exceptional. The second conference is put on by the New England Regional Turfgrass Foundation and is annually held in Providence, RI. This conference and trade show provide a more regional educational experience.
With spring now upon us, we feel confident and ready for the new golf season ahead. It has been a busy few months at both courses. Our good work this winter will soon be available for all to enjoy as opening day is fast approaching. We hope you enjoy our winter work as much as we enjoy doing it. See you soon and have fun out there!