Understanding tolerances

Understanding tolerances

While Raven’s Claw GC's may lack resources, it will still provide the high playing experience to host Symetra Tour’s Valley Forge Invtl. next week.

May 15, 2018
Top Stories Turf

It’s a particularly daunting task for a superintendent at a semiprivate or daily-fee facility who likely doesn’t have the manpower or resources at their disposal that a private club colleague might enjoy.

But it’s a challenge Randy Kresge embraces. Kresge is the superintendent at Raven’s Claw Golf Club, a semiprivate facility in Pottstown, Pa., west of Philadelphia.

Just prior to Memorial Day, the club will host the Symetra Tour’s Valley Forge Invitational, featuring a field of female professionals, all of whom are looking to advance to the LPGA Tour. The LPGA’s developmental tour will be on site the week of May 21.

“This is big time for our course,” Kresge says. “And around the Pottstown area there haven’t been any events to this scale that I can think of.”

Before tournament week however, there is plenty for Kresge and his staff to do; the club hosts some 26,000 rounds of golf each year. Kresge, a Penn State graduate, has been working on golf courses since he was a teenager when he spent time at Rolling Green Golf Club outside Philadelphia, one of the Keystone State’s most highly regarded course. While at Penn State he tended to the Blue and White Courses there.  He’s also worked in Colorado, and New York State.

Kresge knows every blade of grass on the property at Raven’s Claw; he was involved in the grow in, the fifth of his career, before the course opened for play in 2005. And perhaps most importantly, he and his team are adept at making the most of their resources.

“We’ve got to work a little harder … a little smarter,” he says. “Do things more efficiently than a place that has more people.”

Kresge oversees a staff of eight, plus a small band of part-timers who work during the summer months. There is no mechanic, and the staff maintains the equipment themselves.

“We do the best that we can with what we have to work with,” Kresge says. “We may not have everything trimmed to a ‘T’ like a private course but we try to take care of the essentials. We keep the greens nice and the fairways nice and try to keep as much grass on the tees as we can with the amount of play that we get.”

The golf course at Raven’s Claw, was designed by landscape architect Ed Shearon, one of the club’s owners. It features bentgrass greens, tees, and fairways, a circumstance that works to Kresge’s advantage. Like most of his peers, his primary focus is on the putting surfaces.

“We’re trying to grow bentgrass here,” he says. “So, if you focus on that you tend to weed out the Poa a little bit because you’re not fertilizing at certain times that would favor Poa annua.

 “I don’t spray a lot for the annual bluegrass weevil so if we do get damage from that I tolerate it, I don’t really worry about it. We spray enough, but it’s not like we’re out there every week dumping fungicides on everything to keep everything clean. We’ve got to tolerate a little bit of dollar spot every once in a while in the fairways but the greens we keep pretty clean. We usually don’t see anything on them.”

To control costs, Kresge tries to maximize his intervals between applications. “The greens will get sprayed on a normal rotation,” he says, “probably every two to three weeks, depending on the weather and environmental conditions. For the fairways, we’re 21 to maybe 30-plus days between sprays.

“You’ve got to figure out what spray is going to carry you that long and go from there. That’s why, in between sprays, we may have some dollar spot pop up for a little bit, until we get another application down. Last year, people had dollar spot and they were spraying all the time. We really kept it in check after May and didn’t really have any trouble with it the rest of the season.”

Kresge has devised strategies to get the most out of his chemical budget. “You got to save the better, stronger products for summer,” he says. We’ll do an Xzemplar application on the fairways in July, when pressure is high for dollar spot and brown patch. That’s typically your worst month, although last year May was pretty bad.

“We try to get out early and do a first spray before you really get any dollar spot. That kind of keeps things in check the rest of the season,” he says. “There are certain fairways that are kind of indicators, you’ll start seeing it on them first, so you keep your eye out and look for the signs and then when it’s time to pull the trigger, we go and do it.”

The only major problem Kresge has had during his time at Raven’s Claw came early in his tenure. The first couple years at Raven’s Claw Golf Club Kresge fought root Pythium on the greens, which is common with sand greens until there is some organic buildup and good fungi establishes to fight off the bad stuff in the soil profile.

“That was probably the hardest thing that I had to deal with the first two to three years here,” he says. “But we worked through it.  (Today) we do a preventative spray in May or June for root Pythium with a Segway, Heritage or Insignia. You just go with the label high rate for root Pythium.”

Even during the peak of the summer, Kresge takes care not to overwater his greens. “Our greens are 100 percent sand,” he says, “So, there’s a fine line between keeping them dry and going over the edge. The bentgrass, it will bounce back … so that’s probably another thing that keeps the Poa out of our greens. We keep them lean and we keep them on the edge with the moisture.”

Because of the volume of play, Kresge and his team have learned out of necessity how to work around on-course traffic. “You’re going to get caught by play,” he says. “That’s just the nature of this place.  I don’t have enough guys to send two machines out to mow fairways all the time. Somebody might cut greens and then jump on the fairway mower after they’re done greens.

“You just deal with play. You try to avoid (golfers) as much as you can … We try to do everything in order just kind of get one number one and go and stay out of play as much as we can. Then we’ll work backwards once play is out there. If you send somebody out they can go out to 18 and go back so you’re not following the same group.”

Kresge will rely on guidance from the Symetra Tour to finalize the course setup for the Valley Forge Classic. The Tour will likely advise Kresge and his team on hole and tee locations and how the golf course should be marked.

Jim Bromley, Raven’s Claw’s golf professional, says, the Symetra Tour players will see essentially the same golf course regular visitors do. “We’ll keep the grass area of the driving range tee closed so that we have as much possible turf for the players when they come in” he says, “Things of that nature. I don’t see that we have to do a lot different with the golf course. We’ll spend a little more time repairing divots and ball marks and those types of things so that we’re in top shape when they arrive.”

The golf course will likely play between 6,100 and 6,200 yards for the 54-hole event.

Kresge is worried most about where they’re going to be playing from the tees. “Because what I’ll do, I won’t put the tee markers anywhere around those spots for the month before the tournament. That way I don’t have to worry about divots where they’re going to be teeing off.”

During tournament week, Kresge’s staff will be supplemented by staff from Shearon Environmental, a landscape architectural firm. “They’ll come out and help as much as they can,” Kresge says. “I’ve got some volunteers lined up, old superintendents and guys that have worked on golf courses before.

Golf pro Bromley expects the golf course to be open for play through Sunday, May 20. Practice rounds will commence the following day. The 54-hole tournament proper will begin Thursday, May 24 and conclude on Saturday the 26th with the professionals playing for a $100,000 purse. The pros will depart Saturday night and on Sunday morning, Raven’s Claw will be open for business as usual.

Bromley anticipates plenty of play for the balance of the Memorial Day weekend. “We’d like to leave it set up the same way the pros played it,” he says. “Give the area residents a chance to play it just as (the professionals) saw it and test their games and see how they fare.”

Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based turf writer and frequent GCI contributor.