Raise your hand if you would like 12 energetic, thoughtful teens to volunteer hours of time helping with course maintenance. That’s exactly what the F. W. Buchholz High School girls golf team did one day in August, after practice, when each team member spent nearly two hours helping pull goosegrass from the greens at their home course, Hawkstone Country Club, in Gainesville, Florida.
Under the direction of superintendent Joe Holden, who helped with the construction and grow-in of the 18-hole Gary Player design that opened in 1993, the girls started with a short introduction and safety demonstration. They learned what goosegrass is, how to identify it on the greens and how to carefully remove it with utility knives. There were six knives to share so coach Marc Ellard and the girls designed a system to maximize efficiency. Some girls placed tees to identify the goosegrass, some wielded knives, some filled any larger holes with green sand and some collected the plants.
Holden had the idea of having members of a golf team help on the course a few years ago. Hawkstone is also home to the boys golf team from Oak Hall School, coached by Frank Anderson. The boys team has helped on a few different occasions, this year pulling doveweed from the bunkers and previously pulling green kyllinga weeds during the rainy season. “I told the girls they got the easier job of the two,” says Holden, laughing. “But seriously, it’s difficult to assign people that I don’t have to do tedious tasks that make a big difference.”
“The bunkers and greens aren’t bad, but sometimes you get to the end of the summer and you have issues with staffing and prioritizing job tasks. You have to address that,” adds Holden, and some additional help at this time of year is very valuable. There are five full-time maintenance staff at Hawkstone, including Holden, and his robust seasonal staff is mostly college students who work flexible part-time hours and need to leave their positions when it’s time to head back to campus.
Holden knows his flexible work system saves on labor dollars and offers his affectionately named “turfers” the chance to work. It offers Holden a chance to maintain the course in the way that meets his and the club’s high expectations. “Most of us superintendents have had to be very creative in how we are trying to accomplish the tasks that we want to do, to make the course as good as it can be with the man hours we have,” says Holden, referencing industrywide labor challenges.
Ellard, who has coached the Buchholz girls team for 11 years, led them to the Florida state competition last year and they are working for another deep run into the postseason. “This is the first year our team has participated in this type of project. What a great way to give back to the course and gain some insight about maintaining the greens,” Ellard says. “The girls loved the event. Several didn’t know what goosegrass was or how to spot it. This gave them a better appreciation regarding what goes into the upkeep. I think they will be more mindful as to taking care of greens, fairways and bunkers around our course.”
Braydn Smith, currently the team’s No. 1 player, strives to get better each and every day. With Hawkstone being a private club part of the ClubCorp portfolio and the team enjoying the use of such an excellent facility, the members notice and appreciate when the student-athletes volunteer to help maintain the 6,502-yard, par-72 layout. “I enjoyed helping take care of the greens at Hawkstone and I loved being able to give back to the people who let us practice there,” says Smith, who now knows more about how to protect the greens. “The work the student-athletes did is very effective,” says Holden, praising their effort, and it helps them appreciate what it takes to create excellent playability and aesthetics.
Holden is proud not only of his part-time labor system, but of a reclaimed water irrigation process that he has in place. He also works at “developing the eye” of his staff. Staff at Hawkstone have playing privileges, and Holden feels “the effectiveness of your team (whether they play or not) is how they develop their eye. What they see that’s out of place and being able to notice a small, minute thing is definitely a part of it,” he says. He also finds the original greens, planted with Jones Dwarf Bermudagrass, are in good shape and the cultivar is very resilient and manageable. “It’s got a backbone,” Holden says.
Finding a volunteer who may want to join the crew would be a huge bonus. “Every once in a while, you get someone that expresses an interest in the agronomics, maintenance and everything happening behind the scenes,” Holden says. Both teams did a great job learning what it takes to maintain the course, improve playability and how to work together for an effective and environmentally friendly result. The student-athletes, members and crew at Hawkstone can be proud of their club and collaboration, and Holden should be proud of the continuing execution of a great idea.
Lee Carr is Northeast Ohio-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.
More about Hawkstone
At Hawkstone Country Club, where Evan Walker is the head golf professional, there is no shortage of ways for junior golfers to learn. The ClubCorp facility offers weekly CRUSH IT! Junior Golf programming. CRUSH IT stands for Confidence, Respect, Understanding Self-Discipline, Hard work, Integrity and Talent. The program helps junior golfers between the ages of four and 11 reach their potential on course and encourages “skills for golf, skills for life.” Hawkstone also offers weeklong golf camps, tournaments, private and group golf instruction.
Thanks to Mindy Herrick, a Buchholz girls golf team alumna, who works for Hawkstone Country Club. She took and shared the photos and was excited about and supportive of this engaging event.