Eliminating worries on the Eastern Shore

Developing a reliable spray program allows Bear Trap Dunes superintendent Mike Moyer to handle a frantic mix of member and vacation play.

Mike Moyer started his role as the superintendent at Bear Trap Dunes, a 27-hole semi-private facility along Delaware’s Eastern Shore, in 2014. The course can attract as many as 1,000 rounds on busy summer weekends.
© mike moyer

Changing cups, hand watering greens, clearing debris golfers will notice during rounds. A title suggesting the role of a delegator, doesn’t prevent Bear Trap Dunes superintendent Mike Moyer from remaining a doer.

A mix of member and tourist play – Bear Trap Dunes rests along the Eastern Shore, a popular Mid-Atlantic and East Coast vacation spot – means busy weekends can bring as many 1,000 golfers to the facility. Customers have numerous options, because the frantic late 1990s and early 2000s turned the Eastern Shore into a northern version of Myrtle Beach, albeit on a smaller scale. More than 25 courses open to public play are within 30 miles of Bear Trap Dunes.

Moyer’s days are also frantic. He arrives at the Ocean View, Del., course at 5 a.m. Peak season weekday tee times begin at 7 a.m. Peak season weekend tee times begin at 6:30 a.m. Moyer and assistant William Welsh start mornings from May to September on the course, performing various jobs alongside a peak season crew of 15 workers responsible for maintaining 27 holes.

“Not having enough guys is never a good excuse,” Moyer says. “It’s the reality of the marketplace. It doesn’t reduce the standards of the golf course you are supposed to be presenting. That’s where we incorporate ourselves as supervisors, being regular parts of those first jobs in the morning, making sure things done ahead of play and then turning back around and focusing on other aspects of the job.”

Designed by Rick Jacobson and opened in 1999, Bear Trap Dunes is a property offering a superintendent few lulls. The course rests three miles from the Atlantic Ocean and less than three hours from Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. A coastal climate provides opportunities for year-round play, although Moyer describes the winter as “project time.”

Bear Trap Dunes’ primary agronomic challenge is straightforward sounding yet daunting to execute: managing bentgrass in the Transition Zone. The three nines consist of 124 irrigated acres and 36 acres of native areas that add a links-style appeal to the course. L-93 bentgrass covers greens. Bentgrass is also the dominant variety on fairways and tees.

Heavy fog and dew are common occurrences because of the course’s proximity to the coast. Wetness created without precipitation can “exacerbate” dollar spot activity, says Syngenta technical manager Dr. Mike Agnew, who closely follows disease patterns on the Eastern Shore. “You get growing conditions that are perfect for dollar spot,” Agnew says.

Ocean breezes limit humidity, and growing conditions aren’t as harsh at Bear Trap Dunes as more inland parts of the Transition Zone such as Washington, D.C., and its surrounding areas, Moyer says. But that doesn’t mean Moyer deploys a lax approach to preventing dollar spot, which he calls “the historic pest” at Bear Trap Dunes.

Moyer became superintendent in October 2014 and familiarity with the property helped when developing a spray program. Bear Trap Dunes is one of three Eastern Shore facilities owned by Carl M. Freeman Golf and managed by Troon Golf. Four years in the Troon system working at Seaview Golf Resort and The Bay Club, an Eastern Shore property owned by Carl M. Freeman Golf in Berlin, Md., allowed Moyer to develop a close relationship with Dan Weitzel, who oversaw agronomy at Bear Trap Dunes, The Bay Club and Bayside Resort Golf Club in Selbyville, Del., before becoming the director of agronomy at Manchester (N.H.) Country Club.

During his tenure at The Bay Club, Moyer followed the agronomics at Bear Trap Dunes, where dollar spot control trials were conducted using Syngenta’s Secure, a multi-site fungicide introduced in 2012. The success of the trials gave Moyer confidence to make Secure a staple of his dollar spot control program. Using Secure as a rotational partner with Daconil Action, Moyer experienced no incidence of dollar spot on treated areas in his first season at Bear Trap Dunes.

The program implemented by Moyer is preventative, because he says reacting to the disease has damaging consequences. A lengthy to-do list makes trying to recover from dollar spot damage during the peak season a harrowing thought. “If you wait until you see it down here, you are going to be seeing it for the rest of the golf season,” he says. Extended growing seasons such as the one experienced because of a warm December 2015 can further confound superintendents, says Syngenta territory manager Doug Rider, a former Philadelphia-area superintendent who covers the Eastern Shore for the company.

A penchant for boosting efficiency and maximizing resources, traits instilled in him by his agronomic mentors Weitzel and Pennsylvania superintendent John Erickson, pushed Moyer toward tweaking the program for 2016. Instead of spraying in 21-day intervals, Moyer is spraying in 14-day intervals at lower rates. The revamped program started in April. “It was actually cheaper for me to go on the 14-day rather than the 21-day program,” he says. Bear Trap Dunes’ past issues with dollar spot stem from incidences on fairways, but Moyer also sprays Secure on greens and tees. “We treat greens, tees and fairways the same way,” he says. “I’m not going to take chances seeing it on greens.” Anthracnose on greens joins dollar spot on fairways as the biggest disease concerns on the Eastern Shore, Agnew says. Moyer controls preventatively for anthracnose by using Daconil Action and Velista in his rotation.

The annual bluegrass weevil also presents major challenges on the Eastern Shore, but a dearth of tree-lined holes and abundance of bentgrass places Moyer in the monitoring stages. “I come from a Poa annua course where we did have a lot of ABW activity in New Jersey,” he says. “I still keep in touch with what guys are seeing and what they are doing spray-wise, but I don’t have a program here currently to control it. If we started seeing damage beyond the threshold we can tolerate, we would quickly change our tune.”

A reliable spray program allows superintendent Mike Moyer to devote more attention to the bunkers and natural areas that give parts of Bear Trap Dunes a links-style feel.
© mike moyer

Working at a rapid pace on a third golf course in six years can be unsettling, so relationships help Moyer enhance every aspect of Bear Trap Dunes. Longtime Bayside Resort superintendent Eric Hindes and The Bay Club’s Shaun Flaherty work for the same company as Moyer, and the trio openly shares ideas and equipment. Superintendents at the Troon-managed courses on the Eastern Shore also receive opportunities to attend workshops conducted by industry partners such as Syngenta. Moyer tweaked his 2016 spray program after studying Syngenta’s recommendations for his region and multiple discussions with Rider, who offered guidance on using the company’s online rebate-calculating tools. Agnew also provides regular technical assistance for courses on the Eastern Shore. “They have both been great resources to me being newer to the area than some of the other superintendents around here,” Moyer says.

Still, even with a spray program solidified, uncontrollable application challenges exist, primarily in the form of wind. Like any superintendent on the East Coast, Moyer must demonstrate flexibility, because spraying at the wrong time could result in product drifting from its intended target. The start of 2016 proved confounding because high winds emerged on days it didn’t rain. “You always have one eye on the forecast and what the winds are supposed to be, just trying to pick and choose the best times,” Moyer says. “We have sprayed later in days because the winds have died down. It’s being flexible and being adaptable and not just saying, ‘Oh, it’s greens day and we are going out regardless.’”

Moyer calls dollar spot “the historic pest” at Bear Trap Dunes. Using Secure as a rotational partner with Daconil Action helps prevent the disease and preserve the course’s tidy look.
© mike moyer

It’s no surprise Moyer has evolved into a flexible superintendent. Moyer graduated from Millersville (Pa.) University with a history degree and settled into a job as a social worker. Looking to make a career change, he received an opportunity in 2007 to work for Erickson at Honey Run Golf Club in York, Pa. He then landed a job in 2010 working for Weitzel at Seaview Resort. Online studying and continuing education programs helped Moyer develop an agronomic base, but he attributes his management style to lessons gleaned from Erickson and Weitzel.

“They instilled the importance of just keeping your eyes on your grass and being hands on,” Moyer says. “I haven’t had the luxury of having very large crews anywhere I have been. It’s that work ethic, even if you don’t have enough guys on your crew to get something done, it still needs to get done, and not being afraid of hopping on a mower, changing cups or those sort of things.”

Or rebuilding bunkers. On the rare occasions when there’s no need to mow, irrigate and spray turf, Moyer and his crew are renovating bunkers and adding drainage. Both projects are being completed in-house. Thirty-four of Bear Trap Dunes’ 97 primary bunkers still need renovated, and expect Moyer to spend time in each one alongside his winter crew.

“These guys have so many challenges and you only visit them so many times throughout the year,” Rider says. “You see them working on one thing one visit, and you see them a month later and they have moved onto the next challenge. I was a superintendent once, and these guys are a resilient bunch and out of anybody on the property, they know how to work very well with that they are given. They are very creative.”

June 2016
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