Rising to the challenge

Rising to the challenge

Typically, moderate temperatures and timely rains help golf courses come to championship conditions very quickly in the spring. Then last summer June and July came. Superintendent Ryan Cummings quickly realized this was going to be a season like no other he'd experienced.

February 21, 2011

Editor's Note:
GCI's January cover story "After a perfect storm" shared the stories from industry bloggers on how they coped with Summer 2010 and the important lessons they learned. We were extremely fortunate to have a surplus of superintendent contributions for this story that we regret we couldn't include in the print edition. However, we intend to share these compelling accounts with you. Here is one such contribution.

The summer of 2010 was a uniquely tough year for our club and me personally.  I learned a lot about myself and my abilities as a golf course superintendent.  What shined through all of the challenges and long days with a hose in my hand was being thankful for an understanding membership, a sense of brotherhood with my peers, a loving and supportive wife and family and a crew that would never give up in their efforts to execute our plans.

Our summer in Plymouth, Ind., started out nicely.  With our tight budgetary constraints, I was pleased that we didn’t have major repairs or chemical applications to apply coming out of winter.  Moderate temperatures and timely rains helped our golf course come to championship conditions very quickly in the spring.  Then June and July came.  My former assistant took a much deserved superintendent’s job down the road from me, and we received over 12 inches of rain in that period.  Pythium and brown patch became a problem on my fairways and tees, and my chemical budget was reaching its peak with half the season left.  As my wife can tell you, I lost what little hair I had left on my head figuring out how to manage the unique challenges in front of me.
I quickly realized that this was a season that I had never experienced.  My normal maintenance plans would need changes for our golf course to survive.  I also needed to communicate with the membership how the weather is affecting my efforts in course conditioning. 

First off, I had a new assistant to train.  Luckily for me, I had an individual on the current crew that was ready for this challenge.  He was proficient in executing the tasks I assigned and impressed me with his work ethic.  While he still needs some education on the why’s of our daily activities, his efforts helped me get through the “Summer of Hell.”
The club had purchased a Tru-Turf roller that spring that was instrumental in survival.  Instead of mowing greens daily at .120” and rolling 3 days a week, I alternated mowing and rolling.  On slower days at the club, I rolled only to reduce wear on the turf.  On more popular days, I mowed and rolled.  Clean-up laps were performed every other time I mowed to reduce the wear on those areas. 

With this method, the greens were the best areas of the course, but obviously inconsistent in speed.  I wrote a letter to the membership explaining what we were doing and explained the effects, and for the most part, the letter was well received within the membership.  The letter utilized a couple of USGA articles that, in my opinion, were critical in proving my point.  I would suggest including research or articles if you ever need to communicate issues on your course.  They go a long way!

My plan of attack on diseases had to change as well.  In reading research and talking to a couple of close peers in the industry, I changed preventative applications from traditional fungicides to phosphite products.  Being more expensive, I saved my traditional fungicides for curative applications during times of disease outbreak.  The new method worked great for the golf course and its problem areas, and I was still able to break even with my chemical budget. 

Through all of the struggles I told you about above (and a few more that I didn’t have room for), we survived.  The membership appreciated the course, our efforts and communication.  But through it all, I learned to better trust in myself.  We are trained and educated for making it through this type of season. 

I am proud to call myself a golf course superintendent and not even Mother Nature’s worst can change that!

About the author
Ryan Cummings is grounds superintendent at Plymouth Country Club in Plymouth, Ind. Check out his blog, Just Living the Dream: Updates on the Plymouth Country Club golf course and information on the practices of its maintenance department.