Maintenance to a tee (Course maintenance)

Superintendents stress the importance of well-maintained and designed tee boxes

September 5, 2006

During a round of golf, a player has one spot on a course where he has some control of his next shot – that’s the tee box. Much like a billiard player who has the cue ball in hand, a golfer can decide where he wants to hit the next shot from within the limits of tee markers. A golfer can place his ball on a tee at whatever height he wishes and concentrate on aligning himself on a level plot of land to hit that most important first shot of the hole.

While a golf course might encompass more than 100 hundred acres of land, a superintendent knows every player is going to be playing on tee boxes. Greens receive much attention, yet the smaller tee complexes can be overlooked easily. These areas need a lot of attention maintenancewise because they receive a lot of foot traffic and scrutiny from players.

It’s important to develop a systematic maintenance program for tee complexes to promote healthy turf that heals quickly from divots and compaction. Superintendents strive to create an excellent surface that will leave a positive impression on golfers.

Years ago, tee complexes were small; but increased play, equipment technology and golfers’ varying abilities contributed to the need for bigger tee complexes. Additional tees make a golf course playable for all golfers and provide enough space to allow the turf to heal while still being playable for others. Many older courses are adding more tee boxes to accommodate today’s longer game, which leads to more consideration about how to set up a comprehensive tee maintenance program.

One such course is the Gleneagles Golf Course at the Equinox Resort in Manchester, Vt. This classic course, designed by Walter Travis, was built in 1925. Rees Jones remodeled it in 1994 and added several new tee boxes; however, many of the older tee boxes were kept, leaving an interesting mix of old and new.

“I have some tee boxes that are as small as 230 square feet and some runways that are as big as 3,000 square feet,” says golf course superintendent Tim Madden. “This forces me to use two hand mowers and a triplex mower to clean up the tees.”

Madden uses ryegrass to fill divots on the bentgrass/Poa annua tees because it grows quickly. As part of Madden’s maintenance program, he strives to mow tees three times a week, but the unpredictable New England weather makes adhering to a regular mowing schedule difficult.

“I believe in doing spot fertilization to stimulate new turf growth, but this is also weather dependent,” Madden says.

The development of a strong stand of turf on tees is necessary to handle foot traffic and promote rapid healing of divots. Managing irrigation, fertilization and mowing well can lead to quicker recovery of turf on tees.

A lasting impression
In Saucier, Miss., Grand Bear Golf Club, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course, generates about 25,000 rounds annually. Superintendent Allan Sullivan strives to maintain the tees on a regular schedule, which includes mowing the tees four times a week at 0.45 of an inch and spot fertilizing biweekly.

“We move the tee blocks every day and fill the divots daily as well,” Sullivan says. “We have three tee boxes at each hole, and usually one box is shared by two tee settings. We have enough room to move tees around so the grass can have the necessary time to heal.”

Because all golfers are going to be on the tees and greens during the course of play, Craig Pearson, golf course superintendent at the Golf Club at Whitehawk Ranch in Clio, Calif., has similar maintenance practices for greens and the tees.
Pearson has the luxury of a 22-man crew and can specify a crew that handles only the tee boxes and their setup. Pearson’s crew moves the tees and fills the divots daily. Pearson reminds the crew to pay close attention to the placement of the tees, creating the best alignment for playing each hole and to make sure the tee markers are inserted straight.

“The tee boxes should leave a lasting impression on the paying customer,” he says. “Right from the first tee, we want to establish a quality product golfers will remember. I make sure we move the tees around in a random pattern so the player won’t see the divots of the day before. This also gives the newly seeded divot areas a better chance to heal quickly.”

Pearson would rather have his crew repair the divots than provide sand and seed on the tees for the golfing public.

“I don’t expect our customers to do my job, and it seems that you get uneven results when divot repair is left up to the golfers,” he says. “By having my crew handle the job, I know they will fill them properly, so they will repair themselves evenly.”

Pearson uses a 50/50 mix of sand and peat with rye seed for divot repair and mows his tee boxes three to four times a week at one-half inch.

A blessing and a curse
While Whitehawk Ranch might have the advantage of a larger maintenance budget and larger crew, smaller public courses emphasize well-maintained tee boxes as well. In Waveland, Ind., Turkey Run Golf Course, which generates 8,000 rounds a year, features a tight 6,700-yard layout that plays through mature trees and rolling terrain. For most of the year, the maintenance crew consists of four employees. During the summer, they are helped by five or six seasonal employees. Jody Davis, owner, operator and superintendent of Turkey Run, understands the importance of tees and their maintenance.

“This course was built in 1971, and the tee boxes are huge runways that can be as long as 50 yards with four separate tees,” Davis says. “This was a blessing and a curse because we could always move tees around to let them heal, but the size made them time-consuming to maintain.”

A few years ago, Davis changed the configuration of the tees by adding shorter tees for women and seniors to make the course more attractive to them.

“I’ve changed the mowing pattern from doing the entire runway at once to creating four individually mowed tee areas,” he says. “This hasn’t reduced my work load, but I’ve had an increase in play on the course, which is very important to my bottom line.”

Davis maintains the tees similarly to the fairways with an occasional bit of extra fertilizer to stimulate growth. His big challenge begins during the summer months as warmer and more humid weather adds stress to the turf.

“During the spring, I mow the tees at five-eighths inch, and in the summer, I increase the mow height to three-quarters inch,” he says. “But for me the greens are still No. 1 and No. 1A on my maintenance schedule.”

Davis also tries to move the tees around to change the strategic play of the golf course. With many trees and doglegs, the setting of the tee markers can make a big difference.

“You can add a personal touch to the course just through the tee placement,” he says. “This is one area of the golf course where a superintendent can let his imagination and creativity take hold. By changing angles, adding landscaping or adding features to the tee area, you can make a statement that can last a lifetime.”

A dairy partner
Ron Gribble maintains two championship 18-hole courses at Red Hawk Resort in Spark, Nev. The courses receive above-average play, so Gribble has been looking for any edge to help promote rapid turf recovery on the tees and at the driving range. He joined forces with a regional dairy farmer who has become inspired to develop organic mixes for various uses.

“I have started to use a mix of compost, sand and ryegrass for turf repair and have seen results already,” Gribble says. “Our practice tee is used heavily. In the past, I would have to have players back on mats to let the turf heal. Since I started using the compost and sand mix, the turf has healed quicker, and I haven’t had to revert to the mats. We’re going to start using clippings from our golf courses to develop our own compost, which should offer even more specific nutrient enhancements.”

Sullivan and Madden are using plant growth regulators to help reduce mowing intervals, but in the drier West, superintendents use plant growth regulators sparingly. However, Sullivan, Madden, Davis, Pearson and Gribble all have made the commitment to keep tee boxes healthy and attractive, which pays off by receiving positive comments from golfers. GCN

Doug Saunders is a freelancer writer based in Truckee, Calif. He can be reached at