At some point in your tenure as a golf course superintendent you have had an employee tell you they cannot see the lines, especially if mowing with little or no dew present. Perhaps you have relented and turned on irrigation to help, or if you are a smart aleck like me, you tell them to use The Force.
When Sherriff Justice was in hot pursuit of Burt Reynolds’ Bo Darville (showing my age here), he waxed poetic to his son Junior about having a sixth sense. Of course, Junior, not fully understanding what his father was trying to explain, said he would rather have a dime.
It has been 35 years since I last strapped on a helmet and shoulder pads to play high school football. I grew up in rural southwestern Virginia. The Castlewood Blue Devils only won 12 games during my four years of varsity football. We were a small school, Class A with only 106 students in my graduating class of 1986 and fewer than 400 students combined in grades 10-12.
But I learned many lessons during my time participating in the greatest of extracurricular activities. The value of teamwork, trust and hard work, and to never give up and always fight to the end regardless of the score. And I learned to be a good sport, because we did not get many chances to win gracefully.
Another thing I learned and have used throughout my career is to constantly be aware of my surroundings, similar to using The Force. I was small and had quick reflexes despite my lack of speed. I played outside linebacker before “bulking up” to 185 pounds and moving to inside linebacker my senior year.
If Coach Larry Short yelled at me once, he yelled at me 1,000 times to keep my head on a swivel! He was one of my favorite high school teachers because he taught math, and he was the linebackers and offensive line coach at Castlewood. Every time in practice when pursuing the ball carrier on a toss sweep, Coach Short would yell those words to remind me to check the receiver for a crack-back block. You could do that in my day — and he did not want me to get blindsided.
Over the past 20 summers, I have been privileged to care for two golf courses and I always thought it is my responsibility to know my environment better than anyone. The ability to recognize a “disturbance in The Force” or see something is out of place or out of the ordinary has served me well.
It can be as simple as recognizing the cart paths are dry when you scheduled an irrigation cycle. Other times it can be more subtle, the presence or absence of a sound or smell. But knowing something is amiss can help prevent issues from becoming major problems.
Recently, I encountered a strange issue one Friday morning. I came in early to mow our practice range tees before the team arrived. Yes, I was still in the saddle. We were short-handed and I wanted to make sure we were able to mow all fairways without getting caught up in play. I had scheduled an overnight irrigation cycle with the greens stopping at 6 a.m.
While mowing around the practice green, I realized the sprinklers were not running. As I made my way to the first hole to meet the rest of the team, I also noticed the cart path was dry on the first and second holes, but I know the path was wet when I transported from the shop to the practice tee. When we reached the fourth hole, I confirmed the path was wet, so some irrigation ran overnight. I now had to figure out where it did and where it did not … and why.
I continued to recognize other wet and dry areas throughout my morning until I pieced together what the dry areas shared in common. The power for those field controllers came from a breaker panel near the club’s main entrance and the breaker was tripped. Now I knew exactly which greens received irrigation and which ones did not, meaning I knew where to focus our attention that afternoon as the mercury climbed.
You should have seen the look on my assistants’ faces when I gave them the news. That is when I realized, perhaps, this skill is not easily acquired. I don’t plan to yell at them from the sidelines, but if they plan to be successful golf course managers, becoming one with the environment will serve them well into their future.