Electing to be different at elevation
Photo courtesy of Troon

Electing to be different at elevation

Director of agronomy Pat Christoffer uses unconventional practices to keep Utah’s Red Ledges in splendid shape.

September 18, 2019

Red Ledges director of agronomy Pat Christoffer is an outside-the-box thinker. Cultivating bentgrass fairways and A1 bentgrass greens in Heber City, Utah – one of the highest and driest regions of the United States – has forced the 20-year golf industry veteran to employ maintenance practices that most would never think of. By implementing a “limited disruption concept,” Christoffer has found a balance between playability and the environment that are sustainable for the mountain community’s 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and 12-hole, par-3 Jack Nicklaus Golf Park. 
“Since the day we built Red Ledges, 12 years ago, we have never hollow core aerated our greens, never,” Christoffer says. “I believe we are the first club in the world to implement this type of limited disruption concept from day one on newly built USGA golf greens.”
Red Ledges greens are as firm, true, Poa annua-free and healthy as the day they were built. Christoffer’s out-of-the-ordinary maintenance approach on the greens requires its share of tradeoffs. 
“The trick is once you eliminate hollow core aeration, you lose a powerful mechanical tool to remove thatch accumulation,” Christoffer says. “To manage the thatch in other ways, we apply frequent, light topdressings, but more importantly we monitor fertilizer input to avoid producing thatch faster than it is broken down by microbes and diluted with sand.”  
Red Ledges has also eliminated the use of synthetic foliar nitrogen on greens, choosing instead to use primarily organic, locally sourced nitrogen and encourage conditions to promote mineralization of the existing nitrogen in the soil. 
“Our minimalist goals have also allowed Red Ledges to very sparingly apply nitrogen fertilizer to our creeping bentgrass fairways,” Christoffer says. “We’re applying only about 10 percent of the nitrogen fertilizer that other golf courses are putting on their fairways annually, while still delivering perfect playing surfaces for members and guests.”  
Located in the Heber Valley on the eastern edge of the Wasatch Mountains, Heber City and Red Ledges receive less than 16 inches of precipitation annually. Working in concert with Mother Nature is a vital part of Christoffer’s job. 
“We pay attention to what Mother Nature is doing as she has more experience managing turfgrass than any of us,” Christoffer says. “Fundamentally, nothing we do at Red Ledges is more important than the application of irrigation water. That is why Red Ledges has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into making the most efficient irrigation system in Utah even better. We’ve added micro-irrigation, installed moisture sensing technology, utilize drone photography and continually audit the entire irrigation system for efficiency.”  
By taking a natural and eloquent approach, while utilizing a mix of science, technology, Mother Nature and good old-fashioned hard work, the Red Ledges agronomy team is recognized as one of the most innovative and successful turf maintenance teams in the West.
Rob Myers is an Arizona-based writer. 
CLICK HERE to listen to a podcast Golf Course Industry recorded with Pat Christoffer last year.