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Course management doesn’t stop in COVID-19

By |  May 1, 2020 0 Comments

COVID-19 has changed some aspects of the game of golf. But, the consensus among superintendents during Golfdom’s webinar “Tech Talks, Episode 1: Dealing with weeds/diseases in a pandemic,” sponsored by FMC Professional Solutions, is the course does not take a break.

“The living beast does not rest regardless of a virus,” said Alex Stuedemann, CGCS, director of golf course maintenance operations, TPC Deere Run in East Moline, Ill.

Andy Eick, director of facilities and agronomy, Mohawk Golf Club, Schenectady, N.Y., said his area has been up and down with cold weather. So, it’s made the management of his course interesting.

“I’m using a combination of cold weather and PGRs keep the turf under control,” he said.

TPC Deere Run in East Moline, Ill., is set to host the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic July 6-12. Stuedemann said his course has a freeze on spending on their capital budget. But, in preparing for a PGA Tour event, he and his team have had to take a close look at their budget. Their priority is to have a great experience for the players but their management priorities may change.

“We’re focusing inside the ropes,” he said. “We’re still going to provide a great tournament for the players. We realized those details that would drive us crazy, we would have to let go.”

And there’s a balance, he said, between effective turf management and being budget-conscious.

“We’re not letting go of agronomics, but we need to make smart choices for the plant and not be compromised by the fungicide,” Stuedemann said.

Dan Brooks, superintendent of Panther Run Golf Club, Ave Maria, Fla., said he had been experiencing some issues with goosegrass.

“Goosegrass is always going to be an issue in Florida,” said Ken Hutto, Ph. D, product development manager for herbicides and fungicides with FMC Global Specialty Solutions. “In Florida, it almost asks like a perennial because it’s always there.”

For Alan FitzGerald, superintendent of LedgeRock GC in Mohnton, Penn., after a warm March, colder temperatures hit this spring and his area has been hit with frost or hints of frost for two weeks.

“Disease pressure right now is nothing,” he said.

FitzGerald said he does like to apply a pre-inoculum treatment for dollar spot at the beginning of the season and he anticipates applying his treatment in the next week. His soil temperatures are a lot lower than usual going into May.

Hutto advised that staying proactive when it comes to disease management will help superintendents, especially if superintendents are working with reduced staff. Hutto suggests using Fame and then Rayora, which has some root foliar activity. Rayora also has good soil half-life.

“The more effective you can be early,” Hutto said. “The better it sets you up as the year progresses.”

Tina Bond, DPM, technical service manager with FMC Global Specialty Solutions shared with the attendees that FMC is conducting a study with NXT herbicide and kyllinga and they’re excited to see the results.


COVID-19 and golf courses

During the webinar, superintendents on the call also shared how things have changed at their course during COVID-19.

FitzGerald said the pandemic hit before his course brought back their seasonal staff. The course is going to stay lean and tighten up some areas. But, he’s saved about $35,000 in April alone by not bringing the seasonal staff in.

Eick said he’s pushed projects off to 2021. The course had planned to naturalize some areas, do some tee work, and more but that’s on hold.

“I’m looking at my budget to see where I can cut costs,” he said.

Panther Run GC is members-only for play. Brooks said courses in the area had an issue with golfers from the East Coast who had come in to play. As an age 55-and-older community, members at Panther Run GC are in a high-risk demographic. He expects there could be some lost revenue without outside play, but it’s business as usual as far as course maintenance.

FitzGerald, Golfdom’s 2019 Herb Graffis Businessperson of the Year award winner and now a columnist for the magazine, wondered aloud how accepting members would be if maintenance priorities and standards shift to be more budget-conscious. Only time will tell.


Getting personal

Bond said this is a time to “be innovative” and Hutto said he’s heartened by how the community is coming together to support one another.

Brooks said it’s time for superintendents to step up and lead their staff and communicate with their team.

“(The pandemic) has shifted the focus on just the maintenance of the golf course and watching the numbers to making sure everyone is safe out there,” he said.

FitzGerald said it had been nice to go to work, but also to clock in and clock out on a regular schedule.

“The weirdest part is getting home and it isn’t bedtime,” he said.

Stuedemann said spending more time with family has put COVID-19 into perspective.

“It’s a bump in the road. It’s going to challenge us,” he said, “We’re going to be a heck of a lot better for it coming out of it.”

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