On a road to nowhere

By |  July 18, 2018 0 Comments
Golf cart stuck on dirt mound

“Chinch bugs, manganese… a lot of people don’t even know what that is…”

50 Cent’s “In Da Club” was the top song, “Chicago” won best picture (gross), Saturn sold 271,000 cars. Johnny Depp was super dreamy, and no one really seemed to care about bees. It all happened in 2003.

I entered the 2003 golf season with one year of full-time employment under my belt at Rush Creek Golf Club in Maple Grove, Minn. I was the second assistant/spray tech/irrigation tech. The title didn’t matter (and still doesn’t). I graduated from Kansas State University the previous spring and was excited to be in the field I spent four years studying in school.

I’ve had three other positions in the turfgrass industry since 2003 — head of grounds for a school district, sales rep for PBI-Gordon and research scientist at the University of Minnesota. Now I’m back at Rush Creek as assistant superintendent.

It’s interesting to look back 15 years and evaluate how I manage grass now versus then. Many things have changed in 15 years: products, equipment, research, education and, of course, social media. All of this has shaped and will continue to shape how I manage grass.

I’m not saying the management practices in this article are correct. This is just my story of change over 15 years — in my way of thinking and management style.

So let’s interview my 23-year-old self (only three years away from being a superintendent, I’m sure) and my 38-year-old self (only three years away from being a superintendent, I’m sure) to illustrate the differences between the two.

Matt Cavanaugh at 23 and 38

That’s me at age 23, when I rocked more and rolled less… and me at age 38, back at the same course but hopefully with more wisdom.

The specs at Rush Creek GC are these: It’s a public golf course with annual rounds of 28,000-32,000, 32 acres of Providence bentgrass fairways, 3.5 acres of A1/A4 bentgrass greens and 3 acres of Penncross bentgrass tees.

What is your greens fertility program?

23-year-old Matt: Oh, lots of granular on the shoulder seasons, with 16-4-8, some 10-18-22 at aerification in September and two applications of 12-40-0 in October before snow mold applications. Bi-weekly summer applications of three different liquid nitrogen sources at 0.10 lbs. N/M. Total nitrogen of 4.5 lbs. N/M, with 3.5 lbs. from a granular source.

38-year-old Matt: Sprayable ammonium sulfate in April and the first part of May. Middle of May through September with a single foliar nitrogen source at 0.10 lbs. N/M. Back to ammonium sulfate in October. Total nitrogen between 1.40 to 1.60 lbs. N/M.

Your thoughts on golfers and carts?

23-year-old Matt: I don’t think a golfer understands the function of reverse. They drive all over and you can’t control them.

38-year-old Matt: I drive a 300-gallon sprayer on the greens. Have at it.

How many times a week do you roll greens?

23-year-old Matt: Maybe once. We usually just do it on the day of an event.

38-year-old Matt: Six days a week. We don’t roll on Monday.

Where do you use wetting agents?

23-year-old Matt: What?

38-year-old Matt: Greens and tees. Nothing on the fairways.

What is your aerification approach on greens?

23-year-old Matt: Pull 5/8-inch cores on 2-inch by 2-inch spacing in April and Labor Day. Fill with sand.

38-year-old Matt: Five mil needle tines every three weeks throughout the season, with a triple roll following to prevent any issues with play. Fall deep tine with half-inch solids at 8 inches depth just before first snow. No roll after.

What is your fertility program on your fairways?

23-year-old Matt: Four applications of a granular 16-4-8 at 0.60 lbs. N/M and one application of a granular 23-0-23 at 1.0 lbs./M. Total nitrogen application of 3.4 lbs. N/M/year.

38-year-old Matt: Sprayable 46-0-0 at rates of 0.10 to 0.20 lbs. N/M roughly 14 to 21 days apart from May to September. Use sprayable ammonium sulfate on the shoulder seasons of April/early May and October at 0.10 to 0.15 lbs. N/M. Total nitrogen application of 1.20 to 1.40 lbs. N/M/year.

What is your soil testing approach for the greens?

23-year-old Matt: Full workup with the BCSR approach. Follow recommendations from the soil test. Soil testing has indicated that we need to add magnesium, potassium, iron, manganese and boron. My copper levels are right where they need to be. (38-year-old Matt: Oh, goodie).

38-year-old Matt: Check a few greens each year to get a baseline for the MLSN method. Don’t worry about the rest of it.

How do you monitor soil moisture in the greens?

23-year-old Matt: We use soil probes every morning during setup to determine if we need to do any hand watering.

38-year-old Matt: We use the TDR 300 during setup each morning to determine if we need to hand water. I sometimes use the soil probe to see if I still have the touch.

Your thoughts on hours you put in on the golf course?

23-year-old Matt: I’ll stay until the job gets done.

38-year-old Matt: I work very hard, but when I have my eight-hour day in, I’m heading home.

And now a word from Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs said, “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So, they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.”

Wow, I can relate to that. For many of us, being on the golf course is the only job we’ve had in our adult life. It’s easy to lose perspective on something we’ve never changed.

I made the best decision of my life when I took a sales role within the industry. It provided the opportunity to see what others were doing (good and bad) from a turfgrass management standpoint and allowed me to talk with professionals who are a lot smarter than me.

Regarding the questions above, my changes didn’t come from technology or other industry innovations. My changes came from different perspectives I’ve gained over the years. I’m not saying a change of positions is required, but it made me look at things differently.

Metallica is my band of choice, and I went to one of their concerts in 2016. During the song “Creeping Death,” I looked around to see 60,000 people with their fists in the air yelling “Die, die, die, die!” Right then, I went through another perspective change in my life. I still like Metallica, but I don’t need to go to a concert and scream “Die!” again.

Guess I’ve aged out. Speaking of age, like 50 Cent, say, “We can party like it’s your birthday” 15 more times and I’ll be back for an update.

Photos courtesy of: Stock.com/GregC (1); Matt Cavanaugh

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