Are they right?
“Just when they were getting good, he ruined them again.” Have you heard it before? I’m certain all golf course superintendents have heard it many times.
“We are just making them better for tomorrow. If we don’t do this, then you won’t consistently get the product you like.” Hand up, if you’ve responded with something like this? My hand is up; there’s no doubt I’ve defended disruption to members with a similar response.
There was a time when I thought regular disruptive practices were necessary in creating the very best golf course turf. As my career went from assistant golf course superintendent, to rookie golf course superintendent, to someone with a decade and a half of superintendent experience, three things changed my mind.
Number 1: Golfers hate disruption! No matter how much we as golf course superintendents preach the necessity and the benefits of disruption, golfers still hate it. Some golfers will complain vociferously, while others will complain in the more quiet corners of the clubhouse. Disrupt the surfaces enough, and no matter how good they are in between, you may find the support of even your biggest backers starting to wane. After years of hearing “he’s ruining them again!” I started to ask myself, are they right?
Number 2: I hate disruption! I wrote pages about the “Disturbance Theory” in my early days as a golf course superintendent at Northland Country Club. In those days, it was all about trying to gain, or keep bentgrass. The thing is, I don’t just hate disruption because doing it less is better for bentgrass, I hate it because it’s a pain in the ass. Beyond the satisfaction of rubbing my hand over dried topdressing, there is nothing I love about purposely disrupting golf course turf. I would much rather keep and maintain the very best golf course, each and every day, than to disrupt the surfaces on some regular basis.
Number 3: Data! The data I’ve been keeping for the last number of years does not back up the need to disrupt our surfaces. Here’s what the data does back up; when a surface is disrupted, no matter how much we as superintendent might think it’s minimal, the quality of the surface is diminished, even if for a day. The ball does not lie!
I was once of the mindset going into a golf season; this is all the maintenance I need to get done to make sure the course plays it’s very best. The golfer gets what’s left over. Of course I didn’t state this publicly, but in my mind, this is how I thought a golf course needed to be maintained; maintenance first, golf second.
A few years ago, I had a revelation that changed my thinking and in time, changed the way I’ve maintained the golf course.
My revelation started at a green committee meeting to recap the 2016 golf season. It was a season that had been a good one; with a pretty successful hosting of the Ryder Cup, albeit one that had caused a lot of disruption to golf. During the discussion, one member spoke up and said he thought the greens were too inconsistent. Through gritted teeth, I asked if he could elaborate; “what about them was inconsistent?” He hemmed and hawed a bit before finally saying: “it’s the sand.” Now that we’d gotten to the bottom of it, he elaborated.
Paraphrasing his response: “I will play on a Friday and the greens are great. Then I’ll have guests coming out the next Tuesday, or Wednesday, I will tell them how great the greens were on Friday. I’ll be excited to show off the course and they are excited to experience it. Then, without warning you will have topdressed and the greens myself and my guests expected are nowhere near the same as last Friday. It’s disappointing and embarrassing to have told my guests how good the greens were and then have them be sub-standard.”
Initially, these comments made me a little mad and a lot disheartened. “Don’t they understand these things need to be done to make the course better?” In my mind, the ends of topdressing, always justified the means. Luckily the meeting took place at the end of the golf season, so I had all winter to think about it. As time went on, I started to look at it from the point of view of the member. It would be disappointing to play on great greens, expect it and then not get it a few days later. Over the years, I’ve also learned that when a member says they were embarrassed by something on the golf course, it is in my best interest to try and fix it. The more I rolled it around in my head, the more I realized I needed to find a way to reduce the inconsistency caused by “necessary” maintenance.
Are they right? Is the maintenance we’ve always deemed necessary ruining the course?
Post 3…What’s the data say?