What we do

Chris Tritabaugh
6 min readDec 15, 2022

The four previous posts in this series have asked is that disruption?, are our golfers right, when they complain about disruption, the evidence the data provides on the need for disruption and finally how I believe we have allowed our quest for progress to keep us from really knowing what is necessary. My final post is going to attempt to wrap it all up, by taking a look at what we do here at Hazeltine.

I do not want anyone reading this to confuse what we do with what you should do. We will all have played on many different golf courses, some getting great results by doing little, some getting great results by doing a lot. What I hope these posts will have done for anyone, is to stimulate thinking about what it is you are doing to the golf course, whether that work is achieving your goals and the desires your golfers have for the course, and in the end, making sure you know, with certainty, the disruptive work you might be doing is absolutely necessary.

Here’s what the 2022 golf season looked like at Hazeltine:

In early November of 2021, we applied 2.5 mm of sand to the greens. This is a pretty healthy amount of sand; I would say our surfaces are buried, ahead of winter. The amount of sand is informed by our #OM246 testing, with a goal of keeping a stable OM percentage in the top 2 cm.

On May 2nd, we applied another 0.6mm of topdressing sand. This application was black colored sand, aimed at attracting heat and stimulating spring growth. This brought our total application of sand to 3.1mm. This would be the last topdressing sand applied to the greens until the course closed in November 2022.

During the course of the summer, the only disruptive practice performed to the putting surfaces was four consecutive days of brooming and mowing in August. No topdressing, or aerifying of any kind was performed during the 2022 golf season. Conventional wisdom would say that without these “important” cultural practices being performed, our surfaces may become compacted, lack oxygen and potentially suffer from an increase in organic matter. None of these results were seen during the 2022 golf season.

Once the weather warmed, every day until the course closed featured perfect putting conditions. Our members never had to wonder if there had been some kind of practice performed on the greens that was going to limit their enjoyment. At the end of the season, the members were effusive in their praise of the consistent conditions.

2022 was the third straight summer in which we have applied no, what I would call, regularly scheduled topdressing. I believe it is not a coincidence that during this period, we have experienced zero summer decline. Not only this, but I have become completely comfortable in the knowledge, I do not have to limit daily mowing or rolling, in order to stave off summer decline. There is no doubt in my mind, the constant presence of sand at, or near the surface has a negative influence on surface quality and consistency.

If you are still reading, you are probably saying; “yeah, but you cannot keep that up over time; eventually, it is going to catch up to you.” This is where data becomes important. Not just data today, or this week, or this month, but data over time, year after year data.

The chart above shows greenspeed, for the past four seasons as a seven-day moving average. 2019 (gold) is the first year I took daily greenspeed measurements. It is also the last year I topdressed putting surfaces in-season. The data started in late-June and you can see a lack of consistency throughout. 2020 (green), was the first year of no in-season topdressing. In 2020, I was reacting to past summer decline and did more limiting of mowing and rolling at stressful times. The resulting lack of consistency can be seen during the summer months. In 2021 (red) and 2022 (blue), I realized that without the constant presence of sand near the surface, limiting these practices was not necessary and thus the consistency increased. The exception in 2021 being an August aerification that healed slowly and kept us from producing the late-summer and fall consistency of 2020 and 2022.

Aside from discussions on consistency, annual data like this shows there are patterns inherent to our location and weather. For example: no matter what we do coming out of winter, it takes some amount of time for the turf to support championship-level greenspeed. In 2021, we had an earlier spring, 2022 was a later start. Regardless, it takes until about June 1 until the condition of our surfaces really takes off.

The next chart shows a time series of our OM246 test results. I pull these samples in October, before any pre-winter topdressing is applied. The 0 to 2 cm results are what we are concentrating on, because it is where the ball reacts with the putting surface. The rise from 4.9% (Oct 2021) to 5.2% ( Oct 2022) in the top 2 cm is not surprising, given the amount of sand applied and the lack of aerification; it is also miniscule and not overly concerning. In his OM246 report, Dr. Micah Woods summarizes in this way:

The results are consistent with past years. I’m looking at the 4.9% OM2 from autumn of 2021 and the 5.2% OM2 of October 2022 and thinking that is a small and unsurprising increase. I am also looking at the combined 0 to 6 cm depth that was 2.9% in 2021 and 3% now, thinking that is a small increase. Compared to some other courses with bentgrass or bent/Poa greens that I have data for, the changes at HNGC are tiny. Perhaps it’s better to phrase this as the HNGC results stand out for their consistency and relative stability around the same number.

Still, as we look at the time series, from May 2019 to now, there has been a 1% increase; again, not surprising, nor especially concerning. Given these results, our plan for 2023, is to topdress in the same manner at 2022, but to add an aerification event in August.

As the golf course management industry has advanced, playing conditions have become better and better and more and more consistent. No doubt improved maintenance practices have driven such advancement. My concern is that somewhere in the rearview mirror, is the point of diminishing returns for said maintenance practices. We have kept adding maintenance practices, disrupting surfaces on more and more days of the golf season, all in the name of better conditions. Is this really providing a better experience for our golfers?

I am not telling you, you should not aerify. Nor am I telling you, you should not topdress. What I am suggesting is that with careful analysis, and data driven decision making, you can probably reduce both, without a negative impact to course conditions. For those reading, it may be natural to think the way we have been maintaining the putting greens may work for a season, or two, but it cannot be sustainable over the long term. I myself would have thought the same, not more than five years ago. It turns out by measuring playability and keeping abreast of any change in the OM at the 0–2 cm depth, we can find a sweet spot and know exactly what maintenance practices are and are not necessary. Of course the end result is something we all want, happier golfers.

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Chris Tritabaugh

Husband, dad and Golf Course Supt | 👀 to help & be inspired by others, while also inspiring & learning from them | I ply my trade and hone my craft @Hazeltine