Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Do You Do In The Winter? Part 1

Many golfers view the golf season in Wisconsin as beginning just before Memorial Day and ending soon after Labor Day. A few hearty souls are willing to brave the cold and extend the season from April to November. Rarely are we able to play meaningful golf beyond these times. Due to the seasonal nature of golf in Wisconsin, many in the golf industry are often asked the question, "So, what do you do all winter?" This question has been answered many ways by many different people. Perhaps my favorite answer has been provided by a veteran superintendent, who after growing tired of the question, simply replies, "Nothing."

While it is true that the grass no longer needs mowing as winter approaches and staff is reduced to minimal levels, there is certainly much to get done. In fact, after most golfers have left the course, much work remains before frost enters the ground and heavy snows make the course impassible. If you haven't already, take some time to review some of the earlier blog entries which highlight some of the golf course staff's late fall projects which usually don't end until mid-December.
When winter finally arrives, a large portion of the staff's talents are utilized in the area of equipment maintenance. Equipment maintenance can be broken down into two main categories, machine maintenance and cutting unit maintenance.

Well-maintained machinery is cornerstone to maintaining a golf course in top condition. The golf maintenance operation is responsible for maintaining 27 holes in superb condition on daily basis. In order to ensure that each individual piece of equipment is functioning its best each time it leaves the shop, our equipment technician must thoroughly inspect and service each all equipment multiple times throughout the year. Winter affords us the greatest opportunity to make the most comprehensive inspection which includes troubleshooting any malfunctions, ordering the necessary parts, changing all the required fluids, and performing all the necessary lubrications. This is no small order as some pieces of equipment possess engines as sophisticated as a new car and far exceed a new car's purchasing price. This task increases in scope when one considers that the core of our equipment fleet consists of 6 tractors, 6 fairway mowers, 2 rough mowers, 15 walking green and tee mowers, 10 riding green mowers, 4 sprayers, 20 golf carts, 12 heavy-duty utility vehicles and many more smaller mowers and hand held equipment such as weed whackers. Even more daunting is the fact that the equipment varies in age from 35 years old to only a year old. It goes without saying that finding a replacement clutch for a 1986 club car golf cart that was discontinued in 1993 can quickly become a time consuming headache.
Equal in importance to machine maintenance is cutting unit maintenance. NSCC employs two types of mowers to groom the course's turf. Rotary mowers, the type of mower that most of us are familiar with from our home lawns, are found on NSCC's larger rough mowers and walk-behind mowers which are used to trim around bunkers and the clubhouse lawn. These mowers are relatively easy to maintain and sharpen. The second type of mower, a reel mower, is used to trim the tightly mowed greens, tees, and fairways. These mowers are found in single reel walk behind units such as our greens mowers, as well as riding units which are comprised of between 3 and 5 reels. These mowers provide the single greatest mechanical component to turfgrass health and quality and are much more compex in their maintenance. Reel mowers are infinitely adjustable in relation to mowing height of the turfgrass. Throughout the course of the season, the height of cut can be raised and lowered depending on environmental and green speed expectations. The mowing height of greens typically remains at between 1/8 to 1/10 of an inch during the peak golf season on bentgrass putting greens. In fact, it is not uncommon for our reel technician to adjust or "tweak" the mowing height only .05" to obtain the desired affect on ball roll speed. In order to better visualize the height of cut on a putting green one must picture the thickness of two pennies stacked on top of one another.
In addition to properly setting the height of cut, our reel technician must verify that each reel maintains a sharp cutting surface. When turfgrass is cut with a dull blade or reel, the grass blade is ripped instead of cleanly cut. Torn grass blades not only give the turf a brown tinge, but also open the turf to fungal infection. Over the course of the winter each of the 105 cutting units at NSCC is thoroughly inspected and sharpened. Our reel technician uses a computerized grinder to guarantee that each reel meets our rigid stantdards. When maintaining turf at these extremely low mowing heights, it is imperative that a highly qualified technician check both the height of cut and quality of cut on a daily basis to ensure the highest quality putting surface possible.

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