Managing golf courses are a challenge for even the most experienced operators. Golf courses are a unique business where an artificial outdoor playing environment has to blend with nature and appear as natural as possible. Designing a course that makes golfers feel they’re part of the landscape while focusing on lowering their score is no easy feat. Neither is maintaining the course and equipment to keep it in peak condition.
Golf course managers and maintainers require a tremendous amount of knowledge. To “keep the green,” these experienced professionals must know everything from chemicals to cart repair. They also have to be knowledgeable in integrated pest management, irrigation techniques and equipment maintenance. That’s a diverse spectrum to handle, but golf course maintenance gets done daily at thousands of courses across America.
Golf courses are far too complicated for single individuals to maintain. Larger facilities, such as championship 18-hole golf courses require a complete team to keep operations smooth and functional. Most players only see the front end of employees in the pro shop and catering to thirsty golfers waiting to tee on the next hole. They don’t see the support staff who start far before the first tee-off time and work hard to maintain the grounds, ponds, trees and golf course equipment.
General Golf Course Maintenance
There’s no such thing as a standard golf course. In fact, there are no two holes on any golf course that appear and play the same. Every part of the nation has unique golf facilities. They’re found everywhere from Alaska to Hawaii, and in climates from the wet Pacific Northwest to the dry Arizona desert. Perhaps the most famous American golf course is in Augusta, Ga., where the Masters Tournament is held every spring.
The Augusta Golf and Country Club is a stunningly beautiful site. It’s maintained in perfect condition by a silent and nearly invisible staff of greenskeepers and support personnel. Augusta may be the premium example of perfection, but the same general maintenance principles apply at every course.
There are two main components involved in golf course care. One part is maintaining the landscaping at a golf course. The other is servicing and maintaining the vast array of equipment it takes to keep up the landscaping itself. Turf, trees and water hazards all form an overall landscape theme. But it takes tractors, mowers and irrigation systems to keep a golf course green in pristine condition.
Environmental stewardship is forefront in every general golf course maintenance plan. Keeping a course in excellent playing condition requires a blend of minimal interference with nature and a maximum attention to minute details so the course appears as natural as possible. To most players, they never have a second thought about what it takes to maintain their playground.
They don’t realize that plants like turf grass, trees and flowers require chemical fertilizers and organic compost. The vast majority of golfers don’t consider that ponds need aerating and dredging to keep them pure. And players don’t understand that all the service equipment from movers to aerators require general maintenance like washing in contained stations so pollutants are captured, treated and recycled. This is all part of a general golf course maintenance plan.
Equipment washing stations, wash water recycling systems and soil and groundwater remediation systems form part of a professional maintenance program. There are controlled areas for fueling vehicles, specialized stations for washing carts and maintenance equipment as well as contained chemical mixing, loading and storage areas. Golf course chemicals can be highly hazardous if allowed to filter into the soil or groundwater. Professional course maintainers invest heavily in specialized waste management and washing equipment like chemical containment pads. It’s all part of maintaining the green.
Maintaining the Green on the Golf Course
Just as there are many different shapes to fairways, there are many different shades of green on the course. Maintaining the green on the golf course isn’t a haphazard affair. There’s a tremendous amount of knowledge and skill involved in keeping golf courses green and lush. It involves intricate familiarity with fertilizers and maintenance techniques that go far beyond what a homeowner has to keep their lawn healthy and their shrubs showy.
Golf course greenskeepers break their grounds into distinct segments. Each grounds component that contributes to an entire playing course has its own peculiarities and unique needs. Here is a general guide of what’s involved in maintaining the green in each segment.
Tees are the starting point for every golfer. It might be a short but intimidating par three or a long and involved par five. No matter what a golfer faces, it’s critical that their tee-off surface be flat, level and weed-free. Tees take a lot of beating where divots slash the turf and errant clubs beat the ground. Maintainers constantly fix gouges and dips, using specialized sand and repurposed sod. Most courses depend on durable bentgrass or ryegrass for tees. During the spring, turfkeepers mow tees higher than in summer and fall months. This promotes early root strengthening. Shady tee areas require more attention than sunnier spots, and this can involve specialized fertilizer mixes.
Fairways tend to undulate, curve and offer obstacles intended to frustrate the most patient player. However, that’s part of the master plan. Maintaining fairways to play at “summer rules” at all times requires constant mowing, frequent fertilizing and intermittent irrigation. Again, bentgrass and ryegrass are popular fairway plants as they’re tough and easy on upkeep. Regular mowing keeps fairway grass short and allows clippings being left on the turf and recycled as top-dress compost. Chemical fertilizers are common on fairways. Knowledgeable groundskeepers apply fertilizers at daybreak to minimize player exposure.
- Rough and Bunkers
As much as many golfers would like to see them gone, bunkers and rough are part of the game. Both obstacles are intentional and they require maintaining. Rough grass areas have minimal mowing, but they need their share of water and occasional fertilization. Rough areas around putting green perimeters see the mower about once a week. Distant roughs might be trimmed once in a month. Fairway bunkers have hard and well-drained sand. Greenside traps hold powdery sand that likes it damp. Regular maintenance raking happens at the start of each day, but regulations require each player to rake as they’re exiting the bunker.
- Putting Greens
Greens can be the toughest maintenance segment on any golf course. Championship greens appear flawless and they don’t get that way by accident. Putting surfaces must be smooth, firm and have limited grain with uniform coverage. The best greens are well-drained but hold sufficient water to keep them fast and fun. Most course maintainers mow their putting greens daily and long before players arrive. In the spring and fall, greens get trimmed to about 0.140 inch, but summer sees them lower at around 0.100 inch. Almost all professional golf course maintainers like to hand mow their greens on slower weekdays and after heavy rains. On busy weekends, they resort to mechanical mowers to save time. Greenskeepers also keep a sharp watch on speeds through electronic Stimpmeters. They also apply growth regulators to control green speed, increase grass density and reduce excessive growth.
Every golf course requires irrigating, regardless of its location. This is a precise science that takes considerable experience to master. No plant can survive without sufficient water, but overwatering can be a serious mistake — not to mention a costly one. Fortunately, computerization now allows precise golf course watering. Flow amounts and application times are closely regulated which saves costs and allows perfect irrigation conditions.
Golf Course Chemical Use
Despite the “greenest” intentions, chemicals are inescapable for golf course maintenance. Groundskeepers routinely use chemicals for fertilizers, weed control and insect pest management. That includes both liquid and granular chemical forms.
Not all chemicals are bad, by any means. Organic fertilizers and additives are always preferred, but often they’re not practical for large applications. The right chemicals, applied by trained maintenance personnel, are safe and can actually be environmentally friendly. It’s how they’re handled that matters.
Most golf courses dedicate specialized areas to mix and store chemicals. They also have specific areas to wash and clean equipment used to apply chemicals. This is vital insurance to prevent concentrated chemicals from escaping and polluting soils and waterways. Commercially built wash stations, wash water recycling systems, and chemical mix, containment and recovery systems solve the escapement problem and ensure spills or discharges never happen.
Strict regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) control golf course chemicals. The days of 2,4-D and DDT are long gone and rightfully so. Now, chemicals are scientifically advanced and safe to apply as long as it’s done by skilled hands. Chemical applicators must be trained and certified to work at all American golf courses.
Many course maintainers prefer using organic materials whenever possible. That’s especially so where applications are near ponds or water hazards. Watercourses and ponds are sensitive areas on every course and they deserve special maintenance attention.
Golf Course Pond Maintenance
Golfers differ in their opinions about water hazards. Some shiver at the thought of teeing off towards water but others love the sight and sounds of clear-flowing ponds and streams. The trick for a golf course maintainer is to keep ponds clean and attractive. There’s as much to know about pond maintenance as there is to keeping turf managed.
Good golf course pond maintenance relies on two things — aeration and dredging. Combined, both pond maintenance techniques ensure these water traps are clear. Besides being beautiful, clean water makes finding errant balls easier.
Aeration happens two ways. The first is surface aeration where floating aeration devices cause wave action. That’s much like ripples on a lake. The other is subsurface aeration where compressed air delivers oxygen to the pond bottom causing bubbles to rise and aerate the water.
Dredging removes sludge from the pond. Sludge builds up from eroded sediment and decomposing organics like pond plants. Pond dredges are machines that suck up sludge from the bottom through vacuum hoses and expel it into bladder bags containing tiny holes. This traps the sludge for disposal while water escapes for recycling.
Tree Care and Landscaping
Some golf courses employ professional arborists or at least contract them for proper tree care. Other course managers have general landscaping experts who know the ins and outs of all plant species. That includes the large and permanent specimen trees as well as seasonal plantings.
Most large trees need minimal maintenance. Groundskeepers keep an eye on their overall health and watch for signs of damage or disease. Often, big trees need no more than occasional pruning and seasonal mulching. It’s the smaller plants like shrubs, bushes and accent specimens that need constant care.
Insects are the biggest threat to golf course trees and landscape plantings. Watchful maintainers address invasive pests immediately even if it means attacking them with chemical solutions. Pest control is mandatory to protect irreplaceable plants, and all equipment used for chemicals needs proper maintenance, cleaning and storage. That’s part of the regular tasks involved in maintaining a golf course.
Golf Course Maintenance Equipment
Golf courses require an expensive inventory of maintenance tools and equipment. They also need skilled maintenance workers who know how to operate and take care of these pricey investments. These are the general categories of equipment found at all golf courses:
- Mowing Equipment: Most golfers likely think that mowers are the only piece of equipment found at a golf course. In fact, mowers and golfers are often at odds with the course right-of-way. Not all mowers are created equal as they range from ride-on, multi-headed machines down to simple hand-pushed reel cutters.
- Cultivation Equipment: Every golf course keeps an assortment of cultivation equipment. Most common are aerators that roll the ground and punch holes or lift soil plugs. This vital operation allows air down to plant roots and lets water deliver fertilizer. However, there are other cultivators at a course such as sod cutters, dethatchers and power rakes.
- Top-Dressing Equipment: Top-dressing is an indispensable component in maintaining a golf course. Sand applicators are common and serve to spread regulated amounts of surface dressing to fill voids and help water seepage across greens, fairways and tees. Blowers and vacuums are also common top-dressing machines.
- Washing, Water Recycling and Chemical Handling Equipment: Although golfers occasionally see mowers, cultivators and top-dressing equipment at work, they rarely if never view the important jobs that washing, water recycling and chemical handling equipment perform. That’s because this valuable equipment is out of sight at the course’s private maintenance facility. It’s fair to say that no professional golf course should operate without them.
Contact ESD Waste2Water for Golf Course Maintenance Equipment
ESD Waste2Water is an industry leader for manufacturing, supplying and installing equipment washing stations, water recycling systems, and chemical mixing, loading and storage solutions. We also specialize in environmental remediation equipment. Some of our worldwide wastewater management clients are professional golf course maintainers.
Prime services at ESD Waste2Water include product design expertise, manufacturing entire systems, installing them and training end-user staff on safe and effective operation. We also provide custom manufacturing of water treatment and bioremediation systems. It’s part of our dedicated commitment to our customers and to the environment.