LBWA–“Fore” Effective Golf Course Maintenance

Photo Courtesy of Brevard County Parks and Recreation Department

Photo Courtesy of Brevard County Parks and Recreation Department

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.   

The modern game of golf evolved from what 15th-century Scots knew as “gowf,” when it was played on the rolling, sandy terrain common on Scotland’s eastern coast, called “links land.” This reference eventually led to the modern phrase “hitting the links.” 

The game that began on a few isolated cow pastures using sticks to hit rudimentary balls has evolved to hi-tech manufactured clubs, balls with pressurized cores, and carefully manicured courses. For parks and rec departments or other groups responsible for public golf courses, this means performing a level of maintenance beyond routine care of sports fields. 

There are about 15,500 golf facilities in the U.S. today and close to 75 percent of them are public, so this represents a significant investment in a popular public-recreation amenity.   

The primary challenges facing public courses today are in three areas—finances, water, and politics—according to Scott Hollister, Director of Publications and Interim Communications Director for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (www.gcsaa.org). 

“Golf courses are valuable public green-space amenities and course superintendents are doing what they can to meet the financial challenges,” says Hollister, noting that patron participation numbers have stagnated over the past several years. “Municipalities tasked with the cost of owning and maintaining golf courses with the current level of participation is a balancing act that I know a lot of cities are struggling with.” 

Routing Water

For any golf course, public or private, the condition of the course is of primary importance to most patrons. The greens fees are the primary revenue source as most public courses attempt to be self-supporting. “The cost of maintenance is an issue specific to superintendents,” says Hollister, adding that the cost of water and water quality are critical elements. 

“Many golf courses are attempting to use non-potable, or reclaimed, water,” he explains. “It’s good for a lot of reasons. Municipalities who are generating waste water need a place for that water to go, and with proper processing it can be a very good source of irrigation water for golf courses.” 

Though using reclaimed water can be less costly and does conserve drinking water, there are issues that golf course maintenance crews need to understand.  

Reclaimed water is waste water that is treated via various methods to remove solids and impurities, but it can promote algae growth that can clog irrigation heads and pipes. 

“The treatment process is really crucial to ensure you don’t face those type of problems,” notes Hollister, advising close consultation with waste-water treatment experts early in the decision-making process. “Another element to consider is how to get that water from its source to the golf course. For a municipality, this might become a public-works issue of laying pipe to direct the water,” he explains.

Difficult Decisions

While water availability is a top concern, Hollister maintains that there are other equally important issues. 

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