The telephone rings with word that his plane has landed safely at the airport. Excitement billows through a growing crowd while the staff rambles about completing last-minute touches before he arrives. In the blink of an eye, another phone call delivers a heady warning, “Ten minutes to showtime.”
In the distance, a car pulls up to the entrance, and greeters anxiously await a first view. As the car stops, he steps onto the curb. Immediately, he extends a hand for the first of countless handshakes, while sporting his genuine and particularly recognizable grin. Although one is acutely aware of standing in the company of a living legend, it is remarkable how quickly the nerves tend to settle, as his gentle nature relieves any initial anxiety. As the “King” walks up the path, the sun reflects flawlessly in the lake, and the fountain sings a song of admiration.
King’s Walk Golf Course–an Arnold Palmer Signature Course–welcomed Palmer to Grand Forks, N.D., on September 3, 2008. As a designer of over 300 courses worldwide, Palmer first visited Grand Forks in 2000 to oversee the design and progress of the course. Owned and operated by the Grand Forks Park District, the course opened in 2002. During his recent visit, Palmer toured the course, provided comments to the staff, and attended a public question-and-answer session. He complimented the park staff on the condition of the course, and was pleased with the devotion to his original design.
Golf course maintenance is a demanding endeavor regardless of the region of the country; however, cold weather poses its own unique challenges. Conditions in the spring depend heavily on the process implemented to close the course in the fall. The impact of an effective program paired with a little luck from the weather can produce an exceptional experience for golfers at the start of the season. And, in case Arnold Palmer stops by to visit your course, rest assured the time and energy spent to uphold a consistent, high-standard golf facility is worth the effort. However, the steps to achieve a “Palmer standard” do not begin just before his arrival. Let’s go back about one year preceding the event, keeping in mind the September visit was not confirmed until six weeks before.
·Because of the climate, King’s Walk Golf Course Superintendent Dave Clark begins preparations for winter during the first week in September. The first step is to aerify the greens, followed by fertilization of greens, tees and fairways. Ninety percent of fertilization is completed by September 20.
·Near mid-October, preparations are made for the eight-acre, man-made lake. First, the fountain (a lake aerator) is removed, and then the lake is drained to about 2 feet of its typical depth. Draining the lake helps eliminate seasonal vegetation around the edges, and exposes the drain tiles, which provide a clear passage for spring run-off, as the lake serves as a holding pond for the golf course. As with most new courses, drain tiles extend throughout the course–a significant part of the King’s Walk design.
·Irrigation lines are blown out around October 20, and fungicide is applied to the course. In the case of an early winter storm, the grounds crew typically will blow snow off the greens in order to continue with fungicide application. Although there are no guarantees, early snowfall usually melts, enabling the crew to continue the process. In larger areas, such as fairways, if the snow does not melt to allow for fungicide application, it is probable the crew will encounter a fungus problem in the spring. In a typical year, the crew works to have everything “buttoned up” by Halloween.
·With a close eye on the weather, a woven plastic material is applied to the greens, which protects them through the winter months. This material can be ordered in specific dimensions to custom-fit each green. King’s Walk is usually covered and closed around November 1.
Tick tock … tick tock … tick tock …
·The crew monitors the condition of the course once the “great melt” takes place and trouble spots are identified. Typically, the course opens the second or third week in April. Green covers are removed a few days prior to opening; however, this is all temperature-dependent.
·In unseasonably warm weather, the covers may have to be removed earlier to avoid premature growth. When too warm, the material covering the greens acts as a mini-greenhouse. While the health of the plant is dependent upon its root system, the material triggers early growth, which may be detrimental to the plant because the temperature will likely drop again.
·The first mowing will be at a higher cut than later in the summer. The concepts of care are the same as above. The health of the plant’s root system impacts its longevity and quality. Temperature, rainfall and wind are significant factors when determining the first mowing of the fairways and irrigation.
·Temperature and rainfall have a direct impact on the rate that frost exits the ground. A probe is used to determine the depth of frost. Typically, a 3-foot layer of frost entrenches the soil; however, it is fully out of the ground around the first week in May.
·The irrigation system is usually operating near the end of April unless high moisture occurs, due to spring rains. Prior to starting irrigation, water is manually hauled to the greens in a 1,000-gallon tank, and crews water the greens by hand. This technique is only used if the ground is dry enough. Greater winds are common in this part of the country, and definitely impact how quickly everything dries out. General maintenance of the course continues throughout the summer months as with most courses across the country.
In preparation for Palmer’s visit, the staff wanted to ensure that the course complied with his original design. Architects often will review a course design, and determine areas of modification caused by years of management and growth changes. This is a great opportunity, allowing a comprehensive process of “getting back” to the original design.
One unique design element is the change in grass from the transition-approach areas from the fairway (blue grass) to the approach (bent grass). This area is cut lower than the fairway and higher than the green to allow a player to putt from the approach area. Prior to the visit, these particular areas were redefined by reestablishing the mowing lines, maintaining the integrity of the original design. The golf course staff also gave greater consideration to the bunkers, another result of growth changes over the years through varied mowing practices. The original design was reinstated by making slight alterations.
The impact of effective preparation paired with a little luck in the weather can produce an exceptional experience for golfers. And, just in case Arnold Palmer stops by to visit your course, rest assured the time and energy spent to uphold a consistent, high-standard golf facility is well worth the effort.
Brandy Chaffee is Communications Specialist for the Grand Forks Park District in Grand Forks, N.D. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org