Area Golf: Workers up early to keep courses in top shape

By MICHAEL BURWELL
Staff Writer
Lawnmowers, sand, and early-morning wake-up calls.
It’s not a typical day at the beach, or a relaxing time trimming the yard. Instead, these things are a part of what could be a pressure-packed few hours of work.
Maintaining a golf course might be something that’s overlooked by those who play monthly, weekly or even daily. But for those involved behind the scenes, it’s a continuous cycle of keeping the course in good condition and staying ahead of the morning rush of golfers.
“We try to keep this place as nice as we can on a daily basis,” said Dan Koops, director of grounds and maintenance at Findlay Country Club. “Those morning jobs are very important so when the first golfer steps off the tee at 8 a.m. or 7:30 a.m., they get as good of a product as someone who plays at 3 p.m. or who plays in a tournament.”
Along with mowing and rolling greens every day, mowing fairways three times a week and tees twice a week, normal jobs include changing hole locations every other day, raking bunkers and mowing the rough twice a week, according to Koops.
So when is a good time for the grounds crew to start preparing the course for the day?

Adam Bateson, an assistant superintendent at Findlay Country Club, mows the 11th fairway Thursday at Findlay Country Club. Bateson is one of two assistant superintendents and one of 17 grounds crew workers at FCC that keep the course playable each day. (Michael Burwell / The Courier)

Adam Bateson, an assistant superintendent at Findlay Country Club, mows the 11th fairway Thursday at Findlay Country Club. Bateson is one of two assistant superintendents and one of 17 grounds crew workers at FCC that keep the course playable each day. (Michael Burwell / The Courier)

“At 6 a.m. sharp, we start our morning meeting,” said Koops, who has been Findlay Country Club’s superintendent for more than two years. “We have a little meeting every day of about five minutes with everybody there. We have a crew of 17 guys that take care of the golf course, and we roll through all of the jobs that everybody’s doing for the morning.”
When the morning routine is done, which usually takes around two or three hours, it’s on to the detailed work for the rest of the eight-hour shift, according to Koops. That includes spraying and pulling weeds, mulching, filling divots, edging bunkers and sprinkler heads and picking up sticks, just to name a few jobs.
“A lot of that stuff, the golfer may not necessarily pick up on, but when they stand on that tee or look down that fairway or on the green, they just feel it looks good,” Koops said. “They feel it’s pristine, they feel this is a nice, manicured place. They may not know everything we do, but they just know everything is in order.”
Steve Lenhart, grounds superintendent at Sycamore Springs Golf Course, added that watering the course during periods with little or no rain is an important part of maintaining a course. He also said that work during the winter, including cleaning and sharpening mower blades, is an overlooked aspect of course maintenance.
Keeping a course in flawless condition has its challenges, though, especially when Mother Nature unleashes its fury.
When a derecho rolled through the area in the summer of 2012, Findlay Country Club had to close the course the next day to clean up the debris on the fairways, tees and greens.
Then it was on to the rest of the course.
“It took us two weeks to clean up the rest of it by removing trees, picking up limbs, mulching the rest of the leaves, so stuff like that happens,” Koops said.
And for Findlay Country Club, major challenges don’t stop there.
Flooding is also an issue for the 150-acre course, which is located along the Blanchard River. Koops said about 20 acres of property usually floods when the river is up.
“The members here are very understanding. They understand where the golf course is located, but we understand also we’re a golf course and we’re here for the membership,” Koops said. “That stuff, when it happens, has got to get cleaned up quickly.”
Other problems Koops said he faces that aren’t weather related include mechanical issues, such as mowers breaking down, flat tires or bolts coming loose.
“When something breaks down in the middle of the fairway as play is going through or the bunker rake goes down in the middle of the bunker just as play goes through, you got to deal with that,” Koops said. “I guess the idea is keep calm.”
And keeping calm while preparing for an 8 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. shotgun start, in which golfers start playing on every hole, is crucial as well.
Koops said that during the Ohio Junior Championship in June, the grounds crew had to be at work at 4:30 a.m. one day in which they had to prepare for a 7:30 a.m. shotgun start to finish the rain-delayed round from the previous day.
“Sometimes you just need to start earlier,” Koops said. “The job is what it is, you just got to allow yourself enough time.”
Although preparing a golf course could start well before the sun rises, Koops said golfers noticing the work put into a course is a great feeling.
“To know that our customers are happy,” Koops said, “that’s the greatest reward to know that you’re doing your job, that your team is working together, that all the plans that you’ve made years in advance are pulling together and everything is working.”
Burwell, 419-427-8410
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