Thursday, April 25, 2013

April 23, 2013

“Golf is not, and never has been, a fair game.” – Jack Nicklaus
In January, I attended the USGA Equipment Standards meeting in Coronado, CA. A variety of topics were discussed, but there was one that drew my interest. It was revealed that every year since 1986 when rounds of golf are up in the United States, they do down the following year. That raised the proverbial “red flag” for me as a golf course operator because nationwide rounds were up in 2012.
Unfortunately, that prediction is going to be reality in 2013 for golf courses across Central Indiana. Those of us who have been in the golf business for a long time will tell you that this spring might be the worst we have seen in decades. It has become a four month pattern of cold and wet weather. To say that golfers and courses have been climatically challenged is an understatement.
When I drove to Augusta a couple of weeks ago for The Masters, I didn’t see vegetation on the trees until I hit Spartanburg, SC. That is way too far south for that to happen this time of the year. I played the Augusta Country Club on the Saturday before The Masters. This club was founded in 1899 and designed by Donald Ross. The roughs had not been over seeded and they were still very much dormant.
The proper score for a businessman golfer is 90. If he’s better than that he is neglecting his business. If he’s worse, he’s neglecting his golf.” – St. Andrews Rotary Club Member 
On Monday of this week I played Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis at the Senior PGA Media Day. This club joins Oak Hill in Rochester, NY as the only club in the U.S. to host the PGA Championship, Senior PGA, U.S. Open and the Senior U.S. Open. Bellerive had suffered through a real tough summer of weather in 2012. The greens on Monday had plenty of grass on them, but the speed was dreadfully slow. It was a classic case of a club getting turf restored and nursing the conditions through a wild spring in preparation for a championship event later next month.
Most of the roughs at Bellerive had not been mowed this spring. No mower had seen its fairways as the zoysia grass was just coming out of dormancy. The most telling thing about the spring of 2013 in St. Louis was the dandelions at Bellerive. Yes, that’s right- dandelions at Bellerive CC. Your yard and favorite local golf course don’t have a monopoly on those damned yellow flowering weeds.
“It’s good sportsmanship to not pick up lost golf balls while they are still rolling.” – Mark Twain
As I drove to and from St. Louis, the remnant of last week’s flooding was obvious in Central Illinois. That same flooding extended north of Indianapolis and hammered the towns of Kokomo, Tipton and Elwood in Indiana. But, even the central part of our state was affected by downstream flooding. The Creek Nine at The Legends was closed for a couple days last week due to that flooding.
Most golfers understand what local golf courses have been up against this spring. Occasionally, as operators, we will run into that individual who appears to have been living in a vacuum for the past few months. It’s always amazing when that individual will complain about roughs being too long or dandelions being in full bloom. Or, maybe the greens are too slow and the bunkers are lousy.
The fact of the matter is that up until a couple of weeks ago, courses in this part of the country were still having 4-5 frost delays each week. We have lost 3-4 days each week due to rainy conditions that impact our ability to mow grass and spray herbicides. Not to mention when we get 1-3 inch rains, water stands in the bunkers and it takes a day or two to dry out in order to mow grass.
The cool, wet conditions promote lots of plant growth. Factor in a couple of occasional days when the temperature is actually above 70 degrees and then everything explodes from a growth standpoint. The normal high this time of the year is in the mid-sixties. We are in that weather pattern when it seems like it’s always 15 degrees above or below normal.
“There is an old saying: If a man comes home with sand in his cuffs and cockleburs in his pants, don’t ask what he shot.” – Sam Snead
There is one other component that every golf course deals with this time of the year. While most have their full-time maintenance crews on board, washouts cause the superintendent to send people home because there is nothing that can be done on the course. Ground conditions don’t allow for the heavy machines to be on the course without doing damage. Hourly workers see their paychecks reduced because of this. Some quit and find other employment that is not affected by the weather. It can be a revolving door for many superintendents until the college kids get home in mid-May.
Those of us, who pay the bills at our courses, scramble to balance the budgets when revenues are down due to inclement weather. Hey, what do you do with your household budget when your paycheck gets impacted? You spend less. In addition, real estate taxes are due in Indiana in early May. Every golf course in the area cringes when that property tax bill comes, especially in a spring like this one.
What’s the point of all of this? Golf has been in a tough place for the past decade. Owners and operators of golf courses did not need a spring like 2013. So, cut your local course some slack for a few weeks. Give them a chance to do what they know needs to be done. Your local pro and superintendent are not oblivious to what is out there on the golf course. The sight of anything out of the norm is killing them far more than it is you.
The bottom line is that after a couple of weeks of good weather, area golf courses will probably be in the best shape they have been in for a long time. The grass will be green and lush. Players are itching to get out and play in warm, dry weather. Everybody’s disposition will improve!
“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; It satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening- and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.” – Arnold Palmer

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