Time to Shine!
By Dave Koziol, Country Club of Fairfield, Fairfield, CT
To me, the fall is the best time of the year. I never realized how much I loved it until I spent five years living in Florida, long before becoming a golf course superintendent. Now that I manage a golf course for a living, it is even more special. My old boss used to say when referring to course conditions, “It’s not how you look in August, it’s how you look in September.” We’re all just trying to keep turf alive in August, and hopefully you see the beneficial results of the battle in the fall.
This fall has taken its time getting here, though. August 15th is usually the turning date as far as weather, but this year we’ve had continuing warm temperatures throughout September. Record breaking heat and lack of rain have extended the stressful growing season. Thankfully, the days are getting shorter - at least the sun is long gone by 9 pm.
With the lower temperatures and lower humidity that will eventually arrive comes the ability to achieve the conditions we strive to achieve all year but without the stress. Many clubs have club championships over Labor Day weekend and it’s great to be able to have the greens rolling faster and the fairways firm for one of the last big events of the summer, especially this year, after a number of courses suffered from winter damage. The early fall is the time to show off all of the difficult recovery work so many courses had to put in to get conditions back to normal.
Superintendents walk a fine line all summer pushing turf grass health to produce amazing playing conditions. Practices such as raising the height of cut, rolling and not mowing and even aerating using small solid tines can go a long way in helping the course through the high heat and humidity. A small mistake in the summer heat can take weeks to recover from. There are times throughout the summer when it becomes necessary to sacrifice perfect playing conditions for plant health. The margin of error is much wider in the fall. The cooler temperatures, especially at night, allow for recovery of any stress incurred during the day.
I can’t think of many other jobs that are at the mercy of the weather as much as that of a golf course superintendent’s. Everyone watches the weather, but to a course superintendent, it governs what work will be done every single day. When the temperature is in the 90’s, it is survival mode; when it’s in the 70’s, it’s a completely different list of priorities.
All of this effects how a golf course plays. In the Northeast, you’ll find some of the best playing conditions of the year in September and October. It’s not that we don’t want to produce these conditions all season; it’s that we’ve worked all summer to keep everything alive and in the fall the grass will practically live on its own!
The work never ends, though. Fall brings a whole new list of things to do but with a much smaller staff. As the season wears on, there is everything from fall construction projects, aeration, and irrigation system winterization, to ordering all of the winter equipment parts and making sure the snow plows work, just to name a few. However, before all of that, it’s time for golfers to enjoy the course and the beautiful fall weather, the best time of the year.