Winter's Busy Season

By Tim O’Neill, CGCS, Country Club of Darien

Spring is finally around the corner, and with golfers eager to get back on the course, it’s the perfect time for superintendents to unveil the work that was done over the winter months. One of the most frequently asked questions of a golf course superintendent is, “what do you do in the winter?” A lot more happens in the off-season than you may think.

For any golf course superintendent in the Metropolitan Area, the period between one golf season and the next is usually a race against time before Opening Day. While most people are lamenting the long cold winter, golf course superintendents wish January and February would go by just as slowly as July and August seem to move along.

When the season ends in late fall, most area courses engage in a variety of projects and maintenance routines. Although staff size is reduced after the summer months, the fall is usually the best time to accomplish special projects such as course renovations or other capital upgrades. Routine maintenance in the late fall includes leaf clean-up, aeration, applications of fertilizers and sand topdressing, winterization of irrigation systems and pumping stations, and snow mold prevention application.

Course mechanics and other grounds staff stay busy all winter breaking down and rebuilding equipment. They also sharpen mowers and perform routine repairs, and maintain more than 100 pieces of equipment. A well-maintained equipment inventory requires specialized manpower and a sharp eye for detail to ensure machinery is running smoothly and effectively for the upcoming season.

Golf course accessories such as benches, ball washers, tee markers, out-of-bounds and hazard stakes, flagsticks and cup liners are refurbished and covered with a fresh coat of paint each winter.  Snow removal is another responsibility of the grounds staff and requires significant facilities and manpower to keep roads, walks and paddle courts clear, and everyone in the Met Area knows what a big job that was in 2014!

Another important winter activity on a golf course is tree work and brush removal. Trees add to the character and strategy of the golf course, but at the same time they contend with turf by causing shade issues or through the uptake of available water during the stressful summer months. Golf course superintendents always look for the right balance between turf and trees on the golf course.

The winter months are the perfect time to attend local, regional and national educational meetings and forums in order to keep up with the latest research and advances in the industry. The Golf Industry Show, held this year in early February in Orlando, Fl., is a yearly highlight that brings together all the components of the course care industry in order to share information and showcase the latest in equipment technology and supplies. A break from the busy golf season also leaves clubs with time to sort out staffing arrangements and get the team trained and prepared for the season. Having a well-trained and efficient crew is the most important tool we have as superintendents.

Though the challenges and daily routines in winter are not as intense as the summer, it is a crucial time for superintendents and staff to gear up for a winning golf season.