Folks, It’s All in the Details

It is easy to say but sometimes difficult to accomplish. It’s the little things, however, that can make a big difference. One avenue to success is keeping your head on a swivel–seeing everything. Weeds, trash, bare ground, leaves, scraggly edges-everything. Not seeing to these things make for unsightly landscapes and can result in members or visitors scratching their heads and wondering what’s up with that. It does not take but one person, the wrong person, to see something out of place to rock the boat for the best of managers.

I know that all of us have had that staff meeting that included the topics of trash, straightening stakes, pulling weeds and other detail items that affect the overall look of the course. But does anything really change. Initially, yes but truthfully, when one is focused on their task, can or will they unfocuse to pick up a cigar wrapper or pull a nine inch weed–probably not. So at the end of the day it becomes incumbent upon the managers to do it themselves.

A simple practice I employ each day involves setting challenges for myself while I am out inspecting what I expect of my crew. If you make these tricks a habit (as well as for your assistant) you will find two things: the details will improve and as your employees see your actions many will try to do the same. Who knows, you may get lucky and all your staff join in.

Trash: I always carry a bentgrass seed pale in my cart for garbage. I set a goal to pick up at least 10 pieces of trash and 20 cigarette and/or cigar butts each day. I usually hit that by the fourth hole but I keep going. Whenever I set a goal for some chore, once I hit my mark I say “just one more”. When I find one more I say “one more”–you see where this is going.

Weeds: My assistant and I carry a one gallon sprayer in our cart and our goal is to use at least three tanks of Round-up a week in beds, cart path cracks, the parking lot and any other non-grassed areas we find weeds. We add Spray Rite (or ammonium sulfate) to improve the activity of the Round-up.

Also, I challenge myself to pull 20 weeds per day when I am out and about. Right now at Old Ranch that goal is no problem. Hopefully, as I continue to do this, finding them will get harder and harder.

It is actually easier and more effective to pull taller weeds than to spray them and have this brown crumbling mass for weeks for all to see. I maintain permanently dirty fingernails but the big weeds are disappearing. Eventually, you will notice the number of weeds shrinking. Remember, it is about the little things.

Ropes/Stakes/Yardage Indicators/ Hazard Markers: This may be one of the ugliest details on the course when they are not right. However, I see it (disarray) all the time. Even though this should be job one for the setup people, even the best of employee partners seem to not see the problem.

The solution lies in constant diligence–staying on the process throughout the day. See it-fix it. Have all that may be responsible carry a hammer so putting them back in order is not a chore. Always carry some length of rope and additional stakes to make repairs or to add.

Always have a fid in your pocket so you can make end loops in the ropes which create a cleaner look (no knots). Consider using bungee cords at the connection point of the rope and stake at one end. If a golfer steps on the rope the bungee will give and not cause the stake to bend over. We use a four stake method: the two end stakes have hooks and the two center stakes have holes. These short stretches allow for easier moving to control the direction and amount of traffic. I also recommend using the shorter stakes as these are easier to step over than step on.

Course Signage: I wish we did not have the necessity for any “infrastructure” on the course. Unfortunately though, if you do not show them what to do or where to go our players will do anything they want. Therefore, we are forced to use directional signage to move them around. But we do not have to have unkempt, dirty, dissimilar or maladjusted directionals. We should always strive to keep them uniform, properly placed and moved regularly. Stress to your set up people and mower operators that this is important and always inspect what you expect them to do.

Course Accessories: Ball washers, benches and hole signs are very noticeable components of the course setting and, like directionals, should be neat, straight, and well tended. My tee service person is required to clean each at least two times per week and check them on Saturday. Bird droppings, calcium carbonate deposits and dirt can build up and needs to be removed. After cleaning, we treat them with a dilute silicone spray and wipe.

Trees: Most of us have small trees spread throughout the course. It is very hard to keep them neat if we allow them to grow unchecked and sometime in the year send someone out to prune them all. It usually results in a hasty and poor job.

I carry hand pruners, loppers and a limb saw at all times. I challenge myself to prune at least five trees per week. On occasion, I bring the pole saw with me and tackle some of our bigger trees. I usually do this on Wednesday and a crew member comes behind me to clean up. This way the trees get more attention and they look better. Actually, for me, this is my Zen moment for the day–quiet thinking time.

Conclusions: I believe I have said enough and I think you get the point. There is much more to managing “detail” than I could possibly cover here. Edging, managing bare areas, poorly landscaped areas, bunkers and many other features are equally important. Here I have touched on those I believe are the important ones and actually the easiest to address. It’s about challenging yourself to stop look and do the right thing.

Speaking of that, one last thing, and probably the most important, is the kindness you bring to your club. Do you wave at your members/guests from afar and say hey when close? Do you say please and thank you to all? Do you ask that your employees do the same (to each other and players). If not you should–it is really just common courtesy and an essential component of humanity. To close, my mother told me one day: “it is just as easy to be kind to someone as be mean–so why not just be kind”.
Thank you.
Terry L. Vassey Golf Course Superintendent Old Ranch Country Club

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