For a populace strained by months of winter confinement, it’s no wonder the Masters, which concluded Sunday, is heralded as a rite of spring. Augusta National Golf Club is the season defined: welcome sunshine bathing comely contours, sentinel pines and wall-to-wall combed emerald perfection splashed with magnolia and dogwood blossoms and those oh-so-bright-white bunkers.
It pleases the eye. It whets the appetite. It shapes expectation.
“As soon as golf is back on TV, here they come,” said Steve Dutchess, golf course superintendent at Coffin and Riverside golf courses and Riverside Golf Academy. “We’re in Indiana and it’s (early April), and they want to know why the greens aren’t rolling like Augusta.
“Those conditions can’t be replicated. Even Crooked Stick can’t do that.”
Brickyard Crossing Golf Course superintendent Jeff Stuart calls it “Masters mentality.”
“We are not the Masters,” he said. “We are not Augusta National. We don’t have heating and cooling systems under our greens like they do.”
Still, grass is growing, golfers are stirring and superintendents are working daylight to done in Central Indiana.
After a winter spent refurbishing equipment, sharpening mower reels, painting tee markers, budgeting and ordering supplies, full crews are being called back, mowers are mowing, fertilizer and herbicide sprayers are spraying and it’s game-on.
In truth, it has been game-on for months.
Extreme heat and drought conditions brutalized turf in late summer and early fall last year.
That’s why superintendent Tim Kahle aerified and overseeded fairways at Pleasant Run Golf Course last August, then repeated both processes in late November. That’s why he seeded and covered several greens over the winter.
“We had areas on some greens where we had some irrigation problems, issues with micro-environments, shaded areas, some areas that don’t get a lot of air movement that just went down with the heat,” said Kahle, who oversees maintenance at Pleasant Run and Sarah Shank Golf Course.
“Not by any stretch did we come out completely grown shut like nothing was ever there, but when we pulled the covers we did have quite a bit of germination in the bare spots. That just puts you ahead of the game going into the spring as far as recovery goes.”
It’s the superintendent’s game: monitor, anticipate, react. Sometimes that’s not easy to do. Mother Nature controls this playing field.
Stuart’s rain gauge measured 1.21 inches of precipitation Feb. 21. More followed, then the deluges: 2.64 inches Feb. 28 and another 2.4 on March 4 and 5.
Little Eagle Creek overflowed its banks, flooded much of Brickyard Crossing and deposited a messy layer of silt on five greens. Cleanup was tedious and expensive, but it could have been worse.
It was at Coffin and Riverside.
“Our shop went under water on Monday (Feb. 28). I had 16 inches of water in my office,” Dutchess said. “We got it cleaned up on Wednesday. It did it again on Saturday (March 5).”
Coffin and Riverside are river bottom courses. More than half their holes lie on the White River floodplain. The water was 6 feet deep on Coffin’s north end at one point.
Fortunately, the grass was dormant and damage was minimal, Dutchess said, but several irrigation system satellite control stations were damaged. The required repairs cost $20,000, “a hard hit in the early spring when the cash register hasn’t started ringing.”
Moreover, cleanup was extensive and it was exacerbated by the damage done by an ice storm earlier in the month. Chain saws and chippers roared on golf courses all over Central Indiana.
Greens are the spring priority, Stuart said. Get them smooth, get them rolling, then work out to the other playing surfaces and finally the rough, but priorities can vary.
Municipal courses such as Riverside, Coffin, Pleasant Run and Sarah Shank typically have double-row irrigation systems. There are areas of rough they don’t reach and those areas suffered last summer.
“Everywhere we had water is pretty good, but it’s going to take the grass some time in some areas of the rough,” Kahle said. “It definitely impacted density. We’re going to have to do some spot feeding, and in areas like that, your weeds out-compete the grass so we’re doing quite a bit of spraying.”
The Masters has come and gone. The temperature is climbing, maintenance crews are being restored to full strength and normal mowing schedules are being resumed. There are turf issues to be anticipated and treated, challenges to face, golfers to serve.
“Prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” Stuart said.
The superintendent’s work is never done.