​​​​​​​Golf Turfgrass Playbook: Plan for Success in 2018

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By: Rick Catalogna, Territory Manager

As the calendar turns to 2018, many Turf Managers begin to prepare for the upcoming season. Preparations take on many forms. Budget processes, staff evaluations, equipment maintenance and repair, and program evaluations are all common themes for the “off-season”.  Many Turf Managers take the opportunity to evaluate the past season and begin to develop a game plan for the next year.

During my time as a Golf Course Superintendent, I took great pride in evaluating the previous season and establishing goals for the next season. So I thought I’d share with you the 5 criteria I used to evaluate our programs each year in hopes they may help you in this time of preparation.

  1. Customer/Member Satisfaction: How did the property perform? Every golf course has a “core” group of players. I engaged our core group on a frequent basis to gather feedback. Our goal was simple – provide consistent conditions that the majority of our customers enjoyed within the framework of our infrastructure and budget. Our core customers appreciated the opportunity to participate and provide feedback for improvements. We kept this process informal and encouraged staff to communicate any comments (positive or negative) that our customers provided.  
  2. Management Expectations: Each property has a unique ownership and management structure. Navigating the expectations of a single owner, board of directors, general manager, or green committee can be challenging. Establishing a set of maintenance standards for the property provides a useful guide for measuring the effectiveness of the maintenance staff. As a Superintendent, I reported to a board of 5 people. We met as a group once a month and budgeted time each season to evaluate our progress and set goals for the following year. Matching the goals of the organization with my own goals as a superintendent streamlined the planning process.     
  3. Record Keeping: Information is power! Accurate record keeping is an effective tool for evaluating applications, strategies, and processes. Each state has a standard requirement for tracking pesticide applications. These records can be a useful guide for future decision making. Inventory management is also an important part of planning. Taking the time to evaluate current supplies will eliminate unnecessary orders and maximize the value of the budget.
  4. Soil Test and Water Test Results: Soil and water testing have both become “hot button” topics in recent years. A lot of research has been conducted to determine the viability of traditional soil testing doctrines. I encourage Turf Managers to find a testing protocol that makes sense for their property and provides accurate feedback. The most important factor in a successful soil testing program is consistency.  Sample at the same time and depth each year. Many successful programs follow a rotation of sampling 6 greens each year. Every 3 years the entire course has been sampled and trends effectively monitored. Water testing is a crucial process as well. A property dependent upon a lake or pond for irrigation must monitor the water quality on a regular basis. Irrigation water used for spray applications must also be monitored to ensure optimal performance of fertilizers and pesticides. As a golf course superintendent, I would perform soil tests each fall about a month after aerification. I looked forward to getting the results, and then having the balance of the winter to make changes to our program.    
  5. Budget Performance:  A large component of every Turf Manager’s budget is dedicated to fertilizers, pesticides, and specialty products. Effective use of these products can make an enormous difference in turf quality and resiliency. Matching expectations with resources is a challenge at every property. Communication is the most important element of matching expectations with resources. Very few properties have the resources to deal with all turf issues preventatively. Communicating to customers and management when an issue arises can prevent any surprises. In the event of an unexpected application, the expense can be measured against the expectations for the property. Expenditures from previous seasons provide an effective means of forecasting for the next year. Application records and inventory are also important elements of evaluating what products to order.

Planning for the next season was one of the most enjoyable parts of my time as a Golf Course Superintendent. Management and customer feedback were very important elements of evaluating our programs. I looked forward to receiving our annual soil test results and measuring any changes year-to-year. The budget process was always stressful, but our record keeping provided the justification for our expenditures. 

Beyond the property lines, attending local, state, and national education seminars was an awesome way to stay current on new trends and network with other industry professionals. Getting to know other Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, and Turf Managers in our region was invaluable. In depth conversations with fellow “turfers” provided opportunities to learn what works at other properties.  Working with several different suppliers over the years also provided a terrific opportunity to develop a network of trusted advisors. Technology changes rapidly, and each season brings new products and strategies for managing turf successfully. An element of being a Golf Course Superintendent that I enjoyed immensely was trying new products. I encourage all Turf Managers to make room in their budget for a few new products each season. The analogy I like to use is an Offensive Coordinator in football. There is always room in the playbook for another play to help your team win. I look at new products or technology the same way – add to your playbook and make your team better!

As you prepare for 2018, I encourage you to keep in mind a quote from the great Vince Lombardi: “Plan your work, and work your plan.” 

Have fun and stay warm!