Golf course maintenance at St. James is a big job

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By Elsa Bonstein, Golf Gab

Maintaining a golf course during the dog days of summer is a daunting task for all our superintendents.
These guys and gals are not just grass cutters. They are highly educated, trained professionals who know agronomy, plant identification, chemicals, biology, botany, design, management and business. Most have college degrees, some have graduate degrees, all take continuing education in order to remain certified.
In this blistering heat, they supervise precise watering practices, spraying for weeds and funguses, fertilizing, aerating greens and fairways. They tend to flowers and shrubs and ornamental grasses and keep the bunkers edged and filled with sand. They care for the cart paths and bridges and tennis courts. The list is endless.
Conrad Broussard, the head superintendent at St. James Plantation, must keep 81 holes of golf in prime condition, plus the area around the clubhouses, athletic facilities and other club properties. He has a crew of 60 (some are seasonal) for the entire facility, plus a head superintendent and an assistant at each of his four courses: the Reserve, Players, Members and Founders clubs.
I met Conrad at the nerve center of maintenance last week and we spent an hour touring around the Players Club and the Reserve while he explained recent projects at St. James.
Originally from Texas, Conrad has been at St. James for nearly 16 years.
“I attended Texas Tech and got a degree in business,” he said. “When I moved here, I went to Horry/Georgetown Turf School,” Conrad explained. “St. James is a great facility with a good maintenance staff. Our head superintendents and our assistants come from all over: N.C. State, Ohio State, Penn State. They bring knowledge to the table and during our weekly meetings, we all learn from each other.”
Some members of the team are specialists who primarily handle one job.
“Some of our workers cut fairways, others cut greens, some do a little bit of everything,” he said. “One gentleman, Gene McKinney, is the Leonardo da Vinci of grinding reels.”
The task of grinding reels is huge because of the multiple types of mowers and the sheer volume of grass cutting in the growing season. Gene keeps 157 reels sharp and polished.
The Players Course at St. James has been closed since June so that Conrad and his crew could convert the greens from bent grass to MiniVerde Bermudagrass.
“We wanted to switch to a hybrid Bermuda that would be more heat and humidity tolerant. The Reserve and Founders Club have bent grass greens. The Members Club has TifDwarf Bermuda, an older strain of Bermuda hybrid.”
“The logistics all had to be worked out ahead of time because this is a busy time of year and we have over 900 members here at St. James, plus outside events, and interclub matches. We set up triple tee times at the Members Club starting at 7:30. The Members Club has 27 holes. We’ve managed to keep everyone reasonably happy because we communicate with our members in newsletters, emails and blogs. They know what we are doing, when we are doing it and why we are doing it.”
We drove to the 15th green, which was nearly grown in after three weeks. Conrad explained the process.
“We did a “no-till” conversion,” he said. “That means we killed all the grass on the greens in three separate applications of Round Up. Then we scalped the greens, verticut them and applied two fertilizers and a pre-emergent herbicide to them.”
On June 25, thousands of sprigs of MiniVerde grass arrived in a refrigerated truck and for the next two days, crew members worked continuously, spreading them onto the denuded, prepared greens. The application is done by hand in the same manner that pine straw is applied. It took a dozen people 30 to 40 minutes to spread each green.
After the greens were sprigged, they were watered, then a machine sliced the springs into the surface. After that, they were rolled.
As the days passed and the new grass began to grow, the greens were continuously top-dressed with sand (sand is sprinkled lightly on the surface) and fertilized.
Conrad walked over to his new green. It was mostly grass now, but a few small bare patches remained.
“Look at those tiny green shoots around the edges of the bare spot,” he pointed. “This will all be filled in shortly and we will be able to reopen on August 13th as planned.”
We drove over to the 11th green. It was almost totally grown in.
“We are finding that some of the worst bent grass greens are growing in the best with our new TifDwarf,” he explained. “The new grass loves sun and grows well here; the bent did not thrive on this green.”
During the time the Players Club was closed for the greens changeover, other renovations were done.
“We went back to the original blueprints for the course as designed by Tim Cate, and we found that the shapes of the greens had changed and they had lost size,” he said. “The Bermuda around the greens is more aggressive than bent grass, and as the years go by, it begins to encroach. As the mowers cut the greens, contours are lost and they all become saucer-shaped. Now we are back to the larger greens as designed by Cate and we have installed new sod collars around each green.”
Maintaining golf courses in the summer heat is an arduous task, especially the courses that still have the bent grass on them. Bent grass originated in northern Europe, according to Conrad, and is not really suited for this climate.
“Bent grass greens have to be continually cooled off with moisture in the summer months. We put one worker on each nine of our two bent grass courses and they continuously syringe (mist) the greens. They start at 18 and progress to number 9. The worker on  number 10 moves around the course to number 1. They do this circuit three times a day,” Conrad said.
“They run up to the green, take down the flag, syringe, roll the hose, put the flag back in and move on to the next hole. We also have fans on many holes to keep the air circulating and to cool them off.”
So, dear readers, during the hot summer months, you may experience the following:
•Workers hand syringing (watering) the greens. Don’t get annoyed, they’re keeping the grass alive for your putting pleasure.
•Softer greens due to extra watering. Use a longer club. You won’t get much bounce.
•More ball marks because of that softness. Fix your ball mark and one other.
•Slower greens. No matter whether it’s old Bermuda, one of the new hybrids, or bent grass, the superintendents are leaving the grass longer during the summer months. Hit the practice green before you tee it up to get a feel for what’s out there.
The word to all of us is this: appreciate the work that these men and women do. Be patient and thank them when you can.
It’s an outrageously difficult job.
 Golf Gab groaner
After a shower, the lady golfer stood in front of the bedroom mirror. “I feel horrible. I look old, fat and ugly.” She sighed and turned to her husband. “I really need you to give me a compliment.”
Her husband thought a minute. “Your eyesight’s darn near perfect.”
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for The Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.