Before the golf season arrives full force, pause for a moment to salute the game’s most unappreciated — and perhaps most important — cadre.
Golf course superintendents and their crews fit that definition, and they represent the game’s version of the forgotten — until something goes amiss.
Just as the finger of blame points to the offensive lineman who misses a block and the football play is ruined, the superintendent and workers operate mostly in anonymity until the greens are not smooth, a bunker gets washed out or weeds pop up in the fairways.
Think about the job, and the obstacles seem insurmountable. Case in point: Consider a household lawn and the maintenance required for a lush carpet of Bermuda or zoysia. Then, look at the superintendent and the crew — often short-handed — and the vast acreage required on a golf course.
And much of the time, they make creating pristine conditions look easy.
“Every course is different,” said Jeff Connell, who oversees Fort Jackson Golf Club’s 36 holes. “Really, every part of every course is different in terms of shade, wind exposure and soil conditions.”
To solve those puzzles requires year-round attention to detail, and ever-changing weather can increase the challenge. Just a couple of months ago with the world focused on Christmas, superintendents in the Carolinas sought to protect turf against the bitter cold snap.
“That was nightmare central,” said Tim Kreger, executive director of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association.
Thinking about the whims of the weather, Chad Berry, superintendent at Lexington’s Golden Hills Golf and Country Club, said, “Welcome to South Carolina.”
“You have to plan well in advance and adjust if needed,” said Chuck Green, superintendent at Sumter’s Quixote Club. “I’ll have members ask me in, say, May about weeds in their lawns, and I tell them they’re about two months too late.”
Indeed, pre-emergent fungicides will be applied no later than March 1.
And superintendents generally acknowledge the truth in the philosophy expounded by Gilda Radner’s Roseann Rosannadanna character: “It’s always something!”
In addition to the December cold spell, more rain than usual — about nine inches in the Midlands — has complicated preparation in the early days of 2023.
“There are drains to clean out and repairs for those that need it,” Golden Hills’ Berry said. “Grasses have to be replaced in some places. Bunkers always require attention, and we have to be careful around the extremely wet areas.”
The maintenance crew must work around players who take advantage of the warmer temperature and, Berry said: “That’s a good problem to have. Golfers are out here on warm days.”
Superintendents expect more cold temperatures before spring flourishes in full, and flowering shrubs like azaleas likely will take a hit. But Quixote’s Green pointed out the superintendents are more concerned about soil temperatures in protecting the grasses.
These guys can talk about dormancy and fungicides and how to react to almost any weather situation. The expertise provided by Clemson and N.C. State is always close at hand, the PGA of America and USGA have agronomy experts and superintendents exchange information among themselves.
“We’ve installed some new drains, mapped the irrigation heads, re-sodded some areas … just all the thing we do during the winter,” Fort Jackson’s Connell said in illustrating the “it’s always something” challenge.
They may be planning three to six months in the future, but they also respond to the unexpected in a timely manner.
Superintendents “know how to solve problems,” Green said.
Added Connell: “There people are professionals. No matter what a club’s maintenance budget might be, you’ll see terrific conditions and that doesn’t happen by accident.”
By the time the Masters and the RBC Heritage signal the start of golf season in colder parts of the nation, the game will have been going full tilt for more than a month in South Carolina.
Golfers will discover excellent playing conditions and perhaps will not think about what went into creating them. But they should.
Just as the PGA Tour’s old motto bragged about their players, the superintendents share the same theme: “These guys are good!”
Chip shots. USC’s Rafe Reynolds shared the Southeastern Conference men’s golfer of the week award after his career-best finish, a tie for second, in the Puerto Rico Classic. A junior from Greenville, he fired a three-round total of 10-under-par 206. In the team competition, the Gamecocks shared sixth place. … South Carolina’s women, No. 4 in the national polls, opened the spring season by finishing fifth in the Nexus Collegiate in the Bahamas. Strong winds created challenging conditions and scores soared. All-American Hannah Darling tied for 12th individually. …. Registration has opened for the 40th edition of the Myrtle Beach World Amateur, set for Aug. 28-31, at multiple Grand Strand courses. The tourney drew a field of more than 3,200 last year.