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Archive for August, 2009

Leukemia & Pesticides: Is there a correlation? My doctor says YES

About five years ago I was diagnosed with chronic Leukemia also known as CMML. Since then much of my time has been spent at blood labs, hospitals and doctor’s offices. My spleen has been removed and there have been numerous tests to check and double check all my organs. All the various components of my blood are either too high or too low. When the platelets are low I bruise and bleed prolifically and when the hemoglobin is low I tire easily. I have become part of a study that monitors my condition at a prominent Toronto hospital.

In spite of the above I have remained active in my daily life. I bicycle often on my 21-gear hybrid touring bike. I also play golf at least twice a week, do my stretching exercises and lift modest weights to keep up my strength. Just the same, I am often exhausted and take frequent naps.

During my latest consultation I got up the nerve to ask the doctor what the chances were of the chronic stage becoming acute. Without hesitation she answered: “30%.” I was not dismayed by those odds because chances are that I will die of some other cause during the next decade. I am now 75 years old.

I then asked if there was correlation between my condition and my lifelong exposure to pesticides. “Absolutely,” she replied.

I then asked if there was correlation between my condition and my lifelong exposure to pesticides. “Absolutely,” she replied. Her quick response took me off guard and it has been on my mind ever since. I have yet to come to terms with it. On the one hand, I have always believed that the prudent application of pesticides was beneficial. Now I am on the other side of the equation and am not so sure about the benefits of pesticides. I wish I had been more careful.

In Quest of Perfection

While 99% of golfers would be perfectly happy with the greens at the Devil’s Paintbrush just north of Toronto, superintendent Ken Wright does not care much for the encroaching Poa annua.  He has convinced his owners that the greens should be reseeded. In early August the course was closed and Wright and his crew stripped the sod, aerated the bare surfaces and applied Basamid to sterilize the soil.  The greens were watered thoroughly and covered immediately after with 3 mil white plastic. The plastic was kept in place for 7-10 days. By that time, Wright was confident that all traces of Poa annua had been eliminated. After removing the plastic, the surface was made ready for seeding. Wright and his assistants had carefully selected a newly developed dwarf bentgrass, t1, far superior to the existing Penncross. The work is  now progressing according to schedule and the new grass is expected to be ready for cutting in early September and be back in play in 2009.

TurfNet members Ken Wright and John Gehman (c) with me at the Paintbrush.

TurfNet members Ken Wright (l) and John Gehman with me at the Paintbrush.

It is an amazing  process and anyone interested in golf greens should visit the Paintbrush to see it in person or contact Wright on his Blackberry. Wright is convinced that the new greens will be Poa annua free for at least 10 years by which time he will have retired. He also expects that moss, prevalent in many Ontario greens, will also bite the dust. If the project is successful, as Wright is sure it will be, the greens at the Devil’s Pulpit, a sister course, are next in line.

Superintendents in the Bermuda belt habitually resurface their greens every ten years or so. It’s no big deal since the work can be done during the summer when traffic is light but for northern supers, resurfacing in the manner described above means closing the course for play, which many are reluctant to do. Some will question the necessity of the elaborate and costly process all for the sake of getting rid of bits of Poa.

The purists, however, know that  a perfect putting surface does not include Poa annua. If in doubt, ask Tiger Woods!

Right down to the stone fencing, the massive hills, fescue grasses, sod-wall bunkers and the occasional blind shot, Devils Paintbrush has the rustic look and genuine quality of an Irish or Scottish links... - From the Paintbrush website.

"Right down to the stone fencing, the massive hills, fescue grasses, sod-wall bunkers and the occasional blind shot, Devil's Paintbrush has the rustic look and genuine quality of an Irish or Scottish links..." - from the Paintbrush website.

In Hard Times, Cut the Frills…

Recently I visited a golf course that has fallen on hard times. At one time a private country club, it lost a large number of its members and was forced to take in greenfee play to meet expenses. Located in a highly competitive area for golfers, the club’s finances did not improve and it was forced into receivership. Continuing operations, the bank controlled the purse strings and only approved the bare essentials. Later this year a new owner will take over.

In touring the course with the green chairman and meeting with the superintendent, I could not help but notice that in spite of the dire circumstances, certain frills were surprisingly obvious. Rectangular tees may appeal to all sorts of golfers who watch the game on television, but they are expensive to implement and time consuming to maintain.  Similarly, dew walks off the tees to the fairways may have a place at a high end private country club, but when the green fees are $40, one might question their necessity.

Dew walks off the tees to the fairways may have a place at a high end private country club, but when the green fees are $40, one might question their necessity…

All this brings to mind the need to establish priorities when the survival of a golfing enterprise is at stake. The process is also known as “zero base budgeting.” It involves questioning the need of every expense in the course maintenance budget. Unquestionably the first priority is the puttabilty of the greens. For regular play they don’t have to stimp at twelve and be cut at .125 inches to be acceptable. Similarly consider raising the height of cut on the fairways and lowering it in the rough and apply fertilzers and pesticides only when absolutely necessary.

In these difficult economic times when many golf operations are facing bankruptcy, only the leanest will survive and on a positive note, superintendents who know their stuff and know how to economize will often be the most essential employee on the premises and the last one to let go. So cut the frills and survive till better times return.