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In the heat of summer…

Occasionally in my travels I meet superintendents in obscure places who speak negatively of their peers who have advanced and risen above the crowd.  Based primarily on jealousy, such pettiness is harmful and retards the advancement of our profession.

Similarly, it is bad form for a new superintendent to blame his predecessor for all manner of mistakes and mishaps. It is understandable that new superintendents often feel invincible in the early stages of their careers. They have all the answers and receive an abundance of acclaim from their golfers. But all too soon the honeymoon is over and reality sets in.

The burden of looking after a golf course during the heat of summer can be a lonesome road. At such times the support of your colleagues can be a great source of encouragement and inspiration. I urge you to visit often with each other, share experiences and exchange information. In the big scheme of things, the company of your fellow superintendents is far more rewarding than any other group of people.

Remember, you are not an island unto yourself. You will need the company and support of your friends and colleagues. Seek them out. Take the first step and do not let jealousy and avarice get in the way of your progress and well-being during this often challenging time of year.

Three is too many…

Upon my return to Toronto from our winter home in Florida, I became aware of a 44-year-old superintendent in the area who has been struck with leukemia. This caught my attention because I, also, was diagnosed with chronic leukemia five or so years ago, and more than likely had it for several years prior.

This young fellow has undergone two years of medical treatment but with no positive results. He is now scheduled for a bone marrow transplant from his sister in July. He will be unable to work for at least six months and his chances of a full recovery are uncertain. Like most in his age bracket, he has a wife, a house with a mortgage, and a daughter about to enter college.

Another acquaintance of mine, a pro/superintendent now retired from a different golf course in the area, also struggles with leukemia. He takes medication but, like me, often feels tired and lethargic. Both of us have had our spleens removed to increase the number of platelets in our blood, but the process compromised our immune systems. Infections of any kind are now a serious threat.

Because misery loves company, we keep in touch and compare notes about our health. But, as opposed to the young superintendent in the midst of his life and career, my retired friend and I have lived the bulk of our lives.

Leukemia has been likened to a death sentence with a stay of execution. Thankfully all three of us have been spared so far.

Leukemia has been likened to a death sentence with a stay of execution. Thankfully all three of us have been spared so far…

Of course what all three of us also have in common is that we were exposed to pesticides for prolonged periods during our professional careers on the golf course. Our doctors, all highly qualified hematologists, believe there is a correlation between leukemia and exposure to pesticides. I questioned that conclusion at one time, but three of us now — within shouting distance of each other — are difficult to ignore.

For years experts in our field assured us — not once, or twice… but repeatedly at conferences and seminars — that properly applied pesticides are perfectly safe and will not cause cancer. Could those experts have been wrong? It certainly seems that way that way to me.

For years experts in our field assured us — not once, or twice… but repeatedly at conferences and seminars — that properly applied pesticides are perfectly safe…

Leukemia is a relatively rare disease that only affects about one person in a hundred thousand. For the longest time I believed that my condition was indeed a rarity, but now that we are three, that’s too many for a coincidence… and I’m sure there are others. Our fight with leukemia must not be ignored or swept under the rug. Superintendents have to be made aware of the real dangers they are exposed to in their daily lives on the golf course.  This is not something to be scoffed at or taken lightly.

Even though our application equipment is better, products are much safer than back in the days of mercury, the use of personal protective equipment more common and our education much improved, the dangers still exist. The time has come to apply fewer pesticides (or not at all), and our golfers have to learn to expect less than perfect conditions. There are already many in our ranks who have embraced this philosophy. We should applaud their efforts and advocate their practices for the betterment of golf and for the health of our profession.

Golf is for the birds!

Some mornings my wife awakens me to the songs of mockingbirds at our home in Florida. I don’t wear my hearing aids to bed so I am oblivious to the commotion outside. She’ll nudge me and gesture to my ears until I get the message. Once my hearing aids are in place we both enjoy the vast repertoire of the mockingbirds.

After breakfast I find comfort in the sun on a cushioned bench in our garden and begin my conversation with the cardinals high up above in the palm trees. A series of two syllable whistles invariably results in a likewise response. The exchange may go on for several minutes, only to be interrupted by a pair of sandhill cranes majestically striding across the lawn, shrieking loudly as they profess eternal love while conveniently aerating the grass.

All this beautiful singing is often rudely interrupted by a bevy of crows descending to the upper branches of the live oak trees, making more noise than the ladies on Tuesdays at the golf course. And it reminds me that it is time to head to the course and play in the men’s league.

This day I am drawn to play with a picky little retired lawyer from Detroit. He takes forever to tee up the ball, looking for a perfect spot and adjusting the ball numerous times. On the green he carefully removes the pin and deposits it on the apron. With short, dapper steps he paces his putt.

After several holes I stop the cart in the middle of the fairway and point to the top of a tree. “What now?” he asks.

“Listen to the birds!” I reply.

And then an outburst: “I am here to play golf, not to listen to some friggin’ birds.”

So we proceeded to the next hole, stopping along the way at the next washroom… since elderly men never pass a washroom, even if they have just been.

My picky partner keeps careful score, and takes the card and pencil with him into the toilet as if he does not trust me with important documents. I wonder if he pees on the pencil. It takes all kinds to keep the golf economy strong.

My picky partner keeps careful score, and takes the card and pencil with him into the toilet as if he does not trust me with important documents. I wonder if he pees on the pencil. It takes all kinds to keep the golf economy strong…

A number of years ago I played in Friesland, a province of The Netherlands and the place of my birth a long time ago. It was the month of April when nature is at its best. Newborn lambs were bleating for their mothers in a nearby pasture. Plovers were doing summersaults in the clear sky above and singing high notes. As we proceeded down the fairways, a black Friesian stallion in a nearby pasture galloped away, stopped suddenly, raised its head and whinnied, then rolled over on its back and kicked its legs wildly. A little later, bells from a church spire chimed and announced the hour. Ducks squawked in the water hazards while coots wandered aimlessly in the rough, narrowly missing our flying missiles. Such was the poetry of the landscape, not changed much since my boyhood.

On another occasion while visiting Hawaii we discovered the “chicken course”, aka the Kukuiolono Park and Golf Course on the Island of Kauai. (Say it loudly and you will sound like a rooster.) Apparently many years ago a hurricane destroyed a chicken coop but the chickens survived. In the absence of natural predators they multiplied  rapidly. Walter McBryde, a sugar magnate who owned the park and 9-hole golf course, bequeathed it upon his death to the community with the proviso that the fees remained low.  Golfers can thank him as they pass his grave near the 8th tee, which is in the middle of a lovely Japanese garden also popular for wedding ceremonies.

To this day you can play the Kukuiolono Golf Course for under $10 if you don’t mind putting up with all the chickens. They are everywhere, on tees, greens and fairways. We putted through them on the greens and almost hit a rooster on a ladies’ tee. But if you have dealt with Canada Geese, chickens are a joy. We even bought a package of feed for 50 cents from the dragon lady in the pro shop and fed the chickens near the putting green. They all came running.

So now you know why golf is for the birds!

High Definition Golf…

The weather in Florida this winter has been deplorable, often not fit for man nor beast and certainly not for golf. We normally play three games a week, but this winter we have barely averaged one. For days on end there was no golf because of rain, cold north winds and frost delays.

With the money not spent on green fees accumulating, we cast our frugal habits aside and bought an HD flat screen television that now dominates our living room. For the past three weeks I have been glued to the screen. First the Blue Monster in Miami, next the Copperhead in Tarpon Springs and most recently the Bay Hill course in Orlando. What a feast for the eye. The quality of the picture is so good it makes one feel as if one is sitting on the green while the players are putting.

The level of maintenance peaked for all three events and the superintendents earned high marks for the product presented. Yet, because of the high definition broadcast, every little imperfection showed to the experienced observer. Something as tiny as a missing paint  chip on the soil above the cup was clearly visible and an old plug, a tad low from a previous hole location, did not escape the eye. Of course most casual viewers are mainly interested in the competition and would not notice.

It seems to me that the era of excessive striping is coming to an end. The mowing patterns are more subdued now. While the popular trend is to provide fast and firm conditions with a tint of brown an acceptable hue, all three courses were as green as Ireland. It is amazing how fast and smooth the greens overseeded with Poa trivialis putt. It makes one wonder why some courses up north aren’t using Poa triv instead of struggling with bent and/or Poa annua.

While the popular trend is to provide fast and firm conditions with a tint of brown an acceptable hue, all three courses were as green as Ireland…

While all three courses were in exceptional condition and a great credit to their respective superintendents, I suspect that of the three, Bay Hill had the highest budget… but that’s speculation on my part.

We have postponed our usual return to Ontario until after The Masters so we can continue to watch HD golf. More than likely I will have to break down and buy another HD TV for our home up north. Now that’s supporting the North American economy or more than likely, the Chinese economy.

During all three events I did not miss Tiger in the least. In fact, I now have a new hero: Ernie Els! I’ll be cheering him on when he plays in Augusta.

The Senile Golfers…

We are the survivors of the Great Depression and WW II. We are the senior citizens, the last generation, and at the golf courses where we play, we are often referred to as the senile citizens.  We don’t hit the ball so far any more and now play mostly from the forward tees, better known as the ladies tees before politically correct times.

Some of us suffer from the tremors that make the club head shake when addressing the ball, this is especially deadly when putting. Others don’t see well and can’t follow the flight of the ball. We all have memory lapses and can’t remember the make of the ball we played. When we do find a ball in the rough, there are often multiple claims of ownership. Not being able to hear adds to the confusion. Our scores are often estimates and our handicaps have become irrelevant. Yet we keep coming back for more punishment week after week, all season long.

When we do find a ball in the rough, there are often multiple claims of ownership. Not being able to hear adds to the confusion. Our scores are often estimates and our handicaps have become irrelevant…

One time, at the conclusion of a round, the pro asked one of our group: “How did you do today?”  “Very well” was the reply. “I had nine riders.” Puzzled, the pro asked: “What’s a rider?”

The golfer replied: “A rider is when you have to ride the cart to get your next shot.” Such is the state of our game.

Some years ago when I was still an active superintendent, I received a call from a golfer wondering if he might spread the ashes of a deceased member of his regular foursome on the golf course. I pondered this unusual request for a while and then said that I would assist to make sure the burial process would not get out of hand. We selected an evening when there would be few golfers around.

At the appointed time three men came to my office carrying two satchels and we proceeded to the 11th green, a severely undulating putting surface, hated by all golfers. The deceased was known to have 3-putted the green on numerous occasions. When we arrived at our destination the satchels were unpacked. The one contained an urn with the ashes and the other a quart of Scotch whiskey and four glasses. We drank the Scotch and the three surviving buddies made silly speeches about the dead man’s golfing prowess.  When the whiskey was gone, the top of the urn was unscrewed and the contents spread out on the green. Except that the remains were not ashes, as I had expected, but more like small gravelly stones. But it was too dark and I decided to deal with the problem the next morning.

Somewhat under the weather from the whiskey, I slept in the following morning and arrived late for work. On my inspection tour I was met by Rosie the greens cutter who was all in a twitter about gravel on the 11th that got caught in the reels of the mower. I told Rosie to skip the 11th and went back to the barn for a power sweeper and blew the “ashes” into the rough, where we spread the remaining ashes of deceased golfers from that time forward.

I intend to join them there eventually, but not anytime soon.