USGA Greens Section mourns loss of Zontek

September 7, 2012

Stanley J. Zontek, the director of the USGA Greens Section’s Mid-Atlantic Region, passed away Aug. 28 after suffering a heart attack. He was 63 years old.

Zontek had a long career with the USGA. He was both diplomatic and knowledgeable about what it took to keep a golf course in good playing shape.

Several Cape Region golfers may recall Zontek’s gentle manner when he traveled to Shawnee Country Club several years ago for an on-the-course evaluation and recommendation session. I joined a small crowd to hear him speak at an Oct. 4, 2000 session, the third in six years held at that point in the club’s history.

His talk became the subject of my Oct. 13, 2000 golf column, an edited portion of which is reprinted here, in tribute to Zontek’s many contributions to golf:

"The grass talks to us. You just have to listen to what it’s telling you." For a second there I thought I was back in college in the ‘70s.

Actually, this Zen-like statement came from Stanley Zontek, the Middle Atlantic Region Director of the United States Golf Association’s Greens Section.

Zontek visited Shawnee CC at the request of course superintendent Steve Zeveney and the club’s greens and grounds committee. The USGA provides this service for its member clubs on a regular basis.

Zontek is a 1970 graduate of Penn State with a BS in agronomy. The West Chester, Pa. resident first began working for the USGA in 1971, and said he has the longest tenure of the association’s employees.

Periodically Zontek would stoop down, whip out a penknife, and carve out a segment of turf to help make his points.

On the 18th green, for example, Zontek cut out a plug to show the members the moss growing on top of the grass. According to Zontek, the velvety plant recently appeared on several Mid-Atlantic greens with a vengeance.

Zontek explained that the moss infestation is a result of three factors: "Mowing heights, fertility and weather." He said the trend to increase green speed by mowing the greens as short as possible, with mower heights as low as an eighth of an inch, helps produce the moss. "You don’t see it on the fringe, do you? It only appears where the grass is really short."

In addition, although top-dressing with fertilizer normally inhibits moss growth, this year’s wet weather caused nitrogen losses through leaching. "The fertilizer essentially melted like sugar in the rain," Zontek said.

Zontek urged the group to deal with the moss quickly, because the problem would spread faster than they would think possible. "Otherwise, instead of talking about how to make the greens putt better, you’ll be talking about how to make the moss putt better. You have to declare war on moss."

Zontek prescribed a three-part approach - raising mower heights, applying more fertilizer and Dawn dishwashing detergent.

You read correctly. Dawn detergent.

A diluted solution of Dawn sprayed over the turf in bright sunshine will dry out and eventually kill the moss. Because the moss has no vascular system, the detergent desiccates the plant. Raising the mower heights will slow the greens a bit, but Zontek said that’s a small price to pay to get rid of the pest.

Zontek noted that maintaining good turf for golf is a difficult task in this part of the country. "The Mid-Atlantic is in the transition zone, where it’s hard for cool-weather turf to do well, and also hard for hot-weather turf to do well."

Zontek said that Shawnee’s members should be pleased about the progress the course has made in improving its turf and grounds in the last six years. "You really do have a pretty good course here."

Zontek will be sorely missed by his fellow staffers at the USGA, and by thousands of golfers who appreciate the work he did to make golf’s playing grounds as pleasant as possible.

Local club competition results

The Kings Creek Country Club Ladies 18-hole group played a low net tournament Aug. 30.

Cory Warther won first place in the first flight, with a net 69. Ana Dittel’s 71 net was good for second place, while Linda Outlaw finished in third place with her net 75.

In the second flight, Betsy Alwood’s net 70 earned her first-place honors. She finished a net stroke ahead of Pattie Magee, who beat Dorrie Spilman by a single net stroke.

Spillman won the closest to the pin contest, with an approach ending 13-feet-six-inches from the hole.