Wintertime clearances help golf courses

February 15, 2013

Last spring, Chris Adkins returned to Shawnee Country Club as the new man in charge, as the manager for The Rookery Golf outfit that had just leased the former private course for the next four years.

Adkins wasn’t new to Shawnee, however. He previously served as Shawnee’s course superintendent before joining Pete Oakley, Butch Holtzclaw and other local investors in creating the original Rookery golf course near Milton.

We chatted at the time about what kind of changes he expected to oversee at the old course, where so many signs of his previous stewardship were still evident.

“I have to do something about the trees,” I recall him saying. He explained that when the back nine holes were first built, Adkins planted several trees around the greens complexes to add some definition to the formerly wide-open spaces. He didn’t intend for those trees to become permanent fixtures on the course, however, and just said, “They need to go.”

Adkins specifically mentioned the sixth and seventh greens, hemmed in on three sides by formerly small pines. In the intervening years, those trees had grown both up and out, causing some noticeable difficulties with the greenside turf.

The superintendent has been as good as his word, and then some.

I’m not saying the Rookery North golf course features nothing but stumps, but Adkins and his crew have definitely trimmed up the place. Several trees that were already diseased or otherwise troublesome have gone on to sing in the choir eternal. The appearance of the sixth green is noticeably different, as are the sides and backs of a few other greens. The turf on the sixth and seventh greens was also in great shape during the past season.

More recently, the Rookery North maintenance crew also tackled the significant underbrush west of the first green and eighth tee, and just east of the seventh green. A formerly six-to-eight-foot-high pile of leaves, brush, fallen trees and limbs is now a relatively open expanse, with several dozen trees dotting the otherwise clear space.

As Adkins explained previously, the high brush impeded good airflow and sunlight in this part of the course. This made it difficult to maintain good turf conditions, especially for the blue tee box portions of the eighth hole. When the wind is coming from the east, the now-cleared area should also help with the turf on the seventh green, as well as the nearby second hole’s blue tee box.

In this respect Adkins, and the Rookery folks are heeding the advice given Shawnee and many other golf courses by Stanley Zontek, the late director of the USGA’s Mid-Atlantic Greens Section.

In an article he wrote for the USGA’s Green Section Record in 1990, Zontek described the challenges facing golf course superintendents. While trees can be a nice landscape feature for parkland golf courses, it is entirely possible to have too much of a good thing.

As Zontek noted, however, trees also have their champions among golfers who may not appreciate how much damage trees can do in competing with grass for air, light and nutrients.

Zontek suggested letting Mother Nature take its course, but in a special way. As an example, he noted that the course superintendent and greens chairman at the Naval Academy Golf Club named two of the club’s chainsaws as Thunder and Lightning, respectively.

When the golfers would ask what had happened to several trees, the staff could then just say, “Thunder and Lightning got them.” Faced with this news of the consequences of a “natural” event, the golfers were satisfied.

The brush clearing that should help Rookery North this spring was clearly not caused by thunder and lightning. On the other hand, we’ve had more than our share of windy weather lately, haven’t we?

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