A Letter to Golfers from the Director of Golf, Brian Duthu, PGA
August 9, 2012
The past several weeks I have received numerous comments, complaints and suggestions on the conditions of our golf courses. It is troubling to hear these comments, as this time of year these comments are coming from our core group of golfers, which are our year round residents. I hope through the course of this letter I am able to satisfy some of the questions that have been circulating and ultimately describe the actions you can take to address them as well.
Summer is our peak growing season, particularly the monsoon season which begins the later part of July. This is the time of year we must complete the bulk of our maintenance practices. Aerification is the most impactful to golfers, especially greens aerification. The USGA recommends impacting 15% – 20% of a putting green surface per year, to keep the organic matter near the surface of the green under 3%. If this organic matter is not removed the resulting putting green surface would become spongy and prone to disease. In order to achieve 20% we conduct two aerifications. The first aerification is with a 1/2” tine and the second with a larger 5/8” tine. We do the larger tine aerification second, as the bermuda grass is growing more aggressively and is able to recover more quickly. After the greens are aerified they are “top dressed” with sand and in the case of the second aerification a mixture of ground up “plugs” taken from the green during aerification and sand.
This year many golfers have commented that we did not top dress adequately, particularly during the second aerification. Please realize that the topdressing is designed to fill the holes to the soil surface. The putting greens are mowed to height of approximately 1/6” following aerification. The height of the grass, surrounding a plug, will create a “hole” in the putting surface and makes putting frustrating. The amount of sand we use is designed to allow the greens to heal as quickly as possible. It is also important to note the these procedures are conducted in the same manner as they were prior to National Golf Maintenance taking over the maintenance of the golf courses, including the amount of sand used. We realize how impactful this process is to our summer golfers and appreciate your patience.
Transition is another painful process our summer golfers need to contend with. Transition begins in late spring and early summer and is the period in which the rye grass dying and the bermuda grass is not yet growing fast enough to fill in any resulting bare spots. Depending on weather rye grass can live well into June and is competing with our bermuda for “turf”. To alleviate this turf war, RCSC sprays four courses per year with an herbicide, which kills the rye grass but does not harm the bermuda. The resulting bare spots are frustrating to golfers, but allow the bermuda to recover more quickly. These bare spots appear in the areas the berumda is the weakest, especially on courses that have been recently renovated, such as Willowcreek. As we move through this five year program the effects will be less noticeable and the transitions shorter.
The USGA recommends a minimum of 100 days of growth for bermuda during the summer months prior to overseeding. Spraying our rye grass out assures us more than 100 days of growth and ensures that we have a solid base of bermuda prior to overseeding. This process is used at many courses throughout the Valley, despite the misconception that the Sun City courses are the only ones doing it. Our courses that do not spray will still suffer the effects of transition; however the effects will be noticeable into July. This was evident at North and Willowcreek this year, as they went through a natural transition. The bermuda planted at Willowcreek last year was even more susceptible, having undergone its first overseed following the renovation. It is normal for a course to experience turf issues two to three years following a renovation, this will apply to Lakes West in the next couple of years as well.
Now I would like to describe the ways that you, as a golfer, can have an impact. First, keep the comments coming; the most convenient way is through the comment cards available at each golf course. The comments we receive are important to us and we will respond promptly. Second, join a Green Committee, comments and suggestions made at the course level are taken to Golf Advisory meetings for discussion and if deemed appropriate, acted upon. If you do not wish to join a Green Committee, you many still attend and express your concerns in the open forum. Third, attend the golf advisory meetings; you can see firsthand the items that are important to your fellow golfers and the actions that are being taken. Fourth, attend the Board/Member exchanges, currently held most months on the 1st and 3rd Monday at 9:00 a.m. at the Lakeview Center, beginning in 2013 (possibly sooner) the meetings will be held on the 2nd Monday of the month. All members, in good standing, have an opportunity to speak directly to the entire board on issues that are important to them. Fifth, run for the board; you will have direct influence on items that are important to the fellow members you represent. Finally, hunt me down; my office is at Riverview and you are welcome to stop by to express your concerns. I can also be reached by phone or by email. I do my best to respond within 24 hours. Please feel free to stop me as well, if you see me while I am visiting the courses.
Please remember that many of the “facts” that are circulated are not always factual. Often they are formed by a well meaning member expressing an opinion, often laced with hyperbole. As this opinion is spread it begins to be taken as fact. I have heard much discussion lately that our courses were in better shape before we began using an outside maintenance company. The core of the current maintenance team is made of the same people that performed their work as RCSC employees, including all of the Superintendents and the Director of Maintenance, John Snyder. This is just one example of an opinion becoming a “fact”.
In closing we ask that you remember we strive to provide a golf experience that is enjoyable as well as economical. Our staffing size is a fraction of the size of many of the high end courses in the area. Many of these courses are subsidized by the developer, solely to promote the sales of homes or home sites. We cannot compete with these courses either in the level of service or the quality of product. The low summer rates these courses offer make it difficult to compete, many of the courses that charge $100 or more in the winter can be played for $35 or $40 in the summer. These rates attract many of our residents, which puts additional strain on our budget. Our residents will bring back many ideas while playing these courses, not all of these ideas are fiscally responsible to on our courses. Plus as you take your money outside of Sun City, we have fewer resources with which to accomplish our goals. Golf remains an important piece of the Sun City experience; however our decisions impact all RCSC members and need to remain responsible.
We thank everyone for your past and current support. Please remember that all course workers are human and as such will make mistakes. We will use these mistakes as a training opportunity in an attempt to avoid repeating them. They also continue to produce a quality product for a substantially lower cost than many of the courses around us. Please remember we also enjoy positive feedback, when it is warranted. Thank you for your time and happy golfing!!
Brian Duthu, PGA
Director of Golf