Firsthand reports: Superintendents adjust operations for coronavirus

Golf course superintendents share steps they’re taking to manage both their teams and their to-do lists in the wake of COVID-19.

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Filed to: Coronavirus

Golf course superintendent coronavirus
Image by Freepik


Editor’s note: While there is no lack of general information available about the coronavirus, GCSAA has compiled resources specific to golf and golf course management. Find customizable business and communications templates, relevant OSHA and CDC information, and more on GCSAA’s coronavirus resources page.

The GCM team will continue to add to this collection of anecdotes frequently throughout the coming weeks. Comments are from social media and have been lightly edited for clarity. To tell us how you are coping with coronavirus at your golf facility, and to share any strategies/workarounds you are implementing in your management of people or your course, email GCMOnline.com editor Megan Hirt.

 

Feedback from Friday, March 27, 2020

Christopher Smith
Hollow Brook Golf Club, Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.

We’re a private club, and we’re currently open for play to our members, walking only (no carts). Clubhouse operations are completely closed.

I am operating with myself (superintendent), my assistant superintendent, mechanic and four senior staff members. Typically, we would be operating with 18 more staff members this time of year.

A key in all of this, for me, has been learning to compartmentalize my daily objectives. This means, in part, recognizing and accepting that our staff is at a much smaller scale than normal for a property the size of ours, and developing schedules and work goals that are productive but that don’t wear staff members down.

I want to make sure our daily maintenance plan counts and will be the most beneficial now and down the line. Right now, I’m making sure all necessary spray applications are in place, and keeping things simple by focusing on basic golf maintenance, leaving slots available for future major agronomic decisions such as pre-emergent applications, irrigation startup and servicing, and aeration and topdressing programs. I like to emphasize to our ownership and management that we are protecting the “asset.”

My biggest concern is my crew staying healthy. We just began taking crew members’ temperatures at the start of each workday. They are completely on board with this and are thankful we’re looking out for each of them. We’ve posted numerous signs to remind staff of basic COVID-19 prevention — washing their hands, driving in separate vehicles, sanitizing all equipment and tools, and keeping us informed if they come in contact with someone who has the virus.

My best advice for other superintendents during this time is to stay in contact with your local GCSAA chapter and other local turf associations. The Met GCSA has been incredible with keeping all of us connected and informed of any government mandates or decisions.

I also continue to post photos of our course on social media. It keeps members in good spirits and assures them that their golf course is in good hands.

 


Feedback from Thursday, March 26, 2020

Blake Cain
Bent Tree Country Club, Dallas

Dallas County has implemented a “shelter-in-place” mandate, which started Monday, March 23. Our club has made sure to stay in full compliance with the mandate. The golf course is closed to play. Carry-out orders from the restaurant and landscape maintenance are still allowed under the mandate, so we have been restricted to only those practices.

The week prior to the mandate, we implemented a list of protocols to minimize exposure among employees. These included split shifts, split lunches in groups of six, gloves, bandanas over faces, hand sanitizing throughout the day, cleaning all equipment/facilities after use and at the end of each workday, removing bunker rakes from the course, and placing pool noodles in the bottom of cups. Our team has also made sure to follow all CDC recommendations. We want to do all we can to protect our staff and members, as safety is the foremost priority during this difficult time.

It’s been a challenge to remember to practice all the new restrictions, but we are constantly reminding our staff, and they’ve done a great job of making it a habit.

We are still operating with our full maintenance staff of about 20. We have asked staff to closely monitor their health, and if anyone has symptoms or thinks they are sick with anything, we’ve asked them to take time off and return 48 to 72 hours after they’ve fully recovered. If anyone has COVID-19 symptoms, we’ve asked them to contact their medical provider to see whether they should be tested.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve gotten over 6 inches of rain, and the past three days, we’ve had 60- to 80-degree weather. The course has really greened up and is beginning to grow, so we’ve prioritized mowing the entire property and applying essential plant protectants on greens.

My advice to other superintendents right now is to hang in there, and to be honest and transparent with your crew to help them handle this stressful time. I’ve personally spoken to each of our team members about what their situation is at home, and I’ve offered to assist them any way I can. I also think it’s important to have an approach that targets mental health. Part of this can simply be asking employees what they enjoy most at work and then providing them with opportunities to complete tasks they enjoy or find rewarding.

I’d also recommend just hopping on a mower and trying to enjoy being outside. I’ve mowed fairways and greens recently, and it’s a great way to see areas of the course to improve, and to start brainstorming ideas for making your operations stronger and more efficient.

Last, make yourself indispensable. Right now, general managers, owners and board members are looking at what they have to have and preparing to cut any fat if revenue is no longer coming in. Be a team player, and offer to help out in ways you haven’t in the past. Golf courses are essential to most private and public facilities, so manage your staff and expenses more tightly than ever, and look for new opportunities to save and ease the burden for the club or facility.

 


Feedback from Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Matt Wagenhoffer
Municipal golf course, Washington

The course closed yesterday, March 24. We normally have four full-time employees (including myself, the superintendent) and five part-time employees, so to keep the full-timers working, we asked the part-timers to stay home for the state proclamation of two weeks (which began today), though we are hearing it may go to four weeks.

Yesterday and the day before, we went wall to wall with PGR. Then the four full-time employees will mow greens two times a week; tees and approaches one time; fairways two times; and rough one time. The PGR will save me two greens mows, one tee and approach mow, one fairway mow, and probably four hours of rough mowing per week. A plus to being closed is that we can fertilize and aerify early with no golfer pressure.

Without the part-time guys, our bunker projects, bunker raking, drainage project, line trimming and divot filling have been put off or will be done next season. We have gone just to basics — mowing only.

My advice to others is to save money where you can now, because owners and city/county courses have no revenue when closed. So use PGRs to cut back on both mowing and hours. It’s better to get your full-time guys some hours vs. full hours and then have to suddenly stop due to panic from your park directors or owners when they see full wages leaving and zero revenue coming in.

Also, talk to your directors or owners and let them know what you’re doing and why you’re working when the course is closed. See whether they will allow any part-time staff members to use their sick time. Some of my part-time guys have weeks of banked sick leave.

 


Feedback from Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Golf course superintendent in New Jersey

We’re a public course, so we’d been open all year. On nicer days, we’d do over 100 rounds.

Early last week, we closed the clubhouse, kitchen and bar to the public. Portable toilets were placed in the parking lot and by the first tee. We spaced apart tee times by 20 minutes; raised the cups on the greens; and reminded golfers of the USGA rule that removing the pin is not required while putting. Golfers made tee times online, and the pro shop would direct golfers to their cart through a service window. We pretty much cut all risk of exposure between the golfers and pro shop staff. When carts were returned after a round, they would be sprayed with Lysol and wiped down.

Gov. Murphy put Executive Order No. 107 in place on Saturday, March 21, and all golf courses in New Jersey were closed for play. On Sunday, our course owner saw people riding their bikes on the course, sitting in lawn chairs on the course, and in general treating it like a public park. The course is surrounded by town houses, and there isn’t a fence or wood line separating the properties, so we decided to put out “no trespassing” signs.

Today, I had to ask roughly 15 people to please leave the property. We’re telling them that our insurance company has insisted on the no-trespassing policy for liability issues. That’s actually a pretty good policy, because we don’t want people getting injured if they fall in a groundhog hole or debris. Most people have been understanding.

I still have the winter crew, which consists of four crew members. One is working on redoing the bar room at the clubhouse. Myself and another are operating excavators and equipment to renovate our bunkers. He uses “his” equipment and I use “mine,” so there is minimal risk of contamination. The fourth crew member asked to be laid off today so he can collect unemployment. He’s really worried about the coronavirus. I told him there’s no wrong decision and for him to do whatever makes him feel safe. Besides, if his head isn’t in the game, he’s not going to be paying attention to operating a mower, and I don’t want him to get injured.

So, our staff has minimal contact with each other, and we know our assigned jobs. One guy will mow greens once a week, and we’ll maybe send a fairway machine out this week if the weather cooperates. The grass is still dormant, so we’re not overloaded with mowing. For now, it’s pretty much business as usual, and we’re taking advantage of the course being closed to renovate our bunkers without the risk of getting hit by a ball.


Roger Brink
Indian Ridge Country Club, Andover, Mass.

Golf course shop floors
What do you do when it rains and the crew stays home due to the virus? Clean and paint the shop floor. Needed it bad.


Mitch Larson
Yakima (Wash.) Country Club

Our course is closed, and our staff has been reduced from 14 to five. Currently working are myself (superintendent), the lead assistant superintendent, irrigation tech, mechanic and foreman/spray tech.

Our plan for the foreseeable future is to maintain greens, tees and fairways during the week. Our roughs, ponds, bunkers and landscape areas are on the back burner for the time being, and we’ll address them when we have time. Greens will still be sprayed and maintained to the best of our abilities.

With no golfers present, we will be able to accomplish other projects that would otherwise be tough given normal play. Those projects include seeding and fertilizing stump holes; seeding and topdressing thin areas in fairways; and removing sod around bunker faces and slopes that have become thin. We will then add sod back to those areas and lay sod over the lip of the bunker to establish a new edge. We will also sod bare areas in rough or seed them accordingly. In April, we plan to aerify all greens and tees, and we should have the time to do so with no golfers on the course.

This is my first head superintendent job — I started Feb. 10. Yakima had a fairly mild winter, and our grass started to grow in early February, so losing over half my crew will create challenges, but our club will make it through. As a new superintendent, I am proud to say I have an amazing crew that I can lean on for support. They have worked extremely hard to get the course back to playable conditions since I arrived last month. I can only imagine that no matter the circumstances, we will continue to provide a well-conditioned course for our members when we reopen for play.

 


Feedback from Monday, March 23, 2020

Jeff Sexton, CGCS
Evansville (Ind.) Country Club


Ryan J. Birmingham
Pauma Valley Country Club, near San Diego

A few of my team members have put themselves in self-quarantine, and I’ve had to put a few on leave. I’m down from 20 team members to 15, including myself. We’re using every precaution possible, including hot power-washing of equipment with bleach after every use, access to gloves and masks, and so on. Anyone who feels at risk has been told stay home.

The average crew member is now working 36 hours per week. They usually averaged around 40 hours per week, so it’s about a 25% cut in total labor. Depending on what needs to be done, we pick up shifts or work longer days. We have dealt with 10-plus days of rain so far this month, so we have had to pull some longer shifts. We are splitting up start times and lunch into three different groups to keep group numbers small.

First and foremost, it is about safety. We need to maintain our club as best we can, but we will not sacrifice the safety of our team to do so.


John W. Lanier Jr.
Green River Golf Club, Corona, Calif.

Out here in Southern California, I am bringing in a three-person crew (we normally operate as a 12-person crew year-round) to get all the short-mow areas cut, coming right behind spraying PGRs. Thank God for early order programs and having a Link Pak (10-gallon package of Primo Maxx) available.

We will be mowing greens three times a week, and mowing fairways, tees, collars and approaches one time a week. We’ll try to get a round on the rough every seven to 10 days. It’s unfortunate that spring just started up and we are out of dormancy, experiencing excess rainfall and growth flushes.

I hope everybody can find the faith and strength to get through this! Definitely unprecedented times.


Benjamin Rink
Champaign (Ill.) Country Club

Our clubhouse is closed, but we will be offering curbside food service for members, thinking in terms of all the kids at home and parents looking for an easy meal. It's a win-win situation in the middle of a bad situation — it gives our members a break from meal prep, helps us use food inventory, and keeps a couple of people working in the kitchen (socially distant, of course!).

The golf course is open but just for walking — no golf shop or services available. We have pulled everything that can be touched and pulled the cups up 2 inches above the surface. In all likelihood, nobody is going to play. We have minimal staff this time of year anyway, so we will keep the place mowed at normal mowing heights until this thing is over. Then it will be full speed ahead. My goal is to keep my staff safe and position the course to where it is a fast process to dial it in for play.

 


Feedback from Sunday, March 22, 2020

Brandon Phillips
Twin Bridges Golf Club, Gadsden, Ala.

Twin Bridges is a city-owned course. The course has been closed since Wednesday, March 18.

Initially, we had to tell our six part-timers to stay at home, and just our four full-timers could work. But that just lasted a day or two because we had to aerify our greens, so the city approved us to let part-timers come back to work until further notice.

We had to take precautions, like everyone had to take their own cart so no one was riding with each other; try to keep a little distance from each other; sanitize everything we had contact with, like the cart steering wheels, gear shifters, doorknobs. We made sure we brought our own drinks, because we couldn’t take a cooler for everyone to share, and our clubhouse was closed, so we couldn’t get anything from there.

As of now, we are going about our daily work, just doing the basic needs of the course, waiting to see when we will get to open. Just hoping it is soon.

We still have some dormant fairways and rough, so we haven’t started to cut grass fully yet. It’s starting to green up, and we’re just going day to day to see if they will send us all home. We have a big greens renovation coming up in May/June, going from bentgrass to TifEagle bermudagrass.

 


Feedback from Saturday, March 21, 2020

Chris Bruner
The Champions Course at Weeks Park, Wichita Falls, Texas


Golf course superintendent in Canada

We’ve created a “doomsday” crew scenario in case we lose our crew. I have joined with three other local golf courses in agreement to support each other if need be. I have also contacted three recent retirees from my crew, and they are on board to help out. One of them is my former assistant, so there’s a vast knowledge of our course. We have also implemented disinfecting the cockpit of all machines each day. Better to have a plan than to get caught without one.


Foam noodle golf hole

Kelley Storch
Emporia (Kan.) Golf Course

To prevent golfers from having to touch flagsticks or cups, we cut 2-inch PVC pipe to 3 inches long and put a pool noodle inside. This compresses the foam slightly and doesn’t allow the foam to be blown or torn off. It slides over the flagstick down to the ferrule. Construction-wise, use a miter saw to cut the PVC pipe. The foam can be cut using the saw too. The reaction of our golfers has been positive.

 


Feedback from Friday, March 20, 2020

Golf course superintendent in Texas

We currently have 26 full-time staff members. We are splitting the crew into two shifts. The red team works Sunday through Wednesday morning. We are disinfecting everything with a common chemical we use on the course, as supplies are low for conventional products. Then the blue team works from Wednesday afternoon — starting one hour after the red team leaves — through Saturday. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only way we can ensure a social distance of 6 feet in our compound and still get all of our staff full-time hours.

This was preemptive. This was our own department’s internal decision, eventually approved by the GM and ownership, as the golf course maintenance team is the single largest daily full-time group on the property. This will hopefully be only for two weeks, but who knows. We’ve tried to stem our own possible transmission potential, and this will also hopefully ensure that in the event that someone or even a few people become sick, operations can continue with at least half the staff.

 


Feedback from Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Rafael Barajas, CGCS, GCSAA 2019 president
Boca Grove Golf and Tennis Club, Boca Raton, Fla.

Food services are closed for dine-in but available for takeout and delivery. Golf course is still open to members only. No guests for golf, tennis or pickleball. It is a members-only facility until further notice. Members are riding one player per cart. There is no service for scorecards (get your own supplies) or club cleaning.

For the golf course maintenance staff, if they feel somewhat sick, they are to stay home or they will be sent home, no exceptions. Mandatory sanitizing of the equipment before use and after use. Club provides lunch to staff, so they have to line up 6 feet apart and get their lunchbox set up by one of our employees. No vendors allowed on the property unless they are making a delivery. All vendors were removed from the security list, so business will be done virtually, via phone, text or email.


Chris Thuer, CGCS
Bear Slide Golf Club, Cicero, Ind.

Right now everyone keeps their distance when in the shop. We only have six right now, as we are not into the season and mowing every day yet. If it rains all day the next few days, only the equipment tech and myself will be in.

Doorknobs, vending machine, faucets, light switches, etc., get sprayed with disinfectant daily. There are 5-gallon buckets of bleach water for the crew to wipe down steering wheels, control levers, etc., on machines, and wipe down rakes, shovels and other tools before putting them away.

On the course, no one rides in the same utility vehicle together, and everyone stays away from each other. If it gets worse and we need to be mowing every day, we will stagger start times and/or stay in vehicles in the parking lot. One person at a time will enter the shop, clock in, get on their machine and head out. Then the next will do the same. Reverse at the end of the day. Only one person in the shop at a time. On the course, it is easy to isolate from others. Everyone is instructed to stay away if they are sick or if anyone they have been in contact with is sick.


Robert Scott Blake
Public golf course, southwest Pennsylvania

We are complying with the governor’s call for nonessential businesses to close for two weeks. Most of our employees and customers are seniors.


Darcy Otto
Idaho

Just getting ready to open in north Idaho. Small staff currently. No course accessories will be put out, pins will be disinfected and remain in the cup, limited access to the pro shop, to-go food from the restaurant, thoroughly cleaning of carts after rounds. Take it day to day, as recommendations will continue to change.


Brian Wilcomb
Central Ohio

So far, we are operational as normal on the maintenance side, other than only one staff member per cart when possible. All staff may use the same tools throughout the day, and we spend 30 minutes at the end of each day wiping down all touchable surfaces with bleach, making sure the surfaces stay wet for five minutes.

It looks like we will be trending to a mow-only maintenance program in which greens may get mowed two to three times per week and tees/fairways one to two times per week. As far as spraying goes, we will do the bare minimum and try to keep the diseases knocked back, but will loosen our threshold as to what is acceptable.


Andrew James
Dun Laoghaire Golf Club, Dublin, Ireland

We are not on full lockdown yet, so the club is very busy, as most offices have been told to work from home. This could change by next week if the government closes all nonessential jobs. However, we can’t just leave the course to go wild for a month. We will have to still have a few guys in every couple of days to check greens for disease and cut, etc., but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

We have taken in all flags and are updating members via the website on pin positions (i.e., all pins are front and center today). We were going to use pin sheets, but then arose the problem of everyone touching them also. All rakes have been taken out of bunkers, and golfers have been advised to repair damage as best as possible with their feet or club. All carts, buggies and trolleys for hire are banned. Clubhouse closed. Pro shop open at certain hours, but only one member in at a time.

We have staggered start times and breaks, and we are assigning jobs via our group WhatsApp. We are trying our best to give everyone jobs that have them apart from other workers, and are also assigning crew carts to individuals so that they make sure to wipe them down after use. We’re not using our hand scanner clock-in system. We have rubber gloves that each crew member has to put on when entering our admin and canteen building, and they must wipe down everything after their lunch.


Eugene Weiser
Nine-hole semiprivate golf course, Iowa

Our clubhouse is closed, but the course is open. We keep our distance and start early at 5:30 a.m. All carts are wiped after each use, and groups must be of four or less. No water coolers, and everything is cleaned two to three times per day. I send my crew home after morning chores. I held a safety meeting and give reminders daily to use social distance.


Luke Partridge
Sydney, Australia

Maintenance team split in half, working alternate days. Disinfecting of all common areas and machinery at the end of each day. Staggered break times.


Josh Earnest
Par-3 municipal golf course, Kentucky

We just shut down the golf course, but I’m still able to work ... for now.

I’m the only full-time employee on the course, and part-time workers haven’t come back yet. My priorities haven’t changed: greens, tees, fairways and rough, in that order. Mowing greens twice a week and rolling once to twice per week. Tees are bermuda and haven’t started growing yet, though I am in the process of overseeding with bluegrass. Seed went down 10 days ago, starter fertilizer today. Fairways and rough aren’t growing much yet, but it’s just a matter of time before I’m pulling 10- to 12-hour days, if I’m allowed. With no golfers, I assume I’ll have plenty of time to keep the course manageable until help arrives.


Howie Zhao
Shenzhen, China

Once the local infections started to increase at the end of January, the club started to implement a series of info-checks for all members and guests who came in. Staff were urged to stay in the club (the staff dormitory is inside the club) unless movement out of the community was necessary.

The club closed from Feb. 1 to 28 according to the government policy of virus control. Staff members who stay in the club were not allowed to go out unless there was an emergency. Those who had been on vacation outside the club (many staff members went back to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year holiday, and the virus outbreak happened at same time) were also strictly controlled by their local governments. Before the end of club closure, no one was allowed to go into or outside the club. Only the golf course maintenance, security, canteen, housekeeping and management teams were operational.

Once the club reopened, staff members who came back from any other provinces were required to take 14 days to quarantine in the dorm. Members and guests were asked to check their tracks in the past 14 days. Whoever had visited other cities in the past 14 days was not allowed to come in.

The restaurant is reopened, but it offers take-away food only. Now we are almost 80% back to normal operation. Most staff members have finished quarantine. It took quite a while and was not easy for everyone. Masks and self-hygiene as well as constantly sanitizing are critical.


Tami Jones
Arkansas

Course is open for membership-play only. All ball washers have been pulled. Flagsticks are disinfected during setup, and golfers are encouraged to leave them in, and if they have to pull, to use a glove. Restrooms are on a two-hour disinfecting schedule. Players are allowed single carts. The restaurant is open, with distant-strategy seating and drive-up service. To-go service is encouraged. Crew is managed to individual tasks. No orders unless they’re for cleaning supplies or needed maintenance to operate.


Tim Johnston
Wedgewood Pines Country Club, Stow, Mass.

Only three salaried staff working in the maintenance department. The course will be opening to play in three days. Priority was cleanup of short-grass playable areas, then all cuts. No course accessories (divot boxes, coolers, ball washers) are being placed on the course for opening. Flagsticks will stay in, but an email was sent indicating the preference to avoid touching if possible. Taking it day by day, task by task! Who knows what tomorrow will bring.