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Equipment game changers: Course maintenance

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When you’re looking for someone to speak authoritatively about innovations in golf course turf and maintenance, who better than a guy named Grass? Especially when he is president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, with more than 25 years experience as a superintendent.

“Born for the job,” Peter Grass jokes.

Grass is superintendent at Hilands Golf Club, a nine-hole course in Billings, Mont. This is his 42nd year at the facility, where he started as a bag boy. “Now it’s called outside services,” he says with a chuckle.

“They have a fancy name for it now.”

Grass has seen many innovations in grass strains, irrigation, drainage and maintenance equipment over the years. Modern grass strains are more tolerant of heat and drought, meaning they don’t have to be watered as much. Computerized irrigation systems can identify exactly what areas need exactly how much water and can deliver it with maximum efficiency.

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Grass estimates it used to take 10 hours to water the course. Now that figure is down to five or six hours.

“So the pumps run four hours less every day, with less wear and tear, less electrical use and all that,” he says. “That irrigation efficiency is a huge improvement.” 

Sometimes courses need water, other times they need to get rid of it. Drainage systems have also improved over the years. So have the attitudes of course architects and builders, who pay far more attention to drainage issues in the planning stages of courses, Grass says. And for courses that can afford them – they aren’t cheap – systems like SubAir can seemingly perform magic with turf, sucking away excess water or blowing warm air on underground roots

It’s also easier to drain bunkers today. “Similar to course design,” Grass says, “bunkers are now designed totally different by architects.” The reason? To facilitate drainage. Several new kinds of bunker liners help, too. “There’s probably seven or eight major different ways of lining bunkers now to help with erosion, drainage, things like that,” Grass says.

When grass needs cutting, modern mowers are much more precise than they used to be. But the grass doesn’t always have to be cut super low to produce fast greens, because rolling, which isn’t a new technology at all but one that had fallen out of favor, is enjoying a revival.

“Rolling being a practice that has come back into favor has helped superintendents immensely,” Grass says. “It provides healthy turfgrass without having to scalp it down and live on the edge, as we would say.”

Another staple of green maintenance is aerification. The machinery that is used to aerify is more versatile than in the past. “It just does so much more of an efficient job,” Grass says, noting that modern aerifiers are adjustable in terms of the depth and spacing of the holes they punch. “I can aerify my greens in about four hours now,” he says, “where it used to take me 12 hours to do it.”

Grass can also utilize “needle tines” – solid tines that are no bigger than a pencil – to poke much smaller holes in greens. “Then you roll the green and the golfer doesn’t even know you’ve done it.”