We have all seen videos on, or maybe even answered the question: “what’s in your cart?” As golf course superintendents, our carts are our office outside of our office. We spend huge amounts of time rolling around in our carts, and properly outfitting them with all of the things we need during the course of the day, can save a lot of time. Of all the important items in our carts, I believe the one item that can make or break your course needs remain out of your cart as much as possible. What is this important item? Yourself…
I have never had to be convinced of the virtues of walking the golf course, but like most superintendents, I always found myself saying; “next year I’ll walk more, next week I’ll get out on foot.” I made these statements, only to find the time coming and going and my cart remaining my main method of transportation. A couple years ago, I was chatting with a fellow superintendent; the subject of carts came up. “What do you use for a cart?” I asked him. “I don’t have a cart”, was his response. “I walk everywhere, carry my iPhone and that’s it.” Since that time, I have worked to become more of a walker. This fall I finally turned a corner, and I am not afraid to say it was a gift from my wife that made the difference. For my birthday, she bought me a Fitbit. It is basically a high-tech pedometer, used to track your steps, mileage and activity level. I love watching things accumulate, so shortly after getting the Fitbit, I begin walking the course on a regular basis, watching my mileage grow. While I knew the value of doing so, I didn’t realize the value of doing so on such a regular basis. By the end of the golf season, I was walking the entire course two out of every three days. Touching, seeing and feeling are all important to managing a great golf course. More and more, superintendents are being asked to provide a certain level of firmness. There is no better way to judge the firmness of your course, than to do so on foot.
Walk with a Purpose
Each time I walk the course, there are a few things I do to insure it is more than just a stroll in the park.
- 1. Walk the course in order: If I am walking in the morning I will walk 1-18, if I walk in the afternoon I walk 18-1, so that I run into any golfers currently on the golf course. Walking the course in order insures I view it the same way our as members and their guests.
- 2. Pick a focus for each walk: Each time I walk, I pick one specific thing on which I am going to concentrate. One day, I might head out with the focus of looking at all of the green perimeters, another day this fall, I looked for areas we needed to do root pruning. While it doesn’t keep me from viewing the entire course, having a specific focus does make sure my walk has a strong purpose.
- 3. Take notes: Taking notes is something we all do on a daily basis, but I find as in point 2, that when I have a specific focus to my note taking, it becomes more effective. For my note taking, I use Evernote. It is an app that is usable across multiple platforms. My assistant and I both have premium accounts ($48/year), which allows us to share the notes we take back and forth. With Evernote, I am able to add photos, make a voice recording and create check-lists; all of which sync to my computer, my assistant’s phone and his computer. Each time I leave the golf course from a walk, I have a focused note looking at one specific area of the golf course.
- 4. Bring a tool: Much like, or often conjunction with having a specific focus; I often bring a tool with me when I walk. Not a host of tools, but one tool based on what I want to see on that particular day. Tools I have brought with on a walk include: my putter, stimpmeter, height of cut prism, macroscope and a soil probe, among other items.
- 5. Play!: I am always amazed when I hear of a superintendent whose superiors don’t want, or don’t allow them to play golf. How can you possibility be responsible for playing conditions, when you are not personally able to play the course? During my interview process at Hazeltine, a club with a very strong playing membership, my ability to play the game at a competent level was most definitely selling point. Grabbing my clubs, and heading out for a quick morning round is a great way to start a productive day.
I am fortunate to have manpower resources that allow me the time to walk the golf course with high frequency. Regardless of your facility and your resources; walking the course with some regularity, is time well spent. Get out and do it, your body will feel better, you will feel a better connection with your turf, the playing conditions and the operation as a whole. As a walking superintendent, you can bet your patrons, members and guests will be happy with the results you are able to provide.
Chris Tritabaugh is Golf Course Superintendent of Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. His blog can be found at http://hngcturfgrass.blogspot.com.