Golf is a year-round business

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Whether courses are covered in snow, lying dormant or currently being played upon, golf is a year-round business.


An unseasonably snowy winter has blanketed much of the country, but the business of golf goes on … even when the course is closed for months on end. Day-to-day tasks may change considerably, but directors of golf, head professionals and superintendents aren’t just kicking back with their feet up, waiting for spring to arrive.



Late-season preparation


Mark Rawlins, Superintendent at Longaberger Golf Club (, prepares the course with a late-fall fertilization of all areas so the turf has nutrients available going into coming out of winter dormancy. This allows the turf to green-up sooner in the spring without causing excessive growth, while providing for healthier turf going into the summer.



“Before winter, a fungicide application is made to all greens and tees to prevent snow mold from becoming active under the snow cover,” Rawlins says. “All ball washers, tee markers, hazard stakes and bunker rakes are brought in for winter maintenance and the irrigation system is winterized so no damage occurs from freezing. Course buildings, such as restrooms and the halfway house, must be winterized as well. Other than that we let nature take its course.”



North of the border, where winter can come early and stick around for awhile, the off-season is constantly a thought. Perry Cooper, Superintendent at The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club in Jasper, Alberta, part of the Canadian Rockies Golf consortium ( takes an extremely proactive approach to the process.



"Preparation for the winter at Jasper is a year-round process,” Cooper says. “Maintenance is constantly aimed at growing healthy turf with good root systems and disease tolerance, which helps the turf grass survive the winter where the earth remains frozen from Nov. 1 to mid April.”




Methods to improve the winter hardiness of the course include core aeration of the entire facility, top dressing and over-seeding of greens and tees, selecting plants with good cold-weather attributes and playability, and application of snow mold protection on greens, tees and other selected high-disease-potential areas.



Since much of this work can be disruptive to golfers, it is done after the course closes in October – during a two-week window before the anticipated freeze. Like at Longaberger, most of the course’s accessories (benches, ball washers, signs, rakes, etc.) are removed from the course and stored. Wildlife forces Cooper and his team to go one step further, however.



“Since we are in a National Park and have an abundance of elk, we must fence our greens and selected trees throughout the property,” he says.



Inside the clubhouse, off-season preparations are important as well. Shortening hours of daylight and colder mornings mean fewer golfers. Dave Douglas, Director of Golf at Sweetgrass Golf Club (, an amenity of the Island Resort & Casino, has to adjust accordingly.



“All my staff is seasonal and part-time, so we start cutting back on hours – mainly because of decreasing daylight – right after Labor Day,” Douglas says. “As we get closer to the end of September, we have to start watching for frost. I usually push back our scheduled first tee time in the morning to try and help adjust for any frost delays.”



Making room for new merchandise is also important while there are still customers coming through the doors. Douglas runs a fall clearance sale from Labor Day Weekend through the end of the season. He also has a final closeout sale after the season for all casino employees. Both sales go a long way toward cleaning out inventory. Most of the ordering for spring merchandise is done at this time, according to Douglas.





Like many northern golf professionals, Douglas uses the winter months to attend golf shows – the PGA Merchandise Show in January and then regional golf shows to promote Sweetgrass at its Perfect 4-Some stay-and-play package. The Island Resort & Casino teams with a pair of Upper Peninsula layouts – TimberStone and Marquette Greywalls.



Not all properties close for golf’s off-season, however. The Canmore Golf & Curling Club ( in CanmoreAlberta has four sheets of curling ice which are constantly full with the next Olympic hopefuls. The venue was part of the Recreational Parkdeveloped for Nordic events at the 1988 Calgary Games.



With a busy winter schedule, Director of Golf’s Darren Cooke doesn’t have to drastically reduce his staff like many courses. In fact, his turnover is pretty small. The course’s architect, Les Furber, is a member at the club, so Cooke and Furber discuss enhancements and other projects in the off-season.



 “Everyone pitches in, which increases our morale,” he says. “We volunteer for work around the community, too. We have longer-than-usual meetings and we play hockey with fellow golf industry workers on Friday afternoon.”



Naturally, winter weather doesn’t only wreak havoc with northern courses. The Territory Golf & Country Club ( in Southwest Oklahoma sees approximately 350 days of play, but when the occasional ice or snow storm hits, General Manager Tim Johnson has to notify his members.



“We do our best to communicate with our members via e-mail, Facebook or we pick up the phone and let people who are signed up to play, know what the conditions are,” Johnson says. “When we have to close for a number of days, we send an e-mail to all members on a daily basis. It is important for us to communicate daily so no one misinterprets that the whole facility is closed. We still may have the den open to watch sporting events or the Prairie House open for restaurant service.”



Closing for ice and snow aside, The Territory remains open on cold days, so it purchased a dozen cart covers and charge an extra $10 per round. The fee helps pay for the covers and their installation, while members and guests enjoy their comfort and convenience.



Gearing up for spring


Long before the first signs of spring appear, golf professionals are busily readying their courses for play. Darren M. Robinson, General Manager at Kananaskis Country Golf Course (, with two Robert Trent Jones designs in KananaskisAlberta, begins the process approximately five weeks before an anticipated opening day – scheduled for May 7 this year.



“We determine our opening date based on experience and historical weather conditions,” he says. “We begin by clearing our snow-covered greens to give them the best opportunity to flourish while soaking up the sunshine.”



Additionally, his maintenance crew does a deep tyne aeration of greens, aerates fairways and tees, repairs and replenishes sand traps, removes elk feces, and cleans debris from fairways.



Preparation in the other areas of the operation include receiving all pro shop merchandise, tagging, pricing, folding, displaying and putting into the computer inventory. Kananaskis’ food and beverage department will plan menu items and print menus, while the maintenance crew updates training programs, orders product and prepares all on-course buildings for use.



Because winters in central Ohio can be relatively tame, especially compared to its northern neighbors, Longaberger Golf Club doesn’t set an exact “opening day” each year, but Rawlins says they try to have the course presentable by April 1. In addition to cleaning sticks and debris, the bunkers, which generally wash out over winter, have to be repaired – including edging, redistributing the sand to an even depth and, of course, raking. All ball washers, tee markers and accessories have to go back on the course, too. Once open, pro shop staff instructs golfers to keep carts on paths until the ground firms from freezing and thawing.



For courses across the North, deciding when to open for the season is often dictated by Mother Nature. An uncommonly mild winter and early spring might tempt premature play, so golf professionals must walk a fine line between opening early to accommodate play and get cash in the drawer versus waiting for the course to be healthy and playable.



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