Off The Beaten Path…

It was two years ago this week that I found myself at a crossroad as far as my career was concerned. For the last two years I had been working in Foxboro, MA doing parts and service for a small company that specialized in selling and renting hydraulic excavators and pavers. I enjoyed what I did and even thought that if I continued to get better and learn what I was doing that it may hold a future for me. Such was not the case. The construction industry took a serious hit and as a result my employer could no longer justify my salary. Like so many others at that time I was laid off and searching for employment. After searching for a couple of months one of my friends notified me that he could get me a job working on the grounds crew at a local golf course. I dove at the opportunity and the result it was not only one of the most enjoyable summers to date but it also helped me realize my passion. After a summer of mowing fairways I found that I had an unsatisfiable hunger for everything turf. I absorbed all the knowledge and information that my workers would share with me and I would go home and do my own research so I could gain a better understanding of what I was doing on the course. Many of the workers on the grounds crew thought they knew everything about turf but I made it a goal of mine to actually go out and obtain the necessary knowledge so that I truly did know it.

Once the season was over I had a decision to make. I was laid off along with the majority of the grounds staff and at the time I could have either searched for another job and said goodbye or waited the winter out and continued doing what I knew I wanted too.  I decided to wait it out and make a commitment. I knew that I would need to take a step up if I were going to be able to grow in the turf industry and so I decided to get bold and e-mail my boss one day. Here is the e-mail that I sent him.

“Jason,

I am writing to you at this time to formally express my interest in the internship program for this coming summer at Stow Acres. Over this past summer I have become familiar with the field of Turfgrass Management and I believe that it holds a future for me. By taking part in an internship program I would be able to further my knowledge in the field and take the proper steps to preparing myself for a successful career in turf.

I understand that you would preferably have your interns be currently enrolled in a Turfgrass program, however due to financial setbacks and a short time frame in which to organize my plans I was not able to enroll in the most recent UMass Amherst winter turf program as I had initially hoped to. With more time to plan and a clearer financial situation going forward I have now made definitive plans to enroll in the winter program immediately following this coming golf season.

I believe that I could benefit greatly learning from You, Harris, and Kevin throughout the summer and that such knowledge would be vital to my success in the field of Turfgrass Management. I have always been an intelligent and eager student and with yourselves as teachers the wealth of knowledge I could gain would be unbelievable. I am truly passionate about learning as much as possible about turf and I couldn’t see any better situation in which to learn than as an intern at Stow Acres. Through your mastery of turfgrass science, Harris’ knowledge of landscape construction, and Kevin’s expertise in irrigation I would be learning from the three best people possible.

My position as an intern could also be beneficial to the grounds crew given my availability in the early spring while most of the crew is still in school. I could prove to be a great asset to the team in an expanded leadership role given my availability along with my prior experience from working on the course last season as well as my familiarity with the course and crew members.

I have a hunger for knowledge of all things turf. It is a science that interests me incredibly. It would be a great opportunity to learn from you as an intern this summer. If given the chance I truly believe that I could be an integral part in the ongoing progress of Stow Acres in this forthcoming season. I have attached my resume for your consideration.

Thank You-

Andrew P. Lanigan”

With this e-mail I immediately let Jason know that I meant business and was in it for the long haul. He, in return, gave me the opportunity to grow and learn at a time that not many others would have. For this I am extremely thankful.

My message to anyone trying to make the jump from grounds staff worker to “turf manager” is that you should never be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t ever hold back because you are scared that things might not work out. You should always work to achieve your goals and if those goals sometimes seem far away and unreachable then you shouldn’t be afraid to get creative in how you obtain those goals. If you know you can succeed then go ahead and let others know. You’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help you along the way.

 

~Andrew P. Lanigan, Foreman~


New Goals For The New Year…

With 2010 behind me now and all the loose ends that came along with it out of the way, I have begun to fully submerge my mind into the idea that 2011 is going to be a career defining year for not only myself but the grounds staff and management team here at Stow Acres as well. As far as I’m concerned if our team could make it through the “Summer from Hell” as we just did then everything else is money in the bank. While it is nice to know this, at the same time I don’t want to become the type of individual who becomes complacent with their past accomplishments. I’m going to work harder, be more dedicated and will never rest at trying to better myself in every way possible. As a result of this mindset I am already starting to see the benefits of my hard work.

Once Thanksgiving rolls around almost every grounds staff worker north of the Mason-Dixon line who isn’t an assistant, a superintendent or an equipment manager, gets laid off for the winter. Last year, when the rest of the crew was laid off so was I, and it definitely wasn’t fun. As someone who was trying to progress within the turf industry it was tough to not be on the course for what was almost 4 months. I didn’t want to get another job because I knew that the road to my future went straight through Stow Acres. This year however, I was asked to stay on during the winter as part of the management team to assist with the off-season projects and also help formulate the game plan for the upcoming golf season. I truly considered this an honor and a privilege and as I moved forward into the new year I was asked to become the crew foreman/spray-tech. With my limited formal background in turf I was not expecting an opportunity like this to not only come along as easily as it did but to also be met with such overwhelming support from the entire management team.

As an intern and a grounds crew worker I always felt that my best trait was my ability to acknowledge, understand and properly react to whatever problems I faced. I loved the challenge of trying to control the utter chaos that can take place on any given day out on the course. I liked the idea of working towards goals and not simply making sure that mine or someone else’s job got done but knowing that it was done in the absolute most efficient way. On a 36-hole public golf course it becomes a battle trying to stay on top of everything and there was never a moment that I wouldn’t be thinking to myself, “how can we get better?” As part of the new management team my enthusiasm immediately set the tone for the rest of this upcoming year. My work doesn’t end when I punch out. I now get home from work everyday, open up my binder and continuously go over my notes and idea about the upcoming season fine-tuning every last detail in preparation for what will undoubtedly be a year of great progress and success.

Aside from preparing the rest of the staff for next year I have also planned personal goals for myself as well. This February I will be attending my first GCSAA Education Conference and Golf Industry Show in Orlando, Florida and I couldn’t be more amped up for it. I will be taking educational seminars, walking the trade show floor and hopefully meeting up with some of the turf professionals that I admire greatly and have been getting to know through the various social media outlets that I am involved in. Over the next couple of months I will be partaking in Ohio State University’s 10-week online Turfgrass Management Certification Program. While ideally I would like to be doing a full-time turf program, my unique situation and new job responsibilities simply don’t allow it at the time. My one major goal that I refuse to lose sight of is obtaining the formal education that I know I need to succeed in this industry, however for the time being I am making sure that I’m not only expanding my skill set on the course and as a manager but also keeping my mind active and focused by incorporating the online program into my personal schedule.

To finish up the winter I will be attending my second regional turf conference in Rhode Island and will also be taking the exam to get my commercial applicators license for pesticides. Getting all of these goals accomplished by the end of March is what I am currently dedicating myself to along with my work at the course. If I am able to accomplish those goals in that time frame prior to the opening of the season then I know it will make me a better turf professional, manager and person in general. Preparing myself for the season will not only benefit me but it will also be my way of rewarding my bosses for the opportunity that they have given me here at Stow Acres. The better I become, the easier there lives are going to get during the summer. I will keeping everyone updated on the status of my goals and will be perpetually striving to get better.

~Andrew P. Lanigan- Foreman~

Time To Wrap Things Up…

It seems not too long ago that the snow was melting and it looked as though an ocean had been not so conveniently dropped on the course. The crew was cutting drains and running pumps day and night to move the water across the course hole by hole trying to get the course ready for play. Time certainly does fly and looking back on the season I consider myself very lucky to have been able to learn and grow throughout the year. As far as the weather goes this past summer was easily one of the most extreme summers in recent history. Unending heat waves and not a drop of rain could make any grounds crew member want to jump out of a window. The stress was unrelenting and with numerous tournaments this summer it was a challenge to keep turf alive everyday while simultaneously trying to achieve the fast and firm playing conditions that golfers expect.

Tree Removal Project

It was a challenge that I looked forward to though, because it was the endless early mornings and late afternoons that pushed me to get better. A year ago I was just a mid-level, fairway mowing, run of the mill grounds crew member. Wanting to be more than your average college student with a fun summer job, I stepped up and immersed myself into a life of turfgrass management. This summer I arrived at work every morning eager to take on whatever challenges came my way. I must have operated every piece of equipment that we had on the property this summer. Mowers, Rollers, Tractors, Aerators, Sprayers and everything else imaginable, when one of the Assistants or the Superintendent asked me if I wanted to learn something new I jumped at the opportunity. It was an honor that they were entrusting me with some of the most important jobs on the course and I took pride in learning as much as I could about every possible aspect of golf course maintenance. 

By the end of the summer the weather had dropped completely off my list of concerns. Syringing became an art form to me. When noon rolled around I was out on the course with my hose hitting hot spots keeping the moisture levels on the greens right where they needed to be. I had become so familiar with the greens that at any point during the day I could tell you which greens were good, which ones would be wilting in an hour and which ones should or shouldn’t get water overnight. This can be accredited solely to the focus and sense of responsibility that I adopted from my bosses. For them, losing turf was unacceptable and I knew that to justify the trust they put in me to take care of those greens that I would have to put every bit of my focus and effort into it which is exactly what I did.

Putting Down Greens Covers

It may be a mild case of “the crazy” starting to take its toll on my brain but I looked for every chance to help contribute to the team. I can remember volunteering to come in on a weekend when I had the day off to help fix an irrigation break. There was also a weekend where our irrigation pumps weren’t working properly and I said that I would come in at 2:30 in the morning to run the fairway irrigation manually so the pumps wouldn’t shut off. Everyone thought I was out of my mind and chances are they were probably right.

Golf School Practice Facility Renovation

Staying on through the fall was a great experience as well. I got to take part in some of the projects that most grounds crew workers never see because they had finished working. Spraying snow mold applications, blowing out the irrigation systems, winterizing the course and our various in-house renovations were all great experiences that I was able to take part in. We recently took down close to a hundred trees to open up air flow on the north course. We also started a very large renovation of our Golf School practice facilities. Resurfacing much of the turf, adding Tee complexes and chipping areas and laying down all new wall-to-wall irrigation, it’s almost like building our own golf course(on a slightly smaller scale of course). Our final project of the year was cutting a new drain line on 18 North and putting in brand new pipe and drain boxes. It’s projects like these and all the other ones our crew has completed this year that are essential to bettering yourself within the turf industry. Almost every Superintendent in the country is looking for a way to expand their repertoire and I consider it a privilege to be able to take part in these projects and carry that knowledge and experience with me throughout my career.

Of course none of this would have ever been possible had it not been for the guys above me that were willing to give me a chance. Jason VanBuskirk, Golf Course Superintendent at Stow Acres was everything an intern could ask for in a teacher and a boss for the season. If you looked up the term “Turf Nerd” in the theoretical golf dictionary you would probably see a picture of his face next to it. Jason could easily walk into a lecture hall and teach a class on plant nutrition, but his passion remains on the course, and it is on the course that he conducts his “classes”. Always willing to share his knowledge and listen to your own thoughts and opinions as well, there isn’t any better person to shape the minds of the industry’s future Superintendents. As a 21-year-old with just one year of mowing fairways under my belt Jason took a chance and gave me the opportunity to grow in the turf industry. I made sure that I never took that for granted and worked as hard as I could because not many other Superintendents would have given someone in my position that kind of opportunity. 
Golf Course Superintendent, Jason VanBuskirk

Harris Schnare, Assistant Superintendent and Turf Manager at Stow Acres was an incredible teacher as well and will undoubtedly become an amazing Superintendent someday soon. Whenever there was something to learn he was willing to teach me, no questions asked. If I ever had a question no matter how simple or complex he was able to answer it. With almost 10 years of experience in golf course maintenance despite only graduating just over a year ago, there isn’t a single thing that Harris hasn’t seen on a golf course. Not only was he a wealth of knowledge when it came to golf course maintenance but he also put his faith in me to try new things out on my own and I will always be grateful for that.

Assistant Superintendent, Harris Schnare

Kevin Bracken, Assistant Superintendent and Irrigation Manager at Stow Acres was a thrill to work with this summer. When it came to executing jobs on the course he demanded perfection and lead by example with every job he would take on. I personally tried to adopt his no B.S. attitude because if you’re going to expect good work out of your crew you better be able to back it up with the work you do yourself. Kevin is in a league of his own when it comes to golf course irrigation and any bit of knowledge that he would share with me I made sure I absorbed to the fullest. Whether I was four feet deep in a mud hole fixing an irrigation break or just hangin’ out seeing who could quote more lines from “Forrest Gump” it was always a pleasure to work with Kevin.

Assistant Superintendent, Kevin Bracken

Without these three men as my teachers as well as my bosses it would have been impossible to learn as much as I did and gain as much knowledge and experience as I did. I will be forever grateful for all the help they have given me and any success that I have in the future will surely be attributed to those three.

Summer Internship 2010

~Andrew P. Lanigan, Turf Intern~

Perception is Reality…

It’s amazing  just how drastically your perception of the work you’re doing every day can affect how you actually feel about it. Sometimes things can get very hectic out on the course. You could be rushing around trying to work in between groups and worrying about all the other things you need to get done, but if you’re working with the right attitude and positive mindset the job becomes much less stressful. When summer changes into fall it seems as though all the stress that you would normally have just disappears. No more chasing wilt, no more long afternoons, no more worrying if you’ve watered too much or too little. Once fall comes around and the hoses get put away everything else is gravy. Or so you would be lead to believe.

While you may not be worrying about wilt or moisture levels anymore your days aren’t really getting any less stressful. There are still projects that need to be done and with a much smaller staff and mother nature interfering it gets harder and harder to finish projects. Frost delays immediately put your plans to a halt and push your mowing schedule back meaning that any projects you had planned for the afternoon are pushed back as well. Also when the colder weather comes so do the leaves. In the summer your chasing wilt throughout the day. In the fall your chasing leaves. Keeping the course clean throughout the day becomes and uphill battle and even with two tractor blowers, two tow-behind turbine blowers and an army or backpack blowers it seems like as soon as you get an area clean a gust of wind rips through and covers it again. All these factors can make it pretty hard to get extra jobs done throughout the day.

While all of this would normally make for a pretty stressful work atmosphere the fall season seems to have a sort of calming effect on everything. By keeping the right attitude and positive outlook those hectic days seem like a godsend compared to the stress of a mid-July afternoon. Combine that with a good experienced crew and the fall can be seemingly stress free, even when it probably shouldn’t be.

Always an uphill battle.

Just Another Day…

Working as an intern this summer the I have gotten used to having multiple important jobs to do throughout the day. Whereas a normal crew member would typically mow in the morning and then have a secondary job for the afternoon my own schedule for the day is a bit more flexible. Every day brings a different job and often new jobs will arise throughout the course of the day. This can sometimes become a little chaotic but it has taught me to always be prepared for anything at work. I’ve learned to become quicker and more efficient at the jobs I have scheduled because chances are that something unplanned will need to get done and you want to make sure you have the time necessary to complete the task. Today was a perfect example of such a day. I started the morning by aerating the 5th fairway on the North Course with solid tines. I had planned on doing the same on the 15th fairways but an irrigation break interrupted those plans.

A Slight Change In Plans

Here is a closer look at what we were dealing with…

Not Your Typical Irrigation Dillemma

After getting the irrigation situation under control I once again had a job that I wasn’t exactly prepared for. To prepare for slice seeding fairways we need to test out the unit by mounting onto a tractor that looks like it was last used in the 50’s. Not my idea of a smooth ride but it was nice to add another skill to my repertoire. Three jobs for the day that you wouldn’t typically think of when you picture grounds operations at a course, just another day I suppose.

~Andrew P. Lanigan, Turf Intern~

How The PCNB Ban Will Affect Courses…

The United States Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a stop use on all products derived from technical grade PCNB (pentochloronitrobenzene). In the turf world PCNB was well-known as an effective and economically efficient fungicide used to protect against turf diseases such as leaf spot and more importantly snow mold. The chemicals effectiveness and cost made it very popular among golf course superintendents. However, now that the EPA has released this order, superintendents are scrambling to figure out how they are going to replace PCNB in there spraying program with winter quickly approaching.

Gray Snow Mold

The timing of this issue has proven to be extremely inconvenient seeing as how most superintendents, especially those here in the northeast, had planned a strict budget throughout the season and now moving into the fall are being forced to adjust their programs which may not have mad much breathing room to begin with. Prior to the ban PCNB was the most cost-efficient chemical for winter protection from snow mold. This was especially true when it came to fairway sprays which are very costly due to the much larger area that must be covered. While an 18-hole course would typically have 150,000 square feet of area to cover for greens, for fairways it could have somewhere in the ranges of 800,000 square feet that would need to be sprayed.

This has left most superintendents with two options. They can either come up with the money for alternative chemicals such as ipridione or chlorotalonil or they can forego winter fairway applications altogether. Neither of these options are appealing. Upgrading to a more expensive chemical at this point in the year would likely put a superintendent over budget and hinder them from being able to afford the projects they needed to get done in the fall. On the other hand if they decided to skip a winter application for fairways they would be at the will of mother nature as far as how their fairways would be able to handle the winter disease pressure. No application in the late fall could mean a brutal spring and a lot of damage to recover from once the snow melts.

Either way the new ban on PCNB will certainly have negative effects on courses around the country and should this ban end up being permanent it will definitely cause a lot of headaches to the countries superintendents for years to come.

Is It Snowing Yet?

All around the country and right here at home, golf course superintendents and grounds crews are dealing with one of the hottest and toughest summers in quite a long time. Courses in all different parts of the country are struggling to keep their turf alive and maintained. Because of the incredibly long period of high temperatures across the country as well as severe drought conditions for us in the northeast and too much rain elsewhere, courses are being put through the ringer as far as how the weather has effected the turf. Superintendents are doing all they can to keep the turf living through these conditions and now as we creep our way into September we’re keeping our fingers crossed that mother nature will finally cut us some slack and that we’ll make it into the fall with minimal damage. 

When Will It End?

In other areas of the country such as the Mid-Atlantic courses have experienced a wide range of severe weather conditions. From severe drought, to torrential rains, scorching temperatures, and inconsistent humidity, they’ve seen it all. Turf, especially bentgrass greens are struggling big time. Because there is no good grass to withstand the variation in weather in the Mid-Atlantic region most courses prefer to use bentgrass since it has a tolerance for the cooler temperatures experienced in the winter months. The drawback to this of course is its lack of tolerance for high heat. Bentgrass can survive a few 90+ degree days scattered throughout the summer but this year the region has experienced a prolonged period of high temperatures and as a result the bentgrass greens are fighting an uphill battle in their search for cooler temperatures. 

The high heat in the region has been coupled with periods of heavy rain also. While many might think this would be beneficial for the grass it is in fact creating a set of circumstances that all but guarantees big problems. Since root growth has halted for cool season turfgrasses the grass now begins trying to get its water from above instead of below. This means that the best possible way to water greens would be by performing multiple rounds of syringing with hoses, this way you can keep them cooled off without saturating the soil unnecessarily. When there is too much moisture sitting in upper profile of the green it causes the grass to literally cook. The water heats up in the ground and since it isn’t being pulled into the grass from the roots it just sits there and gets hotter and hotter eventually killing the turf. The increased moisture levels and high heat also stress the turf out and make it much more susceptible to a disease outbreak. Weak turf and a wet profile create a playground for pathogens in the soil setting them up to wreak havoc on greens and elsewhere. 

The Effects Of Severe Weather In Other Parts Of The Country

Here in the Northeast we have had a set of circumstances more on the other side of the spectrum. Weeks and weeks went by this summer without any real accumulation of rain. As a result the profile of the greens became extremely dry and created a wide array of problems throughout the summer. The lack  of moisture in the profile and extreme heat caused the greens to become hydrophobic, which meant that water was struggling to get past the upper root zone and was causing harm to the grass instead of benefitting it. When parts of the green became overly hydrophobic it would create localized dry spots on the greens where not only is the surface of the turf hydrophobic and water-repellent but the organic matter in the soil is hydrophobic as well makin it especially difficult to irrigate. 

Localized Dry Spot On Greens

Throughout the country courses are experiencing the effects of mother nature’s wrath. Even some of the most prestigious courses in the country such as Winged Foot and Colonial are taking emergency measures to insure the survival of their turf. Many superintendents have had to change their plans as far as maintaining turf goes. Whether it be spiking greens and setting up fans to allow for improved air circulation or an increase in fungicide protection and a drastic increase in wetting agent applications, calendars are still being re-written to best adapt to the current conditions. Even when we thought the weather was letting we got a wonderful little wake up call in the form of 4 or 5 straight days of 90 degree temperatures reminding us that were not out of the woods yet. So instead of getting in our last days at the beach or planning our labor day BBQ we are instead sitting on the edge of our seats, doing all we can to keep grass alive and keeping our fingers crossed that cooler temperatures get here soon and stay for good. 

~Andrew P. Lanigan-Turf Intern~