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John Reitman

By John Reitman

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Staying ahead of the curve

With dozens and sometimes hundreds of courses shuttering their doors each year, saving money, regardless of how much or how little, is more important than ever in the current golf economy. That is especially true at multi-course facilities like 72-hole Cog Hill Golf and Country Club near Chicago.

 
9365fe5127f8e6f00a90bf4989b9a835-.jpgSaving money, however, is not the impetus, behind an agronomic experiment that is helping Cog Hill superintendent Chris Flick slash water, fertilizer and pesticide inputs on on the property's No. 1 Course.
 
For Flick, finding a way to perfect that experiment so he can use it on Cog Hill's other courses is all about sustainability and staying a step ahead of pesticide rules and regulations.
 
"This program is a result of seeing all the legislation that is being handed down," Flick said. "If you look at New York and California and Canada, I feel like we're all going to eventually feel that. I wanted to teach myself and the guys here how we can manage that before we are required to to manage that. I wanted to stay ahead of the curve a little bit."
 
For two years, Flick has been experimenting with three low use rate programs that include a variety of pesticides and nutritional products. Each program, however, has one common thread - Civitas.
 
"I've been experimenting with a variety of things, and different rates and intervals, but Civitas is the cornerstone of the program," Flick said.
 
"We keep pesticide use to a minimum here, and what that boils down to with this is half-rate fungicides going into the tank. It's a process, but we're getting closer."
 
So far, the results have been dramatic for Flick.
 
Overall turf health and visual quality are up, inputs are way down without compromising playability for his members. Water use also is down, by about 30 percent, Flick said. That's a bonus on a course that gets about 20,000 rounds per year.
 
"We were expecting some water savings, and Civitas sort of claims to be able to produce water reductions," Flick said. "But I didn't know if we would be able to pull that off because of the traffic we get."
 
A graduate of Clemson University, the 33-year-old Flick said, when it comes to projects like this, he is fortunate to manage such a large piece of property.
 
ee07c5f4c9ba63dc29f9dfdce0de8908-.png"We have a ton of turf we manage, so we can get away with a little experimentation, a little failure and take away some learning," he said. "We fail from time to time, and that is part of the learning process. I don't mind that as long as I can communicate with customers about what trying to prove.
 
"If we had just one golf course, we could never tolerate this."
 
Flick continues to tweak and make changes to his program so that he can find the limits of what he can and cannot do to reduce inputs while still providing excellent playing conditions at one of Chicagoland's most well-known properties. Once he defines those limits, his plan is to expand it.
 
"I definitely plan to expand it. We've seen some excellent results on Course 1, especially on greens and approaches," he said. "When you are doing so many things like we are, it is important to define what works and what doesn't. 
 
"Not going to get better until we find what works and what doesn't, and nothing will ever make sense if all we do is fail." 
 
Although he definitely is saving some money, Flick said money never was his goal.
 
"I'm not in it for the cost savings. Anyone has that goal not going to be successful," he said. "Civitas is not cheap. None of these products are. Of course, there are some cost limitations, and you have to be effective in how you spend your money. But if you're just going to throw this out there to make yourself feel good, it's just going to be a waste."
 
In fact, Flick recommends that anyone attempting a similar project should set clear goals before beginning.
 
"My advice is set reachable goals to start and don't expect a lot right away," he said. " I expected a lot, because I wanted to see a lot, and what I did was get confused.
 
"Pick a goal, monitor that goal and work toward that goal."

 


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