Posts Tagged ‘Agronomy’

An Open Letter to a Job Poster

(I’m so completely baffled by a recent “change” at a club and the resulting communication around it that I needed to let some angst out of my fingers. You may be able to guess the details. Fine. Good for you. This isn’t really here to skewer someone..well maybe a bit. It’s high time we wake up and wonder why this sort of thing happens and what each of us, as individuals can do to keep the profession from being tumbled. Oh..and pay attention to think this can’t happen to you as you get your resume and cover letter together? Really?)

December 12, 2012; 12:12PM
Mr. Z, General Manager
XYZ Golf and Country Club
Somewhere Upscale, USA 12345

Dear Mr. Z,

I have read the recent job announcement that The XYZ Club has placed for a “Head Superintendent”. And quite frankly, I’m confused and hope that you can shed a little more light on the foggy looking situation at your club. I have also done a bit of work for you to perhaps value engineer your job positing.

Your recently let go Golf Course Superintendent was known to many as an innovator and as a good match for the property. Sometimes cocky, but always correct, he seemed at the helm of stewardship. Of course there are always 3 sides to every story and I’m sure there is much that neither you nor the ousted employee can talk about. What I wonder is why, if you weren’t getting along with him, did you not seek to help this situation, you know, kind of like having a bit of marital counseling in the time of a storm. Many of us knew your superintendent well and had offered him much in the way of help and advice and friendship and would have surely done more to see the relationship between the club and a talented employee flourish has we known you were close to a divorce.

The job posting that went out so quickly is of great concern. Because as I read the words on that job posting, it seems that whomever wrote it was dreadfully short on the vernacular of golf course management. And of even more concern was the representation of the benefits afforded the superintendent at your club. In short, was it really necessary to point out that your superintendent is allowed to golf for free? Is a CostCo membership, in the eyes of the club, a benefit of great importance? How is the process set up for you to approve, or disprove educational and professional meeting attendance?

In most areas of the country, a six figure job is nothing to laugh at. However, in your particular area, that salary won’t go far. What exactly is your expectation of commutable distance? Is this number real or something to work up to? Does the club really intend to compensate at this level or just for “the right person”.

Is a CostCo membership, in the eyes of the club, a benefit of great importance?

There is no question that you will be amazed at the number of resumes that you receive for this position. After all, your facility enjoys quite a reputation. However, that reputation is as a golf facility. Your club isn’t well known for soup, sandwiches and sweaters. So how will you sort out the fantasy resumes from the real ones? Who on your staff knows the inside of the business so well that you can make this kind of decision? Perhaps you’ll hire a consultant to help you? Who will conduct interviews? Based on reading the job posting, it is pretty clear you don’t know much about the job of the golf course superintendent. I’m sure somewhere on the internet is a list of questions you can ask your candidates. You won’t understand what the right answers are, sadly.

There is much talk about the financial status of your club. And for a few years now, you have burdened the superintendent to cut back to minimum staff and minimum work and you have done a minimum of equipment replacement. There are rumors that you have been in negotiation with several management companies with one of them quietly claiming that they had a deal with you, a while back. However, this information wasn’t included in your job announcement and that’s a curiosity. Wouldn’t full disclosure be better? And if your past Superintendent failed at giving you all the money you needed to make the budget work, then didn’t you fail as well to deal with the revenue side of the picture? What’s sad is that your facility is busy. Cranking out the rounds, and yet financial issues exist. Has raising the rates ever occurred to anyone or are all of your members and golfers on a fixed income?

Past Superintendent had the course in very good condition, but wasn’t as good as the General Manager wanted him to be at saving the club money, communicating about all the ways he wouldn’t spend money and attending meetings about how he was going to keep saving the club money

I’ve taken the liberty to re-write the job announcement that you have recently released. I think it is much more in line with what is really happening at your club. Perhaps this should be posted.


Semi-Private Facility Seeks Golf Course Superintendent

XYZ Golf and Country Club has recently discharged our past superintendent and is seeking a new one. Past Superintendent had the course in very good condition, but wasn’t as good as the General Manager wanted him to be at saving the club money, communicating about all the ways he wouldn’t spend money and attending meetings about how he was going to keep saving the club money. A successful Golf Course Superintendent at XYZ will be able to do all we ask him to do in a timely and inexpensive manner while still keeping the conditions in as near US Open or Tour conditions as we see fit.

Our facility has a membership that is very tough as well as corporate events and limited to unlimited public play. The Course Superintendent is expected to handle this schedule and not pay his Union Staff a dime of overtime and not add any new staff burden to handle our 7-day per week golfing schedule, which we hope someday to include USGA type events to showcase our amazing property and help us be able to sell more hats and shirts and Starbucks type coffee drinks.

The club will compensate you as we see fit. We are located in one of the most expensive areas in the US to live and so your dollar won’t go very far here. We expect you to live close by so as to be able to come in whenever there is any kind of emergency, such as the cart barn attendant forgetting to fill up several flat tires. We will give you a vehicle, but you won’t be able to use it for anything but work related things. That’s OK, because for what we pay you, you should always be working. We have a benefit package, but because of how insurance works and because we need to cut back everywhere we can, you’ll have to pay a big percentage of your health coverage and if you have a family, let’s hope your wife has a cushy municipal job so that they can have insurance, otherwise, we are happy to take a large part of your check and will help you with your FSA program to pay all the bills and save a little tax. Since the median home price in our area is so huge, you’ll need every tax write off you can get, because you’ll never be able to write of mortgage interest. We want you to play golf, but only on your own time. Don’t think about bringing friends out to play. We hear that Superintendents like to do this and if you do, you’ll have to pay for them and their food (or at least a percentage of their food, we can’t seem to get the committee to decide on this).

Contract? Please. Don’t even ask.

We want you to work 80 plus hour weeks, but will certainly pay for your dues for local and national associations. Don’t count on attending meetings; our board adopted a “no staff travel” policy a few years back. Besides, we all know the yearly golf show in Orlando or Vegas or one of those fun cities is just a big drunken festival. The GM went one year and the trade show consisted of Liquor vendors and Napkin printers and a bunch of mowers and everyone talking in the aisles.

Contract? Please. Don’t even ask.

We know we will get 300 plus resumes for this job. To impress us, you will have to be willing to take the job for any amount of money and be willing to work your way up, whatever that means. Older, experienced Superintendents, especially if you are from the local area, need not apply. If you have had five or six high profile jobs in the last decade or have worked overseas, we may be more interested in you.

Lastly, the club really doesn’t know what we are really here for. We know we have an old historical golf course, but historical things are often very expensive to take care of so we talk a lot about modernization. We hired one of those architects that cares about older golf courses, but found our that the bunkers they restored are really too expensive to maintain, even though they look so natural. Our members want great conditions, low dues and inexpensive hangar steaks with large whisky pours. This is our supposed direction until the next board election. We may have to hire one of those golf management companies to help us, as club self-governance hasn’t really worked out so well.

Please send resumes, powerpoint presentations filled with retouched photos and over hyped DVD’s. No calls. Don’t even think about coming to visit. We don’t like to give away free golf. If you need to know more about the area, use Google or TripFinder or something like that.


Thank you, Mr Z for taking this all in. I’m sure the job posting as written about is a much more accurate and solid description of the job. And at the same time, you will still get hundreds of resumes from those who just “know they can handle it”. Best of luck. You may well need it.

Really Concerned For The Golf Industry and Sick of The Devastation of The Green Industry

Vulcan Guide to Soil Testing

Soil Testing. It’s that time of year when most Turfheads are gonna pull some soil tests. My experience is that for many (if not most) this is done as kind of a box check. You know you have to do it, because that’s what you do this time of year. A lot of Turfheads tell me that soil tests are one of those things that they understand as well as a fourth or fifth language. So let’s Rock our Spock and geek a bit with some ideas about soil testing.

The confusion hasn’t really helped anyone and if you don’t work with this kind of thing nearly every day, then the language (words like Saturated Paste Extraction and Mehlich-III and P-Sorbtion Curve) may as well be written in Klingon and we Vulcans don’t do Klingon.

Because of this lack of grokking, soil testing has gotten a bit of a bad rap. And inside of that, there are now all kinds of ideas and theory about how one should really read a soil test. The confusion hasn’t really helped anyone and if you don’t work with this kind of thing nearly every day, then the language (words like Saturated Paste Extraction and Mehlich-III and P-Sorbtion Curve) may as well be written in Klingon and we Vulcans don’t do Klingon. I don’t want to really get into the whole this vs. that thing here, but I’d love to address a few things that may help you when you go to collect some important data.

  1. Soil Tests are never a bad thing. People who don’t know how to read them are bad, but the tests themselves are good. Data is good.
  2. You get what you pay for. Want the cheap test? Get cheap or incomplete data. Paying a bit and perhaps even using a couple different methods on the same sample is worth it.
  3.  Sticking with the same lab is paramount. I can’t tell you the number of times a super will open up a big file of tests spanning several or more years from as least as many labs. Impossible to make the comparison.
  4. Bar Graphs aren’t really that important. A lot of people are looking for a picture of high or low or whatever in the form of an easy to use bar graph. Imagine if we approached all of your planning this way. Just let someone else tell you the highs and the lows and… oh wait, that’s Wall Street. Learn the numbers. It’s better for you.
  5. Pull enough samples. Unless you are on a regular data collection routine, make sure you cover your different soil types, indicator and good citizen greens and some clubhouse flower beds too. Data is good.
  6. Don’t always repeat the same samples. Repeat some, but always add a few areas in and set up a good rotation to get through all of your key areas in a 2-3 year cycle.
  7. Pre-season and Post-season samples are a good idea. Especially if you have poor water or a drought situation or that sort of thing.
  8. Sampling during the season is not a bad idea either. When your place is apt to change, a good sampling routine might tell you what’s happening. This is where I really love Paste Extracts, by the way. They show so much of what’s happening right now.
  9.  Not every number of that test sheet is an actual test. Some values are calculations. Make sure you know which is which. Your lab or your consultant can and should be able to help you understand which numbers are which. Use the actual tested for numbers for your test to test comparisons.
  10. Sampling depth is key. Make sure to let your lab know what your sample depth is and make sure you sample to that depth. Those calculated numbers I talked about above depend on you getting this right.

There are 10 things you need to know and may not have thought about in regards to getting soil test info that matters. If you wanna geek out with some of the numbers, comment below and throw up some questions. I’ll use them for fodder for future posts.

I believe that soil tests are an agronomic planning tool and not a fertilizer sales tool. That doesn’t mean your agronomic supply supplier can’t be involved, but if the material coming to you looks like it is driven to create a list of things to buy read number 1 and number 2 above. Rinse. Repeat.

Summertime Feeding?

The common question that I seem to be getting in the last few weeks has to do with feeding greens. While there can’t be a universal rule set for all the different climates we all work in, there are a few things that I like to see happen for best practice summer stress conditioning.

For me, consistency is key. Set your feeding schedule and stick to it. Sure, sometime things happen, but when we are doing it right, there isn’t much Nitrogen involved and so growth isnt a big deal.

Speaking of growth, it’s best if you are under some kind of regulation. My field work shows that best practice summers always have some growth regulation and that program is set and doesn’t change much.

Phosphite Rocks. There’s a lot to be said for Phosphite. If you don’t know, ask about this. I happen to be a huge fan of Grigg’s PK plus product, but there are others and the important part is that it’s there and in the program.

Carbon and Calcium round out the soluble/foliar picture. Getting both in the tank is a good thing and for me, nothing beats a good complexed Calcium product. Choice #1 is Earthwork’s CalVantage. Again, there are others, but this one works more wonders than anything else we have trials with.

So a solid stack spray might look like this:

  • A complexed Nitrogen around .1 pounds of N with a solid Carbon base.
  • A Phosphite.
  • A complexed Calcium.
  • Perhaps some Seaplant Extract, De-salinated Seawater or a solid bio blend of molasses, fish and humic acid.

There’s something to build from there. Of course you can add and re-rig to your heart’s content. And in some cases some situations call for a lot more. And, don’t bother telling me the world is flat and these type of materials don’t work. We are way beyond that.

But there isn’t an excuse for doing nothing. That’s the worst program there can be.


A Guide to Yummy Tank Mixing Cocktails

I’d like to take a quick break from the water quality thing to share a recent experience from the field.

Everybody tank mixes fertility products. In some form or another, you put stuff in the spray tank and expect that it will come out whatever nozzles you have and do the intended job. That’s not rocket science. It’s part of Turfhead life. So when I was called this week to help a turfhead straighten out a spray mix, I was pretty excited to see what said Turf Monkey was hitting the tank with and why it was an issue. Because what I was told was going into the tank didn’t seem like it would be all that much of a problem.

As it turns out, it was the mixing order that was the issue and when we took a look at his technique and changed a few things, problem solved. Plus, at the end of the day, we probably built a fertility spray that we know to be a bit more bomb proof.

Here’s my tank mixing order. There may be other’s like it, but this one is mine, Joker.

  1. Nitrogen. Whatever N source you are using, add it to as much virgin water as possible.
  2. Mineral. Potassium, Calcium, whatever. Add your mineral dominant materials next.
  3. Metallics. I’m thinking Iron here mostly, but Manganese, Zinc, etc. also fit into this area. Again, look at the dominant ingredient to classify.
  4. Carbon. Here’s where I see a lot of people make a mistake. What we are trying to do is to stabilize and complex (a big word for “surround with good stuff”) the materials above. Kind of an Amish way to chelation. For some reason, a lot of people like to put these materials in the spray tank first and then add the other stuff. The usual result isn’t bad, but now and then the whole thing turns to a gelatinous goo. Bad.

So that’s it. There’s the tank mix order that often works to save folks some effort and makes a fertility spray stable and often preserves the energy in the whole thing. I’ll get to the Spray Solution Energy discussion one day, but that’s not for now.

What we are trying to do is to stabilize and complex (a big word for “surround with good stuff”) the materials above. Kind of an Amish way to chelation…”

Yes, I know. You put other things in your tank, like chemicals and growth regulators and stuff like that. I guess I have to take the safe road first and tell you to really read the label, and always jar test. But having said that, in most cases we start with those materials and then progress to the others.

Since Earthworks is one of my blog sponsors (thank you) and Joel Simmons is one of my good friends (thank you, again, because that’s much more expensive), let’s look at one of Joel’s popular program combos and apply the thinking above: 

Their 5-5-5 program combines 5 oz. each of CalVantage, Protein Plus and Trilogy. This one is pretty simple.

  1. The only product in the trio that has N is the Protein Plus, so in the tank it goes first. Yes, I know, it has a bunch of other stuff in there, but there’s a significant amount of N (14%), so it goes first.
  2. Next, the CalVantage. Mineral, Baby.
  3. Last, the Trilogy with the molasses, fish emulsion, kelp extract and humic acid. This is the Complexing agent left to last to surround everyone with carbon goodness.

So there it is, a tip for a starting place for better tank mixes. I hope this helps!

Continuing to Classify Your Water

I’ve really enjoyed the feedback I’ve gotten in the field and in email about the idea of looking hard at irrigation water. Thanks for that! And the really important thing I’m hearing is the need for understanding.  I’m doing this post from my iPad in the field, so please excuse the lack of monkeys.

Let’s continue for a quick look at three letters: TDS. Total Dissolved Solids is a really cool concept. I always have a hard time when someone says to me that water doesn’t have anything in it. It’s water, right? Well, wrong. That water has solids dissolved in the water column. We measure this in parts per million and it’s expressed sometimes in milligrams per liter… which is the same thing.

Here’s a general classification rule for water:

Fresh  less than 1,000 ppm TDS
Brackish  1,000-5,000 ppm TDS
Highly Brackish  5,000-15,000 ppm TDS
Saline 15,000-30,000 ppm TDS
Sea Water  30,000-40,000 ppm TDS
Brine  40,000-300,000+ ppm TDS

When someone starts telling me about their “saline” water, of course, we have to get on the right page for good conversation. In truth most of us are dealing with the first category and sometimes the second.

Here’s today’s fun take-away. These Dissolved Solids. They weigh something. Depending on what makes up the TDS of a water, that weight can be significant. A good water test will express this in pounds per acre-inch or pounds per acre-foot.

Three acre feet of water brings a nice application of 3,000 pounds of what is usually undesirable. A ten day stretch of big water nights brings about 15 tons of solids to your Turfgrass World.

Looking at a recent water test, I see  370.6 ppm of TDS which calcs out to just over 84 pounds per acre inch of water. So what? OK, let’s say that this particular 100 acre track gets a million gallons of water on a hot day. Just over 3 acre feet. My 84 pounds per acre inch turns into just over 1000 pounds per acre foot. Three acre feet of water brings a nice application of 3,000 pounds of what is usually undesirable. A ten day stretch of big water nights brings about 15 tons of solids to your Turfgrass World. Ten Days. 15 Tons. If this is your world, you better have a plan.

Now you know why I’m looking at TDS. In a future post, we will talk about what’s inside that big application you didn’t know you just made.

Fall Aerification and Recovery Program