Would you be ready if a fire hit your golf operation?

Eric J. von Hofen
A fire can happen in the blink of an eye and when you least expect it. Here are some tips that you might want to follow before your golf course is faced with the worst day in it’s history. I would have the following information stored two ways, one a external drive and the other on a flash drive. Leave one copy at home and the other in your clubhouse. Remember that when a fire strikes, everything is gone. You will not have access to your office, computer, phones, irrigation system or building. I remember coming to work the next day and the only thing I could get out of the building was three rakes and two carts. I lost everything including my college diploma. See my office below.
Eric J. von Hofen

Information that needs to be backed up and stored off site:
-Have an updated equipment list with serial numbers, hour meters and pictures. Include the purchase date and cost at that time.
-Employee contact numbers.
-Irrigation programs and pump totals.
-Chemical and fertilizer records with the current inventory list.
-Gas and diesel inventory list.
-Vendor contact numbers.
-Member and club officials contact and email information.
-The clubs insurance contact information.
-Local and state fire marshall contact information.

The day after the fire has to be a controlled media event. Golfers, owners, staff, and insurance companies are the only people you need to worry about. At that time you probably will not know what caused the fire so you will only be able to confirm that “yes we had a fire” and that is it. Your burned up building will be jumping with local fire officials and the state fire marshall. These guys worked together and in about one hour they had it narrowed down to a five foot area where my fire started. Ten minutes later they found the cause and pulled out the remains of a electric golf cart charger. The fire marshall said “you might want to lock this up, it’s going to be worth a million dollars”. I took his advice and hide the charger until the insurance team showed up. He was right the fire was a $1.2 million dollar loss.
Eric J. von Hofen

Over the next month you will have every fire clean up company and insurance adjustor show up wanting to help you and offer to review your insurance policy. They have a great scam telling you that they can put together claim so you don’t have to worry about. Sounds great but they will take 30% of the insurance payout. Not a good deal at all. This is when your records will be worth gold. These records will also be very important if your equipment is leased. The lease company now has nothing to pick at the end of the lease and you have nothing to maintain your course with. Now what do you do? The insurance company will have to settle with the lease company and you will have to put together a new equipment package.

Keep a clean maintenance building, back up your information and look for any fire hazards on a daily basis. Make proper equipment repairs and train your staff on fire protection. Sounds petty but it sure pays off.

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First Day of Winter and Golf Courses are Off Color

Eric von Hofen and frost damage on bermudagrass
This year’s golf season in the Sunshine State kicks off to a cold reception on the first day of winter.  I wrote a post last week explaining just how cold it has been in Florida and it has not let up.  Normal temperatures during this time of the year are in the mid 70’s during the day and low 60’s at night.  But not this year. Over the last two weeks, golf course superintendents have arrived at work to find temperatures in the 30’s and frost in some areas. In the picture above, it shows that the roughs on golf courses in Miami are damaged from the frost. Normally we have two or three days of cold weather a year and the turf bounces back when it warms up. Golf courses up and down the east and west coasts of Florida have been hit very hard. Palm Beach County is home for many snow birds living in gated golf communities are realizing that for the second year in a row the turf behind their homes will be dormant. Those golf courses that chose to overseed the roughs will look good while others will look brown and in need of water. It just needs sun and a few 80 degree days and we will be back in business.
Eric von Hofen
This picture shows frost on a paspalum tee box in Miami. It is a shame that this has to happen during the high golf season when so many people come from around the world to enjoy the sun and emerald green fairways of Florida. This Holiday season, golfers will have little to show off at their home courses. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that January will bring some warmer days. We need to see some green fairways to see some green in the cash register.

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What are you doing with the data from your soil sensors?


What are you doing with the data from your soil sensors? Many golf courses have installed soil sensors in greens, tees, fairways, and landscape beds to help manage water use. This trend was very popular 3 to 5 years ago and has hit a wall with the slow down in the development of new golf courses. The sensors tell you sodium levels, moisture and temperature of the soil where the unit is buried. The units that I purchased update every five minutes with data. Now what do you do with that data? The picture below is a overhead shot of a green complex showing where the unit is buried in the green.
I use this data for a wide range of topics. I monitor the sodium levels daily due to the fact that we are pulling water from four wells that have high level of sodium in the water. Every night we water, we are contaminating the turf with salt. A good Miami down pour is welcome once a month. When this happens, I can see the sodium levels invert showing the top layer(root zone) drop and spike in the lower level of the sensors. This is about 5 inches from the top of the turf.

This picture above shows 20 days of data from both sensors. I use this screen shot to educate my staff and golfers when it comes to the affects of rain and cold weather. Last winter, Miami had four mornings with frost and the greens lost some color but they picked up a ton of speed. We had a low soil temperature of 27.2 degrees for a few hours. Bermudagrass likes a soil temperature at 58 degrees or above. I printed this out and posted it in the locker rooms for everyone to see. Some people understood it and others could care less. They just loved the fast greens and asked why they could not be like this all year.

The biggest reason I use the sensors is to cut back on water use. I now have a way to see what’s happening below the turf. I hold off on watering a day or sometimes two after heavy rains. This saves on water and electricity and helps the course play firm and fast. Turfunderground would like to hear what you are doing with your sensors. Please let us know.

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How are you keeping their attention in the boardroom?


It’s tough to be in the golf business these days and it’s even tougher to keep members interested in what we do. Many superintendents have to conduct monthly meetings with their staff, owners, owners reps, golf pros, general managers, board of directors or green committees. How are you getting your message across to listeners? I have seen that there are three levels of information distribution that gets people’s attention. First, walking the Clubhouse provides face to face time with golfers, letting them know what is going on right here and now. Second, the Club’s newsletters and web site are a great forums for bigger things like summer closing dates and project updates. Third and finally, the meetings in the boardroom are the most important and biggest opportunity for you to get your message out to the membership. You have a captive audience in the boardroom. Those members sitting across from you obviously care about the club and the course or they would not be serving on a committee or have a seat on the board. These members are your messengers. It’s up to you to educate them and give them the power of information. I use the Powerpoint method for both my meetings with the board and with the green committee. Last year, I got away from using this method and I discovered that my meetings where running longer than two hours and the right message was not getting back out to the membership. By using the Powerpoint method, the members see and hear what you are talking about. I also take it a step further and sometimes bring in visual aids, such as soil samples, and include pictures in the Powerpoint presentation related to the topic at hand. I also bring hand outs and items they can take home after the meeting. After one hour of holding court with them you will have empowered everyone in the room and will have made your point. I promise the next day, while walking around the club, you will hear third or fourth hand what you covered the night before. So get on board and don’t be afraid to take control of your message. It’s your job to do so.

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Synthetic turf change out on the tee line


Is there ever enough turf on a busy practice range tee? In many cases there is not, and an area of synthetic turf is the only option to keep golfers happy. If you’re thinking about installing a synthetic turf at your golf course, you should watch this video below. In it I explain the process and show you how a new tee line is installed. If you have ever warmed up on one of the old types of synthetic turfs, you know when they wear out it hurts your hands after you hit the surface with your club. I have seen that the nylon material wears out in about three years, depending upon traffic and sun light exposure. The new materials are now made out of polyester and are made to withstand heavy use. The cost has come down over the years and it makes more sense to look at these products as a solution to your shortage of tee space.

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Is Tiger Woods, and golfers worldwide, ready to start playing again?

This week Tiger Woods is playing in the Masters in the land down under and he is not ranked #1. What can we expect out of him? A year ago this week, in the same land down under of Australia, both his perfect world and his perfect golf game started to come undone. He said in a press conference today that he is ready to start playing again. I’ve heard that same sentiment echoed repeatedly over the last week, not just from Tiger Woods, but from members as well. They are telling me they are happy about the outcome of the elections last week, the stock market is at a two year high and they want to play more golf this year. I think the world is realizing that we are all not going to fall off a cliff and the markets are not going to zero. I can see business improving at the country club by the amount of members hanging out and enjoying themselves. We have a member/member tournament this week and the field is sold out. Tonight, South Beach hot spots such as Joe’s Stone Crab and Prime 112 have a 2 hour wait for a table, and the streets are packed with vacationers from around the world. It’s hard to believe that there is a 9.5% unemployment rate in the US. Sure doesn’t feel like it. Maybe we have turned the corner, and maybe Tiger might just surprise us with a win this week.

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What’s wrong with this picture?

Is your range tee or practice area large enough to handle the wear and tear from regular use? Do you have to hit from a synthetic turf when you warm up or practice? These are two tough questions that many golfers and courses have to ask themselves everyday. Now what product do you select? This picture shows that even synthetic turf has a life span. The current turf was installed four years ago and it has lost cushion. Golfers are having problems teeing up a ball and hitting irons off of this surface. I feel that the product has lost it’s pile height/cushion because of the sun, foot traffic and heavy use for the last four years. The synthetic turf was installed on a sand based product and it drains well. So water was not an issue.

I have placed a new synthetic turf test square right on top of the current product so golfers can see the difference and test it out. This process brings back a bunch of bad memories for golfers that remember the first product that came out 10 years ago. That product was loaded with rubber and sand. The idea of that was to help with the shock of the club hitting the ground and make it feel more like hitting out of real turf. This idea might have lasted for the first few months after it was installed then it quickly turned to rock. Golfers hated it and made many courses remove the product. Today we are faced with selecting a replacement synthetic turf. There are not many companies that make the product but there are a bunch of companies will install it for you. Nylon over polypropylene is what we are faced with. Check back in a month and I will tell you which one is the winner. Which one do you think will win?

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Overseed or Interseed this winter. What are you going to do?


This time every year superintendents decide if they are going to drop seed or not. Here in South Florida, after a rough cold winter last year, I think many golf courses might just do it. I don’t like to call this process overseed here in South Florida, I call it Interseeding. Interseeding of what you may ask. If you have a new ultra dwarf bermudagrass on greens and the golf course is located south of Jupiter, Florida, I say no way. If the golf course is located in the desert of California or Arizona, I say you better. I worked at PGA WEST, in La Quinta, CA and we overseeded everything on each of the 9 golf courses. We had to make sure that every bit of bermudagrass was covered with seed. If it was not covered you would see the brown bermudagrass come through and look bad all winter long. It gets so much colder at night in the deserts and frost is more common. Last winter in Miami, we had 4 mornings of frost and the grass went off color but did not go brown. The Palm Beach area was not so lucky. They had many more days of cold weather and cloud cover which made growing turf very difficult. I have made the call to interseed my driving range tee only this year and that is it. I want a 40% ryegrass and 60% bermudgarass stand of turf. That will work great for us and help with the small size of the range tee. Golfers will have grass to hit from. What are you going to do?

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