A \“new\” normal for golf course maintenance

by Ty McClellan, USGA mid-continent region agronomist

"We’ll get back to (insert any maintenance practice or budget line item cut in recent years) as soon as things return to normal.” Sound familiar? At face value, this comment suggests that, while the business of golf is down, the situation is only temporary and operations and staffing levels will return to normal. So, what exactly is normal? For many, normal is the general state of golf that existed prior to 2008.

The 1990s and early 2000s can certainly be referred to as the good ol’ days when golf was bursting at the seams with optimism in every sense of the word. There were an increasing number of golfers, new course construction, and strong revenue streams at golf facilities of all types. Positions for superintendents and assistants were being created faster than turf students could finish their education. In an atmosphere of pure optimism, golf courses were also being designed for the best of times and maintained to achieve the wow factor. This meant extravagance at many levels, including more bunkers with high faces, more tees, more yardage, and more acres of manicured turf. None of this came cheap, and courses became more expensive to maintain with unsustainable business models.

In response to the recent economic recession and fewer rounds, golf facilities needed to reduce expenses. As a result, golf course budgets have generally decreased, and important cultural practices have been scaled back. Central to cost-saving plans were fewer staff and less overtime, which consequently meant less detail work on the golf course, use of inferior products, and fewer capital improvements. Many, if not most, of these cost-cutting measures have at least some adverse effects over time, and some even have detrimental effects with costly future implications. Educating golfers about the difference between frugal spending and harmful cost cutting is a whole other topic of great importance to the Green Section.

While the economy will eventually stabilize and create greater financial security, I believe there may be a “new” normal for golf course maintenance and golf operations. Many of the same management and operational philosophies that worked in the good ol’ days simply won’t cut it any longer. For those who consider 2009 and 2010 to be years during which maintenance operations, staffing levels, and budget cuts were only temporary, the “new” normal for golf course maintenance is more likely to include a sustained focus on efficient operations. At first glance this view may appear gloomy, but this is not necessarily the case. Sure, the number of golf courses (supply) must be further reduced to better align with play (demand), and this adjustment will be painful at times. But golf course superintendents have always proven to be innovative and resourceful, and now is their time to shine.

To help close the gap between limited resources and high expectations, research will also continue to produce more effective products that meet stringent regulatory policies. Equipment, tools, and irrigation systems will continue to become more specialized, more accurate, and more efficient, given the need for fewer inputs and greater environmental awareness. In time it will be commonplace to recycle grass clippings, food waste, and other kitchen byproducts into bio-fuels that can then be reused as electricity, natural gas, or equipment fuel. Golf course superintendents will continue to become better educated and more fiscally savvy. Again, science and innovation will help lead the way, and golf will survive. Will it return to normal as it once was? That’s a different question altogether.

What we do know is that maintaining golf courses during the last golf boom was reflective of the times — somewhat extravagant and rarely sustainable. This should not be viewed as normal. Many of the adjustments that were necessary during the past few years may not be as temporary as some would like to believe. There may be a “new” normal in golf course maintenance, and it will likely resemble the philosophies, budgets, and practices in place today. So, rather than playing the waiting game for a return to normal, start planning for the future by finding ways to get things accomplished.


Dream Day volunteers needed

The First Tee of Phoenix is looking for volunteers for Dream Day which will take place Monday, Jan. 31 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Dream Day is an opportunity for 300 Valley youth to experience golf through a junior clinic, motivational speaker and trick shot show. Volunteers will receive two tickets to the WMPO, lunch and a memento. For more information or to volunteer call The First Tee at 602-305-7655.


Measuring irregularly shaped areas with accuracy

By the USGA Green Section staff

One of the most important steps in estimating the cost of any golf course project is to accurately measure the area involved. This is easier said than done given the irregular shapes of greens, bunkers, fairways, etc. Fortunately, there is an on-line tool that makes the marking and measuring of such areas extremely simple and surprisingly accurate. Plus, you can save measured areas for future reference.

Google Earth is a program that most golf course superintendents have utilized to get a bird’s eye view of their courses. While the free version allows you to perform liner measurements (is the 100 yard marker actually 100 yards from the center of #7 green?) it does not provide the ability to measure the area of polygons. By upgrading to the paid version, Google Earth Pro, any portion of the course can be easily outlined and the area calculated. Outlined areas can be saved and used in presentations and other documentation. Google Earth Pro costs $399 per year and Google offers a free seven-day trial period. Check it out for yourself at the Google Earth site.


AGA membership: What it means to you

Your Handicap Club membership with the Arizona Golf Association includes more than just a handicap. Here’s a breakdown of the benefits you and your club receive.

Having a USGA Handicap Index through the AGA means accessibility to post scores and retrieve information from the course or at home via the Internet.

Through a partnership with the AWGA to provide computers and label printers to all golf courses in Arizona with active member clubs, you can post scores on site after your round, whether you’re at your home course or playing a friend’s course for the day. You can also print a current Handicap label wherever you play.

An AGA membership also gives you the ability to post scores from courses across the country through our affiliation with the International Golf Network. Fifty associations are members of the IGN, which makes posting scores easy if you travel or spend part of the year in another state.

Don’t want to take time at the course to post your score? That’s OK. You can also post scores to any course in the country just by logging onto the AGA Web site,

You can verify your Handicap through, as well as see a complete score history and perform peer reviews. If your e-mail is on file with us, you’ll receive your updated Handicap electronically twice each month. You can update your e-mail address when logged in online or by calling us at (602) 944-3035.

Whether you like to read about golf in print or online, your AGA membership has you covered.We offer an array of communication vehicles to serve your needs.

The most widely used is our Web site,, which receives more than 75,000 visitors each month. In addition to logging in to post a score or review your Handicap, you can use the site to book a tee time, sign up for an upcoming event, research a new course or learn more about an array of golf topics.

Four times per year we mail all members Arizona The State of Golf, a lifestyle publication produced just for AGA members. In it you’ll find information on great places to play in Arizona, equipment, travel destinations, profiles of wellknown people in the golf community, rules/handicapping and AGA news. Not receiving your magazine? Log onto or call (602) 944-3035 to be sure we have your correct address on file.

Many of our members prefer to receive updates via e-mail, so we’ve developed electronic communications, like our monthly e-newsletter, which includes AGA news and special member-only offers.

Whether you’re a scratch golfer or not, if you like testing your skill against other avid golfers, AGA tournaments are one member benefit you don’t want to pass up. We hold about 70 tournaments each year, some championships played at scratch and others at various handicap levels, so you’re sure to find one that fits your level of ability.

Our annual Father/Son Tournament offers you family bonding time with your dad or son, whether he’s 7 or 77 years old. You can also participate in one or all of our member days, which are held at clubs across the state. They are a great way to enjoy a fun game of golf and lunch with friends at a club you might not otherwise play.

Your club also benefits from AGA membership. Taking advantage of these benefits allows your club to offer you an unparalleled experience on and off the course.

Your USGA Handicap Index is dependent on accurate course and slope ratings. The AGA is licensed by the USGA to rate golf courses in Arizona, a service that is offered free to all AGA member clubs. Additionally, the AGA provides course measuring services using state-of-the-art GPS equipment.

Member clubs have access to free software tools. Our tournament software helps manage events by aiding in setting up teams and flights, creating pairings, printing scorecards, generating cart signs, scoring, calculating skins and producing final reports. Our club management software provides your club with a Web site, which includes features that support communication between a club and its members. It serves as a platform where club members can renew their club membership, view detailed tournament information, sign up for events, communicate with other members through a club directory and bulletin board, and more.

The AGA also offers member clubs onsite seminars on everything golf, such as handicapping, the Rules of Golf, marking a golf course and how to use tournament software to set up and manage club tournaments.


Westward Ho: San Diego

by Tod Leonard

Arizonans know all about snowbirds, the warm weather seekers who flock to the state in the winter to escape the frigid climates elsewhere.

In San Diego, there are birds of various feathers all year round. The snowbirds arrive in winter, and in the summer there is a steady caravan of westward-bound Arizona license plates on Interstate 8.

Call them “seagulls.” San Diego is an incredibly popular destination for Arizona residents. About 2.5 million Arizonans visited last year, according to San Diego tourism officials, and they continue to love and inhabit the beaches, parks, tourist attractions and golf courses.

San Diego golf has great appeal because of the relatively good pricing compared to other golf destinations and it also has a large variety of public courses. Not to be underestimated is the ability to play guilt-free with the family as long as other attractions include visits to the San Diego Zoo, Sea World and Legoland.

There are more than 50 public courses in San Diego and nearly all are well maintained, so it’s hard to go wrong regardless of the choice. Courses are like art — in the eye of the beholder — but there also are a few can’t-miss suggestions to try over the course of a visit.

Do as so many Arizonans do and find a hotel or bed and breakfast in Coronado for a base. A semi-island connected to the rest of San Diego by the Coronado Bridge and the Silver Strand, Coronado is a step back in time, with families strolling or biking past the ice cream shops, restaurants and boutiques along its main street, Orange Avenue. Coronado boasts a beach near the historic Hotel Del Coronado that annually ranks among the best in the country. The municipal golf course there falls into similarly lofty category and is a wonderful place to start a vacation and get into the laid-back San Diego vibe.

Opened on the edge of San Diego Bay in 1957, Coronado, flat and very walkable, has a vibrant history and features beautiful scenery at every turn.

The front nine hugs the western edge of the bay and offers pleasant views of the water, bridge and the San Diego skyline. On the back, the red spires of the hotel seem close enough to reach with a 7-iron, and the signature hole is the par-4 16th — a 370-yarder with its entire right side edged by the waters of the Coronado Yacht Club.

It was near the 16th green that a movie crew in 1958 built a temporary dock as Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon filmed “Some Like it Hot.”

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Coronado is its price. It is $30 to walk for all golfers, every day — making it a “2010 Pearls of Value” course by Golf Digest. The quality and value make it a popular place, of course, so for out-of town visitors, the best option is to make a starting time; they’re taken 3-14 days in advance.The cost is $30 per twosome.

Less than 15 minutes from Coronado are the highly acclaimed zoo, the museums of Balboa Park and the shopping and dining in downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter.

The terrain changes dramatically by going from Coronado to the East County hills of Barona Creek Golf Club in Lakeside. In the nearly 10 years since it opened, Barona has become a darling of golfers and architect buffs because of its natural beauty and dramatic styling.There is no course in Southern California remotely like it.

This year, Golfweek tabbed it No. 4 on its list of Best Courses You Can Play in California, behind only Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Pasatiempo. Barona has been the site of numerous top-quality college and pro events, including the 2007 Nationwide Tour Championship.

From the highest point in the course, every hole can be seen, with few structures around, other than the towering hotel and casino on the property.There is just a smattering of oak trees among tall native grasses, which give the layout a links feel that is further confirmed by the super hard and fast fairways and greens. The putting surfaces are enormous and gently undulated, much like a PGA Tour green speed.

The aesthetic is fully completed by more than 100 stark white, jagged-edged bunkers that are the signature of senior architect Todd Eckenrode.

The public rate for Barona is $120 Monday-Friday and $160 on weekends, with further discounts available by signing up for a free Club Barona card.The resort has a full casino, luxury guest rooms, spa and numerous dining options, including a buffet and steakhouse.

There are so many options in various directions.

To the north is the spectacular Mt. Woodson ($45-$65) in Ramona, a boulder strewn, target golf course that is unique and well worth the trip.

On the northern coast are two high-end options: La Costa ($175-$205), the longtime site of professional tournaments, and Park Hyatt Aviara ($215-$235), beloved for its flowers and eucalyptus groves. Both courses are 15 minutes from the Legoland theme park.

Or, driving east on the way out of town, there is a fine option in Santee’s Carlton Oaks ($49-$69), a wonderful Perry Dye design that is arguably the second-hardest course in San Diego behind Torrey South. Carlton Oaks was the site of this year’s NCAA Men’s West Regional.

One option for an entire trip to San Diego is the Sycuan Resort (formerly Singing Hills) in El Cajon.While staying at the full-service resort, with the Sycuan casino nearby, a golfer has access to 117 holes within a 10-minute drive.

Sycuan has 54 tree-lined holes — championship courses Oak Glen and Willow Glen ($57-$79 with cart) and the executive Pine Glen ($19-$26). The courses, longtime sites of the Junior World Championships, are impeccably maintained and accented with old-growth trees and flowers.

Down the street are 27 holes at Steele Canyon ($59-$139), which features dramatic elevation changes, and 36 holes at Cottonwood ($35-$59), an old-school course that is casual and fun.

It’s back to the coast and San Diego’s most famous courses, the North and South at Torrey Pines.

The complex already was well-known for hosting the PGA Tour for more than 40 years, but it took on a different aura after the South’s staging in 2008 of one of the greatest U.S. Opens in history — Tiger Woods’s playoff victory over Rocco Mediate.

One might think it’s impossible to get on Torrey Pines now, but the slumping economy and continued rise in green fees instituted by the city have made it more accessible than ever. Weekdays at midmorning are especially fruitful, with twosomes able to walk up with very little waiting time.

Torrey Pines is not the bargain it used to be. Non-residents pay $183 to walk the South on weekdays and $229 on weekends; the North is $100 and $125. To secure a reservation in advance, the fee is $43 per person for either course.

Ironically, the U.S. Open course is easier to get on because of the price. And if the South is not a “must-play” experience, the shorter and more forgiving North can be far more playable and enjoyable. In addition, the beach and hang gliders can be seen just as well.

Downtown La Jolla, meanwhile, with swanky shops and restaurants, is just minutes from Torrey Pines, as is the Birch Aquarium.