Friday, July 6, 2012

Anatomy of preparing the golf course after a major storm!

Last Friday's derecho that left so much damage in its wake in its rapid 8-hour trip from Chicago to the Atlantic Ocean, put our maintenance crews to one of their biggest tests in recent memory.  Seven facilities were left without power, phones, and/or internet access.  Hundreds and hundreds of trees were damaged or felled around our golf courses, and the number one priority all the time is to get our golf courses open as quickly as possible and minimize the impact on playability for our customers.

(***First of all, I want to say that I will put our maintenance crews up against those of any golf course around when it comes to the size of the labor force with what we can accomplish and the conditions we can provide to you, and I am very proud to be a part of such a hard-working team! )

Here were are now Friday evening, a full 7 days later and we still have 3 facilities relying on generators to run our pump stations, and one maintenance shop (Falls Road) running essentials (like our well pump, ice machine, lights, and irrigation computer - more on that later) on generators.

Here's the typical scenario many of our superintendents and maintenance teams encountered on Saturday morning:  They enter the property as normal as early as 4:00 a.m. in order to prepare for tee times that could start by 5:45.  Under "normal" circumstances, every weekend morning is really a race against time to do normal "first job" preparations of mowing & rolling greens, course setup, and raking bunkers.  The supervisor on duty has brought in the appropriate number of staff, typically 3 - 5, to take care of these jobs.

Some maintenance crews were further abbreviated because some staff could not get out of their neighborhoods to come to work!  This was the case at Falls Road, where only 2 crew members out of 5 scheduled could make it in, so 3 other managers came in to help - the mechanic, myself, and the other assistant (who also happened to be working at the AT&T National at Congressional all week, but since grounds staff was let go in the morning while they still decided whether to even open the course for play, he came back to Falls Road to work).

So last weekend, with our already typically shorter staff on weekends who normally just prepare greens, bunkers, setup, water coolers, there was a big wrench thrown in to the picture!  Massive course damage took place on many of our properties including downed trees, flooded bunkers, and literally thousands of branches littering the golf course.  So what do we do?

The number one focus is greens.  Take away the greens mowers, and I can still roll greens to achieve good playability  (=SUM +1 or +2 guys to help with cleanup).  Take away the bunker guy since the course is trashed (=SUM +1 more), and now I have 2-3 workers who can help with the storm cleanup with still allowing me to change cups/tee markers AND roll greens.  Again, greens first.  So we'll blow off the greens in front of the roller and do our best to get cups changed as well depending on the volume of cleanup. If we can't get cups changed, at least there's still a hole there from yesterday.

One worker, or sometimes a supervisor depending again on what other staff are able to accomplish, will immediately get on a big tractor blower and begin blowing the majority of debris off of tees and fairways in front of play.  If it is the supervisor on duty who will get on the tractor blower, he has to make a sweep of the entire property quickly, which he usually does before or immediately after staff arrive anyway, and give orders to his staff before getting on the blower.

Other staff that are available, once greens are blown off, will go in numerical order around the course dragging large branches off into the rough or into the woods in order clear as wide a path as possible for golfers.  If any trees are down that are directly affecting play, those have to be cut up and moved out of the way as well.  Staff may choose to cut trees up in large sections that can be moved with a tractor.  Depending on staffing levels at each facility, as well as the shear volume of debris encountered, a couple of our facilities had to delay opening into the late morning on Saturday because it was just too dangerous for golfers to be out there.  We appreciate your understanding after this major storm.

As has been said before, maintenance crews and superintendents are golfers, too!  We know how much you, the customer, want to be out on the course, but we have a duty to make sure it is safe for you to be out there.

Storm cleanup is still continuing at most of our properties, and could continue for weeks as we get back into more out of play areas and just playing catchup on debris cleanup after a week of OTHER PROBLEMS as well!  What problems?  Well...
  • loss of power to our pump stations.  Even though we had rain with the storm, courses were very dry, and the strong rains ran off quickly, so how do we water with no pumps?
    • Generators!  Finally by Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, a few of our facilities were able to acquire hard-to-find generators to run our pumps.  It's no small feat to get these 480V 3-phase generators hooked up, but with the help of an electrician, and lugging around some 1" diameter electric cables to our pump houses, we were finally able to get some water back in the pipes and begin doing some much needed irrigating.
    • spray rigs are used to lightly water hot spots on greens, tees, or fairways as needed, but since the typical sprayer only holds 300 gallons and could take 45 minutes to fill without our irrigation system available, and a full irrigation cycle on our courses at night could run easily 400,000 to sometimes 600,000 gallons under the driest conditions, you can see how a sprayer just doesn't suffice, and there is definite potential to see declining conditions.  Greens first.  We won't let those decline if it is in our power.
  • loss of power to our maintenance facilities. 
    • combine loss of pump with loss of central control for our irrigation systems, and we have really gone back about 40-50 years in time to full-on manual watering of courses, which is incredibly inefficient!
    • Fortunately by Tuesday, most of our maintenance shops (not pump stations) had power except Northwest and Falls Road.  But during a power outage, equipment maintenance and repair is much more inefficient or sometimes can't happen at all because there is no power the lift, grinders, welders, etc.  Equipment repair & maintenance is a FULL TIME JOB, and situations like this slow down progress in a number of ways that oftentimes the golfers will never see!
    • no power = no ice machines, so the simple task of filling water coolers just doubled or tripled in the amount of time necessary to do it since we have to go find ice somewhere, along with about 400,000 other folks without power!  In some cases, our clubhouses had power and could spare the ice.
  • HEAT!!  Holy cow, did someone turn up the heater out there this week?  Loss of power combined with a record-setting heat wave that will tomorrow be 10 days over 95 degrees, certainly doesn't leave maintenance crews with much chance for relief.  In fact, I would say that if we were working at 85% - 90% productivity this past week, we'd be doing pretty well.  Maintenance crews are encouraged to take breaks, are trained in identifying signs of heat exhaustion, and are drinking MANY gallons of water every day to stay hydrated.
  • Mowing - after the major cleanup was finished on fairways and tees, for example, there are still tons and tons of small sticks that have to be painstakingly hand-raked and picked up before these areas can be mowed.  Sticks even as small -as 1/2" in diameter can damage the precision mowing equipment we use, so even for the normal tasks like mowing, we are further delayed with these processes with a small labor staff who is trying to clean up the course and deal with the heat and other challenges we have.
  • Communication - no power at shops meant two-way radio batteries quickly died, and while running equipment, cell phones sure aren't quite as efficient or easy to use while you are completely covered with sweat, dirty, and working our tails off running chainsaws, chippers, tractors, and other loud machines cleaning up!
    • no power also means all those other things we take for granted that are "easy" - things like paying our bills, updating our golf course Facebook pages, and in general taking care of the business side of golf course maintenance, took much longer, or had to be done at home, assuming we had power.
 This list really does go on and on, but I'll stop here.  YOU GET THE IDEA!

One closing remark:  GOLF COURSE SUPERINTENDENTS AND THEIR TEAMS DEAL WITH A HOST OF DIFFERENT CHALLENGES EVERY DAY, RANGING FROM MICROSCOPIC ISSUES ABOVE AND BELOW GROUND (DISEASE PATHOGENS, SOIL CHEMISTRY, DRAINAGE, SOIL STRUCTURE, ANAEROBIC CONDITIONS, ETC.) , TO ANY OF THOUSANDS OF OBSTACLES (ENVIRONMENTAL, EQUIPMENT-RELATED, LOGISTICAL, VANDALISM, ANIMAL DAMAGE, ETC.) INCLUDING STORM DAMAGE.  So while this was a major catastrophic event for most of our properties, it is just another day in the life of a superintendent and his/her team.  We will continue to roll with the punches and see what's next!

Looks like finally some heat relief in sight next week!  Stay cool out there.

1 comment:

thomas peter said...

Here were are now Friday evening, a full 7 days later and we still have 3 facilities relying on generators to run our pump stations, and one maintenance shop....online tree nursery