Congratulations to Highlands CC for being selected as the winner of the 2014-15 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards for the Carolina's by Golf Digest and GCSAA!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Golfdom article

Golf’s got 99 problems, but is the big cup one?

By |  November 24, 20140 Comments
Nick Goettsche, assistant superintendent at Boone Creek GC, Bull Valley, Ill., cuts a 15-inch cup. Boone Creek was one of about 100 courses to test 15-inch cups this year as part of a pilot program.
The golf gods were not smiling upon Pheasant Run. They may have even been angry this particular day.
Andrew Hardy, superintendent at Pheasant Run Golf Club, Sharon, Ontario, and his crew had just spent 10 hours putting out 15-inch cups for an event on nine of their 27 holes. Now all they needed were golfers to come out and give these big cups a roll.
But they didn’t come.
“Lead balloon, big time,” Hardy sighs. “I guess people are too immersed in tradition.”
Tradition. The game is steeped in tradition. But what is it not steeped in these days? Rounds played. Revenue. Course openings.
Can tradition pay the water bill?

Size matters

The standard golf hole is 108 millimeters wide — approximately 4 ¼ inches. When it comes to playing golf, maintaining a handicap, bragging about a long putt for birdie, this is the only hole.
Andy Hardy
Andy Hardy
After all, no one has ever bragged with a straight face about a hole-in-one on an alternative cup, right?
In recent years, larger cups have entered the game. From a shade larger than the standard 4 ¼-inch cup to the whopper, a 15-inch hole (hard to call something 15-inches wide a ‘cup’), the intentions are good. But the reaction is mixed.
“Some of the traditional golfers thought we lost our mind when we put the 8-inch cup in the ground, even though we had an 18-hole traditional option available right next door,” says Anthony Williams, CGCS, CGM, Stone Mountain (Ga.) Golf Club, who happens to be recovering from open heart surgery apparently not caused by the new cup size. “We have to insulate the guys who have been teeing it up every Tuesday morning since 1969, because those traditionalists see it and they spit venom.”
Steve Mona
Steve Mona
Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, on his way to Barcelona to speak to members of the European Golf Course Owners Association concerning, coincidentally, the perception of golf, says that he’s never played on an alternative cup. That doesn’t mean he’s one of those traditionalists opposed to them.
“I think as an entry point (alternative cups) are fine. For instance, people who have never played, or who have played and left the game. If they’re more encouraged to come out and play 8-inch or 15-inch cups, that’s good,” he says. “My position is anything that creates more interest and activity in the game is good, so long as it’s not counter to the rules and the conventions of the game.”
What about maintenance challenges? Is an oversized cup popular with superintendents and their crews?
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
“From a maintenance standpoint, (the plugs) are not easy to set back into the ground and level,” says Michael Heustis, superintendent at Chicago Highlands Club in Westchester, Ill. “It seems like for weeks you can see where the big cup was cut. As a rule, the smaller the plug, the easier it is to match up.”
“Getting the plugs back in is a battle. That’s my biggest gripe,” says Mike Kearns, superintendent at Crowne Isle Resort and Golf Community, Courtenay, British Columbia. Kearns has tried the 15-inch cups as well as FootGolf on his course, with some success.
More popular than the big cups with Mike Kearns’ kids, Cameron and Aidan, was a FootGolf setup they helped with.
More popular than the big cups with Mike Kearns’ kids, Cameron and Aidan, was a FootGolf setup they helped with.
“The men’s/women’s group wanted to play night golf on (the 15-inch cups),” he says. “They’re labor-intensive (to install). If we’re going to do it, we have to make sure it’s worth it and we get enough golfers to make it work.”
Heustis says that big cup events have done well at his course, but mostly, being a new course with a new membership, they’re just trying to key in on what the membership likes.
“The thing they’re going to remember is holing a 30-foot putt, or chipping in,” Heustis says. “It’s a fun event for the family. If you’ve got young kids, (big cups) are an easy way to get them more involved.”

Point of entry

If you want a 15-inch golf cup and cutter, there’s only one place to get it: Par Aide Products Co. The biggest of the big cups came from an idea that started at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show with TaylorMade golf.
“They approached us as experts and asked us if we could develop it,” says Dan Brown, sales and marketing manager for Par Aide. “They weren’t looking to replace the golf cup, but trying to find a way to get kids and novices involved in the game.”
Brown raises a good argument when it comes to sports and entry points for kids. It seems like every other sport has an easier version for kids to learn before graduating to the normal game. In basketball, the rim is lowered and the ball is smaller. In baseball, a tee takes out the difficulty of a moving ball. Even bowling has bumpers in the gutters so kids can enjoy success despite having no control over a bowling ball.
“Golf has always had the same equipment for adults and kids. Same ball, same hole,” Brown says. “Kids will spend eight strokes just getting the ball to the green before they can putt. That’s no fun.”
Lind Hunemuller, account executive with Standard Golf, says they offer customers 6-inch and 8-inch cups, and have had some success with both. Last year they sold just shy of 2,000 8-inch cups.
“Clubs want to know how to get more people involved,” Hunemuller says. “It’s fun for kids, for couples.”
But he adds, they’re not for everyone.
“I played on the 6-inch cups, I thought I’d make more putts, but I didn’t,” he laughs. “These cups aren’t for me. I’m more old-school.”

Breaking barriers

Scott Melling of Par Aide displays the blade designed to cut the 15-inch cup.
Scott Melling of Par Aide displays the blade designed to cut the 15-inch cup.
The big cups successfully brought Stone Mountain new business after their late summer/early fall aeration. Typically it’s a challenge to get golfers at this time of the year, so the resort lowers rates.
“It helped us fill in some spots that are typically slow,” Williams says. “Usually we just drop the rates way down and play it out for two or three weeks. This time, we dropped the rates but not as much, and encouraged people to come out, get in some golf, and still be home in time for the football game.”
Kearns says what he thinks about most when it comes to business is overcoming the intimidation people may have who aren’t familiar with his facility. Crown Isle is in a town of 40,000 people, it’s located in an affluent area and the clubhouse is an eye-popping 48,000 square feet.
“People don’t come to eat because they think we’re private. People don’t golf because they think we’re expensive or you need to be a member,” he says. “We think of these problems quite often. If we can get 125 kids up here… maybe the kids don’t play golf, but maybe their parents can discover what we have to offer.”
To Kearns, it’s not about an oversized golf cup. To him, it’s about breaking down barriers.
“People think you have to be a really good golfer to come out here. We want people who don’t even play to come out and see what we have to offer,” he says. “Parents can let their kids hit the range while they see what we have, just to get a taste. I don’t think (alternative golf) will stick, but maybe it can break down barriers.”
Williams plans on bringing the big cups out again in the spring. He used the 8-inch cups on 18 of his 36 holes and left them out for six weeks. Williams says the crew didn’t change cups daily because there is less wear around the cup. “People aren’t grinding out the 3-footers on these cups,” he says.
“We learned some things,” Williams continues. “We’ll be more successful next time. I had a lot of supers ask me if I lost my mind. We believe with 36 holes we have flexibility, whether we take nine holes or 18, to offer golfers variety. It’s a viable way to introduce new business to the club. Maybe it’ll lead to an occasional round, or channeling them to instruction. But the biggest thing is, we weren’t doing enough to be a welcome mat. I want this place to be a 340-acre welcome mat. I want people feeling comfortable coming to the club.”

A cup, not a windmill

Stone Mountain GC employee Gibbs Valcin stands next to the first 8-inch cup cut at the course, immediately after aerification.
Stone Mountain GC employee Gibbs Valcin stands next to the first 8-inch cup cut at the course, immediately after aerification.
The way courses utilize these alternative golf cups will continue to evolve. As Williams says, it’s a learning process. Certainly, golf courses and golf accessory companies will strive to continue to find new ways to be successful.
“We’re trying to do our part,” Par Aide Products’ Dan Brown says. “We’ve had some negative feedback on Twitter. We’re not trying to change the game — we’re not going to introduce a clown’s mouth or a windmill to the game. We’re trying to help grow the game.”
“We’re so caught up in tradition and golf being a certain way. It’s not going to change,” Pheasant Run’s Hardy says. “Golf costs too much. When you give families the option of a round of golf or spending some time at the lake, they’ll always choose the lake over golf.”
“We know we want more golfers,” Williams says. “And I know the one place I’m not getting them is from the golfers we currently have. They’re dying off. We have to do something to get the new breed in here.”
Another thing Williams has learned: keep the big-cup golfers and the regular golfers separated.
“If you mix rank amateurs with guys who know what they’re doing, you’ll have problems,” he says. “The pace, the knowledge of the game, the etiquette is all
He says he’s seen the old guard trying to talk newbies out of the big cups in the clubhouse bar. It’s something that makes him cringe, because he just wants to see people at ease and enjoying themselves at the facility.
“The goal is to have the beginner come out and have this great experience and want to come back. You don’t want to make this effort just to have them come in and get stressed out,” Williams says. “We’re so stuck on some traditions in our industry. Sometimes, I think we’d rather our ships sink than make adjustments.”
Photos: Sarah Nader; Courtesy Shaw Media; Mike Kearns; Stone Mountain GC by Seth Jones

More from Tuesday...

Another beautification project in progress!  The island at the end of the parking lot before the condos is getting a new look.  We are working with the POA on this venture.  The trees in the island were removed and rock curbing is being installed.  When we are finished, we will re-landscape the area.
As a community service project, we have maintained agronomic programs on the Highlands School soccer field for the last 5-6 years.  Today we aerified the field.  With limited state and county funding, we are doing the athletic program at HHS a huge favor.  There isn't anything more important than supporting the kids and students in this community. 


Each year as you know, we spend a substantial amount of time with tree work.  One of my challenges is deciding which trees to focus on.  There are numerous old trees on the golf course, like the white pine above, that need to come down.  However, they are in non visible areas.  Also, we have numerous dead hemlocks that need removed.  On top of that, there are trees that impact turf quality that need to be removed.  It is my job to find the balance of these 3 given a fixed budget.  Of course, I tend to lean towards removing those trees that impact turf quality by blocking sunlight.  This year however, we are focusing more on dead hemlocks.
The staff put down a tractor trailer load of bluegrass on the 6th hole this morning.
Above, is the pile of aerification plugs removed from the greens yesterday.  This is a lot of organic matter, impacting roughly 8% of the putting surface.  Below, those holes will be filled with about 110 tons of new sand.  It's a satisfying job!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Driving Range

The footprint of the teaching building is quite evident now that the foundation is dug.  I am exciting to announce that from this point on, Head Golf Professional, Ken Mattis, PGA, will be giving you updates on the progress of the teaching center on the blog!  Look for weekly detailed updates right here.  Ken and I are looking at ways to expand our blogging to include the entire golf experience from the Golf Professional Staff to the Department of Agronomy.  I like the sound of that...Department of Agronomy!  It sounds like an official branch of the US government!
Speaking of the range tee, check out the soil profile.  You can see the native soil on the bottom followed by 6" of sand/peat mix.  The dark brown area below the grass is the organic matter layer, also known as thatch.  Some thatch is good.  Too much thatch means the surface will hold water and will be soft.  We have been working extra hard to eliminate or reduce this layer.  The only way to get it done is through core aerification.  This is the reason I have been so aggressive with aerification, verticutting and topdressing on the range tee.  I have been quite effective but unfortunately at some point, we will need to strip the sod, get all these organics out of there, add additional new sand, laser level and resod.  Organic matter accumulates from old grass, dead roots etc, clogging up the valuable air space around sand particles.


It's time for the bears around here to learn a little etiquette and stay off the turf during frost delays!  This is on #17 fairway.


On the 17th hole, we've been dealing with this perennial wet area.  Rather than adding additional drain pipe, we excavated the area to a 10" depth.  We will re-install our drain pipe and then cap the area with 10" of sand.  this will ensure good water movement and drainage.  In our climate, it is amazing the lengths we go to repair poor drainage.  We do things in the mountains that most golf courses wouldn't think of!  
This is a photo of the sand in the bunker on #1...the new sand we are trying.  After 3" of rain on Sunday, I walked through the bunker and still sank down an inch.  Our other bunkers are rock hard.  This shows how well draining and playable this sand will be.

Greens Aerification

Given the current weather and the long range forecast, I pulled the trigger today on our greens aerification.  Our original plan was December 1; next Monday.  However, cooler weather is on the way and it looks like the greens may be frozen again next week.  I can't stress the importance of these cultural practices and they simply can't be put off due to weather or our desire to wait until we are officially closed.  Greens aerification will directly affect the success we have next season.  With play minimal, not many are even affected by this.  Topdressing will occur next Monday, keeping the greens playable for the few golfers we expect over the Thanksgiving holiday.  
The final product really isn't too bad to putt on.  Of course, the aren't rolling a smooth 11 feet!

Weekly Update

Today's forecast is calling for unseasonably warm temperatures with highs potentially reaching into the 60's!  After 3" of rain yesterday it does appear that the storm is finally past us.  Tuesday's forecast is another warmer day, while things will begin to cool back down Wednesday.  It looks like the weather will be clear, but colder for Thanksgiving and into the weekend.  

On the golf course this week we have a very busy but short week given the Thanksgiving holiday.  This morning we will be out first thing aerifying greens.  With warmer temperatures the past three days it has given the ground a chance to thaw, which can be very rare this time of year.  Temperatures are forecast to cool back down throughout the weekend which could potentially freeze the ground again, keeping us from aerifying greens until a later date.   All the greens will be aerifyied, cleaned and rolled to ensure they are still playable.  Also this week, we have 2 truck loads of sod being delivered for the rough on #6.  Please continue to check back with us for updates on your golf course!