Thursday, April 16, 2020

Letter to our MGC members: COVID-19 Update

9 Greywalls before the latest snow storm; the turf on both courses has over wintered wonderfully so far

I have been relying on twitter (@marquettegolf) to provide course updates over the last few years as it is easier and instantaneous but occasionally I run into a topic that requires more information/data; this current Covid-19 pandemic is definitely one topic that requires more explanation.  
Everyone knows by now that our world has been altered from this virus.  Mandates have been passed down from the Governors office requiring the closure of all deemed non-essential businesses and activities.  New dynamic safety/sanitation changes are in place and are adjusted by the CDC as they learn more about the spread and how we can help control it.  
As of now golf has been deemed nonessential and has been mandated to close in the State of Michigan.  This has caused some definite differences in opinion in lower Michigan where golf courses were open for business and people were playing when mandates/restrictions started to take place; but I think we can agree that human health is priority number one.  If it takes temporary closure to gain control of the viral spread and allow new protocols to be developed and implemented so business can once again safely resume to some degree then that is the proper course of action.  For the first time I feel our extended winter has actually been a positive for our business; staff had yet to return for the season and the cold weather/snow events has not allowed golf to even be played yet in Marquette.  We are learning from the courses in lower Michigan and around the country as they traverse their new realities.  As a Michigan Turfgrass Foundation (MTF) board member I am briefed on the new mandates that we face from Lansing.  The MTF is part of the Michigan Golf Alliance (MGA) which has representation from all of the professional golf organizations within our State.  The MGA is the political voice for golf in the state with our elected officials. Their goal is positive communication and cooperation with Lansing to have us all safely golfing soon.  I have been participating in weekly meetings with industry leaders in lower Michigan to discuss the daily changes that are taking place while my national association the GCSAA has also been providing wonderful information and resources.  Marc has been getting updated reports from the PGA multiple times a week and we are discussing them on a regular basis to make MGC as safe as possible for staff/members/guests.  Maggie has been working on new protocols for the clubhouse and making alternative plans based on the latest mandates on the food and beverage industry.
A lot has been happening but rest assured we are on it as a team, staying up to date with the most current information available to us.  It is very important that we make a plan for the worst but continue to hope for the best.  

Changes that will be taking place on the courses this year that golfers will notice:
Increased golf cart sanitation
Elimination of Commonly touched surfaces
  1) Water coolers will not be placed out on the course
       It is recommended that you fill and bring a squirt water bottle with you as screw on/off tops should be avoided
  2) 150 poles will be replaced with 150 yard plates cut into the surface
  3) Driving range set up will be adjusted with increased distance between hitting stations
      Club cleaner, bag stands and trash cans will not be available at this location
  4) Reduction/Modification to golf cart traffic control stakes
  5) Flagsticks are not to be touched and foam will be placed at the base of the stick to prevent the ball from falling to the bottom of the hole
  6) Bunker rakes will not be put out for use 
      Players will be asked to ‘foot rake’ your tracks
  7) Ball washers will not be put out for use
  8) Putting Green Sticks will not be put out for use on the practice greens and cups will be modified to prevent balls from falling to the bottom 
      Ball shag Rollers will not be available and you must bring/use your own practice putting balls
  9) On course seating Benches will not be put out for use
  10) Tee Markers will not be used for daily play but instead the stationary tee yardage blocks will be used to identify tee off locations
       The blocks have been painted a solid color so they are easier to see when they are cut into the tee surface
       A stake will be used on tournament or outing days to set up exact tee off locations but that is not needed for daily play.  
       Golfers will be asked to spread the wear across the tee surface at each tee off location.  

These old Yardage plates were pulled out of storage and will be cleaned/repainted and used in place of 150 poles 

Tee Marker Blocks in the past just had the lettering painted (as the one being held) but are now painted a solid color as the ones in the box to make them easier to identify when cut into the surface.  

Stakes similar to these can be built and used on tournament and outing days to identify exact tee off locations

Grounds Specific:

While it is easy to shut the door to the Proshop /Clubhouse and simply re-open it at a later date during this Covid-19 pandemic the same can not be said for the clubs largest asset; which is the 350+ acre living ecosystem that makes up the two golf courses.  The turfgrass on the courses can not be neglected or it will be lost and the club will not be able to operate without a major renovation expense.  With this new reality in place I went to work and established a two part minimal maintenance plan to 1) protect the asset if not open for business and 2) to operate in a reduced revenue situation that we are potentially facing.  (Detailed below)
According to the language in the mandates/restrictions golf courses and clubhouses can not be open for business but we are allowed to complete minimal maintenance to protect an asset.  Our local government and police have been given the authority of interpretation and enforcement of these mandates so I drafted a letter of communication to our City Commissioner and our Chief of Police explaining our situation and outlining our minimal maintenance plan and increased safety/sanitation protocols.  Essential employees have been identified and will be given letters to carry with them so they are allowed to assist me with minimal maintenance when that time arrives.    .  
Work has continued in the shop on our equipment fleet as our mechanic Bob has been working in the Heritage shop by himself; I stop in to see him in the morning and we cover the daily goals by keeping a social distance of 20 feet from each other talking across the shop.  Bob is parking behind the shop and keeping the front door closed so no one feels the need to stop in and he can stay isolated and safe.  We then communicate via text and phone calls during the day as needed.  
I have been working early in the office then moving to the Greywalls shop to work in an isolated location.  The melt down last week allowed me to bring in two staff members on a few nice days to get the rope/stakes down from around the greens/tees and start cleanup from all the fallen trees/sticks/branches on the Heritage golf course.  We were able to get a good head start before this latest blast of winter arrived.  
Essential key staff will start back when field work can dominate our time as the goal is to eliminate any close contact with others and that can not happen when confined in our small shop spaces.  My work load has increased as I try to adjust and plan for what lies ahead.  Staying on schedule without my key staff has also been difficult and stressful, but it is the correct action for us to take at this time both economically and for the health/safety/well being of our very important staff.  
I have been cleaning plus disinfecting the shops/equipment and have created sanitation buckets for staff to use at our maintenance shops.  Staff will be required to disinfect all commonly touched surfaces after daily use.  

   We are indeed in strange times right now as we all feel some level of discomfort but I know Golf will be phased back into business soon and we will all be able to get out to enjoy fresh air, safe recreation and exercise on MGC’s wonderful property; until then wait for the snow to melt and stay safe.  

See you all Soon


New sanitation buckets have been created like the one above.  They are located at each shop and equipment storage building.

Covid-19 Minimal Maintenance Plan

Course Management under two different scenarios

  1. Not allowed to be open for play; maintenance at a reduced level that allows quick revival of the playing surfaces (Minimal Staff)
  2. Open for play but with reduced revenue; adjustments in place with new efficiencies to save time and labor (Reduced Staff)

All Turf Playing Surfaces

  1. Fertility can be reduced on all surfaces as wear/traffic recovery is no longer a priority.  Plant Growth Regulators (PGR) use will increase to slow growth and reduce mowing frequency.  Fungicide application can decrease as plant stress is reduced from lack of traffic and wear.  Herbicide applications will need to continue as needed or we risk weed establishment on our surfaces.  The most efficient mowing patterns and angles will be utilized at all times.  Aerification can be scaled back if we do not have compaction issues from surface use.  Traffic control measures will not be utilized or maintained as there will be no need.  
  2. We will fall back in line with our Minimal Levels of Sustainable Nutrition (MLSN) fertility program based on soil testing.  PGR use will continue as usual to control vertical growth and enhance lateral growth.  Fungicide/Herbicide applications will proceed as needed.  The most efficient mowing patterns and angles will be utilized the majority of the time; changing those patterns needs to take place occasionally for proper turf surface management.  Aerification and over-seeding will take place as usual to keep the long term health of our turf a priority.  Traffic control measures will again take place as needed but will be reduced.  

Putting Surfaces

  1. Performance will no longer be a priority so the Height of Cut (HOC) can be raised from 0.125” to 0.150” and will reduce the need for chemical inputs.  Surface grooming will not need to be performed as frequently and sand top dressing can be reduced as growth will be less.  Mowing will be completed only 3-4 days a week depending on growth rate.  Cups will not need to be cut if we are not open for play.  
  2. Performance should be scaled back as we look for ways to save based on reduced revenue.  Obviously the putting surfaces are the last place we would want to reduce our efforts but still can happen to save some money in the short term.  I recommend we stay focused on firm and true but scale back on speed and raise the HOC to 0.135” so we can increase plant health and decrease plant stress that could need increased inputs.  Rolling in place of mowing will be determined based on yield.  


  1. Approach mowing will take place 1-2 times per week based on growth rate.  Grooming will take place in the spring but then will be scaled back as other tasks take priority with our reduced staff.  
  2. Approach mowing will return to our normal twice a week mow schedule and grooming will take place as needed to enhance ball movement entering the putting surfaces.  


  1. Fairway mowing will be reduced to once a week but may need to happen twice during times of excessive growth like we experience in the spring and early summer months
  2. Fairway mowing will take place twice a week to keep the turf managed properly.  150 yard poles will be replaced with our old circular plates to eliminate another commonly touched surface and eliminate the need for moving them while mowing.  


  1. Tee mowing will be completed only once a week and tee markers will obviously not be needed.  
  2. Tee mowing will be completed once to twice a week depending on growth.  I recommend we do not use tee markers this year but instead use the 3”x5” tee blocks that are in the surface as guides for golfers.  The lettering on the blocks was only painted before but now the entire block is painted so they are easier to see.  Having no tee markers to move daily will eliminate another commonly touched surface plus save 8 hours of labor a day between the two courses.  It will also cut the mow time in half as the operator will not be needed to stop and get off the machine at every tee surface to replace all of the markers; a huge efficiency and savings.  


  1. Rough mowing can be drastically reduced if we are not open for play.  The rough can be cut every two weeks to completion.  On the off week we will only complete the perimeter cut (2 passes around the perimeter of the Fairway/Approach/Green and 1 pass around the tees).  Clumping is not a huge issue outside the areas of closer mowed turf if golf is not being played.  
  2. We will resort back to mowing rough to completion once a week to keep these areas manageable for the game of golf.  Extra perimeter cut will take place as needed based on growth.  


  1. Divots will not need to be filled if we are not open for play.  
  2. Divot care is a top priority for our staff and will continue to be in order to fill voids in our playing surfaces and eliminate weed encroachment.  Tee surfaces and select fairway/approach locations will continue to be managed.  


  1. Bunkers will be raked once as a spring clean out and then they will not be raked again until play resumes.  If we experience a significant rain event that washes out bunkers we will make those repairs.  Bunker rakes will not be placed in bunkers.  
  2. We will rake bunkers only once weekly and touch up as needed in between.  Bunker rakes will not be placed back in bunkers this year as we try to eliminate surfaces that are commonly handled by everyone.  In the future when we do return bunker rakes to the bunkers we will require them to remain inside the bunker and off the turf.  This policy will reduce our trim mowing by approximately 2 hours per week as it eliminates the need to stop and get off the mower multiple times to move rakes.  


  1. Minimal watering will take place and seasonal dormancy will be embraced to reduce the need for mowing.  No traffic to damage dormant turf will allow us to do this and conserve.  
  2. Irrigation will go back to our regular conservation methods dictated by our water supply.  We will manage to keep the surfaces dry enough for the enjoyment of the game but moist enough for plant recovery and growth but favoring the dry side.   


  1. Cups will obviously not need to be cut if we are not open for play
  2. We already cut cups based on rounds and wear.  If play is reduced we will reduce the amount of times we cut cups.  We will place a foam piece around the base of the flagstick so the ball does not fall to the bottom of the cup and the flagstick will not need to be touched to retrieve the ball.  The ball will be deemed holed out after it makes contact with the foam.  You will be asked to not touch the flagstick.  

Course Grooming

  1. Course grooming will be reduced to once or twice a year.  
  2. Course grooming has evolved and has been managed more efficiently every year.  A combination of early mechanical and chemical controls has drastically reduced the amount of labor needed to groom many areas on the golf courses.  We will continue to utilize these tactics to manage those identified areas for the game.  

Equipment will be wiped down before and after daily use.  Rags with spray disinfectant will be used to wipe all commonly touched surfaces such as seats, steering wheels, keys, switches, handles etc.  Hand tools also fall under these sanitation guidelines.  This new protocol will be mandatory and must be followed by all staff.  

Staff will be asked to wear work gloves

Shop door handles and time clocks will be disinfected in a similar fashion daily.  

Other areas of sanitation will arise as the season goes forward and those areas will be addressed accordingly to create a clean and safe work environment.   

Social Distancing will be practiced at all times with no exceptions; morning assignments will be written on the board and given orally outside or across the shop.  Close congregation of staff will not be allowed and we will consider staggered start times.  

I propose a change to the way we clean our course Bathrooms, pro shop bathrooms and complete Clubhouse cleaning process.  We need to assign this task to one individual so proper protocol can be followed consistently for the well being of our membership, guests and staff.  This individual will clean the on course bathrooms/pro shop bathrooms first thing in the morning before play begins then they will clean the clubhouse.  This is a very important job that needs increased attention.  Details for this adjustment are in place.  

Essential Employees for bare minimal maintenance will be identified and letters will be written for them to carry in their vehicles.  


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