An All-encompassing Guide To Golf Course Maintenance
Whether you‘re a golfing enthusiast or not, there’s something undeniably relaxing about gazing across the vast expanse of well-mowed lawns and lush-looking greenery. But have you ever stopped to wonder how much work goes into golf course maintenance and how the owners keep the grounds in prime condition?
For an industry that employs about 2 million people and is estimated to be worth about $84 billion, golf course maintenance actually involves much more work than just a little bit of landscaping.
In this guide, we delve into all the essential things you need to know about golf course maintenance: from irrigation systems and mowing guidelines to maintaining greens and maintenance equipment.
Off we go.
Golf course maintenance best practices
If the maintenance team can get the following areas right, they should have a solid foundation for running a highly efficient operation.
Championship-level greens appear flawless, but it takes a lot of work to keep them that way. The primary mowing is done with a hand mower. The tee boxes and the greens are mowed this way. The end goal is to have putting surfaces that are smooth and firm with limited grain and uniform coverage. You’ll find that almost all professional golf course maintainers like to hand mow their greens on slower weekdays and after heavy rains. On busy weekends, they can resort to mechanical mowers to save time.
Ideally, in the spring and fall seasons, greens should be trimmed to about 0.140 inches and can go as low as 0.100 inches during summer. It is a tedious process, but when done correctly, mowing grass to just the right height improves the player’s experience. After mowing, they use a device called Stimpmeter to measure the speed of the putting green.
As a point of control, let’s mention that the measured speed is about 9 on most municipal golf courses and 11 or above on PGA Tour events.
Irrigation systems and guidelines
The best golf courses strive to achieve a delicate balance in watering levels – lawns must be watered enough for optimum plant growth but drained enough to avoid waterlogged and mushy soil.
Achieving this balance can be tricky. Fortunately, these days, computerized irrigation facilitates more precise golf course watering. Flow amounts and application times are closely regulated, which saves water, costs, and helps produce near-perfect playing conditions.
A basic golf course irrigation system will include:
water source (either a man-made lake or pond)
water distribution pumps and valves
control lines (to funnel delivery of water into sprinklers)
fertigation (fertilizer and other chemicals injected into the irrigation system to be spread evenly across the entire irrigation network)
sprinkler heads (there are different types of heads, but golf courses usually use rotary and pop-up heads to achieve a 360-degree spray)
The best time to irrigate a golf course is early morning to avoid bad distribution due to winds later in the day, excessive water evaporation, and inconvenience to golfers who want to play in the afternoon. Also, irrigation should take place on an as-needed basis after checking soil moisture levels and cloud cover.
Pest control guidelines
Where there is abundant grass and foliage, you can expect to find various pests. If left unattended, golf centers risk turf loss due to weeds, pests, and fungi. The trick with handling pests is to be proactive by using a combination of the following:
pre-emergent herbicides to prevent unwanted seed growth
post-emergent herbicides to treat broadleaf and grassy weeds
fungicides to kill or inhibit the growth of fungi and fungal spores
Although most golf course maintainers would prefer to use organic materials, that option is not always practical when there are large grounds to cover. Therefore, groundskeepers will often need to use chemical fertilizers, herbicides, growth regulators, plant stimulants, and insecticides. A major concern for them is how to safely use these chemicals, especially where the application site is close to a pond or some other body of water.
The fact is, if the right chemicals are selected and then applied by trained staff, the risks of contamination and other hazards are already minimized. To manage the risks of chemical usage, most golf course facilities have dedicated areas for mixing and storing chemicals. They also have strict step-by-step procedures for washing and cleaning all chemical application equipment. Following through with these steps helps to prevent chemical spills and damage to soil and waterways.
For more information on chemical use and storage, check out the EPA pesticide storage guidelines. Also, maintenance staff that handles chemicals must be trained and certified to work at American golf facilities.
Pond maintenance recommendations
Pond management is an integral part of golf course maintenance on most playing fields. Whether they have a lake or man-made pond, groundskeepers should strive for sparkling and clear water bodies with minimal algae and sediments. To minimize chemical usage, most superintendents opt for a combination of aeration and dredging.
Ponds need adequate dissolved oxygen. Without it, sludge (mostly mud and organic debris) will accumulate and breed algae, attract insects, and create very unpleasant conditions.
To prevent this problem, golf courses typically use either of these two mechanical aeration methods:
Surface aeration: A floating aerator causes wave action resembling ripples on a lake.
Subsurface aeration: Passing compressed oxygen to the pond bottom, causing bubbles to rise and aerate the water.
Specialized dredging equipment evacuates sludge that has sunk to the bottom of the pond. These machines suck up sludge through vacuum hoses and force it through bladder bags containing tiny holes. This sieves the solid particles for disposal while the water is recycled.
When combined properly, both aeration and dredging help to keep ponds clear and beautiful. As an additional bonus, clear waters make it easier to retrieve missing golf balls!
Removing ball marks and repairing divots
Ball marks refer to the depressions that occur on the turf when a golf ball strikes the ground with force, while divots refer to the chunks of soil/grass uprooted by golf clubs striking balls. Fortunately, ball marks and divots are reasonably easy to repair.
SInce ball marks and divots interfere with other players, golfers might be encouraged to remove ball marks and repair divots as part of good sportsmanship. Groundskeepers can also make a point to watch out for these blemishes and correct them.
Maintaining all shades of green
All greens should be kept in a condition that promotes fast and fun play. Below, we take a closer look at what that care entails for the different categories of greens.
The tee area is the smaller section of turf used for the first stroke of each hole.
While the larger expanse of lawns and greens will receive a lot of attention by default, workers may easily overlook the tee boxes. This is a mistake as tee grounds are prone to divots and compaction from constant foot traffic and play. Keeping the tee area in good condition requires specific actions such as:
Planting a tougher variety of grass in the box (e.g., perennial ryegrass or Kentucky bluegrass).
Spot fertilization and irrigation.
Moving tee boxes around to give trampled turf some time to recover.
Most golf courses will have a few (sand) bunkers for aesthetics, to add some challenge to the game, or just to serve as landmarks.
Maintaining these bunkers involves:
Raking the bunker to rearrange sand disturbed during play.
Frequent refilling with sand.
Raking to remove leaves and grass.
Adequate drainage to prevent pools of stagnant water after rainfall.
Mowing the turf around the bunker’s edges.
The major maintenance requirement for the fairway – the area between the tee and the green – is that it must be kept closely mown so that players can strike the golf ball cleanly. That may sound relatively simple, but when you consider that the fairway can take up to 30% of a golf course’s acreage, the costs and amount of work required for fairway maintenance can be hefty.
In general, fairways maintenance entails:
Keeping a dense and contiguous cushion of turfgrass at a general height of between 0.38 and 0.5 inches.
Mowing multiple times every week.
Application of growth regulators to help suppress the growth rate of turfgrass and consequently reduce mowing frequency.
The frequency of maintenance on the fairway can significantly increase fueling and labor costs and accelerate the wear and tear on mowing equipment. The maintenance team needs to note this and adjust the maintenance schedule based on the usage of the equipment.
This is the smooth grassy area at the end of a fairway containing the hole and flagstick.
The grass should be kept very short at about 0.1 inches, depending on the type of grass and the desired green speed. Most golf courses can achieve high-quality putting greens by alternating between mowing and rolling the grass. However, groundskeepers need to be mindful of the following:
Checking for signs of stress in the grass and reducing mowing and rolling accordingly, especially during high temperatures, humidity, pest infestation, or frozen conditions.
Although the emphasis of golf course maintenance is usually on the turfgrass, the surrounding trees will require at least sporadic attention. Keeping trees in and around the golf course well-maintained requires the following:
Tree roots and turf roots will compete for water and nutrients, so deep root application of fertilizer rather than the surface application will work better for trees.
Trimming leaves to reduce canopy and shade (the surrounding turfgrass needs direct sunlight to thrive).
Frequent pest control.
Mulching around trees to prevent mowing blades from damaging exposed roots.
Frequent pruning of branches to prevent weak branches from falling and potentially injuring players or workers.
To properly maintain all of these playing surfaces and follow best maintenance practices, groundskeeping and landscaping teams need to have access to a variety of golf course equipment – that also needs to receive some love from the maintenance team.
This is a lot of ground to cover, no pun intended. Before we move on to golf course equipment maintenance, here’s a link to a sample that outlines how to write golf course maintenance standards.
Golf course maintenance equipment
A golf course is a unique facility. It’s a blend of natural and man-made features spread over acres and acres of land. To remain operational and efficient, a golf course upkeep requires a maintenance strategy, a capable maintenance team, and specialized equipment for workers to do their job.
Below, we look at the kind of maintenance equipment you can expect to find on a golf course and how these assets are maintained.
Equipment and tools needed to perform golf course maintenance
The major categories of equipment that you can expect to find on a golf course are:
Mowing equipment: Different types of mowers such as walk-behind, ride-on, triplex, multi-headed machines, or even simple hand-pushed reel cutters.
Fertilization and pest management: Specialized equipment for working with things like fertilizers, growth regulators, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides that are applied in either granular or liquid form.
Safety equipment: Includes fire-fighting installations and equipment, first aid boxes, and PPE for maintenance staff.
Cultivation equipment: Golf courses use different types of cultivation equipment, especially aerators that force air into the soil to improve plant roots and make it easier for water and fertilizer to get through. Other cultivation equipment includes power rakes, sod cutters, and dethatchers.
Transportation equipment: Light to heavy-duty golf carts and other utility vehicles for transporting staff, materials, and tools.
Top-dressing equipment: Equipment like sand applicators, blowers, and vacuums.
Water handling systems: Pond drenching equipment, irrigation systems, water storage, recycling, supply, and treatment.
Chemical handling equipment: All equipment and tools required for the safe mixing and handling of chemicals.
Most of the golf course maintenance equipment needs regular attention from the maintenance team. Hence the following section.
Do not forget about equipment maintenance
One of the most frustrating experiences for golfers is the inability to play as scheduled. Different factors could interrupt play – from equipment malfunctions to the play area not being ready in time. Repeated disruptions of this kind can lead to loss of business and reputation. Adequate, well-planned equipment maintenance will help to limit asset downtime and increase active playtime.
Lower long-term maintenance costs: It is much cheaper to maintain equipment than to repair it.
Fewer interruptions: Important golfing activities can proceed as planned with minimal disruptions.
Longer asset lifespan: Well-maintained assets don’t break as often which improves their useful life and eliminates the need to prematurely replace costly equipment.
Improved efficiency: Assets kept in good condition use less energy and tend to operate better – which means that workers using them need less time to perform their duties.
Improved safety: Regular equipment maintenance increases safety for all golf course users and improves compliance with OSHA regulations.
With that out of the way, let’s see how you can streamline golf course maintenance efforts by using a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).
Streamlining golf course maintenance with a CMMS
Like any other business, golf course O&M should not be approached haphazardly. The owners need to keep the equipment and facilities safe, functional, and presentable. It sounds like a lot of work – and it is. In fact, the State of the Industry report from 2019 shows how 3 out of 5 biggest concerns for superintendents are related to maintenance.
Many of those concerns can be lessened by taking help from a user-friendly CMMS. It is the only way to organize, automate, and streamline all of the maintenance tasks and processes. With a cloud-based CMMS, maintenance personnel can easily schedule proactive maintenance work by taking into account aging infrastructure, receive work requests and generate work orders, access equipment information on the go, monitor and forecast inventory levels, track work in progress, and do so much more.
Below are a few examples of how CMMS can be used to support golf course maintenance.
Set up a preventive maintenance program
Start by creating a simple preventive maintenance plan. The key to minimizing operational problems is to proactively inspect assets – and then take needed steps to keep them running in optimal condition. CMMS is designed to enable seamless planning and scheduling of preventive maintenance (PM) tasks for multiple assets.
Many CMMS systems also come with mobile functionalities. Users can get push notifications for upcoming work right on their mobile phones. From repairs to landscaping tasks to chemical handling duties, no task is forgotten or overlooked when the work schedule is plotted and tracked through a CMMS.
Schedule work around play
Golfers want to get on with their game without the distractions of lawnmower noise or heavy utility vehicles roaming the grounds during a game. This is the major reason why most golf course maintenance work like mowing, pond maintenance, and irrigation is done very early in the mornings.
You can use a mobile maintenance app to keep everyone informed in real-time about who is doing what, when, and where.
Create maintenance checklists for routine work
On a golf course, there are many routine tasks to be completed daily and each task should be performed to the same standard. To reduce the costly mistakes and risks associated with human error and complacency, it helps to have a standardized list of steps that staff can refer to while performing routine work. This is especially useful for newly hired golf course maintenance workers that might still be in training.
A maintenance checklist is an ideal resource for ensuring quality standards. It can save a lot of time for senior staff members. They can just build a checklist for a certain process instead of constantly overseeing work or being called upon because a new hire doesn’t know how to do something. Since they can include safety tips and guidelines, maintenance checklists help workers get the job done faster and safer.
The above image is a screenshot of a maintenance checklist created in Limble CMMS. It is important to keep in mind that many CMMS providers do not offer this functionality.
Track MRO expenses through CMMS
Golf course superintendents will often find themselves under pressure to keep the facility operating at the best standards despite budget constraints. Unfortunately, the MRO budget is often the first on the chopping block whenever the business isn’t doing that well.
A CMMS is a reliable resource for automatically tracking every maintenance expense. From the moment a work order is created, the software gives its users insight into every single expense on the job such as:
labor and overtime
spare parts inventory and materials cost
budget spend on vendors and contractors
By understanding how these costs add up, golf businesses can identify cost-saving opportunities and then plan better on how to start trimming unnecessary expenses.
Use a cloud-based maintenance solution like Limble
We’ve already discussed a bit about the benefits of CMMS. Still, it’s important to mention that these solutions can be deployed as a traditional on-premise set up or as a cloud-based installation. More and more companies are opting for cloud-based solutions like Limble CMMS because of its various advantages such as:
It’s a comprehensive and centralized asset database that is available from anywhere with an internet connection.
Technicians and other staff can access any kind of information they need from their mobile devices. They can access information like checklists, maintenance history, location of tools and assets, and other data even while out in the field or in remote areas.
Workflow and productivity improve while logistics headaches reduce. Staff can simply log in to the CMMS for information about their next assignment, get emergency or priority information without having to physically report at a central location.
Atlanta Athletic Club is one of many businesses that have significantly improved their operations and have found success with Limble CMMS. You can listen to their story below:
If you want to take Limble out for a spin, check the options below:
The golf course management includes a lot of moving parts. Trying to coordinate work, people, equipment, and players over a large piece of land leaves a lot of room for mistakes and inefficiencies. Cloud-based platforms that can automate a lot of these tasks offer you a safety net that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Using a CMMS or not, you still need to have an efficient and well-trained team to keep everything running smoothly. We hope that this guide gets you one step closer to that.
Do not be afraid to contact us if you have any additional questions about using CMMS at your facility.
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Great for smaller or larger facilities
"We haven't fully integrated Limble yet but we are already seeing improvements in our efficiency. As we fully integrate Limble we expect to see more benefits and increase our response and completion times. The customer support has been outstanding. The Limble team is very quick to respond to any questions and they are very open to suggestions."
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Children's Home of Lubbock
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"This software is very easy to use. All CMMS suppliers say that, but I found this one to be exactly that. This software, in my opinion, is the best value out there in the CMMS world. My team of maintenance techs got on board quickly and loves the app. Anytime you can get 8 of 8 maintenance techs to get on board, you have a winner."
— Mark Quillin
Limble has completed changed the way we do maintenance
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