Golf Course Maintenance During COVID-19: How to avoid maintenance problems and keep employees safe.

April 15, 2020

“While golf courses may not be deemed essential businesses during these troubled times, failing to perform some level of golf course maintenance can cause serious damage to the course and leave a long and expensive road to recovery,” says John Daniels, USGA Greens Section Agronomist.

Aeration, venting and vertical mowing with routine sand topdressing is vital to maintain soil porosity for gas exchange and water percolation. Many courses with active turfgrass growth on the putting greens perform these activities every week or every other week. When they are not performed on a scheduled, recurring basis, organic matter accumulates in the soil profile – negatively impacting rooting, turf density and surface firmness.

In addition, putting greens need regular applications of fertilizer. These nutrients are commonly applied with low doses of growth regulators to produce a subdued but steady growth rate. If these applications are not made on a regular basis, turf quality will deteriorate and eventually require aggressive maintenance practices for recovery.

Leaders in the golf industry are taking precautions to ensure their golf courses are receiving the proper upkeep while practicing social distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19. Jayson Griffiths, superintendent at London Hunt Golf Club, has adopted the split shift approach. Key, full-time personal are being asked to work in shifts to complete basic tasks such as clean up, mowing and essential cultural practises.

“This ensures that these tasks are being performed over the course of the day,” Griffiths says. “More importantly, by social distancing, the overall safety of our employees is being adhered to during this time.”

At Deerfield Golf Club in Oakville, superintendent Ian McIssac is maintaining the golf course with three others: the equipment manager, his full-time assistant and one other key technician. They are working reduced hours and are avoiding group lunch breaks to limit staff interactions and help with controlling costs at the privately owned golf course. At Burlington Golf & Country Club, superintendent Dean A. Baker insists “lunch time and breaks should be taken in the lunch room, keeping six feet apart with a maximum of three people in the room at any given time or outside in the fresh air away from each other.”

Leaders in the industry are also thinking ahead to set some new ground rules once they can open this season. Daniels encourages walking and carrying your own golf bag and limiting carts to one per person to maintain social distance. Also, food and beverages should only be available on a limited basis and clubhouse and locker rooms should remain closed to prevent people from gathering. Until then, superintendents are following recommendations for labour and maintenance requirements by employing 30 per cent of regular staff for April and going to 40 per cent for May as the grass starts to grow.

For golf course superintendents and their staff, Daniels has put together a list of strategies golf courses should take to limit the spread of COVID-19 and ensure courses receive the proper maintenance:

  1. Actively encourage sick employees to stay home.
  2. Increase the frequency that surfaces are cleaned and promote good hygiene (something we should all be practising anyway!).
  3. Practice social distancing. With limited staff working at once, this should be easy to enforce.
  4. Adopt creative scheduling to reduce daily staffing levels and limit interactions.
  5. Removal of unessential golf course accessories to limit potential touchpoint. Once golf courses are open, accessories like flag sticks, ball washers and water coolers should be avoided.
  6. Update golf cart and caddie policies for players: consider rules such as 1 person per cart.
  7. Be prepared for sizeable staff reductions and suspension of all play if required.

Stay home, stay healthy and we’ll be playing golf very shortly.