The Golf Course Confessional: Bittersweet day



There were geysers of water all over the course today.  On any other day this would be a cause for panic, because it would indicate a massive failure of the pipes in the irrigation system, vandalism, or damage from deep tine aeration.  Today it simply means that the season is inexorably drawing to a close.  Less than a week of play left.  Bittersweet.

Each year we rent an industrial sized air compressor to hook into the irrigation system.  100 CFM at 80 PSI makes short work of evacuating the pipes in the system.  This is necessary to preserve the pipes over winter.  None of them is installed below the frost line.  It is also necessary to remove each of the sprinkler heads, replacing them with heads that have failed over the years, but saved for just this purpose. (That job was finished Monday) This eliminates the risk that damage will be done to working heads by the combination of air pressure and lack of lubricating water.  We make the rounds of the course from high to low portions, having earlier trusted gravity to remove most of the water in the system.  There are quick connect hose couplings associated with most of the greens.  These are serviced first.  When the flow from the quick connect is reduced to a fine, howling mist, we are able to move to the associated green.  Removing one of the irrigation heads altogether allows rapid removal of most of the water.  The geyser can be spectacular for a minute or so.  This one is from #9.  The noise is also impressive.  Depending on the size of the nozzle on the head, the sound can range from clarinet to bassoon.

The final step is the removal of the suction pipe from the transfer culvert that allows water from the pond to be pumped through the system to the greens, and servicing the pump itself.  Good till spring.  That’s the hope that counters the bittersweet.


The Golf Course Confessional: Burrow holes and meadow voles


Each year of operation the course is set up in a slightly different configuration, both to keep it interesting and to keep it affordable to maintain and to play.  In the challenging economy of the “Great Recession” of the Obama administration, we have made a number of choices that have allowed us to stay in business as a course, even as other courses around the country have ceased operation.  The most recently visible of these choices are the new Orange flags and the large “foot golf” holes that have been added to the course for 2014 and beyond.  This has provided a modest secondary revenue stream and a new opportunity for non golfers to experience the course.

The second most visible choice is the way areas of the course that should not routinely come into play are managed and maintained.  The multiple teeing areas are structured to reflect levels of achievement in skill and to challenge the willingness of golfers to test their perception of skill against the course reality.  The “waste” areas serve as hazards.  In the Scottish tradition, golfers would find “gorse” in the waste areas, not just tall grasses but prickly shrubbery as well. We have not gone quite that far at Argue-ment.  That said, our tall grass areas are intentionally punitive.  We believe strongly that an inexpensive to play course should not ignore the integrity of the game, or treat golfers as commodities to be pushed through as rapidly as possible.

This way of managing the space of the course also provides the side benefit of limiting the amount of chemical input to the total acreage of the facility, and of limiting the time it takes to keep the course playable.  Our attempt is to get to a level of one FTE (full time equivalent) for maintenance staff.  That is, we try to maintain the course within a 2080 hour baseline for the season.  That does mean that during any given week of the season, we might have more than forty hours of maintenance time spread among several people, but our target for total hours remains.  Some of these tasks are once per year.

It is in light of the above that I have found myself for the last several days traversing the wasteland astride the little blue Ford tractor.  The rough mower is mounted.  I peel one lateral four foot layer of the field’s browned summer abundance at a time.  The dust is pervasive.  Mulched grass settles between the severed stems to provide fertilizer and free seed for next year.  It is easy to be lulled into complacency at less than five miles per hour, that is until one encounters the hidden burrow, with its mounded edge, on an already steep side slope.  The perfect round ones with access and egress holes set apart by several feet belong to the Ground Hogs.  The ones that terminate without reemerging are likely Badger holes, evidence of predation on Gopher nests.  One momentary lift of the rear wheel to the point of the sensation of floating briefly at the verge of equilibrium will get your attention rather rapidly.

The other thing one notices while mowing at this speed is the number of Meadow Voles.  They rocket from the edge of the last cut just before the front wheels of the tractor arrive seeking any available shelter in the new cut grass.  They range in coloration from nearly black to henna.  I am struck by the similarity of their response to the mower to mine in the presence of Kesey’s combine, all too evident in the daily news.

The Golf Course Confessional: Another day at the office

2014-10-16 11.46.22

The fall colors at Argue-ment are almost at peak today.  I was worried that the heavy rains of the past couple of days would have knocked most of them down already.  As you can see, that did not happen. The Walnut and Box Elder are pretty bare, but the Maples and Oaks are just hitting their stride.  The Sumac is particularly brilliant this year.  The harvest ready corn adds the soft tan background, while the number seven green, newly mowed, provides the foreground.

The Golf Course Confessional: Pure Americana

Argue-ment Golf Course is blessed with a very agricult2014-10-11 12.41.23ural neighborhood.  A portion of the course property is in corn this year, while the neighbor’s property by the course entrance is in soybeans.  The beans are dry enough for harvest right now.  With the good dry sunny weather, the area growers are making real progress. The size of the machines is a sight to behold.  The cost of these units can run into the hundreds of thousands.  One solid day of good harvest weather remains in the current forecast.  It is no longer unusual for one farmer to be planting and harvesting several hundred acres.  Tine to hurry, but stay safe!  (One of the neighbors was turning into a field with his combine and was hit by a car trying to pass him in a no passing zone! One of the passengers in the car was seriously injured.)

The farmstead pictured is one of the Argue family farms from the late 1800’s.  The stone house, beautifully restored by Don and Rosemary Zellmer, and the old barn come into view for our golfers on holes 7, 8, and 9.  It’s2014-10-11 12.44.03 Harvest Festival in New Glarus, so we have numerous visitors from the Chicago area with whom to share the views this weekend.

“All be safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin. God our maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied.

Lord of harvest, grant that we whole-some grain and pure may be.”

The Golf Course Confessional: Impossible to tire of it…

2014-10-07 18.38.37

Moonrise at closing time.  The varied grandeur of the creation as the days and seasons move along never grows stale.  The wonderful liturgical recitation of the creation in the Biblical book of Genesis describes the formation of the “greater light to rule the day” and the “lessor light to rule the night.” A few hours later, this bright moon would have its reflected light eclipsed fully by the earth itself.  Viewed at 5:15 AM, from the sidewalk at the condo, it glowed red, a fall color to be sure.

My wife and best friend Judy attended Valparaiso University in Indiana.  Their school motto is In luce tua videmus lucem (In your light we see light.)

The Golf Course Confessional: Sustainability 10 A solid sense of humor

2014-10-05 07.14.38Sunday, October 5, was the second annual “Dying  to Golf” outing at Argue-ment.  This is the annual benefit for the local cemetery, originally developed and maintained by Swiss United Church of Christ, but now accessible to the entire New Glarus community.  Last year it rained enough to jeopardize the outing.  This year it was frost!  Check out the picture above.  That is not snow! The first hard frost of the year.  Frozen drippings on the tops of the golf carts.  A skim on the cats’ water dish.  Enough on the deck to be slick.  Fortunately, the day dawns cloudless.  By ten AM the frost is burned off enough that I can mow the greens.

Before I head out to mow, I have to take out the hole prizes.  Long putt on one.  Closest to the pin on four.  Long drive on five.  Number eight, the pond carry par three, takes the cake.  “Hole in one wins a hole for one… one plot in the cemetery.”

2014-10-05 12.52.14How cool is that?  Nice to see the parking lot full of brothers and sisters in Christ, working and playing together for a larger community purpose and to remember those whose lives spent among us resonate still in our daily deeds and memories. Memory and humor in support of community= sustainability.

The Golf Course Confessional: Amber waves of grain and little kids

2014-09-29 12.33.392014-10-04 14.14.58


Three gatherings of Foot Golfers over the last week underscored the premise that fun is at the heart of recreation.  The first group, from a Lutheran parochial grade school, third and fourth graders I think, poured onto the course like a bag of fall leaves, swirling in the wind of an early fall warmth, squealing with energy and delight.  The second group, a bit older. for a birthday party played the full 18 in the bluster of a fall cold snap.  The exhortations to the balls not to go where they were headed could have been direct from Pebble Beach or Augusta National.  The third group was a foursome of fifty somethings.  I worried a bit when one of the players kicked off on the first hole and promptly not only planted their anchor foot, but their backside.  Nothing wounded but dignity as far as I could see.  But it set the tone for a developing childlike joy at play.  Flushed in cheek after nine holes, the alpha male of the group (the one who paid), commented, “What fun!”

Fun by the bushel is the harvest at Argue-ment Foot Golf Course!

The Golf Course Confessional: The Great Bifurcation…

I don’t watch much golf on TV anymore.  Recently, I got a call from a golf magazine provider, wondering if I wanted (actually insisting that I must surely want) to renew subscriptions.  I declined.  Increasingly there is little connection between what is presented and what I experience as a golfer or as an Argue-ment golf course co-owner.  I suspect I am becoming a curmudgeon (Shush to you who would call this is a fait accompli!), since this is the latest in a progression

2014-09-27 10.32.55

through the series of sports that used to catch my interest at the professional level.  The fantasy excitement of childhood is gone along with any form of identification with players.  Where I previously cared, I now cannot be bothered.  It think the industry calls this “bifurcation.” Even the golf pantheon wonders publicly now about this disconnect, and worries.

Some time back an older old man than I, ventured at dusk onto the #8 green with his new putter.  It was one of the “anchored” style designed to eliminate the “yips” that come inevitably with age.  Technically, this was trespass, as he had not paid a greens fee to use another’s property, but how can you charge for the expression of the pure childlike joy he showed upon finally being able again to start a putt on line with good pace, time after time.  It is now trespass in more ways than one.  His putter is deemed illegal by the solons of the USGA and Royal and Ancient.   Bifurcation…

It came as something of a shock to realize that the 18 hole greens fee at some golf courses in the US is higher than the cost of an adult season pass at Argue-ment.  Bifurcation…