While golf courses contract budgets and personnel due to the coronavirus, superintendents rally to utilize smaller teams, observe safety precautions and drive forward.
“We got lucky,” said Jake Mink, Golf Course Superintendent at Brasada Ranch, a resort in Bend, Oregon. “In our company, a lot of people were laid off. But on the golf and landscape side, nobody was. We just didn’t rehire any seasonal employees for a while.”
With 20 years in the industry, Mink caretakes the resort’s 18-hole, 90-acre course with a crew of 10, five of which are yearlong staff. Until recently, he worked with a slimmer team of eight. Typically, his June staff includes 15 members. “We’re just trying to keep our heads above water,” Mink said. “Some of the members are complaining about broken tees and stuff like that. Well, we pick those up when we can, but we’re trying to keep everything headed out of winter in the right direction.”
Thankfully, his soil health hasn’t suffered this season, though the team has skipped topdressing and a few growth regulators. “We’re just doing [things] a bit slower with less people,” he said.
Resources are somewhat limited. “We’re pretty much [hearing,] ‘Get it if absolutely necessary and wait for pre-approval,’” Mink said in April. To maintain fertility in the absence of new orders, the team used back-stock products. Now Mink said the budget has opened, but he is still saving as much as possible. “I don’t see us getting to full strength this year by any means, but I don’t see a lot of people in the industry getting to full strength,” he said. “I think we’re doing OK.”
Brasada Ranch officially closed its doors in late March, yet the golf course remained open to golf and athletic club members. According to Mink, the sport’s inherent social distancing brought unprecedented business. “We had the busiest April we’ve ever had because… people didn’t have anything else to do,” he said. It’s crazy.”
Mink appreciates being outside, too. “Everybody’s happy to not be stuck in their houses all day every day,” he said. “We have acres to hang out and work on things.” He added that the threat of contracting the virus seems minimal. “I’m by myself all day long,” he explained, “and I feel like I’ve been digging in dirt for the last month the way my hands are getting dry [from washing them.]”
Mink’s team has implemented several protective for golfers, such as limiting one person per golf cart, removing bunker rakes and adding foam pool-noodles around flag sticks for easy ball retrieval. Workers stagger lunches to maintain six-feet distances in the break room and morning meetings are held outside. “We’re trying to make sure all of the guys feel like they’re in a decent place, like it’s safe here for them,” Mink said.
The resort reopened June 1, and Mink said he’s feeling encouraged. “You really just gotta [remind yourself] that you’re lucky you’re not stuck at home and lucky you still have a job,” he said. “I enjoy what I do.”