Keeping the Greens Green in Winter

Golf is identified as a summer sport – fresh green courses, colorful short-sleeve shirts, and sunny afternoons. But in Colorado, where we can have sunny afternoons 300 days out of the year, golfing often extends into the winter months.

At the Lake Estes Nine-Hole Golf Course, golf can be played almost all year long if the greens are free of snow. That means our winter maintenance team at Estes Valley Recreation and Park District (EVRPD) stays busy year-round.

But, as I found out after sitting down with John Feeney, Manager of Golf Maintenance for EVRPD, the nine and 18-hole courses in the District require a lot of tender loving care, even in winter.

“We stay very busy, even in the perceived off season, to protect our greens,” said Feeney. “In a normal winter with high winds and dry conditions, the greens are very susceptible to winter desiccation. We lay down special tarps, which allow water to permeate and turf to breath. Without the tarps, we risk a lot of turf loss during the winter.”

But Feeney said they also work hard on a lot of small projects, such as drainage work, installing drainage on the number five fairway of the 18-hole course, and interior work at the maintenance shop.

My interest was finding out what they do with all the elk poo scattered about the course.

“We have sweepers to pick up pine needles, brush and other debris on the course,” said Feeney. “We discovered that these sweepers also do a great job at picking up the elk poo.”

Feeney estimated they picked up at least 100 cubic yards of debris, including the elk poo, from the golf course last fall. That added up to more than 16 dump trucks of detritus from the courses.

When I asked Feeney about why they haul the poo away rather than use it for fertilizer he explained that the elk scat has been tested for fertility. The elk stomach is so efficient that the scat has no organic value for the golf course.

But beyond the removal of elk droppings, the golf maintenance staff continues making improvements throughout the winter at both golf courses:
- converted the old bathroom at the nine-hole course to storage
- relocated two irrigation heads next to the new nine-hole bathrooms to prepare the area adjacent to the building for future landscaping
- new fence installed around select greens on the 18-hole course to protect from elk damage
- tree maintenance and pruning throughout the winter
- battery maintenance on the old golf carts in preparation for a new fleet of golf carts
- painting the maintenance shop breakroom, bathrooms and office

Head mechanic, Erik Riffelamcher, and Assistant Mechanic, Brian Praiswater, have also been working hard performing preventative maintenance on more than 200 pieces of EVRPD equipment – for golf courses and other departments throughout the District – to ensure all equipment will be running properly when needed in the spring.

Another big aspect of keeping the greens healthy during the long winter months so they are green in the spring is winter watering.

“A blanket of snow is good for the golf courses because the snow protects the grass from wind, it keeps the temperatures warmer on the greens and provides constant moisture – when there is snow on the ground,” said Feeney.

But Feeney elaborated that when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating they bring out their water truck – usually one time a week. That may not be an issue this year with the unusually heavy snowfall seen in Estes Park.

Feeney also said the golf course crews take precautions in the fall to protect against snow mold – that pink coating of mold that develops on top of snow when it sits for long periods of time. This mold can produce disease in the turf so it is important to be proactive against the potential effects by spraying fungicide in the fall.

And when all that work is done the golf maintenance crew will help with snow removal for the District, such as along the Lake Estes Trail, Mary’s Lake Campground, parking areas for the nine-hole and 18-hole golf courses, and at the Stanley Park Recreation Offices.
That task alone has been a big job this winter!

For more information about the EVRPD golf courses, including purchasing season passes or inquiring about tournament information, visit https://www.colorado.gov/evrpd/golf-courses.