It’s not that they’re anxious, but they are.
From Shaganappi Point, Priddis Greens, Lakeview and Springbank Links to Confederation Park, Glencoe, McCall Lake and all golf courses in the Calgary area, the wintery hibernation is coming to an end and courses are getting ready for the 2020 season.
The Calgary golf season is widely accepted (and sometimes notorious) for being short. Golf in this region consistently depends on two key factors: weather and the economy – both out of a golfer’s control.
Regardless how anxious Calgary golfers are to hit the tees, the key concern for all area golf courses is the unpredictable seasonal timing of turf readiness. In addition to ensuring golfer safety, a crucial focus is on avoiding wet and soggy conditions that prevent golfers from walking on the turf.
Pending day-to-day Calgary weather, most golf courses are on-the-ready with rituals and detailed schedules of spring cleanup – removing tarps, cutting the roughs and cleaning up winter litter from the sprawling acres of golf course land. It is a lot of hard work.
“There are 150 acres to be walked, inspected and cleaned up,” explains Jason Stanier, general manager and executive professional at Calgary’s popular Inglewood Golf and Curling Club. “We have a total 80 staff in the summer and about 30 work full time on the grounds. And spring cleanup is key, making sure there isn’t much ice damage or snow mould from the winter, and clearing the greens from spring snowfalls. We apply spring applications to the entire course to get things growing and eventually get the irrigation system up and running. Sometimes in the spring, the course can go from wet conditions to dry in less than a day.”
It’s quite the manoeuvre and feat to schedule the 700 acres that encompass City of Calgary-owned public golf courses: Confederation Park, Lakeview, Maple Ridge, McCall Lake and Shaganappi Point. “The key spring tasks include the general cleanup, like leaves, branches, garbage and debris from the late fall and winter,” says John Faber, senior superintendent of operations, golf and sport development with the City of Calgary. “And the placement of all the course amenities and accessories like benches, ball washers, garbage/recycle bins, flags, tee markers and more.
“When the spring weather really sets in, sooner than later,” he grins, “we are ready with our schedule for early turf health like fertilizing, irrigation and sodding. Our public courses employ about 150 in-season staff, brought in as needed in the spring. It’s important to make sure all of the equipment is set up properly and the staff (returning and new hires) are properly trained to perform their work efficiently, effectively and safely.
“The clubhouse side of getting ready for the season means there are buildings to clean, inventory to be brought in and staff to be hired/trained,” Faber says.
While there is a skeletal winter management staff at Springbank Links – which takes on approximately 80 in-season staff over the summer – general manager Kevin Heise explains the course supervisor checks the greens year-round to remove snow as needed, preventing ice from forming. “Once the weather breaks, hopefully mid-March, we are prepping basic supplies – tees, cups, signage, etc. – and tuning up equipment and carts. We keep the green tarps on as long as we can for a kind of greenhouse effect to help kick-start their growth.”
The sprawling green beauty of golf courses creates the common impression that it must be a tricky, expert manoeuvre involving tons of fertilizer. “Golf courses use much less fertilizer than people think,” Faber adds. “Healthy green grass is achieved by providing the amount of food (fertilizer) and water it needs in small quantities. This along with procedures like frequent mowing, aeration, top dressing (spreading sand), vertical mowing and other techniques make for healthy turf that is able to resist disease, endure drought and limit the encroachment of weeds.”
Inglewood’s Stanier adds that the grounds staff do spring applications to the entire course to get things growing as soon as cleanup has been done and the course is OK to drive and walk on. “We fertilize the greens every two weeks, all year long, and fairways and tee boxes once a month. Our irrigation coverage is almost wall to wall, but we don’t water no-play areas very often, if at all.”
For all golf courses, financial success is dependent on weather-reliant “play” days. “We had approximately 200 days of play on our public courses in 2019,” Faber notes. “Some of these were not the greatest with the weather we had, but the courses were open for play and we still had people out enjoying.”
Inglewood had 173 playable days last year. “Although some were very cold days, we were open,” Stanier adds. Last year, Springbank Links lost 49 days due to weather, resulting in 149 play days.
Just about now, the predictable and guaranteed question for all Calgary-area courses is: when?
While Calgary weather makes advance scheduling of opening day risky and nearly impossible, the unofficial, easy answer from area courses is: as soon as possible.
Stanier says the goal each year is to be open for Masters weekend if possible, which this year would fall on April 10 (Good Friday). Regarding Springbank Links, Heise says April 15 is a realistic target date, while Faber adds that if the weather and spring scheduling goes well, Calgary golfers could be teeing off at most public courses by April 4.
Over the winter break, some courses make use of the downtime by incorporating changes, occasionally accompanied by major renovations. Calgary golfers will notice some tweaks at city-owned courses. “More tee options at the newly renovated McCall Lake,” Faber points out. “A new ninth hole at Confederation, a few new tees at Maple Ridge and an opening up of the approaches on the Valley 9 at Shaganappi. We are also incorporating easier ‘teeways’ at Lakeview.”
And there are some non-golf changes. “We feel there is a fundamental shift in golf where the clubhouse and club atmosphere are becoming an important element of the golf experience,” Heise says. “Springbank is transforming its clubhouse approach and just bought a 40-foot vertical container farm hydroponic grow operation to grow our own vegetables and specialty herbs for the kitchen.”
In addition to breathtaking golf courses and legions of diehard-area golfers, Calgary is a caring community. The combination of golf and community is the focus of many big and small Calgary-area charity golf tournaments. Following is a list of a few happening in 2020.
Shaw Charity Classic
Canyon Meadows Golf & Country Club
Calgary Chamber’s Leaders Classic
Silver Springs Golf & Country Club
Priddis Greens Charity Classic
Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club
Willow Park Charity Golf Classic
Willow Park Golf & Country Club
Woodridge Charity Golf Tournament
Cottonwood Golf and Country Club
Business Fore Calgary Kids Tournament
CREB Building Hope Charity Golf Tournament
Calgary Stampeder Alumni Golf Tournament
Calgary Flames Celebrity Charity Golf Classic