Regardless of the size or age of their maintenance buildings, golf course superintendents find that cleanliness, ample space, and accessibility help them maximize the work spaces where they start and end their days.
Golf course maintenance buildings are often the last facilities to be considered for improvements in a club or resort property’s master plan. As a result, superintendents can sometimes be saddled with limited space, poor locations, aging infrastructure, insufficient shelter for equipment or bulk commodities, challenging work and office conditions, and inadequate personal facilities for their crews.
But whether they operate out of a 19th-century barn or a state-of-the-art 21st-century complex with all the bells and whistles, superintendents can make the most of the real estate they have, to conduct their maintenance duties productively and efficiently.
Putting Priorities in Order
Jared Weight, Grounds Superintendent at the 18-hole Meridian Hills Country Club in Indianapolis, has found that, in general, some properties will accept “what’s good enough” for their maintenance facilities for “how long they can get by with it.”
“It’s overlooked a lot. It’s not really thought about, but it affects a lot every day,” Weight says. “It’s not a glamorous thing that clubs want to spend money on. But if you do it, you do it right.”
Weight, who has been in the golf course maintenance business for 16 years, since he started working on a golf course in a summer job at age 16, has been at Meridian Hills for about 18 months. This is his first full-time superintendent’s job, and his first order of business was to acquire a new fleet of equipment. His next priority is to upgrade the aging maintenance department buildings that include a structure that is over 40 years old.
“Meridian Hills is a needs-based facility that is committed to investing money into reinvigorating the property,” says Weight, “and a new maintenance facility is being discussed and planned as we speak.” A portion of the project could get underway this winter, or the entire project could begin in 2021.
The current buildings include three cinderblock structures and a wooden pole barn that was built four or five years ago. The free-standing pole barn includes a concrete floor, aluminum siding, and an aluminum roof, and it is used to store dry fertilizer and grass seed stacked on pallets, along with specialized machinery and tractor implements.
Of the other three structures, one is heated. This building also includes a 12-foot-by-15-foot office that Weight shares with his three assistants, as well as a mechanic’s shop, sprayer storage room, breakroom, restroom, and cable TV and Internet access.
The other maintenance facilities include a cold-storage area and a modular, trailer-type system where the staff stores chemicals in a ventilated, self-contained unit.
Worth the Wait
At Manchester Country Club in Bedford, N.H., the golf course maintenance department operates out of seven buildings, which were built in different ways at various times between the 1940s and the 1990s. More recently, plans have been in the works to build a new maintenance facility to replace the existing buildings. Currently, the project has been placed on hold, as priority has shifted to projects that will enhance the member experience.
Due to state restrictions, the property closed temporarily in March, before reopening for golf activities and outdoor dining in mid-May. Since reopening, with new guidelines and safety measures in place, golf course use is at an all-time high. Currently, the average number of golf rounds has increased from 150–165 daily to 190–200 each day.
Manchester CC still hopes to start construction of the maintenance facility in the first or second quarter of 2021. Originally a plan was approved in 2019, and construction was slated to begin in the spring of that year. However, the bids exceeded the budget for the project and the Manchester team decided to rework the vision.
The new plans, which have been approved by the Bedford Planning Board, call for a 5,000-sq. ft. building that will include administrative offices, a new mechanic’s area, chemical storage, employee locker rooms, and a break room. “It’s still going to have the space that we need,” reports Director of Agronomy Dan Weitzel. “We want to put everything under one roof and make the site a lot cleaner, so we can utilize the space better.
“We try to store as much equipment as possible inside,” Weitzel adds. “The winter here can take a toll on equipment when it’s stored outside. There’s a big swing in temperatures during the course of the year—they can range from 38 below to 106.”
Keeping Up with the Times
At the 18-hole Mill Creek Golf Club in Mebane, N.C., the golf course maintenance building, which is located between the first and second holes, is 25 years old. However, the property, which owns all of its equipment, has made improvements to the maintenance facilities through the years. Mill Creek built a new pump house and added new controllers two years ago, and the property replaced leaky skylights in the maintenance building a couple of years ago. Four or five years ago, the maintenance department also built a two-sided pole barn with a roof to store its two tractors and its topdresser.
“We didn’t want the elements to affect any of the equipment, especially when it rains or when the weather gets cold,” says Class A Superintendent Jason Bauder.
The 60-ft.-by-120-ft. maintenance facility includes two offices, an irrigation computer and a regular PC in the office space, a breakroom, two bathrooms, lockers, an equipment storage room, and an area for the equipment technician. Chemical storage is separate from the main building, and crew members fill up sprayers with hoses by the side of the building.
Input and Education
Because maintenance buildings can be an afterthought at some properties, superintendents sometimes have to make their case for facility upgrades. Weight has discussed a new building with Meridian Hills personnel at all levels, including the General Manager, Greens Committee members, and the Board of Directors. He’s also had conversations with his colleagues and peers.
“A lot of us have the same ideas and perspectives,” Weight says. “Nobody is trying to have an office like Nick Saban’s. We need adequate, concrete-floor space in a climate-controlled building where everything is protected. So far, they’re listening to my recommendations.”
For the new facility, Weight would like an additional common area and improved locker room, office and breakroom space. Now, all 18 maintenance staff members can fit in the breakroom, but there is not enough room for everyone to sit. Weight would like to have a room that could hold 25 people.
In addition, he says of the current facility, “The ceiling is way too low in the mechanic’s bay. The crew can’t put equipment on a lift properly. The flow of the floor space isn’t properly laid out, and large equipment with roller protection bars can’t fit through [the entryway].”
The ability to more fully comply with EPA, DNR, state, and local codes is the biggest driving force behind the construction of a new building, Weight says. He would also like to add environmentally friendly components to the new structure, including a filtration system with a particulate separator for the wash pad to clean the water, and a state-of-the-art, self-contained, fully EPA-approved chemical mix and storage facility.
Leading the Cause
At Manchester CC, Weitzel has been responsible for educating the membership on the plans and overall vision for the new maintenance building. He’s also had an active role in its design, and as part of that process has solicited input from his mechanic, superintendent, and assistant superintendent. In addition, he’s appeared before the local Planning Board to present plans and educate townspeople on the scope of the project. A community of about 2,000 homes borders the south side of the club, and Weitzel has met with neighbors to explain course maintenance operations to them.
Of course, properties don’t have to wait until they have blueprints for a new building to make improvements to their maintenance facilities. The building at Mill Creek GC is not heated, so last year Bauder experimented with portable propane heaters in the tech room and equipment storage room. This year he plans to get a larger portable heater that will heat half the shop, rather than just a small area.
A heated facility is especially important in the winter, when crew members are working on indoor projects. Mill Creek maintenance personnel use native cedar trees on the property to hand-make wooden stakes for the golf course. “That’s the reason we bought the heaters,” Bauder says.
The Right Message and Impression
Maintenance facilities, which have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years depending on how a building is constructed, the materials used, and how space is established, can affect employee morale as well. And attitudes, in turn, can influence golf course conditions.
“If the facility is not quite right, then crew members can take that mentality and look at the rest of the golf course in the same manner,” says Weight. “If there is a clean building with good hygiene where people take care of things and do things the right way, they apply the same principles to the golf course.”
When he hires new crew members, Weight is also aware of the impression that the maintenance facility has on them. “It sets the tone for the way they perceive the place of employment,” he says.
The maintenance facility also needs to be presentable when sales representatives come to the building, Bauder adds.
When it comes to the most important features of their maintenance facilities, superintendents look for many of the same traits.
“Adequate space is the number-one thing,” says Weight. “How wide are the hallways? How wide are the doorways? Can a crew member get through the hallways while carrying tools? Is there enough aisle space between equipment as it’s parked?”
Ample overhead ceiling space to accommodate seldom-used equipment such as a backhoe or an excavator is a must-have as well. Weight also says the building should be climate-controlled for crew members during the winter, when they are locked inside refurbishing accessories. Adequate floor space is also necessary for indoor projects, because maintenance personnel can’t break everything down and put it away from one day to the next.
“It doesn’t have to be ornate or a high-end space,” says Weight. “We’re talking about warehouse space. But it needs to be practical so it can be cleaned up easily.”
The maintenance area should offer ease of operation, comfort for the crew, up-to-date amenities, and effective use of space, Weitzel says. The building also needs to be accessible for deliveries such as fuel and topdressing materials.
The most important feature of the current maintenance buildings at Manchester CC are the storage racks that help the staff keep equipment and materials out of the way. Shelving helps the crew members store tools and other goods, improving the flow of the building. They also use a forklift to remove items from the shelves.
In the new facility, Weitzel is looking for ease of operation, sufficient storage, and efficiency. In addition, he says, “The mechanic’s area is going to be a lot more user-friendly.”
For Bauder, who has been at Mill Creek for 10 years, the most important feature of his maintenance building is cleanliness.
“I couldn’t find anything when I first came here,” he says. “Maintenance facilities tend to be a graveyard for old equipment. The staff members have to clean up after themselves. They can’t just ‘stop and drop,’ and the equipment needs to be parked a certain way, so there’s not a lot of clutter.”
Even if they don’t have all of the bells and whistles they would like to have in their maintenance facilities, superintendents are masters at making the most of the space they have.
In his first six to nine months at Meridian Hills, which owns all of its equipment, Weight spent time reconfiguring the parking of the machinery and reconfiguring the breakroom. He had to “triage” the materials and equipment that staff members either were using, might use, or weren’t going to use at all. The property sold or scrap-metaled the equipment it didn’t need.
“At almost any golf course in the country, you’ll find a little graveyard outside the mechanic’s shop for equipment that has been laid to rest,” notes Weight.
He knocked out a few walls and decluttered the space, throwing away anything that hadn’t been used in recent years and organizing the storage of some equipment. “Ninety percent of our floor space is now optimized,” Weight says. “It’s flowing as well as it can.”
He also disposed of old chemicals. “We took them to the local toxic waste drop-off point, but there was a limit to how much we could take at one time,” he notes.
To prioritize his space, Weight has tried to build an operation based on efficiency and productivity. “It all goes back to what we’re hired to do, which is to manicure and groom a golf course,” he says. “When it comes to maintenance facilities, efficiency is the biggest buzz word.”
To reconfigure the equipment storage space, Weight tried to determine the best places to park machines by considering how close to store them to the breakroom and the accessories. He figured out where to work on the equipment and considered where the gas pumps were in relation to the wash station.
At Manchester CC, crew members park the equipment in the same space every day. “As the seasons change, we change the space around as to what equipment we’re utilizing,” notes Weitzel. “We move things around as we see fit.”
In the summer, machinery such as mowers, utility vehicles, aerifiers, and tractors are more accessible. During the winter, the staff rearranges the shop to place plows and snow blowers within easy reach.
Bauder has similar practices at Mill Creek. “We park the carts by a rollback door, and we built shelving,” he says. “We’ve tried to get everything off the floor, and we park every piece of equipment in a designated place. There’s no deviation from that.” C+RB
Keeping Maintenance Facilities Safe
The coronavirus pandemic has infiltrated every aspect of our daily lives, including our work habits, and golf course maintenance operations are no exception. Jason Bauder, Class A Superintendent at Mill Creek Golf Club in Mebane, N.C., says the threat of COVID-19 has brought sanitation issues to light for every part of his department.
“We constantly sanitize the steering wheels, controllers, and seats on all of the equipment,” says Bauder. “We sanitize the handles on the tools every time we use them.” In addition, all staff members ride by themselves in golf carts or pieces of equipment.
Golf course crew members at Meridian Hills Country Club in Indianapolis and at Manchester Country Club in Bedford, N.H., disinfect tools and equipment after each use as well.
However, tools and equipment are not the only aspects of maintenance operations to consider when it comes to creating sanitary conditions.
COVID-19 could even influence the materials used to build a new maintenance facility at Meridian Hills, where discussions are underway about building a new structure for the grounds crew. Nonporous cinderblock and concrete materials lend themselves to hygiene and cleanliness, notes Golf Course Superintendent Jared Weight, solidifying his feelings that these would be the best materials to use in the construction of a new facility.