A Growing Concern

St. Clair Country Club, Upper St. Clair, Pa.
St. Clair Country Club, Upper St. Clair, Pa.

With the need to maintain their properties economically, efficiently and expertly, more clubs and golf course facilities are turning to their superintendents and course and grounds departments to also handle landscaping duties.

Playability is probably the number-one charge that golf course superintendents have in maintaining their properties. However, with the effect that shorter purse strings can have on staffing and operational duties at many facilities, superintendents often find themselves with other responsibilities on the grounds as well. Superintendents have the task of creating aesthetic conditions as efficiently as possible, but this duty often means they have to extend their talents beyond the greens, tees, and fairways.

Increasingly, landscaping responsibilities are falling under the purview of golf course superintendents, and many are embracing the opportunity to expand their primary role of golf course maintenance.

Summing It Up
• Many golf course superintendents have expanded their turf-maintenance duties into other areas such as landscaping.
• The skills and equipment needed for landscaping and golf course maintenance duties often overlap.
• Landscaping provides aesthetic and agronomical benefits to a golf course property.

Horticultural Teamwork
At St. Clair Country Club in Upper St. Clair, Pa., the golf course maintenance staff, which has about 30 employees during the golf season, includes a full-time horticulturist, Laura Tobin Thompson, who works in conjunction with Golf Course Superintendent Eric Materkowski.

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Landscape beds can be found throughout the 27-hole property at various locations including around the clubhouse, the pool area, and the paddle tennis courts. In addition, landscaping is also performed near the tees and on the perimeters of the 18-hole Championship Course and the Terrace Nine Course. The staff maintains these areas by installing and removing annual and perennial plants, mulching, pruning, weeding, edging, fertilizing and applying pest- control products.

The horticulturist reports to Materkowski, but they make joint decisions about the selection of plant materials and the process of maintaining the landscaped areas.

“She does the design of the beds,” Materkowski explains. “She gets and finds the plant materials, and she does a lot of the day-to-day care and maintenance in the landscaped areas.”

He believes it is important to have a person on staff who is dedicated to daily horticultural work.

At St. Clair CC, Superintendent Eric Materkowski has teamed up with Laura Tobin Thompson, a full-time horticulturist, to create landscape beds throughout the property.
At St. Clair CC, Superintendent Eric Materkowski has teamed up with Laura Tobin Thompson, a full-time horticulturist, to create landscape beds throughout the property.

“We have a great horticulturist who puts a lot of time and energy into the work and is proud of her work,” he explains. “When someone focuses on landscaping, it’s more successful.”

Landscapers Without Borders
While landscaping projects can give superintendents another creative outlet for their talents, the golf course maintenance department at The Creek Golf Club in Spartanburg, S.C., has taken its landscaping skills beyond the borders of the golf course. About four years ago, the semi-private property created a landscaping division, Creek Landscaping, for which a separate crew performs landscaping jobs for commercial and residential clients.

Weldon Davis, The Creek GC’s Golf Course Superintendent, says one of the owners of the golf course originally came to him with the idea of starting the division.

“The golf business is not what it once was,” Davis says. “Golf courses just don’t have the revenue streams that they used to. We felt like it would be better to expand in this direction and diversify.

“This is what we do anyway,” Davis adds. “We maintain turf, so it was a good fit. We expanded our operations into landscaping, and we’ve grown substantially.”

Landscaping Tips and Trends
• Horticulturists should select plant materials that provide color, texture, and seasonal appeal to the property.
• Landscapers should install plant materials on the golf course in out-of-play areas, such as between tees or on the perimeter of the course.
• Horticulturists should select plant materials that will thrive in the type of conditions—sunny, shady, wet or dry turf—where they will be installed.
• Landscapers should use their plant materials in a way that enhances the experience of golfers.
• Some golf course maintenance staffs have a dedicated horticulturist or horticultural team to oversee landscaping duties.
• Some golf course maintenance departments have extended their landscaping talents beyond their properties, to perform landscaping for residential and commercial clients.

Sources: Golf Course Superintendents Eric Materkowski and Weldon Davis

When The Creek Golf Club first launched its landscaping division, the property hired two people to work on the golf course and to do grounds maintenance on a couple of the landscaping properties.

“We started small. We didn’t just jump right in,” Davis explains. “We run the whole operation out of the golf course maintenance department.”

Davis, who bids on all jobs as Project Manager for the landscaping division, now has two separate staffs for the golf course maintenance and landscaping divisions. The size of the staffs varies according to the season. Currently, he has four full-time and two part-time employees on the golf course maintenance staff, and 10 full-time people in the landscaping division. During the summer months, however, as many as 20 people work on landscaping projects.

Attention to Detail
As departments expand their duties, they find that landscapers’ skills often overlap with those of the golf course maintenance crew. “I think maintenance on the golf course and maintenance in the landscaped areas are similar in the sense that it involves a lot of attention to detail,” notes Materkowski. “They both require constant care and upkeep. We’re trying to create something that performs well and has aesthetic value in both areas.”

The detail work at St. Clair CC includes weed control, crisp edges, and the creation of a tidy, well-organized appearance throughout the property.

Superintendents can use their personnel interchangeably as well. At St. Clair CC, five full-time maintenance staff members who are long-time grounds crew employees help with large landscaping projects such as mulching, heavy pruning, and edging. Thompson, the horticulturist, returns the favor as well. “She spends 90 percent of her time on landscaping and 10 percent helping with different tasks on the golf course,” Materkowski states.

At The Creek Golf Club, however, the reverse is often true. “I use landscaping people when we have extra work to do on the golf course,” explains Davis. “Basically, I don’t need as many people full-time on the golf course.”

Four years ago, the course maintenance department at The Creek GC created a separate landscaping division that now performs work for commercial and residential clients, including the building of an outdoor kitchen.
Four years ago, the course maintenance department at The Creek GC created a separate landscaping division that now performs work for commercial and residential clients, including the building of an outdoor kitchen.

He will call on the members of the landscaping division to help the course maintenance crew prepare for tournaments or clean up after a storm. He also uses them to help with routine maintenance tasks such as aerifying, mowing, and weed eating. “They mow around the clubhouse entrance twice a week, and that frees up my people to do things around the golf course,” Davis reports.

The Creek’s landscaping crew also uses other golf course maintenance skills, such as irrigation system installation and repair, as well as drainage installation, in their commercial and residential jobs. The landscapers also build rock and retaining walls, and have even built outdoor kitchens.

Just as the skills for turf maintenance and landscaping often overlap, the equipment used to perform the tasks serves double duty as well. At St. Clair CC, Thompson and the maintenance staff generally share equipment such as utility carts. However, the property has some specialty hand and pruning tools for the landscaping projects.

Davis has trained a couple of the crew members of his landscaping division to mow greens and rake bunkers, and he has cross-trained some of the employees to operate the different pieces of equipment needed for each job. In addition, The Creek Golf Club crews use some equipment such as sprayers or graders for landscaping work and for golf course maintenance.

“We actually use some of the golf course equipment for landscaping and some of the landscaping equipment for the golf course,” says Davis. However, he adds, “I keep the maintenance budget for landscaping separate from the golf course budget. That way I know exactly what I’m spending on the golf course and landscaping for materials and labor.”

Weldon Davis, Golf Course Superintendent, The Creek GC
Weldon Davis, Golf Course Superintendent, The Creek GC

Separation of Duties
The Creek GC’s landscaping division now performs work for about a dozen subdivisions, which includes 100 or so homes in each neighborhood, about 12 to 24 high-end individual residences, and a number of industrial sites.

“All of the maintenance contracts that we have for the landscaping division are at least one year,” notes Davis. “We do weekly maintenance, but we bill once a month.”

Most of the landscaping business comes through word-of-mouth, he reports, rather than through ties to the golf course.

Davis tries to keep the two entities separate, and people call his cell phone to line up landscaping jobs.

“I didn’t want people to get confused and call the golf course,” he reports. “I didn’t want the phone lines tied up with landscaping calls when people were trying to make tee times. We keep the landscaping from interfering with the golf course maintenance. We maintain the golf course the way we always have.”

The biggest challenge in overseeing the two divisions, Davis says, is the allocation of his time.

“I used to put in a lot of hours on the golf course anyway, but now I divide my time about 50-50 between the golf course and the landscaping jobs,” he says. In addition, he reveals, “I’ve got good people. I just make sure everybody knows what to do. If they need me, I’m just a phone call away.”

His time allocation also depends on the time of year and the golf course’s activity levels. However, he reports, “The golf course gets more of my attention at certain times of the year. The golf course is the biggest contract.”

St. Clair Country Club, Upper St. Clair, Pa.
St. Clair Country Club, Upper St. Clair, Pa.

A Different Look
While landscaped areas add beauty to a property, they provide other benefits as well.

“They create some different texture around the property, especially around the clubhouse grounds. They add different colors and seasonal effects,” notes Materkowski. “There is a better growing environment for certain types of landscape beds, versus trying to have grass on turf on some parts of the property.”

When St. Clair CC selects plant materials, says Materkowski, care is taken to ensure that the plants will work well together on the grounds and that they will thrive in the areas where they are planted. Plants must also be properly matched with locations that are sunny, shady, dry or wet.

“Plant health is really important,” Materkowski reports. “We’re trying to create a great presentation.” In addition, he notes, “Maintaining a golf course and landscaping beds both require creativity, problem-solving skills, and planning.”