Agronomy is most assuredly a team effort. The Naples, Fla. club’s Agronomy Department is run by an amazing team of multi-tasking, crystal ball-reading, eyes-in-the-back-of-their-heads, superintendents who work hard … endlessly.
By Max Passino Deboer and Brooke Alfasa
What is Agronomy?
Agronomy looks at agriculture from an integrated, holistic perspective. Agronomists are specialists in crop and soil science, as well as ecology*.
At Mediterra, our agronomy team, tirelessly and with such skill it appears magical, maintains our golf courses, bunkers, fairways, and approaches, with an arsenal of resources to ensure proper irrigation, parasite control, fertilization, and turf management.
To do so effectively requires competency at so many levels, it’s surprising to the uneducated. While some think agronomy is basically, watering, mowing, fertilizing and pest control, (like we do with many of our own yards); an agronomist is a highly skilled artisan, a grass whisperer, a chemist, a repairman, an irrigation expert; applying their skills across a variety of landscape needs and goals in one place. They must fully understand, among other studies: equipment repair and maintenance, plant biology, fertilization application rates and procedures, water usage of different grass varieties, pest identification and methods to control, oh, and the rules of golf.
And they do this while dealing with the elements outside laborers must endure. It’s back-breaking, mentally taxing, and largely unappreciated fully. Sure, an ideal Stimp rating, pristine lies in the fairways, and true greens are appreciated by players, but as if they appeared out of nowhere or occurred naturally. Look up “perfect bunker” and you will find countless resources on bunker shots, but you would be hard pressed to find the details of how to create and maintain a perfect bunker. Our guys can tell you.
Our Agronomy Heroes
While agronomy is most assuredly a team effort, The Club at Mediterra’s Agronomy Department is run by an amazing team of multi-tasking, crystal ball-reading, eyes-in-the-back-of-their-heads, superintendents who work hard … endlessly. We salute Stephen Coyne (South Course), Reed Koehnlein (North Course), Stephen Rutherford (Landscaping), Allen Barnett (Equipment Manager), and James Brinkmeyer (Irrigation).
We double salute, the man behind it all, Tom Lively, Director of Agronomy and his assistant Fatima Escoto, who corrals these cats daily.
Make no mistake, Agronomy is hard work, and it takes a special kind of human to want to do it. At Mediterra, we have around 50 hard workers who show up every day and give their all. Theirs are noble goals: to do their job perfectly and to provide for their families. This dedication to their craft and their families is what makes them heroes in our eyes.
The Club at Mediterra values these priorities when seeking and keeping team members. We believe in dedication, seeking perfection and we value our families, including our Mediterra family.
A Day in the Life
Agronomy never stops. It is a practice that requires daily supervision. Starting at 4 a.m. daily, the teams assemble and review the goals for the day. While peak season is a crazy time for everyone, agronomy does their hardest work during what is considered the slow season for the rest of us. In blazing summer heat, they top-dress, core, Verti cut, aerate, amend the soil, seed, sod, sand, drain, weed and more while respecting their environmental impact*. Their best efforts, practiced day after day, keep not only our grounds intact, but our courses in pristine, award-winning condition*.
In case the job is not hard enough, agronomists face a variety of challenges. Agronomy taught us about something we never knew and now can’t un-know: Nematodes! Nematodes live in soil and can spread disease. This is why your mother used to tell you not to eat dirt. Nematodes can grow up to 10 centimeters and be spread through something as simple as mosquito bites*.
Another big challenge that is often discussed is weather. In South Florida, not only is summer the hottest and most humid time of the year, but the weather is very unpredictable. It can go from a lightning-filled downpour one minute to sunshine and rainbows the next. Our agronomists must be nimble, efficient, and prepared to properly care for the grounds and themselves!.
Did You Know?
We will never fully understand the long list of agronomical best practices, on which an agronomist must deliver, but two priorities we can better understand are the Aerification and Verti-Cutting processes.
Aerification is when a machine is used to “make holes” in the turf to help circulate air through water to infuse into the ground at root level. This also helps open sand-filled spaces for new growth keeping turf healthy!
Verti-Cutting is the process in which a machine is used to remove buildup such as dead roots and grass left over from previous mowing. These vertical cuts allow the turf to absorb more nutrients and moisture.
Safety is extremely important and much like our kitchens, our grounds can be dangerous environments. Our focus on safety includes a Safety Committee, new hire safety training and rewards for stretches of time with no injuries.
Safety protocols include golf cart safety, equipment safety, CPR and AED training, prevention of heat-related injury or illness, and instructions on reporting an incident. None of this hard work matters if we can’t keep our people safe.
Agronomy is specialized agriculture and agronomists are specialists in crop and soil science, but they are also unsung heroes. Rarely do they get the kudos they deserve but make no mistake, agronomy is mentally and physically challenging and a practice where “good enough” never is. Next time you play a round and are lucky enough to run into an agronomist, shake his or her hand. That hand helped create a perfect canvas so that you can have a perfect round.
- American Society of Agronomy
- The Club at Mediterra is the first golf course to receive the Silver Signature Sanctuary distinction from the Audubon International Signature Program. We also received the Environmental Leaders in Golf Award by the Golf Course Superintendent Association of America and Golf Digest.
- Other notable awards include Best Residential Golf Courses by Golfweek Magazine; WRAP (Water Reduction Awards Program), another first for a golf course, from our county Board of Commissioners; and Florida Golf Course of the Year from the National Golf Course Owners Association