When the world’s best golfers descend upon Muirfield Village Golf Club this June 1-7 for the 40th playing of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, they will be treated to one of the most finely conditioned golf courses on the PGA TOUR. Patrons and golfers alike will experience a track that is meticulously manicured from tee to green, complimented by thousands of spectacular and colorful flowers, trees and plant life. Countless hours each year go into preparing and maintaining Muirfield Village for the golf season in central Ohio. Those efforts don’t take a break during the winter. In fact, the maintenance crew is as busy as ever.
Preparing Muirfield Village Golf Club for the winter is essential to a successful spring, summer and fall. This winter that mantra has been especially true. With temperatures consistently south of freezing and a regular blanket of white snow covering the ground, Muirfield’s maintenance crew has been forced to take extra special care to ensure that the course is ready to open in mid April.
Several processes require completion in order to accomplish a successful transition from season to season.
First, a final mowing is performed once growth slows on the playing surfaces. Next, those surfaces are treated to protect against certain strains of fungal pathogens that can infect the plants over the winter. Following this treatment, playing surfaces are fertilized to promote root growth and development. Heavy sand topdressing is then applied to protect the crowns of the plants from temperature and wind desiccation.
Another important process that needs to be completed is the winterization of the course’s irrigation system, comprised of nearly 30 miles of underground pipes and 2,300 irrigation sprinkler heads. A large air compressor is used to inject air into the pipes and sprinklers to purge water and prevent freeze damage. Also, at the practice facility, growing tarps are placed over heavily divoted areas on the tees. Because these tarps are able to keep soil temperatures about ten degrees above ambient temperature, seedling germination and growth is enhanced. The tarps help the teeing ground to be more fully recovered when the practice facility opens in the spring.
The azalea flowers on the hillside at the twelve tee received special treatment this winter. Azaleas are not accustomed to growing in climates with extremely cold, long winters. A pseudo-greenhouse was constructed to cover the azaleas using PVC pipe and grow tarps. The dark green color of the grow tarp attracts heat from the sun and traps warmer ambient air around the azaleas, while also providing additional protection from the wind.
Winter is also a time when the maintenance department is able to tackle several projects that cannot be accomplished during the playing season. This time offers a chance to make great strides on improving aesthetics around the property through selective removal of Ash trees overcome by the Emerald Ash Borer. Emerald Ash Borer is an insect that kills ash species of trees. It has killed tens of millions of ash trees in the Midwest, including Ohio. Additionally, when winter weather permits, installation of new, or improvement of existing, drainage may occur, ultimately enhancing playing conditions.
Other winter projects include the refurbishing of golf course accessories such as ballwashers, benches, trash cans, tee markers and cups in an effort to negate the effects of weathering and normal wear and tear that naturally occur throughout the season. All of the rebar used to establish rope lines during the Memorial Tournament is cleaned, straightened and repainted. Plus, steel foot bridges are constructed to replace existing wooden brides that are beginning to deteriorate and pose potential safety hazards.
Winter is a very busy time for the mechanics that care for the equipment used by the grounds crew. Intensive maintenance is performed on the entire fleet to ensure peak performance throughout the year. Mower blades are not the only things that receive sharpening however, maintenance staff members have the opportunity through the winter months to sharpen their skills by attending educational seminars, participating in ‘in-house’ safety training, and catching up on industry best practices and the latest discoveries from university research. Also, during this time of year, much of the course maintenance staff is interviewed and hired for the upcoming season. Student interns are pursued from across the country, including Rutgers University, Pennsylvania State University, Kansas State University, as well as international interns in cooperation with The Ohio State University. A productive winter season sets the tone for a successful year at Muirfield Village Golf Club and the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.