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Hitting the green: Kitsap golf courses maintain grass with diligence
Mike Shortt isn’t a Cinderella story out of nowhere, but the former carpenter takes pride in his work, mowing grass at 4:30 a.m. every day.
“We work our tails off,” said Shortt, a greenskeeper at Gold Mountain Golf Course. “It’s rewarding when you hear people on the course say the greens look great, because it’s hard work.”
Shortt has worked at the Bremerton complex for the last five years, changing tees, painting cart lines and cleaning up the bunkers to keep the course in shape.
But the most important part of a golf course is the grass itself, Shortt said, and maintaining a certain appearance requires time and money. Putting greens, specifically, have a different surface than fairways and thicker parts of the course. The measurements come down to a tenth of an inch, and preventing disease is paramount.
“We’re extremely involved,” said Greg Peterson, the superintendent of Rolling Hills Golf Course in East Bremerton. “It all starts with how its built.”
The main difference between putting greens and fairways is the base, Peterson added.
The public course, like other clubs, uses a sand base underneath the greens so the surface is smoother, he added. Fairways have a traditional topsoil base.
Both Kitsap Golf and Country Club and Rolling Hills use a specific type of grass called poa annua, also known as annual bluegrass. Gold Mountain uses fescue and ryegrass on its fairways and greens.
All three courses follow a similar pattern to perfecting the greens for golfers.
The work starts with having a proper drainage system under the greens so water doesn’t overflow and cause disease in the grass, Peterson said.
The next step is pouring between one and two feet of drainage rocks, which turns into pea gravel.
Once the rocks are developed, the sand mix is added, usually at 12 inches, Peterson added, and the final result is contoured and shaped. The greens are laid atop the soil mix, and with rolling and precision mowing, the putting green is complete.
It’s a complex procedure, said Scott Mutchler, the superintendent of Kitsap Golf and Country Club in Bremerton.
“It’s all about the upkeep,” he added. “There’s a holistic look on having a putting green, and every week, there’s something different to maintain.”
Applying dirt and sand before mowing the greens with an expensive mower doesn’t mean the surface is healthy. Superintendents are responsible for keeping the putting grass intact, which involves watering, fertilizing and applying fungicides on a daily basis.
“It’s like your body, if you don’t take care, you’ll get sick,” said Al Patterson, a golf professional at Kitsap Golf and Country Club. “You get 10 days in a row of sunny weather, and this stuff starts dying.”
Peterson works four hours a day, seven days a week to keep the greens from withering at the East Bremerton course.
Mutchler said the 140-acre private course in Bremerton spends $30,000 for each putting green, but added that it’s a necessity.
“We could do it for next to nothing, but it wouldn’t be done right,” Mutchler said.
Putting greens are cut at 10,000th an inch. The flat surface of a putting green is achieved by using a rolling machine to smoothen imperfections.
“The smoother the grass, the faster,” Patterson said. “That’s why you need a solid sand base to keep it all smooth and ready for the golfers.”
Patterson doubts someone could build a personal putting green. The costs and labor is just too much to maintain on a seasonal basis, he said.
“I don’t know if you can ever get green quality at home,” Patterson added. “You just can’t cut it short enough.”
The golf pro said specific blades, called California clippers, are used to slice grass to the quality of a proper putting green. A normal rotary mower used for lawns would ruin the greens, he added.
The biggest difference between a normal lawn and a golf course is the schedule for fertilizing, Mutchler said.
The superintendent of the private Bremerton club said he uses a “spoon-feed” technique by applying fertilizer at a light rate daily, whereas homeowners fertilize at a heavy rate less frequently.
“You need consistent growth,” Mutchler added. “You can’t have a peaking level or else you have golfers belly-aching about it.”
Meanwhile, Shortt said he enjoys the task of trying to keep Gold Mountain in pristine condition. Shortt also golfs at the Bremerton course, and although he likes having fun with his co-workers, the greenskeeper is serious about his work on the greens.
“If you like the job, that’s priceless,” he said. “We all put a lot of pride in our work, and that shows on the course.”
Second photo: Scott Mutchler, the superintendent of Kitsap Golf and Country Club, picks the greens Tuesday. Photo by Mike Baldwin.