Feature Article - March 2002
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Grounds Forces

The latest challenges and strategies in grounds maintenance

By Mitch Martin

Canada geese are proving to be one of the
proverbial thorns in the side for
grounds managers.

Unfortunately for the science and art of grounds maintenance, the stereotypical image of the groundskeeper is closely linked to Bill Murray's Carl Spackler from the 1980 film "Caddyshack," a character "licensed to kill gophers by the government of the United Nations."

In reality, the modern Superintendent of Grounds is closer to an executive in overalls, often in charge of a seven-figure budget, hundreds of employees and thousands of pieces of expensive equipment.

The seemingly simple job of making grass grow, as most recreation administrators know all too well, has never been easy. As usage rates climb for grass surfaces amid increasing sports diversification, keeping a well-groomed playing surface is a serious challenge.

And now economics and ecology are two other subjects that are complicating the professional life of the superintendent.

Nature, or at least human beings' effect on nature, is promulgating several invasive pests that soil, rip up and devour the grounds of recreational facilities. At the other end of the stick, governmental regulation, public pressure and new sensitivities among the grounds maintenance profession are restricting the tools available to keep those grounds lush and well kept.

"Our membership wants to be known as leaders in the proper use of chemicals," says Thomas Shaner, executive director of the Professional Grounds Management Society. "At the college and university level, there is a lot of demand from the student base to be truly green in issues such as the use of pesticides and recycling."

Two possible bright spots for the industry are an increasing labor pool given the current economy and a new generation of laborsaving, riding power equipment. Experts, however, caution that there are limits to both these opportunities, particularly since the increasing unemployment rate has had only limited impact for groundskeeping.

Still, grounds superintendents interviewed for this article appeared generally upbeat and energized about the challenges facing them. They, after all, often get to work where the sun shines.

"The knowledge our members are seeking constantly is, 'How do I do my job better?' and 'How do I motivate and manage my employees to get the best out of them?'" Shaner says.