Feature Article - November 2014
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From the Ground Up

Best Practices in Grounds Maintenance for Parks and Golf Courses

By Deborah L. Vence

Park grounds and golf courses need regular maintenance if they're going to stay in tip-top shape. Watering, planting, mowing and tree trimming all make up the essential tasks of grounds managers to ensure landscapes and greens remain first-rate.

But, behind maintaining grounds, it's equally important to have best practices in place to ensure the job gets done right—every time.

"Regarding best practices for maintaining parks, I am not aware of many game-changing innovations. [But], I've found that the better maintained park areas are the ones which receive consistent application of sound practices," said Todd Cochran, Certified Grounds Manager (CGM), County Park Superintendent, County of Bergen, Hackensack, N.J.

Cochran became a Certified Grounds Manager through the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS), an organization that was created specifically to help advance the jobs of certified grounds managers. The CGM program is deemed the premier program of its type in the Green Industry.

Solely dedicated to advancing grounds maintenance, the PGMS—originally created in 1911—is an individual membership society of grounds professionals advancing the grounds management profession through education and professional development. The majority of PGMS members are institutional grounds managers who work for organizations such as colleges and universities, municipalities, park and recreation facilities, office parks, apartment complexes, hotels and motels, cemeteries, theme parks and so forth.

And, it is grounds managers like Cochran who discussed some of the best practices and green practices of regular grounds maintenance, as well as how ongoing challenges are dealt with.

Best Practices

Whether you are working to keep park grounds clean, healthy and safe, or repairing divots, raking sand bunkers and managing putting greens at golf courses, having consistent and reliable enforcement of sound practices is the best way to maintain grounds.

"No magic, but scalable results. Perhaps consistent application of sound and basic principles is a best practice," Cochran said.

For instance, when it comes to lawn care, "I am constantly reminding staff to keep mowing height for general/informal turf areas at 2.5 inches to 3 inches and never take more than one-third of the blade," Cochran said.

In the past, he said, some workers would mow at near scalping heights, rationalizing that they wouldn't have to go back as often to mow.

But, "Come summer the lawns either turned to dust or crabgrass," Cochran claimed. "Other staff would mow with no regard to height, but rather the day of the week. [For example], 'It's Tuesday so we have to mow Field No. 3.

"With proper mowing in recent years," he added, "lawns are holding up to stresses, have fewer weeds, and make the parks more attractive and inviting."

On the golf course, best maintenance practices are similar to those of parks, noted Monica D. Higgins, 2nd assistant superintendent at Naples Lakes Country Club, Naples Fla. The country club, which offers an 18-hole Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course, is a gated Toll Brothers development situated on 490 acres. Full golf and country club membership is included with every home.

"Practices to consider include maintaining proper irrigation, fertilizing at the proper times for health of the turf and the environment, and pest control using the least toxic materials at the proper time and with proper application," Higgins said.

"In addition, we are cognizant of where materials we apply could end up and are careful that these materials don't get into lakes or streams where they could potentially cause problems," she added. "We also utilize native plant materials whenever possible and keep plantings mulched to reduce water use and control weeds."