The weather outside is frightful….but the golf can still be delightful! As part of a new initiative this year, Bear Lake Reserve Golf Course Superintendent Scott Wilson and On-Site Pro Courtney Gunter have teamed up to *cautiously* allow homeowners access to this cherished sport during a season when things are normally shut down.
We chatted with Scott to get the low-down on this offering and what Winter golfers should pay special attention to during the cold season to keep the turf happy, and the quality of our course top-notch in every season:
Scott, tell us a little about your background and training. How did you join the BLR family as the Golf Course Superintendent?:
I graduated from Western Kentucky University with a Degree in Turfgrass Science and Management. I also received a degree in Manufacturing. I’m also a second generation Golf Course Superintendent; My Dad had a very successful 38 year career in Kentucky. I guess you could say I was born into this business.
As for how I joined the BLR family, it was almost by accident!
After 10 years in the golf business at high end and high pressure facilities from the Florida Keys and both Florida coasts all the way to Baltimore Maryland, my family needed to slow down our pace of life. The changing seasons of the mountains was the change we needed, so we acquired a small farm in the area. We stumbled on Bear Lake Reserve during an afternoon of exploring near our new home.
Meeting the people here, the opportunity — the challenge — to continue to feed my passion so close to our new home but in a better environment was irresistible. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Not too many people can ride a jet ski to work! I was in. I guess you could say I wasn’t ready to take it easy…yet.
This course has its challenges, but I try every day to take a moment to look at these mountains and streams and remember: all is good. It is truly a blessing to be here.
Our course has improved a lot in your care – we’ve even heard it compared in quality to extremely high-end courses with dozens of staff and a maintenance budget of millions of dollars. What’s your secret?
The secret is.. dumb luck! And perserverance of course. I always strive to do the right thing for the course. It helps that I truly love what I do.
I also have something that many past supers never had: A supportive group of Owners, mentors and staff that all work together so that this amenity at the top of the mountain not only looks pretty from the road, but also plays beautifully, too. It is our goal every day to continue to take our course to the next level.
Generally speaking, why do golf courses close in Winter? What happens to the turf in cold weather?
During the cool months, grass slips into dormancy. This is a period when turfgrass goes into preservation mode. All essential nutrients retreat to the root system to sustain life until suitable growing conditions return in the Spring. This is an extremely fragile state.
Ice crystals can form within the plant tissues that can be broken under literally any kind of traffic, foot traffic (both human and animal), motorized vehicles, you name it. The impact can rupture cell walls within the plant which can lead to death.
This damage is amplified due to the inability of the plant to recover. Preservation mode means there are no resources to spare to repair even minor injury, though in some cases recovery is possible. The result of damage that can’t be recovered from is brown/dead turf in the Spring.
What is involved in replacing dead turf? How does that affect normal play during the open season?
Damaged turf needs to be reseeded, or in worst cases, completely resodded. This results in an uneven playing surface during the Spring that will definitely affect your game! The unevenness is due to voids in the turf canopy where the repairs were done, because the seeded or sodded areas on the playing surface are at a different stages of growth than the rest of the turf that went through the cold season undamaged.
The signage is everything. We try to be unobtrusive while still being clear. If the “Course Closed” or the “Mats Only” signs are out, that means the conditions are fragile and must be respected for the health of the turf. Other times, chemical treatments may be used that should not come in contact with skin, so obeying the signage is for your health and the health of your pets, as well!
Why is BLR choosing to let people golf under certain strict conditions this year?
We are electing to allow some golf on good days to basically continue to show off our mountain top course. Turf conditions are obviously not up to tournament standards, but we want people to be able to see what I get to see every day. Our course and property are beautiful any and all seasons. Plus, the Owners who live here year-round may want to enjoy a round of golf on a beautiful day, even in Winter. This is home, and we’d like them to be able to enjoy all that Bear Lake Reserve has to offer any time of year.
What is the single most important thing Winter golfers at BLR should remember?
The most important thing to remember is we are trying to allow you to enjoy your course but also protect your course. Please follow directions on the signs posted. We’ve also put together a helpful reminder sheet to lists all of our “Top 9” Golden Rules for Winter Golf. Cart paths sometimes remain frozen all day in shady areas even after noon, so your best route to fun is to be mindful, and be cautious. “When in doubt, don’t go out. Use your eyes not your feet!”
Also, we are continuing to work on projects on the course that can only be done when the majority of our Owners are away. Lots of maintenance gets done during our “secret season.” Tree companies may be on site, for example, which may affect access to the paths.
The best advice is just to be cautious so you can enjoy where you are. Going slow may also give you the opportunity to take time to look around and enjoy the natural beauty all around you.
What would you say are the advantages of golfing during the “secret season” at BLR?
The whole look of the course changes in Winter. It’s so quiet and majestic. New sights, too: A nearby off-property waterfall is visible from behind #1 Green, which is not possible any other time of year due to the density of foliage.
From some of the highest elevations you can get a more complete view of the course, with many of the holes stair-stepped down the mountain.
The silence of winter….There is a calming silence on a cold winter day…..Unless it’s chainsaw day! Then you get to observe the crew busy at what they do best….taking care of this course!
Many thanks to Scott for taking the time to share this important information with us!