By Mr. James Brabenec (IMCOM)September 6, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Imagine first light, going for a drive each morning at work, listening to songbirds, appreciating the strong girth of a mighty burr oak or shaggy pecan tree. Each day Mark Jung gets to do that as he and his staff of 12 maintenance workers prepare Fort Sill Golf Course for the Soldiers and civilian golfers who play there.
A handful of those golfers showed up Aug. 31 as they hit balls on the lighted driving range or just talked amongst themselves while waiting to play. Further out on the course Jung's team operated sophisticated mowers, spot watered greens and changed pin locations all part of their Friday morning ritual.
"This is one of the best jobs on post;" said Jung, greens manager. "I wouldn't trade this job for anything."
In a game where golfers "drive for show, putt for dough," putting greens will make or break a golf course. Jung's crew cuts all 120 acres of greens to an exacting height of 0.00130 of an inch.
"There's no room for error so a maintenance worker must be aware of what the green needs to look like," said Jung. "There isn't much of a difference to the naked eye, but a good worker develops that sight to ensure his mower meets that standard."
Although a putting green may look like a uniform, relatively easy to care for surface, Jung said there might be a million different micro-climates on one green alone. Depressions, ridges and dramatic slopes all affect where water collects or runs off.
Dragging a thick rubber hose while driving a maintenance vehicle from green to green, Bill Wood is a man Jung can count on to do what needs to be done. With 21 years experience, Wood hand waters isolated dry spots on greens along with the high spots and edges of the greens.
Crew members hand water daily, as needed from April to October. Not only does it save water, but it also produces healthy plants because water is restricted to areas that need it.
"Bill can see the spots that are either too dry or too wet. Watching the dew patterns in the morning will show how much moisture a green is holding," said Jung. "He can tell quickly if there's something wrong and has the experience to treat it."
Experience-wise, Wood is the exception to the rule on the maintenance staff. Jung said retirees or college students comprise the majority of his maintenance crew.
Just like some of his crew members, he began working at the course 27 years ago, fresh out of high school and unsure what he wanted to do with his life. Jung said for anyone who enjoys working outside, the golf course is a great place to work.
"The majority of tasks workers perform here are not high skilled, in fact many are like mowing the yard," said Jung. "But, there are correct procedures for doing them to ensure playing conditions are maintained at proper standards."
Jung's crew are well seasoned with experience ranging from two to 27 years; he said it takes about two years to develop someone to become really good at the job.
But, that crew isn't maintaining lush, brilliant green fairways. Jung said green isn't the important thing here, instead a good golf course must have healthy plants. Of course, the plants of concern here are primarily the different grasses used on the course.
Bent grass for putting greens and Bermuda for fairways and roughs are the two primary grasses used at the course . The two grasses challenge the maintenance staff, because one prefers cool weather, the other warm.
"A healthy plant doesn't have to be lush, but it does need a good root system," said Jung.
To achieve that, the maintenance crew begins in September cultivating a deep root system, 6 to 8 inches in length, for bent grass. With the arrival of summer, those roots start to dwindle, and by the end of the hot season only 2 inches of roots remain. The opposite applies for Bermuda, except work begins on that grass in spring to ready it for the tough winter.
Grass height varies greatly on the course differentiating green from collar and fairway from rough.
To keep turf the right height, Jung has a fleet of mowers at his command. Each maintenance worker who mows does so from one machine that he knows in-depth.
Vehicle operators perform oil and fluid checks, apply grease when needed and ensure tires are properly inflated. With a practiced eye they can tell when a mower isn't cutting to the required height and make adjustments. When their days end, workers fuel up and clean mowers, and do whatever needed to make sure they are ready for the next day's use.
The job Jung and his crew do makes Ernie Altic's responsibilities as golf course manager a little bit easier when golfers see a well cared for golf course.
"The toughest job in the golf business is turf, because every day is different: the weather, the amount of play, the condition of the ground or the season of the year. When people come out to play, they want a perfect golf course every day, something that's hard to do," he said.
"I sleep very good at night knowing Mark and his crew are taking the best possible care of Fort Sill's golf course," said Altic.
Up early again, Jung makes his rounds of the course. Stopping by the pro shop he greets several golfers by name. Although he loves the beauty of the golf course, there's another motivator that encourages him to do his best for Fort Sill golfers.
"I want that Soldier who has to go play when he's home, because this is his relief or place to relax," said Jung.