Greetings Hillcrest golfing community! I’m Bill Gwinn, a newly elected Hillcrest board member and the chair of the grounds committee. I’m an avid golfer and a big fan of our golf course.
What’s not to love about Hillcrest? The views here are incredible, and the course itself is pristine.
As part of the grounds committee, I’ve had the opportunity to spend behind-the-scenes time with our maintenance team, and I’ve learned so much about the role they play in maintaining our fantastic golf course. I wanted to share that exclusive look by painting a picture of the day in the life of Hillcrest’s Superintendent, Ken Kirby, and the Hillcrest maintenance team.
Ken started at Hillcrest in April of 1985. He was on the Fort Lewis golf team, getting a double major in economics and business (and maybe drinking a few Coors along the way). He needed a summer job, and Rick Kern, Hillcrest’s former superintendent, took Ken under his wing and started teaching him the tricks of the trade. In 1987 Ken became the assistant superintendent and he took over as superintendent in 2008.
Ken never talks in terms of "I" or "me." He talks about his crew, assistant superintendent Will Herz (who has been at Hillcrest for 25 years), and second assistant Eric Dunn. The team does it all together, and they complement each other to create an incredible team.
As I drive up to the maintenance shop, it’s not unusual to see Ken mowing the lawn around the building. This is often done after an early start and long morning taking care of the golf course! Ken and his team take great pride in the overall appearance of the property, and they service both the golf course and the areas surrounding the course. Have you noticed all the gorgeous flowerpots and gardens around the clubhouse this year? Those are thanks to our incredible maintenance staff!
The day starts out at 5am when Ken and Will take the initial look at the course. They are looking for anything out of the ordinary, checking the greens, fairways, and bunkers while also paying attention to factors like tree limb height and any potential irrigation leaks. They finish at the clubhouse, where they water the flowers and prepare the clubhouse area for early morning golfers. When they head back to the maintenance shop, they’ll meet with the rest of the crew around 5:45am. It’s an early morning push for the whole team! Jobs are divided out and the crew gets to work. The crew needs at least 90 minutes to get the course ready for the first tee time, and Ken and Will have each task scheduled down to the minute.
The greens—the “crown jewels” of the course—must be mowed every day, rolled five times per week, and top dressed once per week to keep them playing smooth and fast. Every other week, the greens are also verticut
(a de-thatching process that keeps the greens healthy). Fairways are only cut three times a week, but the rough is mowed every day. It takes two crew members two full days to cut all of the rough at Hillcrest! The crew also needs to rake and edge the bunkers before play, limb up any errant tree limbs, check irrigation pumps, mow and prepare the practice greens and tees, and cut cups on the greens to keep play interesting for golfers. Let’s not forget about trash and bathrooms that are cleaned daily. It’s a busy morning, to say the least.
There is so much more to the work they do, but I don’t want to write a novel. Just think what it takes to maintain your lawn and garden, multiply that by at least 100, and try to cram it into 90 minutes (all while having golf balls whizzing by your head). Both Ken and Will said, “There is always something to do,” many times in our conversation. Of course, there’s always a problem to solve, too. If a mower breaks down, there’s an irrigation break, or a greens mower breaks a hydraulic line, Ken and Will turn to mechanic mode and have to fix the problem fast so the Hillcrest golfing community can get out there and have a fantastic time golfing.
I was always under the impression that winter was a golf crew’s time to relax and enjoy some time with their families. I was told that is not the case. Winter is a very busy time for the grounds crew. Starting the day after the course closes for the winter, the crew starts sharpening blades on the mowing equipment. Hillcrest has 11 riding mowers and many more hand mowers and string trimmers, all of which need sharpening and general maintenance so they’re ready to go when the snow melts. There is also the ski track on a good snow year. After we get enough snow to groom the course, the grounds crew gets up as soon as there is light and starts to rough in the ski track. This usually takes an entire day if it all goes perfectly, although it often takes two days. After the ski track is roughed in, then begins daily grooming to keep the track in great condition. There is also snow removal and if ice is forming on the greens, and this past spring the team had to remove the snow from the greens with a snow blower.
I knew how much work they did, but after talking to them to write this article, I’m even more impressed with the job our grounds crew does at Hillcrest. When I asked Ken if there is anything he wants our members to know, he said that the grounds crew alters their schedule as much as possible to keep play consistent for the golfers. For example, they change the day they top dress or edge the traps so anyone who plays on a specific day of the week isn’t always golfing under these conditions. They try to perform aerification and other necessary (but play-hindering) tasks during times that won’t impact a tournament or peak play. In the end, they believe that the grounds crew’s goal is to prepare the best golf course possible with consistent play for all handicaps and all abilities, every day.
Our golf course is very busy in the morning—you know that if you’ve ever tried to get an early tee time! But the busiest time for golfers is also the busiest time for our grounds crew. As a golfer, I don’t always think about all of the work that goes into preparing and maintaining a golf course. I’m thinking about my round and trying to break that dreaded 90. So, the next time I see a grounds crew member working while I play, I’ll try not to be annoyed at him for running a loud string trimmer or mowing close to my ball that I can barely see in the rough. Instead, I’ll give him a nod and thank him for all the work he has done—including all that work that I never even see!