The challenge of being a course manager

Rod DeSmet can't win.
Matt DeYoung
Aug 2, 2012

DeSmet, who took over as course superintendent at Grand Haven Golf Club this past June, has had his hands full trying to keep the course in top-notch shape through one of the worst droughts in recent memory.

Then, early Tuesday morning, a few hours before the Coast Guard “Coasties” Golf Outing was scheduled to begin, a storm blew through the area and dumped buckets of rain on the course, causing huge puddles to form in several fairways.

Suddenly, DeSmet, who’s been worried all year about getting enough water on the grass, had to deal with too much water.

“The course just can’t handle it when it comes down that hard,” said DeSmet, who joined his crew on the 11th fairway, digging drainage pits and punching holes in the turf to allow for better drainage.

A week ago, draining water off the course was the furthest thing from DeSmet’s mind.

He’s been more concerned with the dry, hot conditions.

“It’s been dry, yes, but we’ve got a good irrigation system,” he said. “The thing with irrigation is, it’s never perfect. The wet areas get wetter and the dry areas get dryer. We’re always adjusting sprinklers.

“The big problem is the heat. When it’s hot the water heats up and steams, and the roots can’t survive in the soil. We really have to cut back on water when it’s hot. It sounds counter to what you’d think, but you’ve got to cut back.”

DeSmet said that at Grand Haven, he’s lucky enough to have plenty of water to work with. That’s saying something, considering that when he turns on the sprinklers, they spray 11,000 gallons of water a minute.

All that water doesn’t match the benefit of an occasional shower compliments of Mother Nature.

“Rain, for some reason, just greens things up so much more,” he said. “And it soaks in better. If we get two-tenths of an inch of rain, that is perfect. If you can get that three times a week, you wouldn’t even have to run irrigation.

“Unfortunately, (prior to Tuesday) I’ve only see that twice since June 1.”

DeSmet has been a golf course superintendent for 30 years. He spent more than a decade at Thoroughbred Golf Course in Rothbury before heading to the Grand Rapids area several years ago.

“This is one of the toughest years I’ve seen,” he said. “Not only do we have the drought, but we also have the heat with it. I came out here (last) Wednesday night and it was like a blast furnace.”

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