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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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In Sports

Working the fairway mower is just one job for a golf course superintendent.

In Sports

Cutting the cup on hole No. 2 at Brown Deer Golf Course.

In Sports

Rolling the green adds up to a foot and a half of speed to the surface.

Shift switch: Golf course superintendent


A golf course is a living thing, with insects, weather, grasses and trees all affecting how it plays on a given day. All of those things, and a host of others, must be managed daily by that course's superintendent to make it playable – and aesthetically pleasing – for the golfer. To work it requires a long day, with a lot of duties.

I traded places (well, kind of) with Brown Deer Golf Course superintendent and Milwaukee native Tim Wegner last week to get a better feel for what exactly he does on the course and I found out how hard it really is.

Your work day nearly begins when the clock does in the summer, with Wegner rallying his team in the maintenance building when most others are sleeping.

On my way to the golf course located at 7625 N. Range Line Rd., I saw only two oddly motivated (or cross-wired) runners and an annoyed man with a dog, along with two cars.

This is what the outside of the office looked like upon arrival:

Now, in the late summer, Wegner's crew is a little smaller – it's at nine people now that school has started, down from 14. In the near darkness, we hit the course in a cart make a quick check of the property – making sure nothing unexpected or severe happened overnight – while picking up loose debris.

"Kinda the nice part of the morning," Wegner says.

We also take a look for disease that may be growing on the fairway grass – its light coloring makes it easy to spot in the near-darkness. That helps Wegner determine how much chemical to use, and where to disperse it.

The light comes fast, and the crew is already hard at work mowing the greens. With a smaller crew, the tasks of changing the cups (the flag placements) on the greens and mowing the putting surfaces require immediate attention.

This is where he put me to work.

Job 1: Changing the cups

To change all 18 holes is a process that takes about three hours, and it's not just as simple dropping a cutter in the grass to make a hole. It requires a lot of thought and a little bit of luck. First, you need to examine the area of the green in which you are going to put the new cup – is it suitable? Was an old cup in the same area? Is it on an unfair bit of mounding or angle? What does the approach shot look like coming in from the fairway? If it's going to be a 85-degree day, will this placement be fair for players later when the green gets faster?

"A cup that's OK at 6 a.m. may not be at 2 p.m. on a hot, sunny day," Wegner told me after I put the cup on a ridge on the second hold. "It may not hold that shot."

As a player, I really stressed over this decision. Was I being fair? How would I feel about these placements? Wegner even told me to speed up after I continued to hem and haw on the third green.

Once I decided on my cup placements, I used the HIO "heavy" hole cutter to create them, which requires you to slam down on the handle to push the cutter into the turf. It requires a good bit of force to do this, but you can't Hulk out on it – you can only go to a certain depth (which is marked on the cutter by orange paint). You then need to twist it to break roots and dirt underground apart, which also required more effort than I imagined.

You also need to make sure the cup is level. Then, you take that removed piece of earth and fill the old cup with it. This is an important step – it has to fit nearly perfectly so it's level to the surface around that not just for putting, but so it's not scalped bare by the mowers. To do this, I used a modified fork and a PVC pipe with its edges smoothed so as to not to scar the greens – tricks Wegner learned from PGA Tour agronomists when the course hosted tournaments.

After changing three cups, I got it right on the fourth hole, the par 5. I placed the cup just over the right hand bunker, requiring a precise shot to the stick or a safer play that would result in a longer putt.

"I'm proud of that one," I said.

Wegner got out of his cart. "That's ideal. And the cup was pretty straight."

He then drove me over to meet Steve on the par 3 11th hole.

"We'll trust you with our most treasured asset," Wegner said.

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