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Q & A with T.A. Barker

Greetings to all my golf enthusiasts and welcome to the second edition of Q & A with T.A.!  
If this winter has been long for you, you’re not alone!  A superintendent that loves his craft is probably feeling like it’s been an eternity since he lavished in that sweet smell of freshly cut turf.  That beautiful aroma makes every morning oh so worth the 5:00 a.m. wake-up call.  Golfers call this time of year the off-season – I call it the time to grind.  Winter months are when I get down and dirty with the cutting units that give us those defined lines and tight cut greens that every golfer envies. 
My set of questions for this edition comes from the UGA. 
  Q: Take us the through your course preparation checklist heading into winter?
A: All superintendents have a different approach to winter prep.  We at Fore Lakes Golf Course start our prepping during the first of November when the turf has started going dormant and the growth has essentially come to a halt.  The first thing we do is start mowing our roughs down to about an inch and a half.  Cutting off all that extra turf will help eliminate those white decaying patches when the snow melts.  Around the first week of November we will apply a “complete fertilizer” (a fertilizer with Nitrogen (N) Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K)) at a rate of one pound of Nitrogen per 1,000 square  feet on all tees, roughs and fairways.  We’re thankful for Great Basin Turf for applying this application with their truck-mount spreader that can apply a wall-to-wall application in under four hours.  After the fertilizer is applied, we will turn off our pump system and blow out our irrigation lines.  This a precautionary measure so we won’t have any broken lines when we fire the system up in the spring.  Since mowing the turf has decreased to once or twice a week, we spend a lot of time cleaning up the course – sweeping leaves, dead pruning our trees, etc.  We watch the weather very close during the month of November since the timing of our snow mold fungicide must be made right before the first snow fall that is going to stick around for a few months.  At my course, we only treat our greens for snow mold.  Some courses treat their fairways and tees as well. 
Q: What is your biggest challenge in the winter?
A: The biggest challenge that we face during the winter is when you know you’re getting close to the end of your fungicide life span and you still have a few inches of snow and ice on your greens.  This is when you will see us out there cleaning the snow off the greens and getting them some sun.  We are very grateful that we don’t have to worry about ice damage that can devastate a green very rapidly like some of my colleagues do. 
Q: Did you have any big projects in the off season (tree removal, equipment upgrades, etc.)?
A: This winter my biggest project was not just my own but the cooperative work of the board of directors of the Intermountain Golf Course Superintendents Association (IGCSA).  We are starting up the First Green of Utah.  The First Green is a program that was started in Washington (state) in 1997 and has brought over 15,000 kids to golf courses all over the country.  The kids are taught the different sciences throughout the golf course and are administered by the courses superintendent.  We as superintendents are very excited about this program and feel that this is our way to give back to the kids in our community.
Q: Coming out of winter what do you view to be your most important project at Fore Lakes?
A: This year we are dedicating a lot more time and energy to our greens.  We have pretty good greens but in the summer months they start to struggle a little due to heat and constant traffic.  This winter I have worked on a fertility and cultural plan that I think is going to give us some excellent putting surfaces that will take us through the summer months. 
Thank you to the UGA for asking the questions in this edition.  If you have a question about golf courses maintenance, The First Green Program or even your yard care, please feel free to email me at [email protected] and I will try and answer the questions in the next edition.
From my fairways to yours – I wish you long drives, holed putts and green grass.
T.A. Barker is the Class A Golf Course Superintendent at Fore Lakes Golf Course and the current President of the IGCSA