Steve Dudukovich

On a dreary morning in early spring, the grass at the Kent State University Golf Course is damp. The skies are gray. The weather is cold. No one is golfing.

A golf cart with two maintenance workers whizzes by the clubhouse that overlooks the 18th green. The back of the golf cart is filled with tree limbs and sticks workers have collected while cleaning up the course.

Golf course manager Michael Morrow, course superintendent Randy Hecker and the rest of the staff are busy preparing a course that has undergone changes in how it is played and maintained for the upcoming season.

Distance may be the most noticeable feature to those playing the course. Morrow said 25 yards is being added to the 345-yard 11th hole and there are plans to add more distance to the 300-yard eighth hole and the 289-yard 14th hole.

“Every year we are trying to give the golf course a little bit of a new look and make it better and more enjoyable for the customer,” Morrrow said. “Adding yardage obviously makes the course a little bit better.”

Golfers will face more of a challenge because of trees that were not there last year. Morrow said a number of trees were planted on the course.

Hecker enjoys the trees.

“The more trees the better,” he said. “These courses that are wide open – to me, are not much of a challenge.”

Trees reward those who stay on the fairway and make the game difficult for those who hit off into the rough Hecker said.

“It’s not like we are bound in with trees,” he said. “There’s a tree here or there.”

While most golfers will be trying to push their abilities to the limit by hitting long accurate drives from the tees, few may realize what goes into maintaining a top-notch golf course.

Morrow and Hecker prepare for the spring season toward the end of fall. The irrigation system is blown out so the pipes do not freeze, snow mold preventative is placed on the greens, mole traps are set and the fairways are aired out.

Morrow said the problem golf courses are currently fighting is compaction – the process of increasing the density of soil by packing the particles closer together and reducing the volume of air caused by heavy mowing equipment and golfers walking throughout the fairways over the course of a year.

The trend to fight compaction is to use smaller, lightweight mowing vehicles, Morrow said.

“When you break up compaction you’re really utilizing a lot of root growth where the roots can keep growing down and down and get more nutrients and more water,” Morrow said.

Another trend affecting golf courses is also affecting the rest of the world. Hecker said there is a major push among golf courses to go green because the Environmental Protection Agency has gotten stricter with its rules.

“It use to be just put fertilizer down to spray for disease,” Hecker said.

Now they are coming up with treatments to put in the soil that plants can absorb to fight off disease.

“It’s more of an organic way of doing things so it’s less harmful to society,” he said.

The Kent State University Golf Course wants the public to know the course is environmentally safe.

“With people’s thinking today about the environment, they may not want to come out and play if they know there are chemicals being sprayed,” Hecker said.

An environmentally safe, well maintained golf course only needs one thing when the weather gets better – golfers. The trend of growing the game at the Kent State Golf Course may be unpopular with other golf courses.

The Kent State course welcomes people of all ages and skill levels.

“A lot of golf courses probably don’t really want an 8-year-old boy or girl out with their parents,” Morrow said. “We want that . We really want kids to play, they are the future of the game.”

Contact features correspondent Steve Dudukovich at [email protected].