Turf Talk with Jim Nedrow

Jim Nedrow (@ICTurfTalk) is the Director of Agronomy at The Club at Indian Creek, host of the Web.com Tour’s Pinnacle Bank Championship. Nedrow is also a past President of the Nebraska Turfgrass Association.

NGA Communications Intern Will Morris checked in with Nedrow to see how he and his crew at Indian Creek are dealing with the pandemic situation. They also talk about the Pinnacle Bank Championship, dealing with the weather in Nebraska and what's new at Indian Creek. Tap the button to listen to the full podcast interview, or read the highlights below.

Will: So you know, kind of starting off a little bit, COVID-19 has affected all of us in one way or another. What's the current situation for your course? And how is it really changed the day to day life at Indian Creek?

Jim: I mean, the course has been busy. With, you know, with everything in Omaha and the rest of the state having to close, it's provided quite an influx of business, which has been great, as long as we've been able to maintain, you know, a safe environment. And that was the challenge, I think right off the bat was, how do we process people, you know, through the staging area, get them to the first tee, get them off the 18th green and get them back to their car and do that, you know, without endangering staff, or the customer, and that's fallen a lot on the clubhouse staff. So, life's been quite a bit different for them. The clubhouse has been closed, we take over-the-phone payments or online payments. People show up and there's communication over the phone, and they get their carts. Typically, they're taking individual carts, and they hit the golf course, food and beverage has been switched over to a similar process. You call in, you place your order, you pay over the phone, and then we will basically kind of curbside it outside the door. People swing by and grab it and go. So, it's been a little chaotic with 250 to 350 plus golfers coming through here, all paying over the phone. I think James Rolls, our Director of Golf mentioned that upwards of 400 plus phone calls a day that they were trying to process. So, it's been interesting and definitely a grind. But you know, the golfers have been extremely patient, everybody's just happy to be able to get out and do something, and do something in a safe environment. So, everybody's been really patient. And once they get out on the golf courses, you know, the social distancing thing is easy. And the golfers really seem to be adhering to the guidelines. You know, it's just when you've got everybody showing up heading to the first tee and leaving all from kind of the same point. That's where it gets a little bit tricky, but everybody's been pretty much in line. So, from an agronomic standpoint, our team, it's definitely different. We've got a lot of retirees on our crew, which based on all the guidelines from the CDC tend to fall into the more prone group of people. So, we kind of slowly brought people back, talked to everybody on an individual basis to evaluate their comfort levels. I'm finding more and more, that everybody's all along the spectrum in terms of how much they're concerned. And so, we've just handled it on an individual basis, kind of stayed bare bones for as long as we could. But over the last couple of weeks, we've ramped up and sort of bringing people in, we bring a few in, make sure we can operate at that number of people. And then we bring a couple more in, make sure we can operate at that number of people. And then, you know, finally, this week, we're about full staff. And it just changes how we operate through the through the building. We've got our seven or eight full time people who need to be in the shop. They've got shop access, the other seasonal guys, we try and limit their access to the shop. So, they park their car, we meet them outside in the parking lot. We've got their equipment staged. Most of the equipment is staged outside. What isn't staged outside is spaced out in the shop, they jump on their equipment, they go out to do their job, they come in, they park their equipment outside, and they leave. We bleach everything down, and then we put it away. So, it's been unique. There's no break room access, no shop access. So we're getting by. I don't know, the first lightning delay we run into or rain delay or, you know, situation like that's going to be interesting, when we have 20 guys piled into the shop at one time, but we'll manage that when the time comes, but yeah, we're, we're getting by, so I can't complain.

Will: It sounds like you guys are just completely on top of everything. So, you know, obviously, no matter what happens in the next couple of months, it's been a weird year, and what makes it just a little bit more complicated for you guys is that, you guys still are planning on putting on a pro tournament at the end of the summer. How does that kind of change your mindset as a superintendent and you know, how do you guys approach taking care of the course in April, knowing in the back of your mind that you gotta be ready for a tournament later on in the summer?

Jim: Yeah, I mean everything. The tournament is kind of always top of mind. You know, from the minute the last putt drops on last year's tournament, everything we do kind of is geared towards the next year's event. So even last July, August, September, October in the winter, and then coming out of winter in the spring, there's always things we're doing with that tournament in mind. We've got this balance out here, where we have daily fee golf that is obviously a top priority, our customers are top priority. So, we have to manage a golf course that’s playable for them, while also preparing a golf course that's ready to handle the conversion to a tournament course, kind of at the worst time of the season. So, now you do things like I mean, that kind of going back, it brings the COVID-19 situation into play too. So, we're using individual carts, a lot of people are choosing individual carts. So, you've seen a significant uptick in cart traffic and wear and tear, and our soil temperatures are still really low. I just took the soil temperatures today on a couple greens, and we're at like 58 degrees and so you've got turf, that is, not really vigorously growing. You've got 40, 50, 60% more cart traffic. So last week we decided we were going to start to rotate one of our nines. For a 27-hole facility, so one nine, each day is going to be cart path only, just to give that course a break. And a lot of that is with the tournament in mind and having good, healthy, dense rough is one of our biggest defenses out here. And so we have to manage, we're managing the health of the rough now in April, by limiting cart traffic. So that's just one specific example of something we're doing now. But you know, all of our agronomic decisions from now through the tournament all kind of have the tournament in mind.

Will: So you said you have daily fee golf that you guys focus on, at what point throughout the summer, are you guys able to kind of give all of your attention towards getting ready for the Pinnacle Bank Championship?

Jim: Typically, four to five weeks out. So, the tournament is shifted back two weeks this year. So, from a calendar standpoint we'll probably start that push, a little bit later than last year, but it's still gonna be relative to the start of the event. I would say, it gets a little bit trickier the later in July and earlier in August, you get the less responsive the golf course is. The turf, if it's hot and dry, everything's kind of slowing down and you know it, it enters a little bit of dormancy and so we can't just, you know, wake up Monday before the tournament and say, we're going to grow the rough out and we're going to firm the golf course up, we're gonna do this and do that. It takes weeks and weeks ahead of time to kind of transition the course so we'll start growing the rough four or five weeks out, try to start drying the place out and obviously if it rains, we can't control that, but what we can control we’ll start to tweak, probably, gosh, I would say end of June and they'll be minor, I don't even know, if the things we tweak at the end of June are noticeable to the customer. It's once we get into that first, second week of July, where we start to grow the rough out. That's obviously the most noticeable change that that our customers face.

Will: So, with that pushed back date a little bit, do you have any concern about being able to get the course ready? Are you still confident that you'll still be able to get it done? It just might be a little tougher?

Jim: Yeah, I'm confident we're going to be able to get it done. But certainly, you know, two weeks may not seem like a lot, but when you're talking about end of July, first part of August, that's just two more weeks, in the most stressful time of the year that we have to maintain tournament level conditions. So, it tends to be, if it's going to be a hot, dry summer, that's two more weeks of hot, dry conditions that we have to try and grow rough or keep the place you know, adequately watered without over watering it. So, you know, I'm confident we'll do it, we have a really good team and we'll respond adequately, but there's certainly some unknowns about it. You know, we've been pretty good for three years now and kind of in a comfort zone and knew what we needed to do. And we've had, it's been hot and dry. It's been cool and wet. We've dealt with everything, and we've been able to be pretty successful, regardless of the conditions we've dealt with, but two weeks makes a big difference. So, we'll see I, I suspect we'll be okay, but we're gonna find out.

Will: So, during that tournament, out of curiosity, what is that week like for you and your guys's staff and what does that look like, as compared to just a regular weekend in the summer or week in the summer?

Jim: It's significantly more hours. We're here at 4 a.m. and, I mean, gosh, we're here till 9, 10, 11 p.m. I mean, it's gotten, you know, year one was, was really a grind, we didn't know what to expect. So, we were kind of always on edge. We never really understood when we could take a deep breath and relax even it was for an hour here, there. So, year one was tough, year two and three we've gotten a little bit better. We obviously know how the tournament flows, we know what to expect and how the course has handled it. So there have been moments now where we do to kind of sit back and relax or take a nap in the shop or, you know, we kind of run shifts, the two guys will, you know, our seasonal crew comes in, they're roughly here from 4:30 to 8:30, 9 o'clock and then they come back in the evening again, like from 4:30 p.m. until around a nine o'clock, our full time guys, myself and our assistants and, and equipment managers, it's pretty much 4 a.m. until 9, 10 p.m. So, we'll run shifts, two guys will run home and shower, eat lunch or hang out for two hours, while a couple of guys stick around. And we'll rotate that through, some guys take naps in the office, we just kind of get through it. And that's, that's tournament week, the week before tournament week is pretty busy too, I mean advance week is when we get a lot of the course prep done. Once you get to tournament week the course is what it is, you just kind of maintain it. Advance week is where it really transitions from a daily fee facility to a tournament facility. So, advance week, the nights aren't probably as late, and the mornings aren't quite as early, but it's still, you know, 12 hour days for sure. So, it's a two-week grind, but it's a lot of fun. It's super rewarding. You don't really realize that you're worn down and tired. And to be honest, when it's over, you kind of wish it was still going on. You get ramped up and the adrenaline's running for two, three weeks, and then it just is over, and you're kind of sitting there wishing it was still happening. Even though it's absolutely unsustainable to do it for any longer than we do. You do miss it.

Will: Yeah, you said rewarding. How rewarding is it to see your course get the recognition it does from these tour pros and to have them tell you what a great course it is to play on this tournament?

Jim: It's a lot of fun. You know, we go back to the decision to renovate back in 2009 and renovation occurred in 2010, ‘11, and ‘12. We didn't set out to host any sort of event when we decided to renovate, and it was always in the back of my mind or our mind like, hey, if we're going to renovate, why don't we at least do some things to the facility that put us in a conversation and whether we ever decide to go down that road, we'll see. But it would be foolish to do all this work and not have something that was at least in that discussion. So, it's fun now looking back and gosh, it's been 10 years since the first year of the renovation and you can see what has happened. The course is significantly better, the layout's better, design's better, and now we have this tournament that kind of comes in and validates things. Not that we need a ton of validation, but you know, everybody enjoys to be validated and that's kind of, at this point right now, that's the highest level that we can we can achieve. Who knows what the future holds, but to have players that are playing PGA quality facilities, come in and put ours on pretty equal level as, as those ones it's absolutely rewarding.

Will: So, looking at this year, a little bit, you know, I think everybody has somehow forgotten in the craziness of this year. But you know, winter of 2018 into the spring of 2019 was just brutal. You know, there was flooding, there was lots of snow. All that took a toll on a lot of Nebraska courses. How rough was that for you guys coming out of that year? And How's this? How's it been a little different for you this year?

Jim: Well, we're very fortunate last year, to be relatively unaffected, not relatively almost completely unaffected by the floods. It's really unique in that we are probably, if you would walk out my shop door and walk a mile to the west, the entire place was underwater. The Elkhorn River’s there, and I mean the Elkhorn River seemed like it was 20 times wider than than the actual channel is, and it was just these massive swaths of land that were underwater. And we were completely protected. We're up on a hill and it was just a non-issue. So from just purely a golf course standpoint, we were in okay shape there. Pretty fortunate, really. The last few years we've had kind of these these weird springs where you get warm and then you cool down and you look back, I'm like man that was kind of a really kind of a cool, crappy spring. Even though you had these ebbs and flows where it was really warm. So we've been dealing with, for the last couple years, really low soil temperatures all the way into the growing season. And to be honest, we're finding that same situation now. We warmed up obviously and we had that weekend, I want to say it was two weeks ago now, when temperatures really fell out, we had all that snow. So the golf course goes from waking up and the turf is kind of coming back to life, and then it gets whacked by that really cold temperature stretch and it really set us back a lot. I was very surprised with how much that one week set us back, and it still lingers today. I've already mentioned it, but I went out to take soil temperatures on a couple greens and we're at 58 degrees, and 55 is kind of when you get to that threshold where stuff starts to wake up, so we're just lingering above the temperature, the absolute baseline temperature we need for the golf course to come alive. And we're seeing that we're out mowing greens and taking clipping volume collections and you know, we're getting really small numbers, two liters, three liters per green, which is not a lot for spring and not what you want to see as you're going into aerification. I'd like to see that volume, those volume numbers be quite a bit higher as we're ready to aerify next week. So, we need some warmer temperatures and the outlook shows, maybe below average temperatures here through the middle of the month. So, we're kind of in this, we're awake, the golf course is kind of doing its thing but we're not really there yet. I think the worst thing you can have is a really, really cold spring or a cool spring that transitions right into hot and dry. And we've had that a couple years recently and I just kind of hope we don't have that this year. I'd like to have some moderate temperatures and some decent soil temperatures that allow good root growth and the plant to really get ready and get strong before we enter summer.

Will: Is that that frustrating for you guys? You know, you guys do everything you can as a staff to have the course ready but sometimes it's just kind of up to the fate of the weather. Can that ever be frustrating when it's not going as fast as you would hope it would?

Jim: Absolutely. Mother Nature drives everything. Our job is to react, and to try and counter what Mother Nature throws at us. So, we see something, you know, we watch our forecast, and I tend to not look too far ahead. I know I just mentioned the forecast for you know, through the middle of May, but I typically look at trends. But I don't put a lot of stock in anything much more than a week out. But, you know, we try and do things to counter that. If we know we're going to be wet, or we know we're going to be dry, we start to plan ahead of time to be ready for those, those situations. But it's impossible, right? I mean, we all know that a forecast is liable to change within the hour or within the day. So, it gets frustrating when you see this and you're pretty certain you're going to experience this weather and you do all these things to prepare and then you face the opposite. That's challenging and frustrating, but that's just the way it is. You know, we are proactive and reactive all at the same time. But we've done it long enough, everyone has done it long enough. We still get frustrated, but we're getting better to understand what we can and can't control. So, you know, if things don't go exactly as planned because of something out of our control. We react to it and we do what we can, and then we move on. And, you know, it's easier said than done, but we're getting better at it.

Will: Yeah, going back to that a little, how often would you guys say you're able to be proactive and kind of get those plans ready? And how often do those pay off? And how often do you guys find yourselves having to react to a situation you didn't really expect to be in as far as weather?

Jim: Spring and Fall are a little bit more reactive because the weather patterns tend to be a little bit less predictable. When you get into July and August, odds are you're going to be hot and you're going to be dry. So, you know you get in that stretch and it's kind of a grind because it's hot and dry, but you also know it's hot and dry. I think the worst thing anybody can do on a golf course is water too much, and now you've got disease issues, you've got compaction issues, you've got soils that don't have proper oxygen ratios. And that can happen pretty quick in spring that can happen pretty quick in fall. Let's say we're not supposed to get any rain, we water pretty heavy, and then all of a sudden we get another half inch of rain, then we hit a wet period that just lingers. Well, there's nothing we can do about that. You can't react to that. You can shut your water off, but there's nothing you can do to really dry those soils out. So, spring and fall, that tends to happen far more often than July and August. So you know, spring and fall are reactive. July and August typically are proactive. We know we're going to be hot and we're know we're going to be dry, we put the adequate water down, hand-water greens and be really specific with the water. So it's a little bit easier to be proactive during that timeframe. I'll give you an example. It would have been tournament day four, so Sunday of last year's tournament, we really wanted to dry the place down, going from day three to day four. Or really dry it down more than we had maybe for day one and two, and we'd accomplished that. I came in early that morning. I knew if the sun was out and the wind was gonna blow, the golf course was going to be really, really, really good. Five hours later, we are squeegeeing greens and mowing around puddles. We had, I think, three quarters of an inch between maybe six o'clock and 11 o'clock. So you do all these things, you work hard, everybody makes the right decisions for 10-15 days in a row and just like that, it's kind of all it's all, you know, gone. But that's just kind of the way it is. You go from being really excited about having really great tournament conditions to just being happy that they got the 18-hole round in.

Will: So one last question for you. What's new at Indian Creek that people can see this year and what do you think is kind of the future of your club?

Jim: Well, we built a brand-new range tee. So anyone who's been out here, and experienced what we used to have. We had three little shelves, the back tee higher than the front tee. We came in, regraded that and created one big teeing surface. It's almost two acres and kind of sand capped it a little bit, so we integrated like four inches of sand into the top soil. So that drains a little bit better. We added new irrigation, added internal drainage. So that's not open yet, I'm hoping we can have that open Memorial Day or around that timeframe. So that'll be probably the biggest change for a paying customer. We did some other things around our shop, added a maintenance drive, a driveway to our indoor hitting bay, some of that stuff I mean, that's not going to be something that really is an experience for anybody on the golf course. But I mean, what's to come? I think everybody here is motivated to continue to get better. This year is going to be different, we'll see with everything, everything is going to be a little bit different. Projects we had planned for this year. Do we push those back? Do we wait? Right now, our August, September and October are slammed. Most of our early season events have pushed back into August, September, October. That is typically our project timeframe. So, just from a scheduling standpoint, it might be tough to get out there and make any major changes. Drainage is always on the top of the list. If we can get out on some fairways, and continue to add drains to fairways, that'll be a significant improvement. But as for big projects, we have a ton of ideas. I'm not going to get into what the specifics are, but we've got lists of really cool things that I could see us picking away at over the next 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 years. I just think the trajectory of the facility is really strong right now. And, Omaha continues to move West, so our demographic is getting closer to the facility. I think between our customers being here now, being close to property, and the motivation of our owners to be really good, and the team we have throughout the golf course. I think the next several years are going to be great.

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