Stow Acres Turf

Golf Course Maintenance News & Live Updates from @stowacresturf

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Inspector Gadget…

I was born in 1984 and it wasn’t until the late 80s early 90s that I really became interested in cartoons.  Inspector Gadget was a favorite of mine and my brother.  That guy really did have everything he needed at his fingertips.  His life, or detective life, was made so simple because of a handful of creative gadgets.  Looking back, it almost seems like the creators had a crystal ball looking into 2011.  Now, it seems like everyday, engineers and creators all over the world are coming out with the next best gadget.  I would like to quickly share with you three gadgets that have made my turf life much simpler.

The iPad:

This device is one of the most essential tools for the Golf Course Superintendent.  I know I don’t need to elaborate on reasons for most of you, but it has helped me tremendously since I got one for my birthday back in January.  The app store allows for so much to be accomplished on one little tablet.  Scheduling, weather forecasting, application recording, idea collaboration, and even irrigation running and programming are all done from the iPad.  The best app for me has been LogMeIn Ignition.  This allows me to connect to my Rainbird Irrigation Central and run any head in the field.  It also allows me to program, add stations, delete stations, change stations and run times from anywhere I have WiFi or 3G capability.  It has easily increased my personal efficiency by at least 50%.  Other essential apps have been Evernote, WritePad, Calendars, Intellicast HD, and Dropbox.  If you are familiar with the iPad, download them and take a look.  I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

ZaggMate Case/keyboard:

There is really not a whole lot that needs to be said about this awesome accessory for the iPad except, buy it!   It is crafted with military grade aluminum, ensuring extra protection.

It has a hard bluetooth qwerty keyboard built-in, allowing for quick typing and comfort.  Check it out here:

Cinemin Swivel:

Have those troubling board meetings to attend each week or month?  Still unsure about how to get your points across without holding an on-course field trip with your entire membership or ownership?  This little gadget is perfect.  This is actually a pocket projector from Wowwee.  It is the size of an iPhone and comes with a little carrying case and adapters for a PC, laptop, or iPad/iPhone.  Its ideal partner is the iPad, but that’s only for extra convenience.  I just got this device for Father’s day, and I haven’t had a real chance to use it to its fullest capability.  I know its going to be perfect for meetings, intern education sessions, college lectures, and even movies in the shop (during snow storms of course).  Check it out here:

Thanks for checking out this post!  Hopefully these gadgets will help you just as much as they have helped me.  Email me at with any questions.

-Jason VanBuskirk, Superintendent


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Golf Course Trades Magazine Cover Article!

Thanks to the people over at Golf Course Trades Magazine, and especially Ken Rowland, I have my first national cover article!  Check it out!

The snow had just cleared a few weeks prior and the 2008 golf season in Stow, Mass., was getting ready to begin. I had just been named the new superintendent of Stow Acres Country at the age of 24, and the excitement still really hadn’t set in yet, but many challenges definitely did. Managing this huge 36-hole property was not going to be easy, especially since it was my first superintendent’s job. The overwhelming fears of budget, personnel management, resource management, in-house projects, and hiring a team stopped being future fears as an assistant and quickly became real. I already had a plan, but I needed to put it into place fast. Before I explain my challenges over the last three years, let me explain a little about my background.

I graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor’s degree in Turfgrass Management in 2006. In November 2005, I was hired as an assistant at Oakley Country Club located in Watertown, Mass. My stay there was short, and after only 14 months, I left and went to Scotts LawnCare in Southborough, Mass. Working at Scotts LawnCare taught me a lot about customer service and account management. I also helped train new employees to complete pesticide certification. After working with Scotts for 5 months, I was contacted by Erick Koskinen, then superintendent at Stow Acres Country Club. He was interested in having me come to work as the assistant superintendent on the South Course. I immediately agreed, and my future at Stow Acres Country Club started in the spring season of 2007.

Working as the assistant of the South Course, I learned a lot very quickly. A skill set that was still developing now needed to include many things that most assistants take care of, such as irrigation trouble shooting, main line breaks, minor budgeting practices, and personnel management. Even though these skills are a constant work in progress, I had a pretty good handle on them by the end of the summer.
In December of 2007, our superintendent told us he was moving on to another company. I thought about applying for his job at first, but didn’t feel right applying for the job against many other veterans in the industry. After much talk with my father, he convinced me to put my resume together and apply. After a grueling four interviews and two months later, I got the job! I couldn’t believe it! I was actually the superintendent of Stow Acres Country Club. I was now in charge of a grounds crew that I once worked on when I was 17.

Year one was definitely interesting. Budgeting resources and managing personnel were the two biggest challenges. Having full support from the owner, Walter Lankau, made adjusting much easier, and it gave me a lot more confidence to do my job. I knew how to maintain turf, but it was his full support that allowed me to teach myself resource budgeting and personnel management. In year one, we had some crazy events that occurred. We had to replace one of the main irrigation pumps in the middle of June due to engine failure. It was stressful, but we weren’t down for more than a week and kept turf alive with spray rigs. On July 1, 2008, a micro-burst touched down on the North Course, taking down almost 40 trees and leaving a mess that would rival any spring cleanup in the history of the course. We took immediate action working around the clock trying to restore playing conditions to normal as quickly as possible. It was this event that brought our young management team together. We relied on each other and demanded a lot, but overcame the obstacle. I knew I had a good team in place after only being in charge for four months.

Year two was a growing year for myself and the crew. I took the winter to really implement programs that would help improve productivity and efficiency. I evaluated the structure of the budget and how projections were made. I estimated the yearly costs that were within control and I even reformatted crew policies and mowing schedules. We renovated the upstairs of the shop for my office, two assistant’s offices, a small meeting room, and a large break room. I thought by making these changes, it would help bring new life into the guys that had been here and a fresh atmosphere for the guys that were to come. The year 2009 was an average season with no major setbacks, and in the fall we tested our in-house project skills. We graded three new tee boxes, and reconstructed a greens surround on the seventh hole of the North Course. And, as always, we removed a handful of trees.

Year three has been an exciting year as we prepared for a number of significant tournaments. In May, we were one of six sites to host the Massachusetts Open Qualifier. In July, we were one of nine sites across the country to host the PGA Junior Series. The tournament was a three-day, 54-hole event and featured some of the best juniors in the country. This was the first big event that our team had to prepare for. It was a great test and a lot of fun. In October, we hosted the 2010 ECAC Division III Men’s Championship. This was a two-day event that once again challenged our maintenance staff after a very long summer. We ended the season pretty successfully surviving what some are calling, “The Summer From Hell.” We had a number of in-house projects that we took on this fall. One included a major renovation of the golf school facilities. This renovation included the construction of some new tees, new irrigation, and a more versatile area for teaching short range approach shots. The best part about year three has been the birth of my daughter. My wife and I have welcomed a very precious person into the world. As we face the challenges that a new baby brings, this has also been a challenge for our management team. They handled it flawlessly. Year three has definitely proven to be a maturation year for my upper management team. My assistants, Harris Schnare and Kevin Bracken, have grown with me and are very capable of running our staff and the golf course. My equipment manager, Justin Parker, has also grown with me and is easily one of the best mechanics in the business. Together, our team is very confident in handling the everyday maintenance or even the once-in-a-lifetime catastrophes that present us on the golf course. It was their support this year that helped manage our grounds staff exceptionally.

Personnel management was definitely the biggest struggle first starting out, but after a few seasons now as the superintendent, I have a very good system in place. One piece of that system has helped us watch labor hours very carefully down to the week. Using a system that I learned at the 2010 GIS, from superintendent Darrin Batisky, called labor tracking, helped our maintenance team easily manage hours and overtime on a weekly basis. We modified it to our needs, but kept the concept the same for tracking individual hours and individual tasks. Each staff member had a mailbox and at the beginning of each week he received a blank task sheet. At the end of the day he filled out the task sheet. Every Monday morning, the sheets were collected and the data entered into the master sheet. It definitely helped keep track of our labor dollars in a year that could have sent us very far over the labor budget. If certain areas needed extra attention, it was understood what it would do to the budget, and a very informed decision could be made. This was particularly helpful for those monthly meetings that discussed where our labor investment was going. Once the data was collected for the entire year, we could easily break it down into parts of the season, or just analyze it for the entire year. I was also able to use this data to have an estimation for current labor hours for each guy on the hourly staff. With this chart, I could project what hours would be for the remainder of the year, and easily pull up a year-end total. This system proved to be very useful and important as we entered the fall season this year. We were able to accurately lay guys off for the season or keep guys on based on actual numbers. It was so accurate, that our variance in payroll from the 2010 season to the 2009 season was 0.01 percent. Some of this may have been luck, but I can attribute most of it to the hard work my management team put in this year.

My professional growth in the turf industry has certainly been on the fast track. My original goal was to become a superintendent before I was 30. Now, my goal is to become certified before I am 30. I feel the preparation would help me become a much more rounded superintendent, and in the process the golf course would benefit greatly. I take each day at the golf course very seriously as I am always trying to make one part just a little better. I am excited to begin the 2011 season as a Class A superintendent. I am equally as excited to face the new challenges that are ahead. Thanks for taking the time to read a little about Stow Acres Country Club! If you have any questions regarding programs that we have in place, feel free to contact me at Also, make sure to check out our blog at

-Jason VanBuskirk, Superintendent

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It has finally become routine…

It is finally that time of year again where maintenance is becoming routine.  We have reached a point in our maintenance schedule that has allowed us to get caught up with many areas on the two courses.  While you will definitely see some projects that are ongoing; both courses have reached a maintenance level.  This is all thanks to the extreme effort that our staff has put in over the last two months!

Over the next few weeks as the temperatures become consistently warm, you will notice staff members syringing the greens with hoses.  Yes, we do have sprinklers and yes, we do water at night.  These hoses allow us to carefully monitor the moisture level and surface temperature level.  We are not actually watering the greens, but simply cooling the surface atmosphere right above the plant.  This practice, although labor intensive, ensures firmer, faster greens and less disease pressure.  Please watch this short USGA video on hose watering:

While playing the North Course, you will also notice the construction of a new tee box on hole 7.  This project began with us identifying a cluster of trees that needed to be removed for better air circulation.  This project is under construction and should be completed by sometime next week.

We also plan to start extensive work on the sand traps.  This will begin with filling in some misplaced bunkers and modifying some existing ones to become more playable.  As always, thanks for your continued support!  See you on the course!

-Jason VanBuskirk, Superintendent

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Mix Tank, Part II

After using the mix tank for a couple weeks, we added a few new features to make it more usable.  To facilitate faster filling, we plumbed the irrigation water from the South Course directly into the tank.  Filling the entire 275 gallon tank with the irrigation line takes under 5 minutes.  To help screen out any of the debris that makes it through the irrigation lines, we installed a fine mesh strainer screen.  There’s also a quick disconnect in line, in case we ever have to move the tank for some reason.  In the event that the irrigation is not pressurized, a 3/4″ female hose thread swivel connector was installed to allow the hose from the well water to be hooked up to the fill line.

For ease of rinsing containers and the mix tank itself, we also installed a 6′ hose with quick connect and a nozzle to the fill line.  Valves allow one or both to be operated at the same time.

-Justin Parker, Equipment Manager

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Spring Fertilization on our Electronically Controlled Spreader

The weather this week has provided an excellent opportunity to complete our tee and fairway granular fertlization.  Fairways are being fertlized today and tomorrow, with tees having been completed on Monday.

Given the large area of treatable turf we have here at Stow Acres, this process is completed using a PTO spreader mounted on our New Holland TC33D turf tractor.  As always, we do things a bit differently here at Stow.  Rather than use a pulley and rope, or lever setup to open the hopper and start spreading the fertlizer, we’re using a 12V linear actuator and controller to operate the gate.  This allows us to control the rate exactly and make minute adjustments as the fertilizer is applied.  It also ensures that the gate is opened at the exact same speed each time, providing a controlled gradiant of applied product at the beginning and end of each pass.  The controller allows for three different positions: Position 1 is for the gate closed, and Positions 2 and 3 are reserved for two different application rates.

Keep an eye on the tees and fairways in the next week, they’ll be greening up in no time!

-Justin Parker, Equipment Manager

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Sprayer Pre-Mix Tank

One of the most important cultural practices here at Stow Acres Country Club is spraying our greens, tees and fairways.  On average, we spray twice each week.  We have two dedicated sprayers, one 175 gallon Spraytek DS175 for greens and tees, and a 300 gallon Toro Multipro 5700 for fairways.  Given the volume of the tanks, and the precision with which the sprays are mixed, it can take upwards of an hour to fully load the sprayer.  Each spray is typically 2-3 loads, which requires 2-3 hours or more of mixing and loading the spray.  This season, we decided to change the process up a little.

We built a Pre-Mix Tank to facilitate mixing the spray while the spray technician is in the field treating the turf.  The first step in the process was selecting a tank.  We used a 275 gallon bulk fertilizer tank.  275 gallons of water, at 8.35 lbs per gallon, weighs 2300 lbs.  With this in mind, we built a pressure treated stand of the same design as a hot tub deck.  The stand also includes an area to stand on while loading the mix.

The tank was then modified to fit our design.  We cut in a bulkhead with straining screen.  The mix tank is powered by a 3/4 hp sump pump that drives a sprayer fill valve, in line strainer screen with bypass, and agitation nozzles to keep the products adequately mixed prior to loading.  The tank is filled from our 120 psi South Course irrigation.  An inline strainer screen filters the water before entering the tank.  A custom aluminum fill hose frame was built and hinged to the tank.  To facilitate the arm swinging without binding the fill hoses, we installed swing joints at both pivot points (upper and lower fill hoses).   A platform was mounted to the tank cage with a cutout for the calibrated mixing cup.

Once we started using the mix tank, the time spent by the spray technician at the shop between loads has decreased from an hour or more, to only 5 minutes.

For more information on the mix tank, feel free to comment on this post, or contact me at

-Justin Parker, Equipment Manager