Seven Lakes' Clawson Battles Endless Heat Wave
BY HOWARD WARD
Forgive Scott Clawson if he seems a little bleary-eyed these days. Don't hold it against the Seven Lakes Country Club course superintendent if the stubble on his face seems a little thicker than normal.
These are trying times for Clawson and all the other members of his profession in the Sandhills. Mother Nature is indeed testing some of her favorite sons.
Unrelenting heat approaching 100 degrees day after blistering day has taken its toll on courses all across the southeast this summer. Bentgrass greens that thrive in cool weather have been pushed to the brink and beyond. Many of those emerald green putting surfaces that spoiled golfers have come to expect in the Mecca of Golf are wilting and dying. Instead of a glistening green, they're an ugly brown.
Clawson is 42 years old and he's seen a lot of tough situations during his quarter of a century in the greenskeeping business. But this summer tops them all.
"I've been doing this for 26 years," he said during an interview at Seven Lakes last weekend as the annual Moore County Men's Amateur championship was being played on the Pete Tufts-designed layout, "but this is the worst summer I've ever been through.
"It's been very strange ... there's been so much rain, and a lot of people think, 'Boy, we're happy to be getting rain when it's so hot.' But it's not like that. When it starts getting into the June heat, the roots of bentgrass start dying and it's the middle of September before it starts going the other way.
"When you get as much rain as quickly as we get it from the thunderstorms, it just sits there on the greens and boils the roots."
Boiled roots create dead grass and brown greens that take weeks and months to regenerate. No matter how dedicated a course superintendent may be, he knows that he's always working with disaster sometimes only minutes away.
The greens at Seven Lakes were perfect for last weekend's championship. But Clawson still couldn't breathe easily. The heat was still suffocating and his job was not getting any easier.
"We've done more syringing (hand-watering the greens with a hose) this summer than we ever have," he said. "We've been making three or four rounds a day, just hitting the top of the blades to cool them down. You can't put so much water on them that it sits ... that's when you get trouble.
"The week that the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship was being held at CCNC, we had two days when the soil on our greens checked out at 103 degrees. It's almost impossible for them to survive that.
"I know it's frustrating for golfers, but when it's this hot, hand-watering is the only way to stay on top of it. It's like babysitting."
For Clawson, it's been a lot of babysitting over the past weeks. "I get here at 5:30 in the morning and usually leave at 5:30 in the evening," he said. And that includes weekends.
"It's been a lot of pressure," he admitted. "It's kind of like living with a bulls-eye on your back since June. You're just trying to hang on to what you've got."
Clawson points out that he would have worked just as diligently to save the greens even if the Moore Amateur wasn't scheduled at Seven Lakes.
"Golfers expect great greens in the Sandhills," he said, "so the work would have been the same. We're all (superintendents) doing everything we can to keep from losing them. Back in June, Ron Kelly of CCNC, Dave Fruchte of Pine Needles and I took a pickup load of plugs from our greens to Clemson just to get them analyzed."
Hyland Golf Club has switched its greens to Champion Bermuda grass, and Clawson is watching that experiment closely.
"That's very interesting," he said. "This past winter and this summer have proved that there's no perfect grass. The guys with Bermuda were sweating it out in April and May, and those of us with bent are sweating bullets in July and August. We always circle Sept. 15, because that's when we feel pretty good that cool weather is on the way."
Clawson's task was made even tougher when he lost a top assistant to Pinehurst Resort in June. "I haven't had time to look for a replacement," he said. "You don't get in a hurry when you're looking for an assistant superintendent."
Seven Lakes General Manger Mike Spayd understands the problems facing his superintendent and the course. He just hopes that golfers who enjoy the fruits of the labor understand it, too.
"We just have to remind everybody that this is a weather-related business," he said. "We had a tough winter and a hot summer behind it. Scott is the backbone of the whole operation. He's a general manager's dream. He does everything for the betterment of the club."
"It's been a tough summer for us, but it's been tough for the golfers, too," Clawson said. "You have to give them credit for going out when it's this hot. We've been very lucky here at Seven Lakes. We've had to do some cutting back, but not on the golf course.
"Our guys are taking a beating, but they're doing the best they can. You know it's going to be a bad day when you step outdoors at 5 a.m. and the heat hits you in the face."
Contact Howard Ward at (910) 867-6493 or (910) 690-2211 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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