Fairways greens are a cut above the rest of courses in the area
Grass used by the West Plains course helps minimalize damage
The Fairways Golf Course takes a lot of grief for the wind that is as constant as are the divots its golfers carve.
But the wind and the West Plains are pretty synonymous in these parts.
However, one thing that the golf course on Melville Road can take pride over this year are greens that appear to be head and shoulders above those at many other courses in the region.
Both Spokane city and county courses, plus a number of private ones all suffered significant damage from a crazy winter that saw repeated bouts of snow and bitter cold wreak havoc that is still very much visible nearly four months into the season.
But not at the Fairways and for very good reason, the course's PGA Pro and general manager, Kris Kallem said. "It's sad what's happened to the other courses," he said.
The greens at courses like Downriver Indian Canyon and Sun Dance have a grass called poa annua.
"Poa is an evasive species of grass that pops seed heads at a very low height," Kallem said. "It is not very drought resistant or cold resistant," he added.
Because it is a relatively new course at 27-years-old, the Fairways is still about 75 percent bent grass, which is designed to be able to handle those varying conditions.
This past winter featured an early snow in November and then bitter single digit temperatures in December. That was followed by bouts of more snow and cold.
"So if your course is 100 percent poa, you're in trouble," Kallem said. Greens at the courses in question are spotty, bumpy and problematic to get putters - both the club and the human - working properly. A putt that has been seemingly perfectly researched can stutter to a stop short of the cup.
Kallem said that no one, even his course, escaped fully unphased from the winter but Fairways has just minimal damage.
If one comes out and plays the Fairways now, a few of the north-facing greens might have some damage. "The micro-climate for them is a little different so there will be some areas where the poa has died and there will be pock marks in the greens," Kallem explained.
It's not just the predominant bent grass, but also how the course cares for it, Kallem said. "From a maintenance standpoint we do some things that are different."
"For one we aggressively verticut our greens twice a week," Kallem said. He described the verticut method as being similar to the old razor commercials that talked about one blade lifting the whiskers and the second doing the cutting.
The process thins the greens and removes thatch at the same time. That is followed by a regular mower that cuts down the grass.
"We've been doing that for three years," Kallem said. "We also top-dress every other week which helps with the overall speed and health of the greens." Top dressing is the process of putting a very fine layer of sand on the greens.
Every course does both of those things but not as frequently as the Fairways does, Kallem said. That makes for both a healthier and faster green, he said.
"We also cut our greens at a fairly low height," Kellem said. "We're fairly blessed with good greens from the start." Even in the winter, Kallem said the Fairways have never used temporary greens.
In winters where there is little snow the greens at the Fairways hold up well despite getting plenty of use, Kallem said. "They're hearty I guess is the word I am looking for."
The course never covers greens with either hay or tarps, he explained.
"That's kind of a controversial subject," Kallem said. "Some courses firmly believe in covering (greens) but they run the risk of creating a microenvironment where microbes, fungus and all that type of stuff can grow."
There are efforts ongoing in laboratories to develop a herbicide that will not affect bent grass but kill poa, Kallem said.
Poa can work for golf courses, Kallem explained, using one of the world's most notable courses, Pebble Beach, which is 100 percent poa.
In Moses Lake where it's about 10 degrees warmer, those greens are fine, and are 100 percent poa. "Spokane Country Club, their greens are 100 percent poa but they don't seem to have the issues, Kallem explained. "But again, they have the budget to fight that."
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.