Penn State Grad Prepares for U.S. Senior Open

July 16, 2014 in Alumni, Articles

c2270373-d911-4a49-abab-f8db6f1fafcbDespite temperatures topping 100 degrees earlier this week, and similar figures expected this weekend, Josh Cook, the golf course superintendent at Oak Tree National, is pleased with the course’s condition for the championship.

“If you had asked me a year ago, we would have taken this,” said Cook, who became the superintendent here in January 2012. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a manageable challenge. We could be a lot hotter and more severe in July.”

Cook’s maintenance regimen leading into this week has helped Oak Tree National’s greens retain the firmness that the USGA prefers for its championships.

“We topdressed our greens last week, which might be considered unusually close to the championship,” said Cook. “But it was part of a very aggressive program we established to achieve firmness with good moisture. The topdressing allows the greens to play a bit firmer and roll a little bit truer. I think if we hadn’t done it, we might have wished before the week was over that we had more [topdressing] sand down there.”

Cook believes that the approach he and Brian Whitlark, USGA agronomist for the Southwest Region, are taking is not only beneficial for this week’s U.S. Senior Open, but for the long-term health of the putting surfaces.

“If we could keep the greens sopping wet and still challenge these guys, well, sign me up,” said Cook with a laugh. “We know that’s not realistic, just as saying I’m gonna go ahead and dry them out tons is not a good approach, either. You can only use water to manipulate firmness to a degree. It’s a balancing act, where you’re walking the line of maximization of performance and maximization of health.”

Cook, who apprenticed with David Stone at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., for six years before coming to Oak Tree National, has stepped up his expertise in green mower setup, which he thinks will help his putting surfaces in the long term.

“When you are able to mow more efficiently and not stress the plant, your greens are going to develop deeper roots,” said Cook. “When you’re deeper-rooted, the greens have more access to water, so you can reduce the amount of water you have to put down. Less water means that you’re less susceptible to disease, with the result that you will require fewer [chemical] inputs. So you can protect the plant while still challenging the players. It’s completely holistic – at the end of the day, we’re lessening our environmental impact.”

Cook’s quest for improved mower setup includes the use of a prism gauge, an innovative tool that allows him to study the putting surface magnified at ground level and make adjustments not discernible to the naked eye.

“The gauge’s value is twofold: it’s really useful for evaluating the quality of the mower cut, and it also allows you to measure the effective height of cut,” said Cook, who earned his graduate degree in turfgrass management at Penn State.

Read more here…