Smart Fertilization Program Saves Labor
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Smart Fertilization Program Saves Labor

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Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Maryland has a reputation to maintain. A favorite of the Baltimore- Washington set, Bulle Rock is widely recognized as the state’s top public course and claims to be the only five-star public golf facility in the Mid- Atlantic. Designed by Pete Dye, the course, which opened in 1998, spans 250 acres, including 44 acres of bentgrass.

Superintendent Denny Leischner took over the top spot at the course in March from Bill Lewis, who was named superintendent at Shaker Heights Country Club near Cleveland, Ohio. Leischner and Lewis, both Ohio State University graduates, worked together at Bulle Rock for 22 years.

Lewis describes Bulle Rock as a “country-club-per-day model” where “every golfer is considered a member. Leischner says the course’s success comes from its “innovative programs.”

Bulle Rock relies on repeat business, and at $130 per round, the only way a golfer will return is if the course offers a premium golfing experience. Smooth bentgrass greens roll at 10.5 to 11 feet. Tees and fairways are bent, too. Kentucky bluegrass roughs are kept playable at 2 or 2.5 inches. That makes Bulle Rock a regular in the Top 100 rankings in every major golf publication.

Still, Lewis and Leischner have not been working with an unlimited budget to achieve that quality. In fact, budgets are down 35 percent since 2003. And, while the course had 28 or 30 on staff in the past, today, the team is down to a lean 16.

“We have a budget crunch like everyone else,” Lewis says. “We need to save money.”

The Program

Bulle Rock uses Koch Turf & Ornamental’s NUTRALENE® slow-release fertilizer on the greens and POLYON® controlled-release fertilizer on fairways and roughs.

POLYON is a controlled-release fertilizer known for its trademarked green color. The key to its performance is the Reactive Layers Coating technology which meters out nutrients via diffusion, regulated by soil temperature and coating thickness. NUTRALENE is a methylene urea (MU) source designed for release over a period of 12-16 weeks. The idea is to provide consistent, long-lasting nutrients with minimal maintenance required by the course. Long term, it boosts root growth.

Lewis and Leischner fertilize the entire course each spring with a granular formulation and supplements with liquid treatments as needed.

“For the year, on greens, I target 1.5- to two-pounds of nitrogen per year,” Lewis explains. “Last year, fairways got just one pound of nitrogen, but that was an anomaly. It was an easy, mild year, and we were able to keep our color.”

Tees also see about one pound of nitrogen per year, consistently delivered by the slow or controlled-release granules and supplemented with liquid if needed. Leischner says he’ll be using the same approach. “Everything Bill outlined, we’re sticking with — it’s a proven track record.”

Results That Speak for Themselves

Since implementing the POLYON/NUTRALENE fertilizer program, Bulle Rock’s turf has experienced less flush growth and requires less frequent mowing. That helps save money on maintenance and stay within budgetary constraints.

“We now mow roughs once a week versus two or three times when we were dealing with flush growth,” Lewis says. “We mow fairways twice a week. It helps save on labor.”

In the past, the Bulle Rock team could be found walking the course every week with spinner spreaders to treat the weak areas where trees and turf compete.

The slow-release/controlled-release fertilizers have worked so well that Lewis and Leischner finished 2017 with extra fertilizer that they did not use. Instead, that fertilizer will be applied this spring, keeping the course green – and ahead of budget. That’s something that Bulle Rock’s owners and the course’s patrons can all appreciate.

“The players see better conditions. We mow less, have fewer bare spots and have fewer tire tracks,” Leischner says. “We’ve gotten an excellent return on our fertilizer investment.”