For a group of turf and grass science majors from Purdue, some hands on experience at Windy Hill Country Club is providing both.
Dr. Aaron Patton spent the last several weeks bringing groups from his capstone course in turf and grass science to the club. The idea is to give them an idea of exactly what it's like to be in a position like a greens keeper.
"If they were in (Windy Hill greens keeper) Travis Daniel's shoes, what would they do?" Patton said.
A project of this nature is on the agenda each year for Patton's class of seniors. He selects a course within an hour's drive of West Lafayette and then lets them get some field experience.
The project has three parts. The students first collect any pertinent data they can about the course, including information about the soil, grass and pests.
With this data, the students individually come up with their own course management plan.
The third part of the project is for small groups of students to work together on some sort of capital improvement project. Groups might work on improving the driving range, cart paths or upgrading equipment.
Each of the groups' studies what is already in place at the course and analyzes what improvements might best suit the course's needs. From here, each group puts together a presentation the three cost range scenarios and presents it to the greens committee.
"It's a good experience for the students," Patton said. "They get the chance to interact with the board and membership like the would as a course manager."
But the benefit isn't merely to the students. With what Windy Hill learns from the class and its presentations, the club's leaders can develop a care plan for the course without the cost of outside consultants.
"It's part of my job to go out and help golf courses and athletic fields around the state," Patton said.
The professor was instrumental in making a recent change at the course that will have a long lasting impact on the health of its fairway grass.
Up until Labor Day, the course's fairways were composed of Kentucky bluegrass. While the grass has met the course's need, it has left the fairways susceptible to the disease pythium blight.
The disease is especially problematic during hot and humid weather, which the area experienced in the early part of the summer. Microorganisms attack the grass and can spread quickly, devastating an entire fairway in days.
With the help of Dr. Patton, Windy Hill board member Keith Gossard was able to convince the board and members of the need to switch to bent grass fairways.
"Most nicer courses do the bent," Gossard said. "It may cost more than the blue or rye, but it's easier to maintain."
The key with bent grass is not that it is immune to pythium. Instead, it is much better at spreading, so it can fill damaged areas back in faster.
"(Dr. Patton) was adamant about this being the only answer for us," Gossard said.
With Patton's help, the members got on board.
"We were very lucky. The majority of our membership jumped in and contributed to this project," Gossard said.
And some project it has been. The first step was to kill the old fairway grass. This was done on Labor Day, with sprayers applying Roundup to all fairways.
The fairways were then aerified and re-seeded with the bent grass.
The course re-opened the following Saturday, golfers had to play from the rough for several weeks. While this isn't exactly convenient, it beat closing the course for a month.
"We do what we can to be member friendly," club president Amy Wells said. "We don't want to shut it down and take it from our members."
The real goal is a better course. The board and members hope the help from Dr. Patton and his students are helping them achieve the goal.
"These bent fairways make us unique in the area," Gossard said. "With the economic times, not many people are going the direction we are to improve the product."