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Course Crews Scramble during Dry Spell

Although the U.S. Drought Monitor didn’t declare a drought in Door County, the federal government doesn’t take into account how little water is retained by the soil at many of the county’s golf courses.

After a dry second half of May brought about nearly idyllic weather and conditions for golf during the Memorial Day weekend, the urgent need for rain quickly became apparent after the holiday and as drought-like conditions prevailed for nearly three weeks countywide.

A storm on Saturday, June 10, that delivered two-tenths of an inch or more of rain to Sturgeon Bay and Southern Door golf courses completely skipped their Northern Door counterparts. When a weather system three days later brought intermittent, soaking rains – but less than half an inch – to northern Door County, June 13 indeed proved lucky for area golf-course superintendents and operators.

For two stressful weeks, course managers had been watering more than usual, running up electric bills and making decisions about which portions of the course drained more quickly than others and needed more attention than others. 

At Peninsula State Park Golf Course, crews are paying particular attention to the newly rebuilt and reconfigured green for hole #1. Even after the June 13 rain, they can’t take a day off because the county, and especially Door County, are still way behind the 1.5-inch average for rains in June.

Putting greens need more rain than fairways, so golfers have adjusted to more roll on the fairways and relearned the value of run-up shots in early June. Rather than being appalled by not seeing lush, green fairways, some golfers have enjoyed adjusting to conditions or even pretending they’re playing a British Open course.

The greens – and to some extent the tees – are now and always have been the most important focal point at Maxwelton Braes Golf Course on the south side of Baileys Harbor, manager Jim Bresnahan said in response to questions from the Peninsula Pulse.

“Maxwelton Braes was designed to be similar to Scottish-style courses,” he said. “You may remember a few years ago, the British Open was played at Carnoustie, where Tiger Woods said the fairways were faster than the greens, and it was the first time I heard the term ‘blonde’ fairways used.

“During the course of this drought, our fairways have become somewhat blonde and feature the ‘Maxwelton Roll,’ as some have called it,” Bresnahan continued. “Some of our players have come in happily telling us they had the best round of their lives. Our greens are watered and are in great shape.”

As of June 8, the U.S. Drought Monitor still did not consider any part of Door County in a drought, but it declared counties immediately to the south to be “abnormally dry” and most of southern Wisconsin to be in a moderate drought. 

One day in early June, Idlewild head professional Brandon Hansen remarked that the course was drying so quickly that he could have his crews working, and the irrigation system on, for 24 hours and still be behind. On Facebook in early June, he thanked employees for their efforts and golfers for their patience during the dry spell.

After what farmers sometimes call a “million-dollar rain” on June 13 and the band of storms that passed through Sturgeon Bay three days before that, Hansen was relieved.

“It was very, very dry for a while and caused us to have to water morning and night, but after the rain on Saturday night and again all day Tuesday, we are greening up, and the course is in great shape,” he said. “We are still behind, but dry weather is always good for the customers and business.”

Did You Know?

As described in a previous column in this space, not all Door County golf outings are alike. In some, team captains stack their squads and try as hard as they can to go as low as they can. But during an outing in late June at Peninsula State Park Golf Course, team members will simply enjoy nine holes while learning how golfers 100 years ago (and wooden-club enthusiasts today) golfed and thought their way around a course while using hickory-shafted clubs.

Did you know, however, that a couple of popular outings have traditions that are completely their own? For example, each year, Gary Nault and fellow smallmouth-bass fishing experts take former Green Bay Packers out fishing during the week of the Boys and Girls Club’s celebrity tournament.

And at the Jim Sarkis Memorial Golf Classic, most of the day is for fun, but there’s a reason to get serious about golf shots at the end because three golfers are chosen to try for a chance to win $1 million for a hole-in-one. 

With golfers and spectators surrounding the 18th fairway, three players take a shot from 150 yards. The closest to the pin from there goes back 165 yards out and gets one swing to try for a million-dollar ace. The event takes place June 26; details appeared in the June 16 issue of the Peninsula Pulse.