The greens have greened earlier and golfers are hitting it hard.
A mild winter and unseasonably warm spring have sent vegetation skyward and people outside to enjoy the weather. Golf courses and landscaping companies are feeling the uptick.
“Rounds are up, income’s up, memberships are growing faster than normal. We’re already getting requests for the swimming pool,” Roy Hobbs, head golf professional and general manager for Springdale Country Club, said of the warmer-than-normal weather. “I don’t know of any negatives.”
While 2011’s wet, cold, often snowy spring kept grasses dormant and people huddled up inside, 2012 is a whole different story.
“We generally don’t get real cold (in Northwest Arkansas),” said Andy Mar, golf operations manager for the Bella Vista Property Owners Association.
The exceptional winters of the last three years – including an ice storm and 2 feet of snow – had led to decreased play time on area courses.
“This year, we sort of went straight from fall to spring,” he said.
Rounds of golf in Bella Vista for the first quarter of this year are up 62% from the previous year’s first quarter, Mar said, from 22,000 rounds played January through March 2011 to 35,681 in the first three months of this year. More rounds usually means higher retail sales in the pro shop.
“Last year was actually pretty good given the weather, but this year is better,” Mar said.
Sales increased 22.5% for the first three months, from $60,000 in the first quarter of 2011 to $73,500 this year, according to Mar. People are buying lots of necessities – balls, gloves, hats – as well as apparel, he said.
Casey Crittenden, golf course maintenance manager for the Bella Vista POA, said the increased play brings welcomed work.
“It brings on another challenge in maintenance of the course from all the traffic. Nothing we can’t manage our way through. We’re thankful for the increased play.”
Bella Vista POA has six 18-hole courses and two nine-hole courses.
“We’re in great condition,” Crittenden said.
Bermuda grass is out of dormancy three weeks earlier than usual, he said, and the greens are greening ahead of schedule. While abnormally cold, harsh weather of recent winters and springs delayed growth and golfers’ play time, Crittenden said last summer’s very hot, dry weather caused several trees to die that will have to be removed.
Scott Murphy, golf professional at Paradise Valley Athletic Club in Fayetteville, said the mild winter allowed people to play year-round – a sharp contrast to last year when snow lay on the ground for weeks at a time.
“Our golf course is in June shape and it’s early April,” Murphy said. “Business is great and sales are way up.”
Murphy said rounds of golf are up 50% from March and April of last year. Sales are up 50% or more in the pro shop, he said.
Business usually picks up in late April or early May, he said. Murphy said he expects higher-than-usual numbers throughout the summer.
“Everybody’s got the (golf) bug. It should be a homerun from where we’ve been,” Murphy said. “We’re excited about it.”
Paul DeBoer, golf course superintendent for Paradise Valley, was aerating the greens this week, giving the young blades room to breathe by loosening the soil and creating pockets for oxygen to penetrate the soil.
“Through the year, the soil gets compacted,” he said.
His grounds crew also began mowing grass in mid-March, something that usually doesn’t begin until mid-April.
“Everything is accelerated,” DeBoer said, due to the unusual temperatures. Trees and grasses are all growing well ahead of schedule.
An early spring has increased the maintenance schedule, as well.
“We had to get on top of pre-emergent herbicides,” DeBoer said. Herbicides have to get watered in before seeds for crabgrass, goose grass and other weeds germinate, he said. That was done in mid-February.
“Night and day” is how William Kimbrough describes the difference between the springs of 2011 and 2012. Kimbrough owns Second Nature Landscapes Inc. of Fayetteville.
“Business is very healthy this year. We’ve been awfully busy,” Kimbrough said. “It’s a bit of a challenge to keep up with all the phone calls we’ve gotten because of the warm weather. We’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
Kimbrough said the temperature change means grasses and weeds are behaving as if it’s May.
“Our weekly mowing started three weeks ago,” he said.
Kimbrough said customers also are already calling for irrigation systems to be hooked up. That’s three to four weeks earlier than normal, he said.
The weather also has affected the new-home construction landscaping the company does. He said the hotter-drier weather means irrigation systems have to be finished before plants and seeds can be installed or plants might not survive.
Business is up 15% over last spring, Kimbrough said. And while some days keep him and his crew working through lunch, that’s a “fortunate thing compared to the last two and three years,” he said.
Northwest Arkansas business also is up about 15% for Com-Scape Inc., something the proprietor calls a double-edged sword.
Kelly D. Pope, owner of Pope Lawn Care and Landscaping of Jonesboro, said his subsidiary, Com-Scape Inc., located in Springdale, is 30 to 45 days ahead of its regular maintenance and work schedule.
“Normally, we’re not even mowing weekly yet,” he said.