On a foggy coastal morning in August, four ladies in caps and visors putt on the ninth hole at the Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links. But the greens are bumpy, and the women seem irritated.
An exclamatory sign on the golf shop door pre-empts their complaints: “Notice!! The front 9 greens are Recovering from a Fertilizer Burn. The putting surfaces are very uneven! The greens should be close to recovered by the end of August!”
Actually, it’s a fungicide burn. A routine application in May killed the grass on the front nine holes.
Field Supervisor Robert Hernandez says he has no idea how it happened. The course’s licensed applicator treated the back nine with Banner Maxx fungicide, spraying it from a 200-gallon tank mounted on a riding sprayer, Hernandez says. Then he refilled the tank and treated the front nine with the same chemical. But only the front turned yellow, then brown.
“We’ve been taking a beating from the golfers,” Hernandez says. “When we realized what the problem was, it was too late.”
The flummoxed staff speculated what could have gone wrong. Maybe the chemical had gone bad or was mislabeled. Maybe it wasn’t applied properly. Or it could have been something more sinister.
“There’s talk of sabotage,” Hernandez says, “but I don’t know.”
In January, then-golf superintendent Mike Leach was laid off in the citywide reorganization. The course had lost an additional 1.5 positions in the previous year, and Leach’s departure left seven overstretched employees.
City Manager Jim Colangelo says golf course staff didn’t initially notify him about the burnout. Instead he heard complaints from course users, and staff later confirmed the damage. The city is now recruiting for the position of golf course superintendent.
Meanwhile, golf staff work to reverse the damage. They switched to different fungicides and began sealing containers so tampering would be evident. They overseeded the burnt greens and spiked the turf to aerate the roots.
But as the grass regenerates, it creates a bumpy surface that draws more complaints from golfers. Staff are working to even out the bumps by leveling them with sand.
Hernandez seems proud of the recovering greens, even if they are still bumpy and pocked with burns. He surveys the front nine with his stocky arms crossed over his suspender straps, giving a cursory nod of satisfaction. “They’re healing.”