As the summer months begin to roll in and the Phoenix Valley begins to mirror the sun, one of the industries hardest hit by the seasonal change is golf.
Business begins to slow as courses lose a large part of their customer base when “snowbirds” fly back to cooler climates. Around this time, the courses also begin the sultry struggle to maintain their grounds in the harsh desert environment.
The Duke is no different than any golf course in the Valley. This past year, however, has come with quite a lot of change.
Bryon Gribbons, the new general manager at The Duke, moved over from one of its sister courses, Club West, seven months ago and has since begun the laborious task of improving a course fallen into minor disrepair in recent years.
“It’s an uphill battle,” Gribbons said. “There’s a lot of areas that were neglected for many years that we’re trying to catch up on.”
The difficult summer
To get caught up with improvements, Gribbons hired a new course superintendent in March, Mike deCrescenza, who has more than 15 years of experience in turf management and golf course maintenance in the Valley.
Aside from clearing overgrown brush and trees, deCrescenza said, preparing for summertime is one of the most difficult aspects to his job.
“It’s always a challenge when you get into the warmer months, in terms of transition,” deCrescenza said.
To deal with the seasonal changes, he said, two types of grass are planted side by side. Bermuda grass is used in the warmer months and is then “overseeded” in the cooler months by a rye grass.
Of course, he said, they use a little bit more water during the warmer months but it’s not as much as many people think.
The unique water hazard
Though desert golf courses absolutely depend on the resource, an abundance of water has proven in the past to be a curse for The Duke.
The Duke straddles the Santa Rosa wash, and, according to Gribbons, has dealt with issues of flooding during the rainy season. He said the issue is sometimes made worse by Global Water, which discharges excess drainage water when it’s unable to handle the volume.
“If they’re dumping water and we get a huge storm, then yes, we lose a few holes, typically we lose the front side,” Gribbons said. “[The holes] are not really damaged, but are unplayable because our bridges are flooded so the carts can’t go from tee to green.”
Gribbons said that hasn’t happened this year, since he’s been on board. However, it did happen the previous year, and they lost the entire front nine holes because of it.
The politics of finding a solution with Global Water are beyond his pay grade, Gribbons said. They are legally not allowed to construct a dam in the wash, so he said it’s a tricky situation, but he is confident it will be worked out.
Calling all millennials
For now, Gribbons is simply trying to get through the summer months, which in Arizona are the slowest for any golf course.
As a remedy, The Duke offers special purchasing packages in June and July. To further increase business, Gribbons said, he hopes to bring in more golfers from outside of Maricopa. He also wants to encourage more young people to learn the sport.
In recent years, he said, there has been a decline in young golfers, a fact he hopes to address by reaching out to the high schools and even hosting camps and workshops aimed at attracting younger golfers.
Preston Kessler, a member and weekly golfer at The Duke, is pleased with the progress being made by the new management and hopes improvements continue.
“We talk amongst ourselves, and the consensus is that things are improving,” Kessler said. “If you looked at the greens four or five months ago, it’s dramatically better.”