Remember the show Ripley’s Believe it or Not with Jack Palance back in the early 80’s? The premise of the show was to showcase unusual items and bizarre events so strange that viewers would question the claims. From what I remember about the show, it had that, you have to see it to believe it feel. The story of Spring Valley Golf Course in Livermore, IA, was one of those “believe it or not” moments for me.
Spending a day with course owner and General Manger Curt Berte, hearing his story, learning about the history of the facility, and discussing his agronomy practices, was truly remarkable. One of the most fascinating items we discussed was the fact that he has never, let me repeat that, he has never aerified his greens. The original 9 greens at Spring Valley were built and completed in 1978 and 9 more were added with an addition in 1989. That’s 36 years without aerification!! When asked about his philosophy on why he doesn’t punch holes, his response was simply put, because I don’t feel like I need too. He says that his greens are healthy with deep roots, have great soil make-up, great drainage and they play firm, fast and have always rolled true.
“To make a course work in rural Iowa, you have to draw the crowd to your course,” states Curt. It was always his belief that he couldn’t afford to offer an experience that was less than perfect to draw the crowds. He and his late father have always prided themselves with being one of the best conditioned courses in Iowa. The main draw to the course today are golfers from the Twin Cities, Des Moines and Omaha, mainly due to the high quality of the greens. Sports radio talk shows have referred Spring Valley as “Iowa’s Hidden Gem” and even “Little Augusta” because of the superb condition of the course.
While Curt’s story is not the norm, he is in the fortunate situation as the course owner to take risks that most other superintendents are not at liberty to even try. As he puts it, “if I screw it up, I am not going to fire myself, I just have to figure out a way to fix the problem.” Curt also doesn’t really care what his peers think about his practices, the only thing that matters to him is what the players think of his course. He tells a funny story about a local university that visited him 15 years ago. They told him there was no way he could maintain his greens without aerification, that he’d see compaction, poor rooting, plant heath deterioration and eventually, it would all catch up to him and then he would have to aerify. With a small smirks Curt says, “it hasn’t caught up with me yet! “
In future blogs I will highlight Spring Valley’s fertility program and cultural practices to showcase how they are able to keep their tees and greens so healthy for 36 years without aerifying. By maintaining optimal greens throughout the entire playing season, Spring Valley has ensured that a major source of their revenue, players from major cities, would return year after year. It was with this mentality that Curt developed a fertility program that would allow him to by-pass one of the most popular cultural practice performed by golf course superintendents worldwide, commonly thought to ensure soil and plant health for greens, tees and fairways
Healthy, great playing greens without aerifying, believe it or not!