Golf Club

PGA National opens scorecard-breaking Match Course

Part of a superintendent’s job is dealing with the challenges posed by Mother Nature. So it was no surprise that just hours after the remnants of Hurricane Ida inundated his golf course with flood waters, Cliff Moore was unfazed.

“We’ll just have to see where we stand,” he said. “The greens are good, the tees are good, but you just have these (turf) areas we have. We’ll just have to step back after this and see what we have to do.”

Moore is the superintendent at Mountain Ridge Country Club, which is located in West Caldwell, New Jersey, about a 45-minute drive northwest of New York City.

The golf course is one of the most celebrated in the state. It’s a Donald Ross design that was completed in 1929 and features bentgrass tees, bentgrass/poa fairways and poa greens.

Moore has been at Mountain Ridge since 2003. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Maryland. A Michigan native, he graduated from the two-year program at Michigan State University. He also has a degree in finance from Western Michigan University.

He’s preparing to host the LPGA’s Cognizant Founders Cup, scheduled to tee off the week of October 4. The tournament is a tribute to the 13 women who founded the LPGA in 1950. It will mark the first time the event will be played outside of Phoenix since its inception in 2011. (It was not played last year because of the pandemic.)

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The pending arrival of some of the top players in the world has not impacted Moore’s maintenance practices or aeration schedule — he’ll aerate in late October, as usual.

“We are just doing our normal maintenance schedule for our members and guests,” he said, “to give them the best playing conditions we possibly can. That’s kind of always been the go-to. If we can do that, and Mother Nature cooperates, it should take care of itself and run smoothly.

“There’s no difference in cultural practices or mowing routines or anything like that.”

Weather conditions have made Moore’s job more challenging this summer. The course received 23 inches of rain throughout June and July. Ida brought with her more than six and a half additional inches. In just eight weeks, the area absorbed half of what would normally be its rainfall for an entire year (about 50 inches). On several occasions, portions of the of the golf course were flooded.

The summer also brought extended periods of hot and humid weather to much of the Middle Atlantic region, with high temperatures approaching 100 degrees and nighttime temperatures often remaining above the 70-degree mark.

“Basically, we have a program” Moore said. “We stuck with it, then once things started getting wet and flooding, we had to step back and start putting down what we normally wouldn’t have to kind of protect the turf preventatively.

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“You just kind of step back once it drains out and you try to get that grass recovered the best you can. That’s kind of what we’ve doing.”

The warm, wet conditions had an impact on Moore’s spray program. “I would say the biggest challenge was being able to spray through the rain,” he said. “Cutting fairways first and getting a good, clean application down, that was a challenge. Could you get your applications down and get everything else done on the golf course with play, prior to a flooding, high-temperature rain event? That was the biggest challenge, especially for fairways.”

During the summer, Moore also found himself dealing with armyworms.

“We’ve never had to deal with armyworms,” he said. “That’s become a topic of interest lately in Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey from the last hurricane that came up the coast (Fred) and maybe pushed them up in this direction, so it’s not a defensive but a preventative program.

“If it had been a normal year, we’d be coasting right now. This year, it’s been a little bit more of a challenge. And again, once this water recedes from throughout the golf course, we’ll see what we’re up against and we’ll see what we have to do to prepare. Whether than means seeding some areas, sodding some areas, that’s just unfortunately what happens.”

There will be no time for Moore and his team to coast during the weeks ahead. The golf course will be open for member play through October 3, the Sunday before the start of the Founders Cup. He’s working with a staff of just 18, down from his usual 24. (With the help of volunteers, he’s expecting to have a team of about 30 for the tournament). And there is always the possibility of more rain.

“I’ve had flooding rains in late October,” Moore said. “We’ve got to kind of take it day to day.”

Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based writer and a frequent GCI contributor.

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