Building Your Data Collection Program
The structure of a data collection program is important. It must be organized in a way that can be repeated daily. If not, consistency will suffer, the program will fall apart and the value of the information will be diminished greatly. Below are some steps to get started:
1. Start with the putting greens. They involve 80% of the shots in a typical round and greatly influence the golfer experience.
2. Identify your KPIs. The simplest KPIs for putting greens are speed and clipping volume. More advanced KPIs include organic matter content, surface firmness, surface smoothness and trueness.
3. Identify inputs or cultural practices that influence the KPIs. This is where things can start to get complex and overwhelming. Identify and record the items that influence clippings and green speed. Examples include mowing height, mowing and rolling frequency, grooming/brushing events, nitrogen rate, topdressing rate, growth regulator use and temperature. These factors should be logged every day. This information will prove to be valuable. At some point, recording only green speed will lead you to wonder what is required to produce those results. This is where tracking cultural practices and inputs becomes important.
4. Decide how many putting greens to focus data collection on. USGA agronomists are often asked how many putting greens should be measured. The best way to think about it is in terms of time required versus benefit. There is a huge return on measuring one putting green versus zero. We advise starting with one until the process is established and ingrained in the maintenance routines. Once this occurs, add more putting greens as you see fit.
5. Set up the details of the day-to-day collection program. It is important that the green speed be measured on the same putting green(s) in the same location. This will require identifying a relatively flat area and marking two small spots about 9-12 feet apart that will serve as your measuring points. A black magic marker or spray paint are good options for creating these semipermanent marks.
6. Clippings are best measured by volume and not weight. Sand picked up by mowers has a much greater influence on weight than volume. An easy way to measure clippings is to leave a 5-gallon bucket next to the putting green(s) that are going to be measured. The operator starts mowing the putting green with an empty basket and then dumps the clippings into the bucket. At the maintenance facility, the clippings can be dumped into an even smaller bucket that has graduated measurements. The smaller the final container, the easier it is to detect small differences in clipping volume.
7. Set up the chain of command. Data collection is a 365-days-a-year process in many parts of the country. Identify who is responsible for collecting and entering information. Train workers such as mower operators to contribute to the process. Make plans for weekends or staff absences to make sure there is no disruption in the program.
An Example of Observation, Interpretation and Application
Below is a simple example of the process of observation, interpretation and application. During the observation phase, make as many observations as possible. Move to interpretation and try to figure out what these observations mean. Last but not least, apply this information to your management program and practices. Don’t be discouraged if there is room for improvement in your process or results. Both the superintendent and other decision-makers will still benefit from a deeper understanding of what is required to reach the standard and stay there.
Let’s go through the process with this graph of green speed at a golf course over a 12-month period.