Image of Detroit Golf Club Head Superintendent

Mastering Your Landscape Like The Pros: An Interview With Detroit Golf Club’s Head Superintendent Jake Mendoza

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As the official build sponsor of the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic, we pulled Detroit Golf Club’s Head Superintendent Jake Mendoza to ask questions about lawn care and how he’s working to maintain his course for the upcoming classic, including manageable tips that homeowners can apply to their own backdoors.

Afterall, you can’t talk about any golf tournament without talking turf.

Meet Detroit Golf Club Head Superintendent Jake Mendoza 

With a degree from Rutgers University in golf management, Mendoza has been working in the golf course business for over 21 years, even adding a few big tournaments – including three Rocket Mortgage Classics - to his resume.

Today, at the Detroit Golf Club, he oversees everything that’s outside of the building: greens, tees, fairways, cart paths, roads, etc.

  Enlarge Image of Mendoza in chair being interviewed about Rocket Mortgage Classic landscaping.

How Do You Prepare The Golf Course For A Large Event Like The Rocket Mortgage Classic?

For Mendoza, it’s a never-ending process to prepare the course for an upcoming tournament. There’s a lot of preplanning and time in the office to get the job right.

"Course maintenance is a long-term job," says Mendoza. "In the turf world, what we do today, we don’t really see the benefits of for a couple of weeks. That’s why we’re already preparing for next year’s event. We’re timing our 2022 fertilizer applications while also executing on this year’s maintenance plans."

Rocket Mortgage Classic Course Standards

Mendoza works very closely with the PGA TOUR to ensure that the Rocket Mortgage Classic course reaches specific standards in playability, including speed and firmness.

"With their standards in mind, it’s then up to us to decide on the necessary watering practices, mowing repetitions and fertilizer practices to deliver our goal," says Mendoza.

Leveling The Turf

Starting with a good level surface is key for Mendoza when it comes to maintaining proper lawn care, and ensuring the ground is level for building the audience stands and hospitality suites. And leveling the turf for a large-scale tournament starts with proper construction methods.

"We used contracted professionals and the 'latest and greatest' guided equipment for everything that we built new for the event," says Mendoza. "When it comes to maintaining the turf levels, we do a lot of topdressing, where we spread 4,500 tons of sand across the surface to fill in any imperfections or divots."

"While these leveling measures don’t necessarily apply to a homeowner – unless you have a golf athlete hitting balls in your backyard – our methods ensure that everything is on track, completely flat and ready to go."

Bird's eye view image of Rocket Mortgage Classic golf course

What Types Of Tools, Tech Or Tracking Systems Do You Use To Care For The Golf Course?

There are a lot of tools for ground and labor management that the Detroit Golf Club uses to maintain the course – especially with 9 different varieties of grass out on the course.

"It’s still more of an art than a science," confesses Mendoza. "But that said, we use data to guide all big-picture decisions."

"We use technology to track our 45 team members and monitor schedule and labor costs effectively. Our tools also let us see daily assignments, and monitor who’s caring for what and where," says Mendoza. "We also use an online fertilizer chemical tracking system that helps manage and time our applications to make sure we’re efficiently using our products to balance prime golfing conditions while being environmentally conscious."

Image of lawn care employee spreading fertilizer out on turf.

How Often Do You Water And Mow The Golf Course?

The Detroit Golf Course team can work on average 540 hours leading up to the tournament week and 1,200 hours throughout the tournament. How does watering and mowing play a role in that?

Healthy Watering Basics

It’s important to constantly check the weather throughout the day and compare it with other sources to have the most up-to-date information. When it comes to water maintenance, it’s important to always water in the early morning (rather than at night), and only where your lawn most needs it. That way, homeowners allow the water time to dry in the sun and avoid fungus growth.

"We work with a weather consultant to make sure we’re relying on accurate information," says Mendoza. "We base all of our course watering decisions on data and what’s in the soil. We treat every day as a new day, having our team members regularly measuring soil moisture and metric water content out on the course with a moisture meter."

When measuring moisture at the Detroit Golf Club, Mendoza’s team looks for moisture lost from the day before. Each individual green then gets treated and watered differently based on its soil makeup.

"It’s important to manage our water the best we can," says Mendoza. "We have about 1,800 sprinkler heads on the Detroit course and can individually control each one to ensure that every green is personally taken care of. That way, we’re never overwatering and only putting water where we need to."

Watering Tech For Homeowners

Thankfully, homeowners have less to care for when it comes to their own backyard. However, there are lots of manageable tech that homeowners can still buy to build lawn efficiency, moisture sensors being one of them.

"Moisture sensors are great for homeowners," says Mendoza. "They can tie right into your home irrigation system and automatically control daily run times based on soil moisture, making sure that you’re not paying extra to water. They even help us [at the course] make key decisions in watering practices and mowing repetitions."

Healthy Mowing Basics

There isn’t a set time to get the job done when it comes to mowing the grass. "You don’t want to mow when it’s the peak hottest time of the day," warns Mendoza. "If you’re sweating and struggling to get through mowing the grass, I guarantee that the grass feels the same way."

Mowing repetition is the major difference when it comes to tournament preparation vs. general maintenance.

"We usually mow three days a week for typical member play," says Mendoza. "But when we get closer to the tournament, we lower our cut and mow two weeks straight every day, with 10 mowers, to ensure the course is as firm and fast as possible."

Healthy Fertilizer Basics

It’s important to read the fertilizer label and make sure you know everything about the products you put in your ground. The Detroit Golf Club generally uses 28 tons of organic chicken manure on the course fairways alone, and other products may surprise you.

"We also surprisingly use a lot of molasses and seaweed, as they’re a good plant stress inhibitor," laughs Mendoza. "We always go back and rely on tech to tell us which nutrients our soil is missing and adjust our ingredients from there."

Image of Rocket Mortgage Classic trophy on turf.

What Advice Do You Have For Golf Fans When Maintaining (And Enjoying) A Healthy Yard?

At the end of the day, you need to plan ahead. "Preventative maintenance is always easier than trying to recover from a dead lawn," emphasizes Mendoza.

To prevent disease, keep things green and have a healthy yard, try to:

  • Manage your watering schedule
  • Evaluate plant health regularly
  • Keep your yard clean
  • Scare away critters (pets, scented oils and motion lights help!)
  • Avoid plant stressing

Doing a little bit every day and keeping your lawn as healthy as possible year-round will save you from having to tackle big replacement projects later on.

Final Thoughts

When bringing the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic to life, keeping the course alive is one of the most important things. And that’s when proper course care and maintenance come in.

The Rocket Mortgage Classic relies on Mendoza to give golf lawn care expertise and the "green light" for playing on the turf.

Now that you’ve learned Mendoza’s tips for pro-level groundskeeping, think about how they apply outside your own back door. And if you have any financing needs for your landscaping care, discover how Rocket Loans can help you master your own outdoor living space.  

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