On most mornings, Pete Evans pulls into the parking lot at Orchard Hills Golf Course in Paramus with his headlights on.
The sun is about an hour from creeping over the horizon, but there's work to be done by Evans, the course superintendent.
Way too much work.
"Everybody thinks we just mow grass, ride around in pickup trucks and hang out," Evans said. "But that’s just not true."
In the midst of one of the most brutal heat waves in New Jersey history – it was the hottest June ever recorded in the Garden State – this has been an especially challenging summer for maintaining courses in North Jersey.
"Obviously, you're working with Mother Nature," Evans said. "And Mother Nature, as we've seen with what's going on this year, has a mind of her own."
No one understands that better than Doug Richardson, the superintendent at Overpeck Golf Course.
The popular Teaneck course gets more play than any other course in the Bergen County park system. The summer heat has made it tougher for Richardson and his staff.
"The heat has really taken a toll on us," Richardson said. "You can pump water and you can keep the course wet, but you're going to always get dry spots, no matter what you do."
Richardson has managed to keep the dry spots to a minimum at Overpeck by having his staff hand-water and aerate the areas the sprinklers can't reach.
But it's a delicate balance. The more water that sits on a course in the heat, the more likely it is for bacteria and fungus to grow in standing water. The turf diseases that result are spread by golf carts and quickly can begin to wreak havoc on the course.
Evans has become somewhat of an amateur weatherman, checking various forecasts at least four times per day. It's all part of giving him an advantage to keep his course in the best possible shape.
Ideal conditions for a course are temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees, but the most important number is the humidity.
If the air is too dry, the moisture will be sucked from the grass too quickly and the course will dry out and begin to die.
If there's too much humidity and the course receives water, it can quickly become a breeding ground for disease. Between 30 and 40 percent humidity is the ideal range, Evans said.
When superintendents aren't worrying about the weather, they're worrying about the playability of the course.
Greens are mowed five to seven times per week, fairways two to three times per week and the rough always is being mowed somewhere on the course.
"The customer expects what you see on TV," Evans said. "So you have to pay attention to the details. It's something new severy day, and that's why I like it."
The trick is to find the perfect mix between playability and durability, especially on sensitive greens. Longer grass on the greens holds up better to foot traffic, which is why the greens at Overpeck aren't as fast as the greens you see on TV.
"If we cut [the greens] tournament cut, they just wouldn't be able to take it with this amount of play," Richardson said. "This isn't like a country club where you get a few outings every once in a while. This is a whole different ballgame."
Figuring it all out takes a lot of practice and education, as Noel Ulanday has learned. Ulanday spent 20 years working for a financial company before deciding he wanted to work on a golf course.
"I love the outdoors, I love the interaction with the people and I just love everything about it," Ulanday said.
Ulanday is a student at Rutgers' professional turf management school and is serving an apprenticeship under Evans at Orchard Hills. Evans graduated from the program in the early 1990s.
"The program was outstanding," Evans said. "It got me to where I am now." Yes, taking care of a golf course is a lot more than riding around in a pickup truck. It's part meteorology, part science and part inexact science.
"It's a challenge," Richardson said, "every single day."
VASQUEZ, ANDY (2010). Caring for North Jersey golf courses is a challenge. Retrieved 27 July 2010 from The Record: