From the late ‘70s to 2007, Forest Oaks Country Club hosted an annual PGA Tour tournament. Fifteen years ago, the momentum compounded by three decades of international attention came to a halt. “They lost the tournament to a country club across town in 2008,” said current Forest Oaks superintendent, Eric Hutchins. “And with the tournament, the money and the support for this course pretty much went with it.”
Superintendents came and went over the 15 years that followed, with Hutchins himself serving as the assistant from 2010 to 2012. In early 2020, he returned to Forest Oaks as head superintendent with a vision for the future of the course.
“When I became the superintendent, my main philosophy and the main thing that I like to tell my guys is, ‘There’s still a PGA Tour golf course here. We just have to get 10, 12 years’ worth of dust off the surface. It’s there. The bones are there. The layout’s there. Everything’s there for us. We just have to uncover it.’”
Hutchins began quite literally uncovering the course from built-up thatch and weed pressure. He established routine maintenance practices like verticutting and topdressing, which had been neglected. “These greens out here had been through a lot of different superintendents the last four or five years before I got here,” Hutchins said.
Feeling uncommitted to his previous greens program, Hutchins switched to Foliar-Pak last year. “I was already really looking into Foliar-Pak because they’re gaining a stronghold here in central North Carolina. A lot more people are using them than they were, and everybody just continually talked about them.”
Foliar-Pak is now the exclusive brand that Hutchins uses on the greens at Forest Oaks, other than a compost product applied at aeration. His program includes 1-0-15, 18-3-4, Amperage, Base Calcium, Calcium 7-0-0, Colonise Bio, CSi L, Gold Standard 45, Micros Plus, and Iron. His precise application schedule depends on conditions, as is key to growing A-1 and A-4 bentgrass in central North Carolina.
One of the reasons Hutchins switched to Foliar-Pak is the value it provides: “I was getting a more complete program with more products for roughly the same amount of money that I was spending on the competitor. And this one is allowing me to not only get really good products but be able to afford a program that doesn’t seem to have any gaps or any missing pieces from it.”
Since implementing Foliar-Pak in the past year, Hutchins has observed several improvements. “The main difference is in plant resilience and how much more stress tolerance it has.” He credits amino acids with helping reduce the stress and wear that are so common to bentgrass.
Foot traffic is a constant source of stress at Forest Oaks, which sees about 37 thousand rounds of golf a year. “The plant’s response this year to being walked on and mowed and rolled has been extremely different,” Hutchins said. “We’re not seeing thinning out on some of our greens complexes that were specifically due to the amount of golfers.”
Foliar-Pak has helped Hutchins and his crew maintain the greens for better resilience: “We’re able to keep them drier and firmer. So the foot traffic and the ball marks don’t make as big a deal when you’re able to keep a firmer surface.”
The greens at Forest Oaks have struggled in the past with thinning out, but this year was different. “We’re still on the same pace for about the same amount of rounds, and actually weather-wise have had a worse condition summer for them. But they are not thinning out in those stress areas in those high traffic zones. They are just as good as the rest of the green that doesn’t see that amount of foot traffic,” Hutchins said.
Another sign of stress tolerance this year is reduced wilting. “Last year, we would stare at an old wilt spot for seven, ten days, and it would finally kind of heal itself up. And now, if we get wilt, we get water to it, and within 48 to 72 hours, we’re generally to the point where you can’t even see that it happened anymore,” Hutchins said.
With the help of Foliar-Pak, the greens have already exceeded Hutchins’s expectations: “The amount that they can withstand or the amount of stresses that they’ve been able to withstand this year is astronomically different in so many good ways.”
Foliar-Pak products have helped not only the quality of the greens but also the time it takes to maintain them. A stronger root system means less hand watering. “Normally, this time of year, it’s two guys for five, six, seven hours a day with a hose, driving around checking for hot spots. And there’s been several days in the mid- and upper-90s that we’ve been able to have one guy out there and that other guy freed up, and he can work on something else.” Hutchins said.
More time for other projects only elevates the course as a whole. “Last summer, I would have never dreamed of putting the single guy out there by himself, 95 degrees plus. And this year, it’s actually becoming a norm.”
Agronomy affects superintendents and golfers both. And in the case of Forest Oaks, it also affects the community. “I just want Forest Oaks to be the golf course that my generation grew up knowing as a PGA Tour-worthy golf course. And we’re not there yet. We can be.”
That drive to always be better is what has motivated Hutchins in his first couple of years as superintendent, and it’s what inspires his outlook for Forest Oaks: “My personal goal is just to get it back to where it was and where it deserves to be.”
“We’re getting closer and closer to that every day, which is exciting for me and exciting for the members,” he said.