Augusta National possesses the most envied lawn care in the United States. To better understand the flora of the Masters, I sought the expertise of what is now the most famous landscaping company in America, Four Seasons Total Landscaping.
Michael Siravo (Operations Manager and son of owner Marie Siravo), Sean Middleton (Head of Sales), and Daniel Killion (Turf Specialist) spoke to me this week about the challenges of a November Masters, the care of Augusta National, and how that care differs from their work for HOAs and other commercial properties in the Philadelphia area.
Four Seasons’ experience with golf turf maintenance and landscaping is minimal, but one of their clients is an HOA that surrounds a golf course. While that HOA may not require the level of maintenance that Alister MacKenzie’s gem in Georgia does, “They are very particular about things,” said Middleton. “The grass cutting being one of them, but just the overall appearance because of the sort of prestige that surrounds living in a golf-based community and the aesthetic.”
Nevertheless, the budget for keeping up the HOA’s “aesthetic” falls well short of what it takes to maintain the adjacent golf course. “It’s a very nice course,” Middleton explained. “It has a great membership. But their chemical budget alone is over a half-million dollars a year.”
So how does that kind of budget compare with their usual work? “Even large HOAs operate on a budget between like $100,000 and $200,000 a year for everything—that would include mulch, trimming, mowing, and even some planting services along with that. That is about where we would come into play in terms of being on par [Ed. note: a golf term] with or matching the maintenance of a golf course… and this is in suburban Philadelphia.” While that’s not particularly close to Georgia, you can imagine that the costs for maintaining the venue of the most prestigious golf tournament in the world are significantly higher.
That course in Georgia is playing different than usual thanks to the November date and the recent ryegrass overseeding of summer Bermuda grasses. Four Seasons said that they do not maintain any Bermuda, despite a few oddball client requests for it. So it’s not an apples (overseeding 600 to 900 pounds of ryegrass seed per acre followed by millions of gallons of water at Augusta National) to apples (aeration and overseeding or slit-seeding for Philadelphia HOAs often reliant on rainwater) comparison, but they could empathize with the difficulties of maintaining overseeded ryegrass that’s just eight to 10 weeks old as opposed to the usual seven to eight months old in April.
“The reason that they overseed like that is because when fall hits, the Bermuda grass is going to brown out and go dormant,” Middleton said. “And so then you have a very brown appearance on your golf course, which is not good for press. When you’re Augusta National, you want that nice lush green color to come across on the aerials and on the shots of the course.”
That color has certainly come through this week at the Masters, most likely because of a full fall of watering. “At Augusta, they have the most top-of-the-line irrigation system that you could get,” Killion said. “Whereas here, I mean, some of the HOAs and commercial properties are based off of rainwater [pronounced rain-wooder] alone.” Four Seasons is less worried about grass color, and more focused on late-fall nitrogen-based fertilizer programs.
In addition to less daylight, the weather brought additional challenges to this November Masters week. Rains softened the course on Wednesday and Thursday, but Killion figured the grounds crew would “turn that SubAir machine right on. And then them greens will firm right up.”
The SubAir, an advanced system installed beneath the greens to blow air into the subsurface and vacuum moisture out, has indeed been cranking this week. Four Seasons does not have the luxury of SubAir on their jobs, but they have had to use sump pumps to clear water out of poorly graded properties before reseeding or repairing turf.
Juvenile ryegrass and wet conditions have made Augusta National play much longer this week, just as the Four Seasons staff surmised. Killion liked Jon Rahm to take advantage and contend for a green jacket, while Mike maintained that “the Siravo family is a huge Tiger family.” Middleton tabbed Dustin Johnson, whose approach he felt best approximated the company’s approach and its newfound voice on social media.
They may now have nationwide fame in common, but Augusta National and Four Seasons operate in different worlds and with different goals. That doesn’t mean the Four Seasons team cannot dream about an upgrade from the traditional leaf blowers and vacuum trucks that they use in the fall. Augusta National, explained Siravo, has “some of the most advanced machinery when it comes to picking up leaves, which makes it absolutely phenomenal for removal.” The machines are called Sweep Stars. “You could drive over the course in a golf cart and it tows it behind and it has like a 62-inch blade connected to it. It is basically like a leaf zamboni.”
“That unfortunately hasn’t met our budget yet,” Middleton added, “but we’ll see how many t-shirts we sell.”
If asked to serve, the folks at Four Seasons would “be on the next flight” to help with any landscaping or conditioning matters at Augusta National. Killion seemed most impressed with the ability to “get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of azaleas to just be in bloom at the same exact time.” It’s an attention to detail they attributed to an “unlimited budget” and the time spent on dedicated daily conditioning programs. Four Seasons had no official recommendations for the landscaping team at Augusta National, other than the hope that the workers “get on the course to play a few times a year for free.”
There might be envy for Augusta National’s maintenance technology and budget, but there are certainly no hard feelings when it comes to grading the landscaping and turf work at America’s most famous golf course. “A-plus, it’s among the best in the entire world,” said Killion. “It’s absolutely stunning. They keep them conditions absolutely perfect at all times.”