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Play on Uncle Remus Golf Course a matter of patience

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    For two months, it’s been a lot of mowing, mowing, mowing on the Uncle Remus Golf Course grass, just to make it “playable” again. MATTHEW BROWN/Staff

When it comes to playing on the fairways and greens of the Uncle Remus Golf Course, new course superintendent Michael Benton is asking for patience. He’s received plenty of it so far, for which his is grateful, but more work is required before any tees can be planted in the ground.

Benton arrived at Putnam County’s public 9-hole course in early June. Since it was on May 6 that Uncle Remus GC started being without a superintendent, Benton found conditions, in a word, unplayable.

The task began to flip that around, first getting the grounds to where a player wouldn’t lose a ball in two feet of grass in the fairway. Benton said golf course maintenance is a year-round task, so even when he can open the gates for regular play before the summer ends, by the spring of 2022, he hopes people will be able to see the full beauty this acreage has to offer.

“The greens, a lot of them have come back,” said Benton. “They are in a lot better shape. Not all the way there yet. We still have more progress to make.

“The playable areas – fairways, tees – we are getting them down to where they are playable, down to regulation. We’re getting it all back in control. The biggest thing that’s kept us from being able to open is just that the course was not playable.”

There wasn’t a projected reopening date as of the start of the week, but Benton is pushing things to be able to do that sometime in August. When that date is set, he said it will be posted on the Putnam County government’s web site.

“Everyone I’ve talked to, emailed with, I just thank them for their patience,” said Benton. “I thank them for allowing us to do our job and get (the course) back in good shape for them so we can give them the best product possible.”

Those were the first two issues for Benton to contend with at Uncle Remus: “horrible” greens and the depth of the grass.

“You hit a golf ball, and it goes out in a fairway that’s two feet tall, you can’t find your ball,” he said. “You never do. It takes a little while to cut the grass back down to the correct level (regulation being just under half an inch), get all the clippings away, all the trash. It’s just a lot of time and manpower.”

In terms of manpower, Benton was also charged with hiring staff for the course. Before his arrival, the county had personnel from other departments such as Public Works looking after it. Benton made two full-time hires, both of whom started in July.

“They are assisting me in getting as much work done as we can,” said Benton. “I’m hoping to have one or two more people for next year.”

The staff can cut the grass away; weeds, however, tend to crop up anytime at anywhere and require special attention. Not only was Benton mowing Uncle Remus, but he was also spraying to get rid of “that first batch of weeds,” and now he’s after the second summer grow-in and hopes that’s all gone within the next three weeks.

“It takes a few weeks for that chemical to work through it and dissipate the plant. It kills it down to the root,” said Benton. “I’m working on my programs for next year so that those will not be an issue. It takes a lot of pre-planning … the way we approach mowing and the way we manage our turf. That will make that a lot easier to deal with next year.”

It won’t be perfect, but Benton wants to clean things up enough to where people can play some golf in Eatonton soon, and it be a pleasant experience. Part of his plans for the remainder of this year is planting to fill in empty areas and add more color to the course. It is also a job to fix up the clubhouse to make it more appealing.

“That’s offseason work,” said Benton. “Right now, it’s all about mowing. When we get in the wintertime, there’s a lot to clean up. One of the things we are going to work on this winter is to improve all the drive lines and the sight lines from tee to green.”

The “offseason” time at Uncle Remus is November through February. That doesn’t mean there still won’t be golf taking place when the weather is good. Benton said that period is when the grass isn’t actively growing and doesn’t require as much attention. The staff can then focus on other auxiliary projects.

“There’s never any point that there’s not anything to do,” he said. “You do drainage, fix some of the eroding areas, improve areas with planting, reshape. That’s all winter work.”

They even plan to get rid of the grass that’s sprouting up in the parking lot. But you might still see it on your first visit as that’s on the ‘to-do’ list after the reopening.

“It’s not going to be perfect when it opens,” said Benton “People are ready to get out here and start playing again. A lot of those details we will continue to work on through … next spring. My aim is for next spring to have the course at tip-top shape. It just takes time.”