“I might not know all the science behind it, but I can see the results”
Nestled on the east bank of the Fox River in St. Charles, IL, Pottawatomie Golf Course is located in one of the most picturesque parts of the Greater Chicago area and is ranked as the 15th best 9-hole course in the US. Denise Gillet-Parchert has been the golf course superintendent at Pottawatomie for over twenty years.
Regarding how she ended up in the industry, Denise recalls, “I started at Joliet Junior College, and I was going to do floral design. One semester cured me of that! Florists knock themselves out every holiday. They work a million hours before every holiday. I thought, shoot, I don't want to do that. So I took the landscape turf track at Joliet Junior College, and I had to do on-the-job training the freshman year at Cog Hill. I started there just maintaining the flowers and the grounds around the clubhouse. They really liked me there, so they kept me on part-time in the wintertime when I went back to school. I then did my second on-the-job training there, but with the understanding that I did something other than what I did before. So they put me out on the golf course because landscape turf was the same track, the same classes, and I enjoyed it, I liked it and I stayed.”
After working at Cog Hill full-time for four years, Denise held positions at several other courses in the area, including at St. Charles Country Club and Rich Harvest Farms as assistant superintendent. In 1999, she was offered the superintendent's job at Pottawatomie and hasn’t looked back. “May 17th, I will have completed 24 years.”
The location of the course is something that Denise takes very seriously. “We're Audubon sanctioned and we're right next to the river. We're pretty much in town, or just five blocks north of downtown St. Charles. In the back of your mind, every decision you make is, ‘How is this going to affect the environment? How is it going to affect the golfers? How is it going to affect you personally?’ We all want to live long, and you don't want to be using products that you're going to find out cause cancer ten years down the road.”
Denise continues, “I have tried organic (fertilizer), but if I were to put down organic fertilizer, there is a smell to that. You just can't get away from that, and you get complaints left and right about the smell and what you're putting down, and it sends red flags up for everybody. You try telling them that it's organic or it's all-natural products, and it's just a hard sell. So to use something that is quote, ‘good for the environment,’ it kind of came with a stigma of smell.”
Denise came across Soil Technologies’ product line three years ago and purchased enough Thatch Relief and Oasys Ultra to try on her fairways. “I'll be honest with you, the first time I got the products, I didn't use them. I used them the next spring, and things kind of looked pretty good. The way it's applied, because we're so busy at the golf course, from sunup to sundown, we apply it at night, we throw the water down. Nobody knows we've done it. And there's no odor, there's no nothing. And great results. So it's a win-win for everybody, and it's good for the environment.”
2022 saw the program extended to greens as well. "Last year was kind of an anomaly. I think everybody was able to cut back a little bit on their products, but I didn't have a problem with Dollar Spot at all this year (I did three apps on greens and two apps on fairways). And in years past, Dollar Spot was always like my nemesis, that I was constantly spraying for. I believe it's under control now. Whether it's thatch removal, I don't know, but sometimes you don't have to know. You just have to know it works. I don't know whether that's the right statement to make, but sometimes a visual is better than anything: results."
Independent lab testing of her greens revealed that organic matter content was reduced an average of 15.68%. On the feedback she was getting from the lab before using the products, Denise says, "Well, most of the time, the conversation revolved around the pH of the greens. And so it's been strongly suggested to core aerate two times a year. It just isn't possible for us. But the simple fact of the lowering of the organic matter just helps overall with the quality of the greens in the summertime. We have a sand green, four push up greens, one 1:1 mix green, a couple of 80:20 greens. So there's just a plethora of green material or different material for the greens. It's kind of hard to manage nine as one. The sand green we treat a little bit differently. But I found that by lowering the organic matter in the greens overall, it's going to help with irrigation and disease suppression, all of that."
With nearly four decades in the business, Denise shares some final thoughts, "I've been in the industry a long time, and I've worked for a lot of different superintendents or a few superintendents that had different ways of doing things. One superintendent told me, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' And I think that's kind of your product. After seeing the results of your product, I might not know all the science behind it, but I can see the results, and the results are the important thing. If we can put more natural products down and use fewer chemicals, I think that's the trend of the industry, and the more we do that, the less we're going to be accused of poisoning the environment. I think we ought to use more of it. We're going to use more of it."