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Emerald ash borer photo 1

Emerald ash borers infected trees at Wicker Park Golf Course in 2014, including this one along the fourth hole.

HIGHLAND — Wicker Park's public golf course is like the grizzled boxer who won't go down for the count.

Superintendent Brett Bierman, likewise, continues to throw punches for the sake of his golfers.

Occasionally, Mother Nature knocks him back on his heels, but there's no quit in this guy.

He had the 2008 flood that covered 80 percent of the 18-hole course and the ensuing tornado that destroyed 150 trees.

Next came the war Bierman and co-workers waged against the emerald ash borer in 2014 when they lost more than 500 ash trees and still have another dozen to cut down.

And now we have an uncharacteristically long spell of frigid, damp, snowy weather that's put spring on hold and has anxious golfers aching to tee off.

You think golf is riding a cart and admiring well-manicured greens and fairways with a cold brewski in your hand? Think again.

Public or private, this is life-and-death business.

"It's affecting us big time," Bierman said of the lousy weather. "Monetarily, playing, membership-wise, it's all down. I actually ran some numbers last week and compared to this point a year ago, we're down like $15,000.

"We usually have 60-70 members paid for and we're only at 40 so far. So we're day to day on the golf course. If it's gonna be 40 degrees or above, we're gonna try to be open."

The frustrating wait continues.

Average temperature in the Region the past two weeks has been around 35 degrees, according to The Weather Channel. That's great for sled dogs.

Such daily challenges are to be expected. It's going to be either too cold, too hot, too dry or too wet.

"It's golf. It's an outdoor sport," Bierman said. "You go with what Mother Nature gives you. Some years are good. Some years are bad. I hope to catch up.

"We're falling behind now, but that's not to say we won't have dry weather come summer time."

Before they had an irrigation system, staffers prayed for rain. But they don't want rain now.

"We want it to stay dry so people can play and we can use our own irrigation," Bierman said.

The past five years, Wicker Park Golf Course has had approximately 450 new trees planted -- no ash -- but mostly oak, birch, elm, hawthorns and willow.

This cold spell can't break fast enough for Bierman, who can almost see dollar signs floating away with those April snow flakes.

I asked him the annual cost to operate the course and the figures he gave were quite telling.

• They spend between $120,000 and $150,000 for chemicals such as fertilizers, herbicides, etc.

• They pay NIPSCO $1,000 a month to run the pump house and another $350 a month for the pro shop.

• A golf cart is between $4,000 and $5,000. Wicker has 80 newer carts and 10 older carts. A new battery is between $70 and $80.

• It cost $100,000 for contractors to cut down a majority of those infected trees, while the others were removed in-house.

"Equipment on a golf course is a lot more expensive, I've learned, than equipment at your house," Bierman added. "We bought a fairway mower last year — $38,000 — and now we got two of 'em. The other is 20 years old and will eventually have to be replaced.

"The specialty mower to mow the greens is $20,000. We got a machine that cuts the greens, a machine that mows the greens, a machine that rakes the bunkers, a rough machine. It's all specialty equipment."

Bierman has reduced staffing until the weather improves, so that's less of an expense for now.

"The other 'extreme' is if it's too hot. If we get 90 degrees, our play drops in half from a nice 80-degree day," he said.

If the weather had cooperated this weekend, Bierman said his course would have been crowded due to the Masters' buzz which has that effect.

"But it's supposed to be 30 degrees with snow Sunday," he shuddered.

The sled dogs will be happy.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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