Sunday, September 24, 2017

Peak to Peak

Have you ever run a marathon?  If you're like the vast majority of people, the answer is a definite, "No!".  However, for both the maintenance staff and the turf, the past two weeks have felt like back to back marathons.

The first push started as we prepared for one of the Club's premier events, the fall Member-Member.  We always coordinate our late summer aerification with the timing of this event in an effort to have the course in great condition.  With the wet weather of August delaying the completion of aerifiying, we knew having things completely healed would be close.  Based on comments from members who participated in the event, we got a nice thumbs up.

We had no time to pat ourselves on the back after the Member-Member, as Laurel Creek hosted the Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship last week, beginning with a Pro-Am on Monday, and concluding on Thursday.  Over 140 of the area's pros were competing for the title, and from beginning to end, this was a positive experience for all involved.

For starters, the communication with the PGA Section Staff was outstanding.  We had met to discuss course setup well ahead of time, and their were no last minute requests or surprises.  To the contrary, the PGA officials asked repeatedly if everything was good on our end, or if we needed anything.

It was also unusual, and refreshing that not one single time during this four day event were we asked the green speed.  To repeat, the number of times we were asked the speed was:  Zero.  That truly is something to take a step back and consider.  Pin placements were chosen by putting to a potential location, not by a number.

That being said, we did hear adjectives describing the putting surfaces, such as "fast," "slick" and "really fast."

Another thing the staff appreciated was how the players went  out of their way to thank them for the hard work they do.  We even had a player swing into the maintenance facility between #17 green and #18 tee to thank us.

While we saw some low scores posted the first two days, with the tees pulled back on the final day of competition, there were few red numbers to be found:
Terry Hertzog's -2 was one better than Dave Quinn.

Despite two straight weeks of abuse, both the turf and staff held up extremely well!  The guys will be very happy to back off double-mowing for a few days.  However, it's now on to the next challenge, as we have July-like temperatures to deal with for a bit...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

On a Roll

The new greens roller we acquired this year has been a great addition to our equipment inventory.  In particular, following aerification, we can do a much better job of smoothing the greens with this roller than with the triplex roller we have used for years.

One of the reasons we had been hesitant to purchase a "sidewinder" roller in the past, was that most of these machines are transported from green to green on a trailer, and/or pulled by a utility vehicle.

The additional time required to load and unload the roller onto a trailer would have meant that we needed two rollers to get the job completed ahead of play.  Besides the two rollers, we would also need two utility vehicles to pull them, as well as two of our best equipment operators to use the machines.

In contrast to this, the roller we purchased needs no trailer or utility vehicle to transport it from hole to hole.  With the push of a button, the wheels lower, and the machine zips from green to green.  Below is the roller leaving #9 green:
Wheels down for transport.

Finding the self-transporting machine finally sold us on a sidewinder that would fit into our maintenance program.  We can now get all of the greens rolled in just slightly more time than our old triplex roller, without needing any additional personnel, or tying up any additional equipment.
Wheels are raised when rolling.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Project Time

Although we are just a week removed from Labor Day, we are already starting on some project work that will improve the golf course in the future.  This fall we will be renovating one acre of Fescue, between #7 and 13.

This past week, we started by cutting the area down.  Some might say that playability has already improved here!

Over the next several weeks we will be making herbicide applications to this area.  If you see it roped off, or "Keep Out" signs, please do not enter--we don't want the herbicide tracked onto the primary rough or fairways.  As we did during the renovation work last year, ball retrievers will be placed outside the area for you to use.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Looking Back and Planning Ahead

While it's much more fun to write about our successes on the course, it would be unrealistic to think that everything we do works to perfection.  We knew there would be challenges following last year's Master Plan work, and that we would need to tweak our maintenance practices in many areas.  For example, bunker maintenance has changed dramatically, with many new bunkers being hand raked, and the faces being rolled.  Additionally, with the creation of new mounding in the rough, and bunkers being shifted closer to the greens, we now use a smaller mower to maintain these areas.

A third area that changed has been the Bentgrass green surrounds, which are mowed by hand.  For the most part, these areas made it through the year in good shape, however some spots suffered damage.  Clearly, the surrounds on  #16 took the biggest hit.  In analyzing why this happened, it's good to keep in mind that when turf "goes south" it's often not for a single reason, but a combination of factors which push it over the edge.

One of the issues we see on #16 is mechanical stress from both maintenance equipment and foot traffic.  The walk on-walk off area of this green really funnels everyone into the same tight space.  Likewise, with the bunkers now pulled in closer, we see mowers and rollers struggling to make wide turns.

A second factor here became drainage (or lack thereof).  When these surrounds were rough, being cut at 2", a wet swale wasn't as susceptible to damage as it now is, when it is Bentgrass being cut at 3/8".
The green surrounds on #16 don't look bad...from a distance.

A third problem was that we applied the exact same fertility and plant protectants to the Bentgrass surrounds as we did to the greens.  A reasonable question might be:  What could go wrong when you're treating this new sod just as you do the most important turf on the course?  Well, it turns out that the sod isn't accustomed to the high rates of plant growth regulators we apply to the greens.  So, in this case, treating an area just like a green may have led to more stress, not less.

Timing might be a fourth factor for #16.  This was the last hole worked on in 2016, which limited our ability to get the sod well established, and aerified prior to the winter.

Lastly, as the USGA article below noted, we were not alone in having issues in Bentgrass this summer.

For now, the thin turf has been seeded, and we look to install drainage over the winter.  Again, most of the new areas performed well, but we see many opportunities to make improvements.  Given the topsy-turvy weather we often experience, it seems prudent to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The devil is in the details...

You might think that the aerification process is the same now as it was 20 or 30 years ago.  However, quite a bit has changed both in terms of the equipment and labor we use in this process.

To start with, bigger isn't always better.  While our tractor-mounted aerifier can cover a whole lot of ground, the clean performance and tighter hole spacing that the walking machines give us, is now preferred.

We often say that the actual aerification process is pretty fast and simple--it's the cleanup afterwards that takes time and effort.  Once the aerification plugs have dried a bit, we separate the thatch and soil by using an old fairway mower which has verticut reels, and pulls a steel drag mat.  On a hot, dry day, this is a dirty job.

We then follow behind with our core harvesters, which pick up the thatch. 

Back in the day, the final cleanup was done by a tractor-mounted PTO blower.  Once again, we found the bigger machine wasn't necessarily the best machine for the job.  Today, we use up to 10 backpack blowers to do a final cleaning of the turf.  This is really labor intensive (and yes, another dirty job), but allows us to have a very clean finished product.

Some courses keep a set of old mowing units for cutting post-aerification, which they may refer to as mud or dirt reels.  Given our detailed cleanup, these are not necessary!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

It rained on our parade...

After extolling the wonderful weather last week, we should have known that we were in for some less than perfect conditions for aerifying.  Monday's green aerification went well...for most of the day.  However, just about the time we were going to give the greens a final blowing to redistribute the sand, it started to rain. 

The topdressing sand we use for filling the aerification holes is kiln-dried, which allows it to spread easily, quickly filling the holes.  Once this sand got wet, it was like trying to spread cake frosting across the greens.
Greens aerification started with sunny skies.

Tuesday came, and we aerified the rain.  Once again, both cleanup and working the topdressing sand into the holes were challenging activities.  We absolutely could not have gotten the job done without the great teamwork that took place.  This year, several members of the Pro Shop staff pitched in to help, which made a huge difference in our success.

We are moving on to fairways this week, and that can mean only one thing:  The weather forecast is calling for temperatures well above average.  To this, we say, "Bring it on!"  The team is ready to don their ear plugs and dust masks and tackle this important task!  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wonderful Weather

Often times, it seems like all we do is complain about the weather (especially at this time of year).  So, in an effort to be fair and balanced, let it be known that we are extremely grateful for the great weather we have had the past week.
Looking back down #12 from the green.

When it comes to giving the turf a break, cool nights are equally as valuable to us as cool days.  Any August morning when we need to throw on a light jacket is welcomed, and we were happy to have a few of them this week.

Some folks have already forgotten the six heat waves we experienced before August, and are referring  to this as an "easy" year.  While this may end up being just an "average" year when the books are closed on it, it has had its share of challenges, including way too much rain for many local courses.

The forecast looks like we will have good weather for aerification this week.  Less stress going into this process will hasten recovery and get us set up for some great conditions this fall.