Sunday, October 15, 2017

A game changer?

Greens aerification is not something that either golfers or turf managers enjoy.  While this process provides long-term benefits to the putting surface, in the short-run, the greens often resemble Swiss cheese.  For years, equipment manufacturers and turf researchers have looked to build a better mouse trap, by developing a method of aerifying which increases pore space, removes (or dilutes) thatch, all while causing minimal disruption to the surface.

For the past several years, we have used Dryject aerification in conjunction with a conventional core aerification in the spring.  Does Dryject create channels with lots of pore space?  Yes.  Does Dryject create minimal surface disturbance?  Yes.  So, to date, the only argument some might make, is that Dryject isn't doing enough to remove or dilute thatch near the surface.

A conventional Dryject machine following core aerification.

Dryject typically gets the sand deep into the profile.

Well, those who developed the Dryject nearly 20 years ago, were outside the box thinkers back then, and continue to be so today.  The new question for them is, can Dryject actually reduce organic matter/thatch percentage in a putting green without pulling a plug?

This is where Laurel Creek steps into the picture.  We are always happy to help with turfgrass research which could benefit the golf industry.  In this case, we are located very close to Dryject's world headquarters, and didn't hesitate to let them use our nursery green for some real world testing of their prototype aerifier.

In order to sufficiently dilute organic matter, a good deal of sand needs to be added to the upper part of the soil profile.  Therefore, the hole spacing needs to be much tighter than with a traditional Dryject.  In the picture below, the hole spacing was  a tight 2" X 1.5".  This provides three times more holes per square foot than the Dryject spacing we have used.  You will also notice, that unlike a typical Dryject hole, the sand is staying in just the upper few inches of the soil.

Below, Dryject President, John Paddock, is keeping an eye on the process, and perhaps contemplating the next change to the amazing machine.  Measuring spacing, checking depth, and weighing sand was the order of the day.

While it will definitely take some time to see if this is a viable long-term substitute for core aerification, it is tough to argue with the visual results.  In sticking with tradition, the Dryject disturbance was minimal.  Below, is a picture of the nursery green just four days after the testing was done.

Who knows, the day may actually come, when aerification isn't considered to be a four letter word by many golfers.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Proper Planning

The Clubhouse expansion, and splash pad projects are now well underway, and it is great to see excavation work moving along quickly.  You might not think that these would have much impact on the Grounds Department operation, however there are a number of things which had to be taken into account.

For starters, we knew that the multitude of wires and pipes which came out the side of the Clubhouse would need to be relocated.  This included:
  • Irrigation zone control wires and common wire.
  • Power wire for irrigation controller.
  • Communication wire for irrigation controller.
  • Fiber optic wire to the Cabana building.
  • 480 Volt line for putting green fan.

As we discussed last winter in Rewired we tried to prepare as best as possible for the impact the Clubhouse project would have.  One thing we knew would be close, was the irrigation main line that supplies water to everything on the front side of the Clubhouse.  Had we just needed to avoid the actual building, we would have probably been alright.  However, with a 12' vertical cut for the new foundation, shoring had to be put in place away from the actual building, and the line moved.
The relocated 2" line is still not far from harm's way.

Here is a little before and after.  Prior to excavating the new foundation, the irrigation line is about 18" below ground level.

Now there is just a bit more change in the grade behind this line.  In this particular area, we also had to cut and cap where the three turf and shrub zones came off the main line.  Ideally, these can be tied back in for future irrigation once the building and landscaping are completed.

We had our fingers crossed as the excavator was digging a line for the storm drain last week, with our irrigation controller, pipes and valves all close by.  Thankfully, we had no geysers!

With silt fence and construction fencing surrounding it, we know that accessing the Clubhouse putting green has become a challenge for our members.  You are not alone, as getting blowers, mowers, and sprayers to the green, is also a challenge for the Grounds staff.  Sprinklers around the green were converted from full circle to part circle, in order to avoid hitting the fence and running onto the construction area.

Over at the pool area, the tennis irrigation supply line had run straight across the area where the splash pad is being built.  We cut this line along court #2, and rerouted it to feed courts #3 and 4.
Three turf zones and the tennis court irrigation were impacted by the splash pad.

Projects like this are exciting to take part in, and keep us on our toes, as the landscape literally shifts quickly.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Wacky Weather

If it seems as if weather is a topic frequently focused on, that is likely a correct assumption.  This is because of the fact that the weather has a very significant impact on most every decision made in the daily operation of the golf course.

After teasing us with October-like temperatures at the beginning of September, and plentiful rainfall throughout the summer, we should have known that there would be some form of payback required.
Despite a very cool beginning and ending, September was 2.5 degrees above average.

While this weekend was cool, the past week's temperatures in the upper 80's and low 90's felt more like July than the last week of September.  And, after averaging five inches of rain for the four month period of May-August, we had close to an 80% reduction in September with a mere 1.1".  As a matter of fact, since September 7, the golf course has only received 1/10" of rain.
The buried fairway sensors tell the tale of a slow dry down throughout September.  

It probably shouldn't come as a great surprise given the above average precipitation of the summer, but we are only now finding irrigation issues that hadn't surfaced all year.  This includes a handful of sprinklers not running in the rough, and part circle heads out of adjustment in their arcs.

When we think of fall, what often comes to mind is some of the best playing conditions of the year.  Cool temperatures and adequate rainfall means that the irrigation system can take a break, and there's little concern of turf disease or insect issues.  However, the long-range forecast looks like we'll be back in the 80's this week and there's little rain heading our way.

As we've said before, 2017 might end up being an "average" weather year when the books are closed, but from beginning to end, it continues to be a roller coaster ride, keeping us on our toes.

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.