Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter Work

While things may not be quite as hectic in the winter as they are during the golf season, it doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of work to be done.  To a large extent, the tasks we're working on now are geared towards having a successful 2013 season.

One of the important jobs we can address now is to resurface the hazard stakes.  Originally, these stakes were pieces of 2" X 3" wood which had to be painted annually, and only lasted a few years, since they would eventually rot. 

However, about 10 years ago we purchased some lengths of colored recycled plastic, which we then cut into stakes.  While these are much more durable than wood, there is some fading of the surface layer from exposure to the Sun. 

But the great thing with plastic is that the color is throughout the stake, so there is a simple procedure to make them shine again.  We run the stakes through a planer every couple of years, removing a very small amount of the faded, outside material.  This reveals the shiny red material within, and best of all, there's no rotten stakes, or paint to deal with!

With hazard stakes located on 16 of our 18 holes, there are hundreds of these to be checked and made ready for next year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thanks to the Crew

At this time of year, only a handful of the Grounds Staff are still here.  However,  for over 20 years, we have a tradition of serving lunch to all of the employees who helped throughout the golf season. 

These individuals often work behind the scenes, getting up early, toiling in the heat, cold and rain.  We are fortunate to have a great group that takes pride in their work, and makes every effort to give you a well-conditioned course every day.

A few of the crew (and Buster) getting ready to cook some kielbasa.

Friday, December 14, 2012

To Patch or to Replace, That is the Question

Throughout the year, we are often asked whether it's better to replace a divot, or to fill it with the mix.  Clearly the answer depends.

In the heat of the summer, even a carefully replaced divot can quickly shrivel up and die.  So, in general, during the hot weather, you're better off filling that crater with the mix.

However, during the shoulder seasons and in the winter, often the best decision is to replace the divot.  With cooler weather, there is a good chance that a carefully replaced divot will survive and knit back into the earth.  In addition, with cold temperatures, there's little likelihood of the seed in the divot mix germinating, so divot replacement is going to be the better choice.

Of course, when some players take a divot, it explodes, and can't be replaced.  In this case, even in the winter, go ahead and smooth the surface with some divot mix, instead of leaving the point of detonation unrepaired. 

Remember, the Rules of Golf do not allow you to move your ball out of a divot hole without penalty.  So, as you would with a bunker, please repair your divot in the way that will provide the best surface for those players who come behind you.
A replaced divot, healing in nicely.

A divot that has been properly filled with mix.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Gift That Will Definitely Pay For Itself

As we head towards the holidays, you're probably thinking more about snow than about watering your lawn.  However, if you want to get a jump on things for next year, you really should check out this gadget from Toro:

This device is called the Xtra Smart Precision Soil Moisture Sensor, and it has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of water you use to irrigate your lawn.

While all home irrigation systems should have a rain shut-off device of some kind attached, most of these are triggered by conditions in the air, not the ground.  Because of this, one warm day after a rain storm might be all it takes for a rain sensor that relies primarily on evaporation to turn the irrigation system back on.  However, the new Toro sensor is measuring the moisture level in the ground, and turning the system on or off based on this. 

Think about it--traditionally, rain sensors are placed up high where your irrigation water won't trigger them. So, once the rain sensor allows the system to start running again, it will keep going on your programmed days until the next rain event. In contrast, with the Xtra Smart Sensor placed in an irrigated area of your lawn, it will prevent the system from running until the soil moisture conditions indicate you need irrigation.  Only when the sensor indicates water is needed, will the irrigation controller then be allowed to water. 

One important note:  It is critical that the sensor be installed in an area of the lawn that is representative of the entire system.  An example of what not to do would be to locate the sensor in a shady area that always stays wet.  Doing this would prevent other areas of the system from ever running.

The new Toro moisture is similar to the ones we have on the golf course, which provide us with valuable real-time information about what is going on in the greens, tees, and fairways.  The bottom line is that, when installed and calibrated correctly, this type of device is less likely than a traditional moisture sensor to have the system run when it doesn't need to.  Water is saved, money is saved, and your lawn is doesn't get much better than that!

So, if you're looking for a great gift for the holidays, this might be something to consider.  Like most things, it's available at, or for more information simply click on the link below:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Getting a Head Start on Spring

While the grass is not requiring much mowing right now, there are still a number of important jobs that are taking place to care for the golf course turf.  One of these is the application of the pre-emergent herbicide for 2013.  That’s right, we are applying material now that will control weeds such as crabgrass and goosegrass next summer.
Traditionally, this application would be made in the spring, prior to crabgrass germination.  However, when springtime arrives, it often feels as if we have 1,000 tasks that all must be done at the same time.  The herbicide we use for crab and goosegrass control needs to be applied to all areas of the course except the greens.  This is quite a time-consuming job, as we use both a tractor-mounted spreader and several hand spreaders.
So, what’s the advantage of making this application in late fall, instead of waiting until the spring?  With cooler temperatures now, and less traffic on the course, we can focus on carefully applying this material.  And, we can check this big job off our “to do” list next spring—which means we’ll only have 999 things left to take care of!

A heron looks on, as the tractor and hand spreader are prepared to go.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Nice Addition

August's fairway aerification provided us with some some good material to use for the expansion of the teaching tee on #10.  The plugs were spread, graded, and seeded.  After a couple of months, this new area has filled in nicely and will be ready for use next spring.  The addition more than doubled the area of the existing teaching tee.

The bigger and better teaching tee on the left of #10.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Big Blowout

One of the sure signs that things are winding down for the golf season is our annual irrigation system winterizing.  Similar to a home lawn system, we use compressed air to purge the water from the piping, in order to avoid possible damage from system components freezing over the winter.

However, for the golf course, things are done on a much larger scale.  With close to 20 miles of 2" pipe, and five miles of larger main line pipe to empty, a very large compressor is rented.  The course itself is blown out in two halves, where we hook the compressor to the pump station at #5 green, and the station near #9 tee.  In addition to the golf course, we also winterize the club grounds irrigation system, the tennis courts, the cabana building, and the community entrance islands.

This 750 CFM compressor is almost larger than our dump truck.

In years past, it always seemed to be the coldest day of the fall when we'd winterize the system.  Often times the combination of air and water acts like a snow making machine, and having that mist blow on you all day isn't too fun.  Fortunately, this past Monday's weather was a pleasant change, with temperatures close to 70.

The mist from sprinklers on #5 as the system is blown out.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Oh, Deer

In addition to providing a great place for members to enjoy a round of golf, Laurel Creek also acts as a home to all kinds of animal life--including deer. 

While deer are beautiful, graceful creatures, it looks like somebody could use a manicure...or would it be a pedicure?

Some deep marks in #1 green.
A pattern of four steps and a leap across the green.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Cleanup on the Course

Hurricane Sandy made quite a mess on the golf course, however it could have been much worse.  While there was some tree work, for the most part, we only had to deal with a lot of small branches, leaves, and washed out bunkers. 

It came as a surprise to some people, but one of the highest priorities after the storm was to get the greens mowed.  Why was this urgent?  Well, after last week's aerification, we applied liquid fertilizer to get the greens growing and help fill the holes in.  With the hurricane, we obviously couldn't cut the greens on Monday, but we didn't want to  let two days pass without mowing them, as this could set back the recovery from aerification.  So, when we arrived Tuesday morning, we blew off the debris and mowed the greens. 

About half the golf course crew was able to make it in on Tuesday to begin the cleanup.  For some, this meant leaving the cleanup at their home until later, and their efforts on behalf of the Club are certainly appreciated.

A large cherry tree came down on the left side of #15.
Several holes, such as #10, were littered with debris.
Another cherry tree landed in the bunker on #16.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Going it Alone

The past couple of summers we dealt with a number of turf issues on the practice tees that led to something less than great grass to hit from by late summer.  This year, we converted the lower practice tee to the heat-loving Bermudagrass with great success, providing quality turf throughout the season...even in August.

However, the downside to using Bermudagrass in this region is that it is only actively growing about five months out of the year, from mid-May to mid-October. This year we stretched the lower tee's use as long as possible, but with a very heavy frost on Saturday, October 13, it was time to shut the lower tee down.

 So now the upper tee has to go it alone.  Unlike other years, the upper tee will shoulder the full burden for the rest of the season.  This includes the challenge of getting seed to germinate as we get into the cooler temperatures of November.  Can it live up to the challenge?  With the upper tee open for five more weeks, and many a divot yet to be taken, we'll be working with (and sometime fighting against) Mother Nature to make sure the upper tee is a turf winner through Thanksgiving.

With the lower, Bermudagrass tee closed for the season, the upper tee will go it alone.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Greens Aerification

It's a great time of year for growing healthy turf.  With cooler temperatures, comes good root growth, and a slowing of leaf growth.  We've received a lot of positive comments about the condition of the course in general, and the greens in particular.

With the greens rolling fast and smooth, the inevitable question arises:  "The greens are perfect...Why do you have to aerify them now?"

The short answer is that we don't have to aerify the greens right now.  The USGA recommends disturbing 15-20% of the greens surface annually, and there's more than one way, or time of year when this can be accomplished.  For example, some courses choose to wait until Thanksgiving before performing a very aggressive aerification.  While there's nothing wrong with this timing, the later one waits in the fall to aerify, the higher the likelihood that you'll spend the entire winter looking at un-healed holes. 

So, truth be told, we don't have to aerify the greens right now...but we do have to sometime.   If you stop and think about it, this is similar to how people must treat their cars.  As with the greens, the question can be asked, "Why do I need to take my car in for service when it's running great."  But most of us know that while you may be able to put off something like a tune-up for a short period of time, the longer you defer this practice, the greater the odds are that your vehicle is going to have problems down the road. 

In late October, we're right on the edge of being able to get the holes healed.  However, based on the past two years, this timing has worked well for us.  So, please try to keep in mind that the aerification we do today, is helping to set the foundation for a great 2013 golfing season.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Frost is On the Pumpkin

How can a footprint be a killer?
When it's a footprint made on a putting surface that's covered with frost. It may be hard to believe that simply walking across a golf green covered with frost can cause so much damage, but the evidence will be there in a few days as the turfgrass dies and leaves a trail of brown footprints. That's why most courses will delay starting times until the frost has melted. And it's also why golfers who appreciate a quality putting surface will be patient during frost delays.
Why does frost cause problems?
The putting surface, or green, is an extremely fragile environment that must be managed carefully. Remember that every green is a collection of millions of individual grass plants, each of which is a delicate living thing. Obviously, Mother Nature never meant for these plants to be maintained at 1/8 or even 1/10 of an inch for prolonged periods. This stress makes greens constantly vulnerable to attacks from insects, disease, heat, drought, cold -- and frost.

Frost is essentially frozen dew. It can form when the temperature (or wind chill) is near or below the freezing point. The ice crystals that form on the outside of the plant can also harden or even freeze the cell structure of the plant. When frosted, the normally resilient plant cells become brittle and are easily crushed. When the cell membranes are damaged, the plant loses its ability to function normally. It's not much different than cracking an egg. Once the shell is broken, you can't put it back together.

 The proof is in the prints

Although you won't see any immediate damage if you walk on frosted turf, the proof will emerge within 48 to 72 hours as the leaves die and turn brown. And, since just one foursome can leave several hundred footprints on each green, the damage can be very extensive.

 Thanks for understanding

The damage isn't just unsightly -- putting quality will also be reduced until repairs are made. Those repairs are time-consuming and, in extreme cases, the green may have to be kept out of play for days or weeks until the new turfgrass is established. A short delay while the frost melts can preserve the quality of the greens, prevent needless repairs and may even save you a few strokes the next time you play.

Look at the damage caused by a single footprint.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Still a Little Rough Around the Edges

The primary rough thinned out in several locations last month due to a combination of factors.  As we mentioned earlier, grubs caused damage in some spots, but that was only one of the stresses the plants were under.

Along with several other area golf courses, the Ryegrass component of our rough got hit hard by a turf disease known as Grey Leaf Spot.  This pathogen doesn't mess around.  Turf that's under attack from Grey Leaf Spot may appear to be under drought stress, despite having good soil moisture, and within a few days, the Rye is pretty well gone.

The other contributing factor to the damage the rough suffered, was a non-living, or abiotic stress.  The week of the Men's Member-Member tournament, rain soaked the golf course, with almost 2.4" of rain from Monday-Saturday.  Turf that was tired after the long summer, didn't appreciate all of the cart traffic when soils were saturated.  On several holes, such as #4, the rough on the left of the hole was unblemished, whereas the the high traffic right side showed a lot of wear and tear from carts.

The good news is that with fall come cooler temperatures, which aid in turf recovery.  We have also spent the last couple of weeks aerifying and seeding these high traffic areas around the course, and we're already seeing significant improvement in many parts of the rough.

Better weather has helped the rough in many areas.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Home Irrigation Management

Home lawn sprinkler systems, when used properly, can certainly help to maintain a beautiful green lawn.  However, often times, homeowners make the mistake of setting the clocks, and walking away.  Putting your system on “auto-pilot” like this can lead to the sprinklers doing more harm than good to your lawn.  Here are a few suggestions to help get the best out of your irrigation system:


·                    Be aware of the changing water requirements of your turf.  As the days grow shorter and evaporation rates drop, you can reduce your irrigation.  Even during beautiful fall days, the turf loses less than one-third of the moisture it does during a summer day.

·                    In the heat of the summer, water deeply and infrequently.  For most lawns this means watering 2-3 times per week.  This process will help promote a deeper, healthier root system.

·                    While watering deeply is good, it does not mean to the point of run-off.  If the water isn’t staying on your property, it’s not doing your lawn any good!

·                    Take the time to watch your system run, or have your contractor inspect the system on a regular basis.  Sprinklers can often get hit by mowers, or get clogged with debris causing them to stop spinning.

·                    Make sure your rain sensor is set properly.  We often see homeowners’ sprinklers running again less than 24 hours after a significant rain event. 

·                    Don’t be afraid to shut the system off for a few days.  (If you walk in your yard and sink to your ankle, this really may be a wise idea.)  If your lawn starts to turn brown from heat stress, it is not going to die.  This state of dormancy is nature’s way of protecting the plant.

·                    If it’s brown, it must need more water.  Wrong!  Brown turf may be caused by drought stress, but can also be a sign of insect damage or turf disease.  In the latter case, more water can often exacerbate the problem.  


By following these tips, you can improve your lawn, and save money by using less water.  Remember, you can't just "set it and forget it."  If you  have questions, seek professional help in properly setting up your system.
Water runoff from a lawn is even causing damage to the golf course.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tee Irrigation Upgrades Will Improve Efficiency, and Help the Environment by Making the Tees "Greener"

This fall, we are continuing the four year renovation and upgrade to the tee portion of the irrigation system, vastly improving how it operates.  For 2012, we will install new valving, pipe, wire and sprinklers on holes #2, 5, 8, 12, and 13.

There are several reasons why this change is needed.  The original irrigation system was a "wall to wall" design, with sprinklers located from one side of the golf course to the other, spaced 80 feet apart.  While this works well during the grow-in phase of a golf course, it doesn't allow for water to be placed only where needed.  Because of the current spacing, it takes 40% as much water to irrigate the tees as it does the fairways, even though tee acreage is only 15% of fairway acreage.  With many tees being surrounded by Fescue (which should not be irrigated), it's clear that our current system doesn't allow targeting solely the tee surface.

In contrast to this, the new tee design enables us to focus on only irrigating what needs it.  The new layout calls for sprinklers to be spaced 40-45 feet apart.  This will allow for the installation of part circle sprinklers located on the perimeter of the tees.  While the old sprinklers used 45 gallons per minute, the new, smaller heads will use only 15 gpm.  In most locations, the design is similar to what’s used on a desert golf course, with only the tee surface receiving water.  Water conservation is a real benefit of this project.

In addition to more efficient sprinklers, the new design will also change to a better type of piping.  HDPE (high-density polyethylene) will replace the current PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe.  Why make this switch?  Well, HDPE has many advantages over PVC, including better ability to bend, greater impact resistance, better freeze tolerance, and improved surge tolerance. 

Furthermore, the PVC we have is gasketed pipe, and is held in place primarily by the weight of the soil.  During the system start up this past spring, wet soils allowed a section of pipe to move, and pull out of its gasket, causing a leak.   With HDPE, this type of problem will no longer be a concern, since HDPE is considered a monolithic system— a process called "fusion" joins pipe and fittings together, and results in a connection that is as strong as the original pipe.  So, with HDPE you have no gaskets and no glue fittings to worry about.  And, if that's not enough, HDPE is significantly "greener" than PVC, whose production releases chlorine-based chemicals.       

This significant improvement to the course's infrastructure is going to take a few weeks this fall, and will require the use of some large equipment.  However, we will do everything possible to minimize the disruption to play, including requiring the contractor to work on only one hole at a time.  While a particular hole is under construction we will move the tee markers forward in order to keep the hole open for play.  We appreciate your understanding of the disruption during this time, and know that from both an environmental and playability perspective this will help keep the course green!  
The contractor is making good progress on the installation of new tee sprinklers.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Broken Tees

Broken tees are an issue for two reasons.  First, aesthetically, they can make a nice tee box appear to be littered.  Secondly, they have the potential to damage the mower's reels. 

We removed the broken tee containers from the Par 3 tees earlier this season.  The concept of having these right next to the divot mix boxes was great.  However, they weren't being used, and just became one more item for the staff to move when setting up the course for play, or mowing the tees. 
Unfortunately, the containers didn't reduce the time we have to spend gathering broken tees. 

Still, it would be greatly appreciated if you could take the time to pick up your tee.
This picture shows the unimpressive "catch" on the four Par 3s after a busy Friday.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Got Grubs?

This week's surprise came when we discovered some Bluegrass rough that peeled back like an area rug in your house.  The cause of this was easy to identify:  Grubs.

Grubs are the larvae stage of  scarabs (beetles), and they eat turf roots...which is obviously not good.  If you see turf that is wilting despite good soil moisture, you can give it a tug and see if it is well-rooted, or not.  Secondary damage to the grass can occur when animals such as crows, raccoons, and skunks start tearing at the turf to find the yummy grubs.

The strange thing is that we haven't seen grub damage in many years.  A preventative application is made in late June, and to date, has been very successful in controlling these insects.  There are several possible causes for the lack of control this year, including the timing of application, misses by the applicator, lack of timely precipitation/irrigation to move the product to the soil, or product failure.

For now, a curative application has been made to areas where we have found grub activity.  Going forward we will re-evaluate our timing and control methods.
These guys aren't feeling too good after a control product was applied this week.

Friday, August 31, 2012

What's With the Flags?

As you play the course over the next couple of weeks, you will probably notice small marking flags on some of the tees.   We are preparing for the next phase of the tee irrigation improvement project, and these flags are used to show the location of new sprinklers and valves

This year we will be installing smaller, more efficient sprinklers on #2, 5, 8, 12, and 13 tees.  The contractor is scheduled to begin work on September 10, and is hoping to have the work completed in two weeks.
Marking flags are used to show the location of new sprinklers.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How Do You Stop Etiolation?

After dealing with some significant thinning of several greens the past two summers caused by etiolation, we got through 2012 with minimal turf damage.  How?  Well, it certainly was not because of a lack of weather-related stress on the turf, as July tied or broke several heat records.

First, what exactly is etiolation? 

Basically, the symptoms of etiolation in turf are thin, pale and elongated plants, similar to what you’d see in white asparagus.  Eventually, the weakened turf can collapse and die.  On putting greens, samples exhibiting these symptoms also tend to have high bacteria counts, which can clog the plant’s "blood stream."  This is where the debate among members of the scientific community occurs:  Is the bacteria a cause of the etiolation and subsequent wilt, or merely a secondary pathogen, that is taking advantage of an already weakened plant?

Whether the bacteria is a cause or effect, is not important from our perspective.  Regardless of the actual cause, preventing, controlling, and managing etiolation has become the goal.  With that in mind, over the past two years we’ve worked at developing a set of best management practices in dealing with etiolation in the greens by researching countless articles, attending seminars, discussing the issue with other course managers, consultants and scientists from around the country, and even offered the use of our practice green for a USGA funded study.

A possible solution 

One plant pathologist believes there is a connection between the occurrence of etiolation and turf fertility.  While we have always kept the greens fairly lean, his recommendation was to cut back on the amount of Nitrogen applied even further.  This seems to have been a key.

However, this method is not without some risk.  Because a putting green is built largely out of sand, which has little nutrient holding capacity, as we entered the summer, it was like sending a marathon runner off to race without having a good carbohydrate supply to use for energy--essentially, the turf got the equivalent of an occasional sports drink to make it through the summer. To put this into perspective, your home lawn would typically receive 1 lb. of Nitrogen /1,000 square feet per application of fertilizer.  While applying that much Nitrogen to a putting green in-season would never be a wise idea, we are now applying a miniscule rate of 0.03 lb./1,000 square feet. 

Counterintuitive measures

In addition to this lean fertility program, we also stayed very aggressive with our mowing and rolling regimen throughout the summer.  Raising the height of cut is a well documented way of decreasing plant stress, but we chose not to do that.  And, from June 6 through August 13, the greens were mowed a minimum of once (and often twice) per day, every day.  The idea behind these decisions was that etiolation is much like a plant growing out of control.  If we didn’t mow every day, there was a high likelihood that we would "scalp" the turf when we resumed mowing.

When you step back and look at some of the practices, they are counterintuitive to maintaining a healthy green, and so go against some of the rules of thumb of how to decrease plant stress.  For example, mowing is a stress on the turf.  And yet, in this case, if we chose not to mow, an even greater physical injury to the plant would occur.  So how do you stop etiolation?  In our case, the answer seems to be, by not managing the turf in a conventional manner.   

Looking ahead

As we near the end of summer, we can exhale a bit as the turf is enjoying cooler nights, and recovering well.  However, Mother Nature always has some new tricks for us, so we need to continue to research and understand the causes and the solutions to etiolation, as well as the many other enemies of good turf, that would try to keep all of us from enjoying the beauty of a great day on the greens. 
In this picture from 2011, patches of etiolated Bentgrass can be seen in the collar.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Greens Aerification Update

We aerified the greens at the beginning of the week using the 1/4" tines, and by operating the aerifiers at their slowest speed, we were able to create 81 holes per square foot.  While this may sound like a lot, given the tiny size of the holes, less than 3% of the surface is actually being cored.  Here's the math:

.125 X .125 X 3.14 = .049 X 81 = 3.974/144 = 2.76%

These tines help to provide some much needed stress relief for the greens after a long hot summer.  However, with the USGA recommending that 15-20% of a green's surface be disturbed annually by aerification or deep verticutting,  slightly larger tines will be used in October to impact a greater percentage of the surface.
Just four days after aerification, the greens are healing nicely.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

If You Can Measure It... can manage it.  And today, thanks to some state of the art technology, we have many more ways to measure what's taking place on the golf course than in the past.

Like many people, we use weather radar to see when storms are approaching.  Years ago, we had to have a satellite dish and subscription service to get this timely information about the weather.  In contrast to that, today, anyone with a smart phone can quickly know when bad weather is about to hit the course.

Another piece of equipment we use daily is our on-site weather station. One of the important things this provides us is the evapotranspiration rate.  As the name implies, this is the combination of moisture lost due to evaporation and transpiration.   
The weather station is located behind #17 green.

While the weather station is recording what's happening above the surface, we also have sensors underground that provide some key information.  Currently, sensors are located on #9 tee, #9 fairway, and #1 green.  These measure soil temperature, moisture level and salinity at both a 2" and 8" depth.  They then transmit this information wirelessly to a repeater which sends it to the golf course maintenance building.  This information can be accessed from any place with an internet connection.

Temperature, moisture, and salinity from #1 green can be seen in this graph.
While we still make use of a good old soil probe on a regular basis, this high-tech equipment provides us with an enormous amount of information, allowing objective decision making with regard to proper timing and application of irrigation, plant protectants, and fertilization.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Quick Healer

Not to beat the subject to death, but take a look at how fast the Bermudagrass fills in.  The picture on top was taken the day after the divots were created, and the picture below is the same area just 14 days later.  The only thing we have to do with the Bermudagrass tee, is to fill in the divots with a sand mix, and level off the area. 

In contrast to this, the upper tee's turf takes a whole lot more work to maintain.  The divot mix used up top includes: sand mix, pennmulch, fertilizer, seed, and dye.  All of these ingredients are carefully measured and put into a cement mixer.  If that wasn't enough, we also use a tractor-mounted seeder on the upper tee weekly, and have been hand-watering it daily to encourage seed germination.

In a tough summer like this, it's nice to have a small piece of the course that is relatively easy to maintain.
The fresh divots.

The same spot 14 days later.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bermudagrass...Better than Advertised For Summer Practice!

There’s always a little apprehension when you’re the first one to try something new.  So, even though the research told us that the use of Bermudagrass on the lower practice tee was the way to go, we had our fingers crossed this spring as we waited for it to green-up.  However, after putting it to the test during the past couple of months, we can say that the wait was worth it, and the Bermudagrass is living up to its reputation. 

There are several benefits to this grass when compared to the cool season grass on the upper tee.  First, and foremost, the Bermudagrass loves the hot weather...and we’ve certainly had plenty of that this summer.  Secondly, in contrast to the upper tee, the Bermudagrass tee takes nothing more than the sand divot mix to fill in the divots.  Lastly, Bermudagrass isn’t susceptible to many of the turf diseases that cool season grasses are.  To date, only one fungicide application has been made to the lower tee all season.

As we enter August, it’s great to still have some quality turf for members to hit from on the upper tee as well.  Clearly, the Bermudagrass has helped us here, by taking the majority of use during the week.  By only using the upper tee a couple of days each week, we’re able to give that cool season turf more time to recover.

The question you might be asking is, if this Bermudagrass is so great, why don’t we use it on the upper tee as well?  There are a couple of reasons why we are limited to using Bermudagrass on the lower tee.  While this turf thrives in the heat of the summer, it won’t recover from heavy use in the spring and fall.  Secondly, while this variety of Bermudagrass is cold tolerant, it can be hurt by shade, and this would be a problem for the upper tee during the winter months.

The upper tee’s cool season grasses will do best in spring and fall, so come October, we will reverse the use pattern, and hit the majority of balls from the upper tee.

So for trying something new, Bermudagrass was the way to go for great summer practice… living up to its reputation and even better than advertised for summer practice.
Conversion to Bermudagrass on the lower tee has benefited the upper tee as well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Backing Off...Slightly

When the temperatures are below 85 degrees, we can push the greens further.   Double cutting greens and irrigating less to keep the greens firm and fast can be done safely with moderate weather conditions.  But, as the temperatures and humidity keep climbing, it's time to back least slightly.

We are still mowing the greens seven days per week, rolling them six days, and closely monitoring conditions to push things when we can.  However, this summer has already had more than its share of 90+ degree days, and we're still in July. 

Cool season turf has the shortest root system of the entire year in the month of August, so we need to keep the turf going for the next six weeks, until we start to get some consistently cooler days and nights.

This week we came close to 100 degrees, and under these extreme temperatures, the highly maintained turf can lose its ability to function just as people do.  Despite this, we were still able to provide an average green speed of 10' 7" on Wednesday and Thursday.
Cooler temperatures and rain at the end of the week provided some relief, but brought with it a new set of issues, since mowing wet greens can lead to scalping and the unappetizing "grass soup."

Mowing wet greens can cause mechanical injury to the turf.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Golf Course Goldilocks Syndrome

It is during the periods of little or no rainfall that we obviously must rely on the irrigation system to help maintain the health of the turf.  In the past three weeks (from June 22-July 13), we have received a mere 0.35" of rain.  With the above average temperatures we've dealt with, that is less moisture than the turf will use or lose in two days.

There is no substitute for a good rain event.  Even the best sprinklers in a test facility operate with a less than perfect “uniformity of distribution.”  Outside of the lab, wind, in particular, will play havoc with a sprinkler’s coverage.  Add to this the affect on drying of different soil types, as well as runoff from slopes into swales, and it isn’t surprising that there is variation in moisture levels on the course.

Our irrigation system was designed in the 1980's, and in this part of the country, systems are generally just a supplement to regular rainfall.  Therefore, when we do have these periods when we are relying exclusively on irrigation, it can be a bit like Goldilocks:  This spot is too dry, this spot is too wet, and this spot is just right. 

We make every effort to balance both the playability and the long-term condition of the golf course.  In addition to the automatic irrigation, we devote a significant amount of labor to hand watering in the summer, as well as the use of portable roller base sprinklers to help fill in the gaps of coverage.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Those Dirty Rings..."

Several of the greens have dark rings on them, caused by Fairy Ring disease.  These fungi are from the Basidiomycetes class, of which there are over 300 different types.  There can be several visible signs of the fungi at work:  a dark green circle caused by a release of nitrogen in the soil, mushrooms may form on the turf surface, or the fungi may damage the turf roots causing the perimeter of the ring to turn brown. 

Fungicides labeled for the control of this fungus have been applied.  However, these rings are persistent, and with the low fertility regimen we have the greens on this year, the rings really stand out.

While the rings aren't necessarily just around the collar, maybe we should consider trying some "Wisk":

Dark green rings caused by Fairy Ring disease.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Practice Perfectly

The USGA recently published a great article discussing the best way to hit balls from the practice tee.  To put it simply, randomly scattered divots or removing a large patch are not the correct ways to "work the tee."  Please take a moment to click on the link below, and read this article:

By following this example, and working the tee in a "strip" fashion, the tee will recover more quickly, allowing us to have good grass to hit from throughout the golf season.

If you have any questions about this, copies of the article are available at the Club, and the Pro Shop staff will be happy to help you get started in proper practice tee use.
The practice tee during a brief lull in the action.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dorsal Fins, Voracious Eaters and Helping the Environment

At this time of year it’s not uncommon to see all kinds of wildlife on the golf course. The lake at #5 green has one of the more interesting inhabitants, grass-eating carp. These herbivorous fish help to control the aquatic weed growth by spending their summer days happily consuming pounds and pounds of filamentous algae, and pondweed. This helps to reduce the need to use chemical controls for the weed growth, thereby allowing us to manage the property in a more environmentally friendly manner.

The lake also has plenty of catfish and bass, but the carp stand out due to their size, and how close they swim to the surface.  The carp can grow to four feet in length and weigh up to 40 pounds.  You can often see their dorsal fins and tails breaking the surface of the water.

While the carp are definitely wildlife, they are not native to these waters, and were originally brought to the United States from China.  Because of their voracious appetites, there would be concern if these fish were released into the wild and allowed to reproduce.  By consuming so much vegetation, they could significantly change the ecosystem, potentially harming native fish and other aquatic animals.  To prevent this, the carp are sterile, and screening is installed on the lake’s discharge piping, to keep them from leaving the lake. 

So if you see a fin sticking out of the water, have no fear that fresh water sharks have invaded our ponds--it’s only the carp, doing what it loves, helping to keep the course and environment in great shape.
The torpedo-shaped Carp

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Take-All Patch

Take-All Patch (aka Gaeumannomyces graminis) is a turf disease that attacks Bentgrass.  As with all turf pathogens, there are many factors which play a part in determining whether or not the disease will present itself, and this year (perhaps because of the mild winter) we've seen quite a bit of Take-All on both tees and fairways. 

The question  might be asked, why don't we just get the sprayer out and use one of the fungicides in our arsenal to eliminate this disease?  Unfortunately, as with many "patch diseases," the point of attack for Take-All is in the root system, and not the foliage.  Therefore, by the time you see disease symptoms on the leaves, the damage is already done, and fungicides are of limited use.

The best control for this disease requires preventative fungicide applications: one application in the fall, and a second in the spring.  However, this kind of preventative spray program has its drawbacks.  With the inconsistencies in severity of the disease from year to year, it might be tough to establish a cause and effect relationship.  For example, if you spray preventatively in the fall and spring, and have little Take-All that year, was that because you applied the fungicide, or would you have had little Take-All even without the sprays, due to weather and soil conditions? 

Answering this kind of question can best be done through the use of untreated check plots.  If the decision is made to go ahead and spray preventatively for Take-All, we will have both treated and untreated areas side by side.  This way we can connect the dots, and determine how well the fungicide application worked, and how severe the disease would be without the use of a fungicide.

Fortunately, while Take-All Patch often discolors the Bentgrass, and weakens the plant, it typically doesn't live up to its name.

Take-All Patch on a tee.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Un-aerified Greens

We aerified the greens on Monday using the tiny, 1/4" tines.  However, when you play the course, you might wonder if we forgot to aerify part of a few greens, since the back half of #6, 12, and 15 were not cored.

Actually, leaving half of these greens un-aerified was done quite purposefully.  In our quest to determine the cause of Bentgrass etiolation/Bacterial Wilt, we are leaving untreated areas in most every practice we perform this season. 

There are several theories as to what is causing Bacterial Wilt on golf course greens, and one of these is that mechanical stress to the turf can induce symptoms.  While aerification of the greens clearly has great long-term benefits, the actual process can also be stressful to the turf in the short run. 

If these areas do not show signs of Bacterial Wilt, where other parts of the green do, it may indicate that the initial stress of aerification prior to the summer heat, triggers this disease.  On the other hand, if the un-aerified parts of the green do exhibit symptoms of Bacterial Wilt, then we might theorize that the long-term benefits of aerification can help ward off this disease.
The back half of #15 left as an un-aerified check plot.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Despicable Dollar Spot

Dollar Spot is the most common turfgrass disease around. Traditionally, the disease is easy to diagnose both by the lesions it inflicts on the grass blades, as well as the tell-tale mycelium that can be seen in the early morning. People often refer to this as having the appearance of a white cobweb. Interestingly, over the past few weeks, we have seen some Dollar Spot damage on the fairways, however it was not widespread, and there was no sign of mycelium. All indications were that a fungicide application in early May knocked down the disease, and we were just seeing the remnants of earlier activity. As the days passed though, we saw no recovery in these areas, and the patches of turf with Dollar Spot damage were slowly growing larger.

Dollar Spot disease on a fairway.
Since we weren't seeing any clear signs of active disease in the field, a plug was taken from a fairway and placed in a plastic bag outside for 24 hours. As you can see in the picture below, the greenhouse effect of our home made incubation chamber did the trick in forcing the pathogen to show itself.  There was no question that this was, indeed, quite active, and a fungicide application was made to take care of this problem. 

An abundant quantity of mycelium on this plug.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Practice Tee Improvements

Since last year, major improvements have taken place to the practice facility.  Mats were installed last fall at the rear of the upper practice tee, allowing use of the range under most any weather conditions.  Over the winter, the lower practice tee surface was stripped, drainage was installed, it was re-graded, and re-sodded.  The new hitting surface is a cold-tolerant variety of Bermudagrass with the feel of Bentgrass.

This type of turf is now being used at several courses in the Philadelphia area such as Philadelphia and Huntingdon Valley Country Clubs, as well as providing the playing surface for Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and the Philadelphia Union's PPL Park.

With extreme weather conditions during the past couple of summers, this turf will be perfect since it will thrive during the heat, when the cool season grasses are slow to recover.  Its growth is so aggressive that no seed is needed for the divoted areas to fill in.

The lower practice tee is open for use.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Need for Speed

Green speed is a subject which almost all golfers like to weigh in on.  It’s unlikely that Edward Stimpson knew what kind of controversy his simple wooden “stimpmeter” was going to create, when he invented it in 1935.  Because of the interest in this aspect of the game, it's worth taking a moment to consider how dramatically green speeds have changed over the years, and how today’s speeds are achieved.

By the numbers
In a recent article published by  the USGA, they cited the speeds for the 1978 US Open, held at Cherry Hills Country Club, ranged from 9’ on the Stimpmeter on Thursday to a (then) lightning fast 9' 8" on Sunday!

Clearly, we’ve seen dramatic increases in green speed, and not just at major tournament venues.  When Laurel Creek hosted the Nike Tour event in 1996, the required green speed was 10' 6"— over a foot faster than Open speeds from 1978.  And where are we today?  On a daily basis, Laurel Creek’s greens consistently exceed the speeds for the '78 US Open and Nike event by a wide margin.   Average weekday green speeds are over 10', weekends are over 11', and greens can top 12' for tournaments.

Good or bad?
So, are these speeds good for the game of golf?  The answer probably depends on who you ask.   Some will tell you that slower greens required more putting skill than fast greens.  However, many golfers today enjoy being able to start their ball on a line and just watch it continue to roll until it drops out of sight.

A definite downside to faster greens is the loss of pin placements on older courses.  Small, severely sloped greens which were designed 100 years ago may be limited to two or three "fair" hole locations when the greens are quick.  Another issue with super fast greens is that it can slow play when golfers must look at each putt from every angle, and three (or four) putting becomes commonplace. 

How do they do that?
So, how have these speed changes been achieved?   Simply, through the use of many different forms of technology.  This includes breeding for improved varieties of turfgrass which can tolerate lower heights of cut, better growing mediums, with better drainage, more accurate irrigation, better plant protectants, the use of plant growth regulators, regular rolling, and precision mowing equipment.

Still, from a maintenance perspective, keeping a plant alive when mowed at .100", requires much greater inputs than a generation ago when .150" was the norm for private clubs and public courses often mowed at .250".  The downside of lower heights is less leaf surface for photosynthesis, which leads to a shorter root system, and ultimately, less margin for error.  This is why the phrase, “speed kills,” doesn’t just apply to cars.

The future  
 Industry professionals often ask, why do we push our greens to the edge?  The answer is probably, because we can.  The tools mentioned above along with golfers’ desire for faster greens has created this dramatic change.
Like the golf ball that keeps rolling and rolling, many people wonder if speed increases will ever stop.  It’s hard to think that we will ever turn things back to the green speeds of the 1960s or 1970s.  A point to ponder though is what will the expectations be for the next generation?  Today's junior golfers are learning the game on greens which run 10'+ on a daily basis.   Will they be expecting greens to be 18' for their Member-Guest event? 
Again, just because we can do it, doesn't make it a good thing.  Looking back to Payne Stewart's problems at The Olympic Club in 1998, and the 2004 Open at Shinnecock, things have really changed from the '78 Open setup...and faster isn’t always better.
The Stimpmeter

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Value of Verticutting

Normally, when we cut the greens, the mower’s blades work horizontally, removing leaf tissue which dares to creep above the height of 0.100”.   (Yes, that is one-tenth of one inch above the surface, and yes, we do set the mowers using a gauge which measures in thousandths of an inch.)  However, despite this extremely low mowing height, some turf will elude the blades due to its prostrate growth habits.  Years ago, this could lead to “grainy” greens.  This is where verticutting comes into play. 

But what exactly is verticutting?  Well, by definition, verticutting is the thinning of turfgrass by blades or wire tines that cut perpendicular to the soil surface.  As shown in the picture, verticutting blades resemble “throwing stars,” assembled in a helix shape.  When the blade depth is set at, or just below the putting surface, the process is often referred to as "grooming."  During the growing season this practice is performed once or twice per month as needed.  Following the verticutting, the greens are mowed as usual, and within a day, you can’t see the lines at all.
What are the benefits of verticutting?  Verticutting provides several benefits.  For the plant, it helps with thatch removal, and promotes new growth of shoots, which leads to a denser stand of turf.  And for the golfer, the result of verticutting is a surface which is immediately smoother, and with increased density and less lateral grain, a faster one.
With this cultural practice being used throughout the United States, one has to question if there is even a grain of truth to Johnny Miller’s frequent pronouncements that a course’s greens have grain.
Verticutting units attach to our triplex mowers and replace the greens cutting units.