Sunday, January 31, 2016

Battling the Blizzard of 2016

While the grounds staff may jokingly say, "If you can't mow it, we don't know it..." we actually are well-versed when it comes to snow removal.  However, despite years of experience, the Blizzard of 2016 proved to be quite the challenge for us.

With the Club closed Saturday because of the storm, we arrived before dawn Sunday morning to start the cleanup.  Meteorologists don't always get the forecast right, but when they said, "Expect blowing and drifting..." for this storm, they weren't kidding.  The first challenge we faced on Sunday was just getting to the maintenance building to access the snow removal equipment. 

None of our vehicles were going to make it down the driveway which parallels #16, so we had to park on the street and hoof it down through thigh deep snow, which had everyone huffing and puffing by the time they made it to the building.  Clearing the driveway to the point that we could make it out to Centerton Road took over an hour.
Some serious drifting on the right of #16.

Once we got to the Clubhouse, we were greeted by more unique snow and ice formations.
A large blob of snow hangs from the edge of the porte cochere.

On the golf course, the changing topography left us with wide-ranging amounts of snow.  From the front of #1 tee, things appeared to have cleared off quickly.

However, when standing behind the tee, it was a whole different picture, where two feet deep drifts remained mid-week.

People often ask how winter weather impacts the golf course.  In very general terms, we say that snow is good and ice is bad.  Therefore, with much of the snow starting to melt and compact this past week, now would not be a good time for a blast of cold weather, as it would likely lead to ice formation.

Fortunately, it looks like some very warm weather will stick around long enough to allow all of the snow to melt.  However, with frozen ground below, you can expect some soupy conditions, as the moisture won't be able to soak into the ground.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Quick Coupler Install--Part Two

Last week we began talking about the installation of new quick coupler valves on the fairways.  If you missed that introduction to the topic, it can be found here:  2016 Project Work Underway

Again, one of the reasons this project has been undertaken is to improve efficiency.  In looking back at 2015, close to 1,300 labor hours were spent hand watering fairways.  Doing this in the most productive way is obviously important.

As promised, this week we're going to move on to the "how" of this project.  The first step in this part of the process is to lay out the location of the quick couplers.  Most of the time when hand watering, the grounds staff use a 1" X 100' hose.  Therefore, it makes sense that quick couplers only need to be spaced every 200' to reach all parts of the fairway.  And, with a circle 200' diameter, each valve should potentially cover close to 3/4 of an acre.  However, Laurel Creek's fairways are definitely not shaped like a crop circle or hockey rink, and when locating new quick couplers on existing irrigation pipe, more than a few miles were walked in trying to space them in an efficient manner.

Like most things on a golf course, with today's technology, you can do a layout on paper or a computer, but getting out in the field is still the only true way to know what you're looking  at and what the end result will be.  Marking flags are placed to see the limits of coverage from each proposed quick coupler location, and make sure there are no gaps.

Once we decided where a new quick coupler would be installed, the next step was to use our tracer to determine the exact location of the existing irrigation pipe, and which direction it ran.  There is at least one wire running next to all of the pipe on the golf course, so we attached the tracer's transmitter at a nearby irrigation controller.

The transmitter sends out a signal which the receiver then picks up.  The existing pipe is marked and the final location of the new valve is flagged.

The next step is where the digging begins.  Plywood is placed near the location, the sod is cut away, and a hole dug exposing the pipe.  Unfortunately, we have no pictures of this part of the project--the crew dug these holes like a group of human backhoes, completing the job before we could get the camera out!

When installing a new irrigation system, a "Tee fitting" will often be used in line with the pipe, where sprinklers or quick couplers are being located.  However, when installing onto an existing system we opted to use a "tapping saddle."  These can best be described as having a clam shell design.  A hole is drilled into the pipe, then the saddle is placed around the pipe and the two halves are bolted together.  Tabs on the inside of the saddle go into the irrigation pipe and keep it from shifting.  There is also a seal which prevents water from leaking.  A threaded hole on top of the saddle is where the water will exit the pipe and make its way up to the new valve.
Tapping saddle prior to being installed.
The course's 2" lateral piping is buried  at an average depth of two feet.  The part which connects the tapping saddle at pipe level to the quick coupler valve at the surface is called a "swing joint."  Swing joints have several elbow fittings with o-rings.  This allows us to keep the quick coupler valve vertical and level with the surface over varying pipe depth.

Components identified, prior to install in ground.
When you think of a swing joint, picture your elbow, forearm, and wrist.  With your elbow bent at 90 degrees, your fingers (the quick coupler valve) can point towards the ceiling.  As you straighten your elbow, and your forearm moves from vertical to horizontal, you can still keep your fingers pointing up by bending your wrist.
Saddle, swing joint and new valve being leveled prior to back fill.

A few weeks ago we talked about how fast quick coupler valves can become grown over and lost as their lids are only a couple of inches in diameter.  To prevent this, once the hole is backfilled, a valve box is placed over the quick coupler.  A thin layer of cement is then poured inside the box, and used to stabilize the quick coupler, and keep it clean.
A bit of snow covers the old sprinkler and newly installed valve box.

Now that we've explained the how of this project, we'd be remiss not to mention the "who" behind this.   As discussed above, the grounds staff did an outstanding job in working together on this irrigation improvement.  Under the supervision of Assistant Superintendent Don Holgersen, they installed as many as 15 quick couplers in a single day.

Whatever the weather, whatever the job, the crew gets it done!
We're eager to put these new quick coupler valves to use when hot weather hits in 2016.  For now though, we'll have to wait patiently to test them, as there is now a whole lot of snow on the ground, and it will be a couple of months before we can charge the irrigation system.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

2016 Project Work Underway

This week, we made a large irrigation improvement, by installing 66 additional quick coupler valves on the fairways.  There is quite a bit of information we'd like to share about this project.  So, in an effort not to have readers fall asleep, we'll break it down into a couple of different blog posts.

For now, let's start with the "what" of this project.  Quick couplers, or quick coupling valves, are terms anyone in the golf industry knows, and we may mistakenly assume others do as well.  Quick couplers are what we use to connect a hose into the irrigation system for hand watering greens.

Before automatic irrigation systems, quick coupler keys were fitted with sprinklers on top. The valves were located down the center of fairways, in the middle of tees, and around the greens. The night watering crew would have to take these and place them throughout the golf course, moving them from hole to hole.  Those were the good old days...
An old school quick coupler key and sprinkler head.

At Laurel Creek, each green has two quick couplers connected to the same piping which feeds the automatic sprinklers.  During the golf season, all 25 miles of pipe is constantly pressurized to 115 psi.  As the name, "quick coupler" indicates, in just seconds you can insert and turn the key with a hose attached into one of these valves and instantly have water flowing.
Before being installed in the ground, you can see the quick coupler valve and key.

Why do we need these on fairways at this time?  With an irrigation system that was installed in 1989-1990, the question of why we would be installing them now is a good one.  There are several reasons that adding quick couplers makes more sense now than ever.

The first reason is irrigation uniformity.  Given the age of the existing system, irrigation uniformity becomes increasingly challenging.  We need to have the ability to put the right amount of water, in the right place, at the right time.  There is a saying in turf management that if you're not hand watering, you're over-watering.  Even with the most modern irrigation systems, overhead irrigation is far from perfect.

A second reason is water conservation.  We are fortunate to have a good supply of irrigation water in our lakes.  However, we welcome any opportunity to save water.  Unlike our sprinklers, which are spaced 80' apart, good old fashioned watering with a hose allows us to get the water exactly where needed, and not waste it.

Playability is a third, and one of the most important, reasons for installing quick couplers now.  While we can't always guarantee firm conditions throughout the year, we are always striving to improve playability on the golf course.  A network of quick couplers on the fairways allows us to rely less on sprinklers, and provide overall firmer conditions.

Labor efficiency is a final reason for installing quick couplers.  To improve playability on fairways, we continue to devote an increasing number of labor hours to hand watering.  We need to be able to maximize the time watering, while minimizing disturbance to our members and their guests.

This gets to the topic of how we've been able to hand water fairways in the past.  To date, this has largely been accomplished by taking apart sprinklers and then inserting a hose connection.  This method is less than ideal.

With several o-rings, nozzles, and screws in a sprinkler's drive assembly, there is a lot that can go wrong when they are constantly being taken apart and reassembled.  One of the major issues we've experienced over the past few years is worn "actuators" on the top of sprinklers, which may make them difficult to turn on and off manually.  Or worse yet, with some actuators turning clockwise and others counter-clockwise, employees may inadvertently leave them in the "Off" position, meaning they will not be able to run automatically at night.  The bottom line is that the less you need to mess with old sprinklers, the better off you are.
There are many parts inside each sprinkler.

Hooking into sprinklers also takes time.  It can take an employee several minutes to disassemble and then reassemble a sprinkler.  That's all time that could be spent actually watering.  Often, it's also time when a player may be waiting to hit their shot and we can't quickly get out of the way.  Again, quick couplers are called that for a reason.  Employees will now be able to maximize their time by hooking into this network, while decreasing the chances of sprinkler problems.

So, there's an explanation of the what and why of this project.  Next week, we'll get down and dirty, as we take a look at the "how" of the install...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Wild and Wacky Weather

Whether you're a believer in global warming or not, it's hard to deny that we've experienced some very unusual weather recently. 

Last February was bitterly cold, with temperatures averaging 10 degrees below average for the month.  However, this was more than offset by December, where we were close to 14 degrees above average.  There was definitely no white Christmas this year, with a high temperature of 71 degrees on Christmas Eve!
Only one day in December had below average temperatures.
People often ask what affect weather like this will have on the golf course.  Without a crystal ball to see what future weather anomalies we're likely to experience this winter and spring, it's tough to know if there will be any long-term issues.  However, we're already seeing some unusual results of this record warmth.  Let's talk Poa...

In order to reduce the wave of Poa Annua seedheads on the greens in the spring (and the bumpiness that comes with them) we apply a combination of growth regulators.  The timing of these sprays is based on a growing degree model, which we start in the beginning of January.  Historically, the degree threshold is reached in late March or early April, prior to seeing Poa seeds on the green, and the first application is made then. 
A degree day model is used for Poa seedhead suppression spray.
So, what's this got to do with the weather we've seen of late?  Well, it's early January, and we're finding Poa Annua in seed on the greens. 

One other strange sight for January is seen below:
January 8, and still mowing greens!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

For the Birds

As part of our ongoing commitment to Certification in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, we must continue to improve in several specific areas on the golf course.  One of these is wildlife and habitat management.

Don Holgersen and Don Robel took advantage of one of the many rainy days we had in December to construct several new birdhouses.
This birdhouse was installed just prior to Christmas, however you'd never know it from the color of #17 green to the left.