March 20, 2012

A New Approach

The recent warm, dry weather has allowed us to get a great head start on preparing the golf course for the spring.  The greens are open and appear to have come through the “winter” with flying colors.  We have groomed and mowed the putting surfaces, fairways and tees, and the bunkers have been raked, weeks ahead of schedule.  We will continue these efforts as needed in the coming weeks.  The turf throughout the course is starting to break dormancy, and conditions will continue to improve as long as this weather pattern holds up.

The recovery of the 1st and 18th fairways is well under way.  Last fall we focused our attention on installing drains and improving surface drainage.  We fertilized, seeded, and covered large areas in hopes that we could get enough recovery to avoid purchasing large quantities of sod.  The mild winter and warm temperatures helped the grass that germinated in October, but the early spring came a month too late for the dormant seed to establish in time for the golf season.  We have been working this week to strip the weakest areas prepare them for sod.  I have been in regular contact with sod farms and will take delivery of fairway turf as soon as it can be harvested.  We should have the majority of the areas ready in the next few days, and I hope to install the first shipment by the middle of next week. 

The sod brokers with whom I have been in contact all have the same message.  They can get turf, but it is not very mature and it is extremely delicate.  This might be acceptable for use on small areas such as tees, or areas that will not be used until late spring, but large areas that must be playable as soon as possible require thicker rolls of mature sod that will establish more readily.  I will continue to monitor the progress of the turf, and may even travel to Rhode Island to walk one of the farms later this week.  If I am not confident that the sod will be ready by the end of the month, I may have to look as far away as Buffalo for more mature, resilient rolls of sod.  We are working very hard to make sure that we choose the option that will have the areas open for play as soon as possible, give us the best chance for long term success, and allows us to work within our budget.

I am borrowing a machine to help us reseed weak areas throughout the property next week.  This will include the bottom of the 5th and 9th fairways and rough areas on 1, 2, 3 and 5.  These areas will be fertilized to promote growth, and we may even use covers to speed up the process if temperatures return to normal in April.

This has been an extremely challenging spring, and I am looking forward to a time when we can shift our focus away from the recovery and concentrate on improving playing conditions throughout the rest of the golf course.  I will do my best to take a few minutes each week to update you on the recovery and course conditions.  I will include updates in the newsletter and emails from the golf shop, but the best source of information will be found on the blog.  Thanks for checking in, and we look forward to seeing you on the golf course soon.

March 9, 2012

It won't be long now...

What a difference a year can make!  This time last year I was just getting the first glimpse of my lawn in the Hartford area.  This year I think I shoveled more snow in October than I did in December, January, and February combined.
I have been getting a fair amount of pressure to open the greens over the last few weeks, mostly from the same person.  I am well aware that he is not the only person that wants the greens open, but he is the only one that has approached me directly about it.  He happens to be on the Green Committee so I feel it is appropriate that he do so, and I appreciate that he comes to me directly, makes his argument, and leaves me to do what I feel is best for the course in the long run.  I also appreciate the fact that the rest of the members that are just as eager to get out and play have not been beating down my door pressuring me to open.  That would put me in a difficult situation; make the easy decision to satisfy the group of members that want to play early, or make the difficult decision that is in the best interest of the entire membership and wait until the greens are able to recover from ball marks.  In both cases I have been allowed to make the recommendation that I believe gives us the best opportunity to start the season off on the right foot.

We discussed the issue at the Green Committee meeting the other night and I want to share some of the things that I consider each year when we make the decision to open or close the greens;
  1. This is not my golf course.  I am hired by the members to make recommendations that are in the best interest of the members first, and the golf course second.  
  2. I resist the temptation to compare your course to others in the area that may be open (or closed) at a given time.  Our situation is extremely unique in that the majority of our greens receive twice the wear and tear per 18-hole round relative to most golf courses, since we play all but one of our greens twice each round.  To those that may say that I tend to be too conservative I would argue that this is the most important risk/reward decision of the year.
  3. Once I feel that the turf is able to withstand the rigors of preparing the greens for play, I begin daily conversations with the Green Chairman.  The first conversation describes the steps that will be taken, and when we will be able to begin the process.  The last few conversations do not occur on the phone or via email, they happen on the golf course.
At the Green Committee meeting on Tuesday I gave a brief description of the steps I intend to take to prepare the greens for play, and how long I expect it will take.  On Wednesday I toured the course with my assistant and equipment manager to see which greens might be ready, and if there were any that might give us reason for concern.  We determined that the mild winter was very kind to the course and agreed on a series of steps that we would take to get the greens ready for play.  This will help us prepare the  equipment and personnel so that we are ready as soon as the time is right to initiate the process.  Again, the conversation took place on the golf course, not in my office.

"So, what is the process" you might ask.

  1. First, we will roll the greens to ensure that the surface is firm enough that the triplex mower used in the subsequent steps will not damage the surface.
  2. The second step is to verticut the greens to redistribute the sand topdressing that was applied in December.  This will help provide a firm, smooth surface in the coming weeks.  
  3. Next, we use brushes to help work the sand into the surface to protect the mowers that will be used for the first mowing.  A little rain after this step also helps in the process.
  4. Once we feel that the sand has been worked in, we will roll the greens again before the first mowing.  This mowing cleans up any growth left over from the end of last year, and triggers a growth response within the plants.  The next few mowings usually take place every 4 or 5 days.
We should be able to complete steps 1-3 on most greens in a single day if the conditions are right.  The weakest greens in the poorest growing environments may require a less aggressive approach or an individual timetable.  The 4th step will be completed based on the success of steps 1-3, as well as the weather.  Subsequent mowings will take place as needed.  We will begin the process early next week, and I expect to complete the initial mowing prior to next weekend.  I will provide regular updates on our progress, as well as a description of what you can expect over the next few weeks, but rest assured, it won't be long now.
One final thought to keep in mind, especially when the daytime temperatures climb into the 60's; plant growth and recovery is based on soil temperature, and overnight lows have a greater influence on soil temperature this time of year than the daytime highs.  This means that the putting surfaces will be inconsistent until the different types of grass break dormancy.  But that is for a later discussion.

#5 Green - March 11, 2011