April 29, 2012

Long time coming!

It has been 244 days since Tropical Storm Irene inundated the golf course with her storm surge, and severely damaged a significant portion of the property. This weekend we decided that the new turf on the 1st and 18th fairways is established well enough to withstand play, an the holes were reopened for the Opening Day Men's Breakfast. Rick Ross and I tested the turf with an 8 iron on Friday to see how the sod would hold up. It took me four swings before I could bring myself to touch a blade of grass with the club, but once I did I knew it was ready. We received a lot of positive feedback, and your patience and support have meant a lot to us throughout the project.
There is still a lot of work to do to fine tune the fairways, and establish turf in the rough beyond the sod. After a little more seeding, aeration, and topdressing I am confident that the holes will be in much better condition than they were before the storm.
The weather will have a lot of influence on the final outcome. We have been extremely fortunate this winter and spring in that we have not had a lot of rain, but the 3" rain event early last week reminded us of our weaknesses and limitations.
As we learned last week, we are still vulnerable to flooding from the creek and pond when the tide gate is closed during high tide. After rain events the fresh water moving through the property from Young's Pond and the rest of the watershed backed up and flooded the fairways for the first three high tides. Thankfully the gate is closed and the water had a very low salt content. If that had been brackish water we would have suffered injury in the newly sodded fairways and approaches. The majority of the recovery effort has been focused on adding drainage that will help move water off the surface. The nature of the soils and the lack of elevation change make typical French drains ineffective so we installed surface collectors and created contours that will move water over the surface to the drains.
We will continue to work to improve the health and playability of these areas throughout the season, but continued improvement will require additional drainage, expanding irrigation, and specialized maintenance programs including fertility, aeration, seeding, and topdressing.
It is a huge relief to be able to open the holes this weekend, but we still have a long way to go before we achieve a level of quality consistent with the rest of the golf course and the other facilities at the club.
At this point I would like to thank my staff for their hard work and commitment to restoring the fairways, the Green Committee for their support and encouragement throughout the process, and the board for giving us the resources we needed to restore the areas. In spite of our efforts to keep the project simple, the limitations required us to spend more money on soil and sod than I had anticipated, and the club was always there with the resources we needed every step of the way.
Future blog updates will explain the problem an the proper solution in more detail, but for now I just want to enjoy this milestone. I hope you do too.

April 8, 2012

You can look, but please don't touch.

As many of you have seen, the sod has been installed on the 1st and 18th fairways.  The GreenCommittee and staff have worked very hard to get to this point in the recovery process.  Initially we tried to minimize the cost of the recovery by seeding the renovated areas, but in spite of the record warm weather this spring, complete recovery would have taken too much time so we made the decision to purchase sod.  Although this approach was more expensive, it improved the project dramatically for two reasons.  First, and most important to members, the fairway will be open for play much sooner.  Second, and most important to me, it allowed us to rework the surface drainage which will expand the area covered by the drains we installed last fall.  Ultimately this will improve the condition of the fairway, especially after heavy rain events.  
The turf that we installed has been growing in southern New Jersey for over a year.  This is significant because it allowed the turf to be harvested in large rolls that require less maintenance and will be ready for play sooner.  We tried to purchase sod in November, but there was extremely high demand for bent grass in the northeast last year due to the late summer storms and the renovation project at the Mohegan Sun golf course.  The persistent rains in October prevented the fields from maturing in time for a late fall harvest, but we were assured that they would be ready this spring.  Well, spring came early for most, but the sod in Rhode Island was still very tender and could not be harvested in large rolls.  In late March, the only source of large rolls I could find was in Buffalo, New York.  Last week I was approached by someone who had access to a field that was reserved in New Jersey, but the buyer backed out.  We jumped at the chance, and within a week the fairways were green again.

Due to the high cost of shipping the sod, we only ordered enough to cover the largest areas of the fairways.  This week I will measure and order local sod for the rough around the fairways.  We have small pieces of turf that we saved along the way that we will use to fill in small depressions that remain on the fairways.  Over the next few weeks the seeded areas and sod will continue to mature, and before long we will be playing the holes again.

Until the holes are open, please resist the temptation to walk on the sod.  
We have been watering heavily to wet the sod, as well as the soil beneath that is extremely dry due to the lack of rain.  This has created some very soft spots, and we must be very careful until the roots start to reach down into the soil.  Yesterday I began rolling the areas, and I hope to finish the first rolling early next week.  We will continue to fertilize and roll as needed, and will begin topdressing and aerating as soon as conditions allow.

Ultimately all anyone really wants to know is when the areas will be open for play.  I have a goal in mind, but it may be a bit too ambitious so I will wait until I see what the weather has in store for us in the coming weeks before I say anything.  Last October I was asked to put together a recovery strategy and timeline and said the best case scenario was that it would be open May 1, and in pre-Irene condition by Memorial Day.  The weather last fall was far from a best case scenario, but the winter and spring have helped us catch up.  I think the initial estimate is still realistic, except the fairways will be far better than before.
Complete recovery will be an ongoing  process, especially in the rough areas left of the 1st fairway and on the 2nd hole.  We will continue to work on the problems that have plagued these areas for many years until we have restored the entire area.  I will continue to provide updates and share photos from time to time.  Please remind me if it has been a while since I have posted, as we are extremely busy working on the project and getting the course ready for summer, and it is hard to find time to sit at the computer.  
For now, I am excited about seeing so much new grass, as well as seeing golfers on the course again.  Thanks for checking in, and we look forward to seeing you on the golf course.