January 29, 2013

2012 Review

Today I spent some time looking back at the 2012 golf season.  I reviewed my journal entries and spent a few minutes reviewing the maintenance standards developed by the Green Committee last spring. I almost forgot how challenging the year was, and looking forward I intend to use these experiences as a source of confidence and inspiration, and I am looking forward to implementing the plans and programs that I have been working on over the last few weeks.

The 2012 season started with the completion of the recovery from Tropical Storm Irene.  there were areas where the lack of internal or surface drainage prevented recovery via seeding, and portions of the 1st and 18th fairways required sod to be installed so that the course would be ready for the golf season.  In general the improvements were very well recieved by the majority of the memebrship, and although there are still a few fairway and rough areas that need to be addressed in the spring, it is nice to know that these issues are only temporary.

The warm winter that facilitated the recovery turned into extended periods of excessive heat and drought. This allowed us to maintain firm, fast conditions throughout the golf course, and I heard a number of comments that the fairways played as hard as ever referring to the firmness as well as the difficulty. I am working on a plan that will allow us to maintain similar conditions while minimizing some of the more severe drought stress that was suffered on a few fairways by mid-summer.  The plan includes a combination of fertilizer and chemical applications combined with regular aeration.

Thankfully the greens not only survived Irene’s storm surge, but were healthy heading into the golf season.  Perhaps the most important change for 2012 was the purchase of a moisture meter that allows us to measure the moisture content of the root zone.  Now when we monitor the greens we know exactly how much water is available to the plants, and can use that information to determine the need for irrigation based on the weather forecast.  It also removes any subjectivity when we are communicating with each other regarding the condition of the greens.  Terms like “the back of the 4th green looks dry” or “the greens are soaked” have been replaced with “the average on #4 was 22, but the back corner was in the mid teens” and “the greens are all still in the upper 20’s”.  This makes it much easier to focus our attention on the areas that need water, or to have the confidence that we can go another day or two without running the irrigation.  This technology proved most valuable heading into the Invitational and Club Championship weekends.  We were able to monitor conditions heading into the tournament and could tell exactly how close we were to the edge.  Participants raved about the condition of the greens, and we heard comments that “the greens were as good as they have ever been”.  Looking forward we will be focusing on reducing the organic matter in the greens which will provide firm conditions on a more regular basis.

The rough was a topic of much debate, and as usual there were as many people calling for a more severe penalty as there were begging for us to “use the mowers once in a while”.  Due to the extended dry weather rough areas that were adjacent to fairways and greens received adequate irrigation, while a few yards away the turf was thin and inconsistent.  This year we will be able to aerify the rough, and I have already scheduled fertilizer applications designed to help maintain healthy, resilient turf throughout the season.  The addition of a larger mower will allow us to mow prime areas more often, which will allow us to fertilize a little more often without slowing down the pace of play.

The highlight of last season was the approval of the Water Diversion and Fairway Renovation Project.  A lot of hard work has gone into this project for a number of years, and finally we have the right plan and the right people in place to correct the issues that have plagued the first and last holes of the golf course for decades.  The engineers and architect worked at lightning speed to develop a plan that will not only improve the condition of the turf in these areas and make it possible to survive the most extreme storms, but will ultimately take the two worst holes and transform them into the signature holes of the golf course.

Just as I was getting ready to catch my breath, Hurricane Sandy rolled up the east coast and inundated the golf course with a storm surge that was a foot higher than Irene.  Although we were in complete disbelief that the 100 year storm could hit two years in a row, we knew what to expect and were prepared for anything.  Thankfully the surge brought much less sediment and debris so the course cleanup was much easier to handle.  Unfortunately the damage to the maintenance facility was more severe and we had to perform extensive repairs to the office and shop areas.  The timing of the storm was also in our favor, as the turf was already preparing for winter and therefore the impact of the salt water was much less severe.  There are a few areas that will have to be repaired with sod in the spring, but many of them were already damaged from the extreme heat of the summer.

Looking forward, we are very excited about the coming golf season.  Last fall I worked closely with Joe to develop the golf calendar, and we included greens maintenance days built in so that the benefits would be realized during the premier golf events.  We also modified our greens aeration program so that our most aggressive aerations will occur at the beginning and end of the season.  Our in-season aerations will be much less aggressive, which will dramatically reduce the recovery time and inconvenience to the golfers.  Minor cultural practices that may impact the condition of the greens for a day or two will be listed on the golf calendar that can be accessed through the club website.  Hopefully this will eliminate any surprises and it will be easier to know when to bring guests out to enjoy the course.

Next week I will be in San Diego for the Golf Industry Show and Education Conference.  In addition to the trade show I will be attending talks about controlling insects, water management, and the politics of water.  I know it sounds pretty boring, but it is in San Diego, so I won’t complain too much.

I hope you have been able to steal away to warmer climates and sneak in a round or two of golf.  I have had to settle for watching the PGA, and so far it looks like they are headed for another great season too.