November 22, 2013

Mission Accomplished

The greens aeration and topdressing is complete.  We filled over 95% of the 3/4"x8" holes with sand, and then double rolled to smooth the surfaces.  It was a long, and at times tedious process, but the benefits will definitely be worth it.  The internal drainage will be enhanced throughout next season and beyond.  If this becomes the standard closing procedure we will realize deeper, more vigorous rooting in the greens and an increase in the percentage of bentgrass.  Ultimately this will allow us to be more aggressive in our efforts to provide dry, firm, fast playing surfaces throughout the year, and will improve our water management by allowing us to water deeper and less frequently.
The pins are back in the greens, for now.  Unfortunately there is also an excessive amount of sand left on the surface to protect the greens from the cold, dry winter winds that can damage the turf.  We will watch the weather in the coming weeks to determine the playability of the greens.  Once they begin to freeze and thaw I will make a recommendation to the Green Committee to close them for the season.  This is never popular, but it is the right thing to do.

We have installed stakes for snow fences around the 3rd, 5th, and 13th greens.  The fences will be installed in the coming weeks to protect from damage caused by sleds and snowboards, and these greens will remain closed for the winter.
As spring approaches we will determine the best strategy for working as much of the excess sand into the greens.  The sand absorbs heat from the sun and warms the turf in April, and will provide smooth the putting surfaces as the turf breaks dormancy and resumes growth.

November 13, 2013

Going Deep

We are preparing to put the finishing touches on another challenging season at Pine Orchard.  Granted we did not have a major storm, but the season was extremely dry and July was the hottest month in recorded history.  I have learned not to complain about the weather, since it can always get worse, choosing instead to focus on the opportunity to improve things moving forward. 
We have spent the last few weeks focusing on leaf cleanup, which is almost complete.  Soon we will shift to completing projects on the golf course and beginning our seasonal maintenance on the equipment.  Before autumn turns to winter we have a few more things to do to prepare for winter and the beginning of next season.  This includes dormant seeding, final fertilizer and fungicide applications to greens, topdressing, and a little more aeration.  Today I scheduled a deep tine aeration for the greens, which will be completed Wednesday, November 20th. This will be the final major step in preparing the greens for winter.

What is going to happen?
A contractor is going to bring a machine mounted on a tractor that will punch holes in the green surface 3/4" wide and hopefully 7"-8" deep. Weather permitting we will apply a heavy load of sand on the greens the day before, so that it will instantly fill the bottom of the holes with sand. We will follow his macine with a brush to move more sand into the holes before they collapse or bridge with sand. The deep holes will be much farther apart than our traditional aeration making it difficult to move the remaining sand far enough to fill the holes completely. We will use our machine to make smaller holes in the surface on a much tighter spacing.  This will allow us to incorporate the majority of the sand into the root zone.  Finally we will roll and brush the greens until the holes are filled and the surface is firm and stable.

Why are we doing this?
Years of traditional aeration have created a 3"-4" modified root zone composed of native soil and sand. Below this layer there is a compacted layer of native soil that restricts water infiltration and root development. By breaking this layer water will penetrate deeper encouraging root growth beyond the upper 3"-4". This will allow us to manage moisture more effectively and maintain firm playing surfaces on the greens. Deeper root growth will also favor more resilient turf species, such as bentgrass over Poa annua, which will allow us to use less water and push harder for green speed. These results do not occur overnight, but when this strategy is adopted as part of a comprehensive program the playing surfaces are better earlier in the spring, and are more durable throughout the heart of the golf season.

What can you expect next week?
Greens will be closed once we begin top dressing, hopefully on Tuesday. Once the process is complete I will determine if the greens are stable enough to tolerate traffic and approach shots. If they are we will do our best to make them as playable as possible. If not, we will be establishing temporary greens in the approaches for people that want to get in a few late rounds. I will continue to monitor the surfaces until they begin to freeze, at which time I will make a recommendation to the green committee to close them for the season. All season we have done everything in our power  to make the course as playable and accessible as possible, and I intend to continue this approach until I feel that it will put the long term health of the turf in jeopardy. 
I will keep you posted as we approach and complete this process. 

Season wrap up.

Considering the cold weather that will dominate the next week, I am comfortable saying that the 2013 golf season has come to an end. It was by far the most difficult season I have experienced in almost twenty years working on golf courses.  In general I feel that the season was a success considering we survived extreme weather conditions with minimal damage to prime playing areas, and I have a much better understanding of the golf course and its limitations. 
Coming out of a winter that blessed us with a blizzard that dumped 3 ' of snow, we were faced with the challenge of completing the recovery from the second storm surge in as many years. Thankfully the extent of the damage was minor compared to the year before. As March turned to April, we were trying to transition from winter maintenance to spring cleanup, while building a new forward tee and developing a plan to replace the damaged tree on the 3rd fairway. 
April was extremely dry and cool, which made it difficult to establish new grass from seed and delayed recovery from our early greens aeration. The greens recovered just in time for the spring member-member, and the deep verticutting helped smooth and firm up the putting surfaces for the first half of the year. We followed up this process with minor cultivation practices as part of the "Greens Maintenance Days" that were built into the golf calendar. This strategy allowed us to survive the extreme conditions that were right around the corner. 
June was dominated by heavy rain events, including one that dumped over 5" in one night, flooding the 1st and 18th fairways forcing us to cancel a Golf Breakfast. In one ten day stretch we received over 9" of rain, which revealed a number of drainage issues especially on the 3rd fairway. Coming out of the extreme rains of June, July  and August seemed to occur simultaneously.  If you read this scenario in an almanac one would expect significant significant turf loss due to extreme disease pressure and decreased root mass. The wet weather in June typically affects the depth and density of deep roots, since there is little oxygen in the lower root zone. July was the warmest month in recorded history, largely due to the fact the overnight lows remained in the low to mid 70's.  We almost made it through with minimal damage, but a heavy downpour in the last week was too much for the struggling turf on the 6th tees and the 5th green.  
Thankfully August was manageable and even gave us an opportunity to begin recovery efforts a few weeks early.  We started aerifying rough and weak fairway areas and seed was flying everywhere. Unfortunately the sky dried up and August was the start of an extended period of drought that continued through November. On a positive note, the cool, dry weather meant that the course was in great shape and we were able to keep the greens dry and firm from the Invitational through the end of the season. 
To end the season we have been focusing on topdressing and aerifying, which will set us up for another great season next year. We hired a contractor to deep tine the greens using 3/4" tines that made holes up to 8" deep, more than twice as deep as we make with our machine. We incorporated over 30 tons into the greens which will allow them to drain better and set up earlier next season. 
Looking forward I will be reviewing our programs from last year and making adjustments that will make our department more efficient and effective. 
We hope you enjoyed your time on the golf course this year and wish you all a very healthy, happy holiday season.