March 30, 2014

Off and running

The golf season is right around the corner, finally.  For many it will be a relief to get back out after a tortuous winter marked by record cold snaps followed by a very persistent blanket of snow. For me it is the end of a season of rest, recouperation, and growth ( both personal and professional).  
The winter prevented us from completing many items on our "to do" list, but we were able to make some significant improvements to the course, our equipment, and our maintenance programs.  If you have not learned about these changes in blog posts, newsletters, or emails, you will certainly recognize them the first time you return to the golf course. The most obvious and important have been covered in previous posts, so I will shift our focus to the future. 
We are in the process of completing a few capital projects on the course, including installation of new artificial mats on the range, renovating the rough on the 1st hole, repairing and expanding the irrigation on the 1st hole, and replacing trees and shrubs that were damaged in the hurricanes. These projects will be moving along rapidly over the next two weeks, and we hope to have most of the work completed by the opening golf breakfast. Much of this depends on the weather, and I am trying to remain optimistic after the heavy rains this weekend. 
On Wednesday we will take a short break from projects to complete our first aeration on the greens. It will be a similar process to the one completed last September when we cored the greens one day and deep verticut them the next. This will be the cornerstone of our cultural program for the year, allowing us to rely on less invasive practices throughout the season, which will minimize the disruption to the surface during the peak golf season. The putting surfaces will be severely disrupted for the first half of April, but I expect them to be healed in time for Opening Day, and in excellent condition for the Spring Member-Member. 
During the season we will be completing minor cultural practices on greens, tees, and fairways, on close to a weekly basis. I have an initial schedule worked out that I will post on the club calendar, and will post any changes on the blog or via social media. I am still working out the details and will provide more information in a future post or email. 
Looking out the window it is hard to think that spring is here and another golf season is upon us, but I am eager to completethe capital improvements and shift our focus to building on the progress we have made on the course over the last few years.   I am confident that we are well on our way to another exciting and successful season, and we look forward to seeing you all again enjoying the golf course. 

March 13, 2014

Worst case scenario

The recent temperature swings could present a worst case scenario with respect to winter kill for turf grass. The saturated conditions caused by the warm weather and melting snow followed by the rapid drop to below freezing has the potential to cause significant damage to the plants.  Poa annua is at greater risk because it tends to break dormancy and draw moisture from the soil earlier than bentgrass. 
You can find more information about the potential damage in an earlier post. I am confident that the late fall deep aeration will reduce our risk if damage. The temperatures should warm enough tomorrow for the majority of the snow and ice to melt, and hopefully the surfaces will thaw and drain before the next precipitation event. 

March 8, 2014

USGA: North-Central

We have been monitoring the greens at Pine Orchard  for the last few weeks.  We were free from snow at the end of January, and it probably took a week or two for ice to form. I estimate that we are close to 35 days under ice which should be fine. 
A more dangerous situation arises when we clear snow and ice and rapidly expose turf to the sun causing it to break dormancy prematurely. Rapid drops in temperatures in this case can cause significant damage and turf loss. 
My first spring here was similar to this situation and we suffered very little damage, and none on greens. I expect the late season deep aeration and heavy topdressing will serve us well over the coming weeks. I will keep you posted. 
Here are two photos from March 2013. I was very scared at first, but the turf survived and the green performed beautifully that summer. 

Pete Gorman
Golf Course Superintendent 
Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club
Branford, CT

March 4, 2014

Changes for the better.

We hired a contractor to come and transplant three trees to restore the strategic value that was lost one year ago when we had to remove the large pine tree that guarded the left side of the 3rd fairway.  Last spring we consulted with golf course architect Tim Gerrish to determine a long term solution that would challenge tee shots that were played along the left side of the fairway.  His solution included adding four trees in the left rough adding a new fairway bunker.  Last spring the Golf Long Range Committee approved the planting of the trees, and our staff planted the largest sugar maple that we could handle given our equipment.  

Today we transplanted three significantly larger red maples to complete the planting portion of the architect's drawing.  The new trees will provide a significant penalty for shots that miss far left of the fairway, but will not prevent the advancement of the second shot.  For the next few years it will be possible for many players to play over the trees, but it will require a lofted pitch shot making the approach to the green much more difficult.
The photos above show the process of digging a substantial rootball, raising it intact, and transporting the tree, roots and all, about 225 yards where it was installed in its new location.  
There will be a significant amount of care required over the next two years to ensure the success of the transplant, but I was assured that this species of tree is extremely hardy and tolerates this type of transplant well, especially at this time of year.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge

The new view from the left rough on #3
Another significant change to the course this winter is the cutting of the phragmites found throughout the property.  Phragmites, or Common Reed, is an invasive species that is a very aggressive weed in freshwater wetlands.  It modifies the nature of the wetland and out-competes the native plants by limiting the light availability, and ultimately crowds out the desirable vegetation.  It has little value as a wetland species due to the fact that it destroys diversity among plants and excludes the native insects, migratory birds, and mammals that rely on wetlands for survival.  Over time, the phragmites accumulate a significant amount of biomass and ultimately fill in the wetland.  This would be extremely detrimental to the golf course since we rely on these wetlands to absorb water running down the hill from the 7th and 8th holes.  If left unchecked, their continued growth would have a  negative impact on the health and condition of the 7th green and approach, as well as the forward tee on #17.  

Across the 1st fairway to the 7th and 8th holes
Cutting the dormant vegetation is the first step in the management project.  The dormant stalks are cut down and mulched as much as possible.  The material is left in place to decay to prevent transporting seeds and roots to new areas where the weed can begin a new infestation.  We are working on securing a permit that will allow us to complete the second step, which involves treating the areas with a herbicide to kill the vegetation that recovers from the initial mowing.  This will be followed up by another round of cutting next winter.  The following spring the native plants will begin to reestablish themselves from the seed bank that exists in the wetland soils.  I have already reached out to one of my vendors to explore the possibility of introducing some desirable wetlands plants that will speed up the recovery process and create an attractive habitat that contributes to the beauty and character of the golf course.

The work to the right of the 9th/18th tees can be seen from Blackstone Road, but the most significant visual impact will be found standing in the 7th fairway.  It will take some time to get used to the unobstructed views throughout the area, but in time the aesthetic and ecological benefits that the  wetlands contribute to the property will be well worth the wait.  A similar project has been implemented at Madison CC, and I have heard from a number of golfers that it has transformed a large portion of the property. 

View from the 18th Back Tee

Looking down the 7th fairway