Monday, March 23, 2015

Mother Nature Curveball

As the fairway installation progressed last summer, it became obvious that there would be weed challenges that would need to be dealt with this year.  A multi-dimensial plan was developed that would safely, slowly, and cost effectively clean both the zoysia sod and sprigs of unwanted weeds and grasses.  The first step in the plan was to use a non selective herbicide (Roundup) on the dormant zoysia in February.  This would damage anything that was green.  Unfortunately, that plan was derailed by the snow storms and excessive rain that hit the area.  When the fairways finally cleared and the ground dried up, the zoysia had already broken dormancy and started to green up.  The low rate of Roundup needed would probably only slow the zoysia down but this first year no chances are being taken so that application is out.  We may still be able to make it in the bermuda rough because it has not broken dormancy yet.

The sprigged areas are also full of moss.  This is a light green plant that is the result of keeping the sprigs wet after planting.  A  product will be sprayed on it soon to kill the moss.  This product also has some broadleaf weed activity that will help.  The annual bluegrass and other cool season grasses that are in the sod will have to be sprayed with a different class of herbicides.  There are several products to chose from depending on temperatures but all of them are much more costly than Roundup.  The plan had been to wait to use one of these until summer/fall as the last application and to clean the zoysia before winter. 

Last week I was asked why some rows of sod were fully green with most still tan.  The answer is that those strips have unwanted grass/weeds in them.  This was one of the targets we hoped to stop with the Roundup.  I had planned to cut the fairways short this week to allow the sun to green the zoysia faster but the forecast for the weekend is 2 nights of freezing temperatures.  It makes sense to delay the cut down for another week.  This will also give us a chance to decide on the timing of the next herbicide application.

The good news in all this is the zoysia is greening and ready to finish growing in.  If you want an idea of what the fairways will look like in the future, take a peek at #14 fairway.  That is what we expect to produce in the coming years.  Lastly, with the zoysia greening, golf carts will be allowed off the paths as soon as the ground is dry enough. 

Larry Hantle, CGCS

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Golf Industry Show (GIS)

The last week of February, my assistants, Scott Foreman and Adam Hunerkoch, and I had the opportunity to attend the GIS in San Antonio, TX.  This annual gathering of turf people and the surrounding industries attracts people from around the globe.  The first two days are filled with educational talks from universities, researchers, superintendents, and consultants on subjects ranging from "What Killed My Turf" to the latest trends in golf course architecture.  The last two days are spent on the trade show floor viewing equipment and all sorts of devices (I was going to say gadgets but that doesn't convey the technology involved) to help in our quest to grow the best turf possible.  I asked Scott and Adam to share a couple of their highlights from the show.

Scott learned alot about "the polar vortex"and how to anticipate its existence and consequences in the weather session of "What Killed My Turf".  In the "DIY" (do it yourself) session with superintendent presenters, Scott picked up an idea on how to extend the exhaust pipe on our sprayer to keep it from burning the turf when it is running but not in motion.  At the trade show he was impressed with the latest sprayer from Toro.  Its simplicity and size plus possible mixing tank (taking him further from the chemicals) had him convinced that it would be the best choice for replacing our 1999 model.  The other trend he noticed was the emphasis from manufacturers in bringing electric (battery) powered equipment, especially small items like weedeaters and blowers and also utility vehicles.

Adam also was impressed with the "What Killed My Turf" session and how researchers are able to quantify the effect on turf survival by the length of snow and ice coverage on the turf.  In the "Modern Day Management for Assistant Superintendents" talk, Adam picked up valuable tips on how to better communicate with staff in order to produce a team atmosphere.  He also learned about incorporating new technologies such as Smartboards and Google Drive into management operations.  Technology was one of the main points Adam saw at the trade show especially the GPS controlled sprayers and spreaders for pesticide and fertilizer applications.  He has seen this before helping out on his family's farm, and it is spreading quickly into the golf world.  Another trend he saw was the emphasis on systems to properly clean maintenance equipment while not causing pollution with the rinse water.  These systems are self contained and can actually save water.

As for me, I always look forward to attending the GIS even though this was my 36th consecutive one.  The chance to see friends from around the country is invaluable and the information shared is voluminous.  A trend that I see from the educational talks is definitely "be environmently friendly".  This was sublimely iterated in fertilizer talks (don't use more than you need to keep pollution out of our waterways); in talks about protecting bees and pollinators and their habitat; in a session on using plant defense activators to ward off fungi; and even in a DIY talk about going to electric powered equipment instead of fossil fueled.  The golf course architect forum was about real life solutions involving practice facilities and possible multiple uses (such as a short course) to attract new members to clubs.  Technology is ruling on the equipment front with electric power not only coming on small stuff, but also being put on large mowers to power cutting units while reducing the size of traction unit engine (thereby reducing fuel consumption and air pollution).  The next break through will be with lithium batteries that are smaller and lighter and last longer.

It was a great experience for us and we hope to improve the operation with ideas we learned. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Is this really Winter?

January has left us behind yet we are still experiencing above normal temperatures in addition to abundant rainfall.  The forecasters now think that extreme cold weather is probably not likely.  For the golf course this should mean less of a chance that the bermuda will run out of energy before it greens up and starts to grow again.  Unfortunately that also means that the window of dormancy that would allow Roundup to be sprayed eliminating winter weeds will be shorter than normal.  Our sprayer is ready and now we wait for conditions to be right for the application.  The ground must be reasonably dry and the wind low and of course temperatures need to be above freezing (that hasn't been a problem).  If we do not get those conditions, then a decision will have to be made whether to let the winter weeds run their course or to change herbicides (that will be more expensive).

One of the things I like about wintertime is the chance to dream and plan for the year.  You dream of ideal conditions for the course just like you see in pictures and magazines.  Then you try to plan how to best use the resources available to get as close to that dream as possible.  By using Google Map and Google Earth I can compare what the Country Club of Paducah looks like versus courses all over the country and world. One drawback is that the satellite imagery is not updated very often.  For several years clouds obscured several holes here but last year it was updated giving a clear view of all the course.  Mowing patterns can be analyzed and I have found that contours in the patterns that I thought might be excessive are fairly mundane when compared with other courses.

That part is always enjoyable but the real work is in the nuts and bolts planning.  When to apply, which product to apply, how often to mow, etc. is what makes for a successful year.  John Wooden's saying "failure to prepare is preparing to fail" is very apropos.  I like to plan the work and then work the plan.  Rarely does it go the way I plan it because Mother Nature gets in the way a lot, but that is part of the challenge of being a greenkeeper.  Growing the turf has gotten very scientific and technical but producing a golf course with turf that is playable is still an art because the best playing conditions are rarely found when the turf is growing its best.

It has started to rain again as I write this and the forecast is for copious amounts tomorrow followed by a dry spell next week.  Maybe that will be our opportunity to fulfill the first part of the plan for the year.  Wish us luck

Friday, January 13, 2012

Winter Golf

It has been much too long since I last wrote in this column and my apologies are in order.  The shortage of staff that plagued the golf course last year meant less time for writing and I relied too heavily on my Twitter posts.  Hopefully, I will learn to better manage my time so that my thoughts can find their way to you.

Winter golf is always at the mercy of Mother Nature.  Up to this point, the weather has been friendly and you have taken advantage.  Yesterday a winter storm blew through the area with a little snow but more importantly cold temperatures.  The ground, especially the greens, is frozen solid today.  Not really a problem because the temperature today will struggle to get to freezing and that alone will discourage most if not all golfers.  The problem will be this weekend when the temperatures are expected to reach the 40's and maybe higher.  This will cause the ground to start to thaw and it will occur from the top down.   This is the most dangerous situation agronomically because as the top thaws, traffic (even foot) will cause it to shift against the frozen layer below where the turf roots are.  This shifting has the potential to shear those roots off at that interface meaning all the care given to the greens last fall to grow a deep root system will be for naught.

In order to be out of danger the soil needs to thaw to about a two inch depth.  With 19 different locations, every green thaws at different rates according to shade and orientation to the sun. Once the ground freezes solid enough that it can not be penetrated with a knife blade, it only takes the temperature getting close to 32 degrees at night to refreeze starting the cycle over again the next day.  At this point, it looks unlikely that the course will be open this weekend due to this freeze/thaw cycle on the greens.  The greens will be checked each morning and if the course is not playable, signs will be posted at #1 and #10 tees and that information will also be Tweeted.

Warm weather during the winter always has its drawbacks usually in the form of bad weather during the spring.  I would just as soon have bad weather now and nice later.  Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lessons learned

About 16 days ago, golf course operations were coming together and I felt we were getting dialed in on the water management of the greens.  There were not a tremendous amount of dry spots and staff was able to effectively manage them with daily hand watering that was not taxing our hours.  If that routine could be maintained where the water lost during the day was replaced with the irrigation system each night and hand watering done only where inconsistencies in the system occurred, then I felt the greens would be firmer and smoother and play better if the correct ball speed could be achieved.  The first lesson was to think that all contingencies had been considered.

On the night of June 2nd, the pump station faulted during the nightly operation and shut down leaving the greens without irrigation.  Not a problem as we increased our hand watering the following day and no harm was done.  On the night of the 3rd after changing the program a little, the same fault occurred.  Now it's Saturday morning and a big deal especially when one of the staff called in sick leaving us short handed.  But the greens were checked and hand watered and appeared to be holding their own.  That afternoon turned scorching hot and hand watering could not keep up.  The irrigation faulted again that night but this time the programs had been changed wholesale so the greens did water before the fault occurred.  The greens were additionally hand watered Sunday morning and were being done so again that afternoon when the station quit working automatically altogether.  The pump station technician was consulted and the station was switched to manual control where it has operated since.  In retrospect, on Saturday morning I should have cut back on our routine making it possible to not only hand water but also run the irrigation system making up for faulting during the night but I was trying to deliver the expected even in impossible situations.  Second lesson was that you have to know when to fold and cut your losses.

In the last two weeks with manual operation of the pump station, the greens have slowly been rehydrated to correct levels.  On manual it has to be a basic program and that has slowed the recovery.  Another factor is that greens daily and tees once a week are the only areas being irrigated.  The program to irrigate around the greens takes to long to run during the day and interferes too much with routine maintenance.  But that is exactly the program that would help several greens surrounded by trees such as #4, 10, 13, and 17.  We know those have tree roots in the greens and normally we try to run the heads around the greens during dry spells to satisfy the trees and keep them from robbing too much moisture out of the greens.  In the absence of that program, hand watering has been increased.  The biggest help to greens recovery has been the rainfall albeit a small amount to this point (.30).  Because of the high bicarbonates in our irrigation water, the longer it has to be the sole source of water, the less effective it becomes.  From the 25th of May until June 17th there was only .1 inches of precipitation.  Even the .06 received on the 14th started to invigorate the turf.  Third lesson is to remember that Mother Nature has the biggest stick.

The fourth lesson came as I was originally writing this blog on Saturday.  I got interrupted by a storm, so I saved it with the intent of coming back and finishing it.  Unfortunately I was not savvy enough to get back into the saved document without outside help (my wife) and it is now Wednesday evening.  If it can go wrong with technology it probably will especially when you do not want it to.

The last lesson learned from our pump station faulting was that the course is being over watered.  The fairways and rough went nearly two weeks from the last time we irrigated them until it rained last weekend.  The fairways were showing some stress in three areas and we ran the heads just in those locations but otherwise the turf has become absolutely wonderful.  The rough did go off color somewhat and has stopped growing so fast but it has become playable.  Both areas have greened up since the weekend rain and you would be hard pressed to know they had gone two weeks without water.  Additionally, the bunkers were beautiful during this period without the irrigation system hitting the sand.  It whitened up and raked much better.

None of these lessons are new and earth shattering.  Sometimes in the heat of battle the goal of winning the war gets lost.  On a golf course producing the best playing conditions for maximum golfer satisfaction (winning the war) does not entail lush, dark green turf growing at breakneck speed.  It is producing a turf that is only moderately growing with decent color on ground that is firm underfoot.  Last winter I talked about reading "Practical Greenkeeping" and the last two weeks have reinforced the message from that book.  Let the turf do its own thing, just try to help it when it needs it, but never try to force it to do anything.  The pump station is supposed to be fixed tomorrow and I will be working hard to change the irrigation schedules to keep the conditions of the last few weeks.  See you on the course.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Feast or Famine

The pendulum seems to have swung past middle and on to the other extreme, hot and dry that is.  Whether or not this trends continues and how long it lasts are only answered by living through what summer brings us over the next couple of months.  It certainly is not the type of late spring weather that most people hoped for.  A nice even ramp up into summer would have been preferred, but this is what we have so we have to cope with it the best way possible.

The good news is that the warm season turf, bermuda and zoysia, love the weather of the past two weeks.  The fairways are filling in rapidly and the zoysia has recovered from the nutsedge control and looks great.  The fertilizer that was applied has given them a wonderful color and they are ready for a growth regulator application next week.  Other good news is that the warm temperatures have slowed the growth of the rough.  It is still thick in most areas but at least it is not growing gang busters anymore.

On the other side of the coin is the effect of the early heat on the greens.  They were doing just fine and it looked like the program was on the right track when the irrigation pump station decided that it was time to test our mettle.  On the night of the 2nd, it malfunctioned just after midnight and the greens did not water.  They still had good moisture content and they were hand watered during the day on the third.  That night,  after thinking that changes to the schedule would help, it did the same thing and the greens again did not water.  Again they were hand watered the next morning and looked reasonably good.  That afternoon the temperatures soared and the greens dried out too much and too fast to keep up with.  Again changes were made and the greens did water that Saturday night.  However, on Sunday during hand watering time, the cpu unit on the pump station failed preventing the pump station from turning on.  Finally after a couple of telephone calls, the station was switched to manual control in order that the greens could be cooled and irrigated.

The pump station company ordered new parts and they and the technician arrived on Wednesday the 8th.  Unfortunately our station is of an age (16 years) that it was built without a memory chip for backup.  What has happened is that the cpu has lost the program on how to operate.  It is supposed to be stored on this memory chip attached to one of the circuit boards, but it is not there.  Today the manufacturer thought they could supply a chip with the program drawn from the original records and have it to us early next week.  The technician will then be able to diagnose which board is faulty, replace it and then reprogram the cpu.

In the interim, the station has to be operated manually.  This requires first bringing the system up to operating pressure slowly, then turning on the heads desired and matching the outflow with the capacity of the pumps.  As the heads quit running, the pressure has to be watched closely and pumps shut off to prevent too much pressure building in the system and blowing pipe apart at the seams.  Needless to say it is a little nerve wracking and we have decided to only water greens at this point.  Tees were able to be irrigated Thursday morning and might be done again on Tuesday.  Greens take anywhere between an hour and four depending on how much water needs to be applied.  During the day we are able to open the #12 lake fill valve in the system that allows the small pump to run continuously while we hand water the dry spots on the greens.  The lake valve acts as a safety release keeping the pressure in the system from building.  Fairways and rough are not receiving any water at this point.

The upside to not watering the fairways is that the poa annua that survived last winter and could not be sprayed out is dieing quickly probably saving a herbicide application.  They also should be rolling quite good making your tee shots even longer.  Without irrigation the rough has slowed its growth and should be more playable.  The greens have suffered some but are being nursed  back to health.  Some turf has been lost mainly on edges where problems have surfaced before.  When the pump station is fully operational again, these areas will be dealt with using plugs.  Of course they have been other complications such as 3 heads that quit turning and 2 controllers that also quit.  Normal occurances for a 23 year old system but never the less very frustrating on this end.  The course really does look terrific right now even with all that has happened in the last week and hopefully you are out enjoying it. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Rough

The one area of the golf course that must be causing the most comments is the rough.  The comments are fairly typical from the past several springs but I will try to go farther in depth with my explanation of the factors that are the root of the situation.

Even though the past several days have been HOT, the growing conditions for cool season turf, (ryegrass, bluegrass, and fescue) have been almost perfect starting in late March through now.  Abundant moisture and normal to above temperatures have allowed those grasses to flourish.  At the same time, the rainfall has been one of the key factors in limiting the staff's ability to keep the turf cut.  The rough (which normally takes about 4 days with two mowers to completely mow) was cut on April 18th, 19th and 20th.  On the 21st because of overnight rain, staff went two mower widths around each hole.  That process was repeated on the 29th with no mowing taking place on the 22nd through the 28th because it was too wet.  The next time it was dry enough to mow was May 4th when the cutting height was raised 1/2 inch on the 2 main mowers to cope with the extended interval between mowings.  On the 5th and 6th, the two backup mowers, set at our normal height, were deployed to mow 6 times around each fairway while the main mowers were finishing mowing at the higher height.  On the 9th the main mowers were reset to normal height and we have been there the past three weeks.  To say we are still playing catchup is an understatement of how far behind the 8 ball Mother Nature put us.

A second factor in the equation is the equipment we have to mow rough with.  In 2006 our two primary mowers were in need of replacement as was one of our fairway mowers.  With only a finite set of money available, we chose to replace both rough units and wait a year for a fairway mower.  Again because of funding and the condition of both rough units, two new units were selected.  The units were not the best fit for the course but their cost allowed us to get two instead of only purchasing one that year and waiting a year or two for the other one.  It was a stop gap measure hoping that the financial picture would brighten in three to five years.  Unfortunately, the economy worsened and those two mowers purchased as short term replacements are still the primary mowers entering their sixth season.  One of the negatives of these mowers that we knew going in was they were belt driven instead of hydraulic which is not as reliable and causes frequent repairs.  They are of the age now that breakdowns are becoming a constant.  The two backup units are from 1998 and 99.  One is sacrificed to mow the practice area rough and the other we hope to use on slopes that our current mowers do not do well on and as a backup when one of the others is down.

Another comment that has been expressed is the lack of an intermediate height rough adjacent to the fairway.  This operation was abandoned last year in a cost saving measure.  With no capital expenditures for the last three years, it is obvious that the golf course operation needs to run as lean as possible to hopefully save money that can be used for equipment replacement.  When this mowing pattern changed last year, the  intermediate rough which was bermuda was converted to fairway thus widening them.  Going back to intermediate rough in most cases would narrow the fairways.  The goal for this year is to mow the first pass of rough adjacent to the fairway twice per week versus once for the rest of the rough.  To date because of one less staff member and equipment breakdowns and the weather, this has yet to happen. 

The last factor is the seed used in the fall to strengthen the rough.  When this program started in the late 90's, we chose ryegrass because it germinated faster and made a better stand, quicker.  About five years ago, the switch was made to fescue seed to see if would perform better.  In the spring of 2010, it was obvious that the quality of the rough using fescue had dimenished and last fall we switched back to using ryegrass.  The advantages are that it starts quicker, actually helps control winter broadleaf weeds, and makes a thicker stand of turf.  The disadvantage is that it makes a thicker stand of turf because more seed makes it to a maturity.

In summary, the height of cut has not changed the last few years.  The fertilization program has remained the same or lessened over that time period.  The seed used to improve the rough did change last year and Mother Nature has caused the mowing frequency to lag as has the reliability of equipment and the staffing levels which were reduced by one this year.  It is not a perfect world but I will be suprised if once summer weather is here for several weeks and staff gets caught up on mowing if the rough continues to a major topic of interest.  But then again if it is, that will mean the greens are doing wonderful.  See you on the course.