December 14, 2011

Cleaning house and.....Dought?

Life has finally slowed down a little for myself and Andy after an incredibly busy fall that blessed us with very dry, mild weather that allowed us to complete a lot of projects out on the golf course.  Now that our outside work has wrapped up we are starting to turn our attention to the tasks we need to complete in the shop this winter.  Those include servicing all the equipment and sharpening reels, doing some custom fabrication to create some new/improvements to some other equipment, building tee markers, building some new signage for the course, and doing a number of paperwork/book keeping endeavors to make sure we have all our ducks in a row before next summer starts.  Before we were going to start any of this however, we had to clean the place up, big time.

I've seen some cluttered shops and work spaces in my day, but the shop here at GFCC had to take the cake as one of the worst.  Since I have been here in the last 7 months, I continue to be amazed almost daily at the absolute amount of old JUNK I have come across and thrown away.  To list a few of the best:  An unopened box of equipment parts (for a piece of equipment that we don't even have any more) that was marked as shipped in 1997.  I threw away an old hanging file folder full of the old superintendent's cell phone records that date back to 1996.  In the pesticide storage building we were holding onto a box of fungicide that had a lot release date of March of 1995!  Items like these were just the tip of the iceberg of the old junk that was taking up space in the shop and making it that much harder to find anything that may actually of been of any value, which I should mention we did find some of those things also.  I think in the last 4 months I have hauled close to 6,000 lbs of scrap and junk iron to the steel recycler.  At least we got a little money for some of that old stuff....
An engine that blew up 10 years ago was still collecting dust in the back of the shop.

I have also been doing my best extreme makeover impression on the office in the shop, which was still decorated with 1982 wallpaper and carpet, and had been heavily smoked in over the years.  I gutted the entire thing, scrubbed the walls, and then used the extra cash I had from recycling all the old steel to buy some new paint, carpet, and fixtures to help bring the place into the 21st century.  The shop and office is now CLEAN, ORGANIZED, and FUNCTIONAL....a task I have really been wanting to tackle since the first day I stepped foot on GFCC property back in April, just haven't had time to do until now. 

On a more interesting note, some of you may have caught some other posts about our current stretch of dry and mild weather this fall.  The US Drought Monitor lists the entire Red River Valley as "abnormally dry" on the edge of going into "moderate drought".  My weather records for rainfall and temps at the shop combined with some NOAA records show September was 2.4 degrees warmer than average with only 1.15" of precip compared to a normal of 2.05".  October was a whopping 7.0 degrees warmer than normal with only .27" of precipitation compared to an average of 1.97".  November came in at 5.4 degrees warmer than average with only .15" of precipitation compared to an average of .95".  November also saw only 1.2" of snow compared to an average of 7.7" for the month.

All told, the months of Sep, Oct, and Nov. have come in 4.9 degrees warmer than normal and deficient close to 3.5" on precipitation.  We also tied or broke a total of eight record high temperatures in those three months as well. 

I don't think anyone is complaining about the lack of moisture as it seems to have drastically improved our flood outlook going into next spring, although there is still an awful lot of winter left.  What the dry conditions have done however is left the turfgrass, in particular the greens, in a bit of a critical condition going into winter.  Although the turfgrass plant is completely dormant at this point, it does still remain alive for the next few months.  Just like a hibernating bear, the grass is asleep; but still needs to breathe, hydrate, and use it's energy reserves to stay alive until next spring.  The ground is so dry, and the now the lack of snowcover leaves the turf plant susceptible to the brutal, drying effects of the winter wind.  Even a small amount of snow cover would make a world of difference for the health of the greens right now.

Needless to say, I am a little concerned on a variety of fronts about the health of some of our greens come next spring.  I will also be curious to see the size of some of the cracks that will show up as the frost continues to penetrate deeper into the dry, exposed ground.  Let's just hope for a little bit of snowcover soon, followed by a nice, early spring.

November 20, 2011

Trip to Alabama

I was invited recently to participate in a trip with a number of local ND/MN superintendents to a facility in central Alabama called The Experience at Farmlinks.  The trip was entirely sponsored by a company called BASF that makes a variety of turfgrass pesticides, some of which we used on the course this summer.

Farmlinks is a very unique property in the golf world in that it was built with the sole purpose of being a research and demonstration facility for golf course superintendents across the globe.  The course was built in 2001 by the Purcell family, whose idea was to use the facility as a research and demonstration site for their line of fertilizers.  The Purcell's eventually partnered the facility with a number of top names in the golf management business including Toro, ClubCar, BASF, and Agrium Technologies (who bought out Purcell Fertilizer in 2006).  These companies continue to utilize the Farmlinks golf course to research and test their latest and greatest products before they are available to the golf market.  They also use the facility to host golf course superintendents from around the world to educate them about their newest turf products.

According to the Farmlinks website:  "Described by golf course superintendents as “the most beneficial three days of the year,” The Experience at FarmLinks is the nation’s premier source for “hands-on” course maintenance information, offering an unmatched opportunity to gain firsthand insight into the latest and greatest materials and methods available to the industry. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) has approved The Experience at FarmLinks’ programs for continuing education units through their distinguished External Education Program...."

While there from Wednesday-Friday, our group had the chance to tour the site, meet with industry representatives, see a few new products, and view some of the latest research taking place with some of BASF's pesticides.  Most importantly, I had the chance to spend 3 days with some of the best superintendents in the area and hear about some of the challenges they are facing and what kind of success they have had dealing with them. 

Oh yeah, and I also squeaked in 36 holes of golf!

I must say I was very impressed by the terrain in central Alabama, must have been just at the foothills of the Appalachians.  It was a little odd playing on some of the dormant warm season grasses, but overall the course was in fantastic shape.  You could see the difference from hole to hole with different grasses planted, different fertilizer and fungicide test plots, and so on.  

All told it was a great trip and definitely was an intense 3 days.  For any members at GFCC interested, you all are now eligible for a fairly large discount should you wish to go down and play at Farmlinks this winter.  They have wonder cabins on site that we stayed in, as well as a 5 stand clay shooting setup, and wonderful southern food.  I think I saw somewhere that Farmlinks is the number 1 or 2 rated course in Alabama, so it is definitely a trip worth taking sometime!

November 10, 2011

Snow Control

Snow fence went up the last two days on all the greens that I anticipate having the snow blow off the "turtlebacks" on them this winter.  Fence was strategically positioned to try keep the snow drifted onto the greens surface from a north/northwest wind.  All of our 1960's eras greens are built with a high, rolling back that is going to be the first spot the wind will strip the snow off.  Snow cover during the winter acts like a protective blanket; insulating the turf from extremely cold temperatures as well as protecting it from the harsh, drying effects of the winter wind.  Furthermore, the insulating effect of the snow will keep the ground from freezing quite as deep as it would if it were blown bare.  The shallower the frost, the quicker the soil thaws out in the spring, and therefore the faster the turf greens up and starts growing.  Ever notice how long the turf stays brown in the spring at Kings Walk?  I would guess they experience a little bit of wind  there during the winter months; the snow blows off, the turf dries out, and the frost goes about a mile deep.  On the flip side of that, there were years in Montana we would get a heavy snow in October before the ground froze, and then subsequent snows would bury the turf with 3-5 feet of snow.  It was not uncommon to dig a snow pit in the middle of February in a fairway, stick a soil thermometer in the ground, and find that it was 38 degrees.  The ground would never freeze all winter underneath such a thick snow blanket.

fence behind 3 green
Fence went up on every green but 1, 10, 6, 7, 8, 16, and 17.  Those greens in particular have enough of a windbreak to the north side of them that I don't anticipate too much snow blowing off of them.  I snowfenced the greens extensively at my course in Montana, and it was definitely a trial and error process that I finally perfected after 5 years to get the snow to hold on the greens in the right spots, but not to drift in too deep either.  It will definitely take a couple of winters here also of making notes of how the wind blows, what areas strip off, and what areas drift, in order to tweak the snow fencing program in coming years. 

back of 3 green this spring
My hope is that we can significantly limit the amount of turf on the greens and collars that look like the above picture I took this previous spring when I got here.  Those areas that had the snow blow off of them over the winter were very slow to green up and fill in this spring, and most of the turf that came back in there was all poa annua, which in turn is more likely to die over the winter in those spots anyway.  It becomes a vicious cycle....

November 3, 2011

Let It Snow

I have heard rumors that it may snow during the winter in North Dakota?  This will be my first winter here, but I have a hard time imagining that it could possibly snow 200" during the winter like I was used to in Montana.  Nonetheless, I'm sure we'll get our fair share this winter, and protecting the turf on the golf course from Gray and Pink snow mold diseases will be of utmost importance.  Below are a few pics I took this spring when I arrived here of some of the snow mold that developed on the course as the snow was melting away.

16 green

2 Fairway

16 tee
All of these examples are what I would consider unacceptable.  Although it is nearly impossible to prevent 100% of the disease, we should be able to have much better control than this.  After doing some extensive research, combined with the fact that one of the pesticide manufacturers was offering a HUGE rebate on some of their products this fall, I settled on two products that tested quite well at every upper midwest testing location from last winter.  Below is a small piece from a golf course test site in northern Wisconsin.  The first line on the chart is the "untreated" check plot.  No fungicide was applied the previous fall, and when the snow melted off in the spring the untreated area was 75% covered with snow mold!  The product combination we are utilizing this fall is highlighted in yellow, test 23.  On the same site, the plot treated with Interface and Triton experienced 0.0% disease severity and had one of the highest turf quality and color ratings of all the other products tested. 

I don't necessarily expect our course to come out with 0.0% snow mold disease in the spring, that might be wishful thinking.  But I would like to think we should be below 5%, and whatever patches do appear should be very scattered as well as very small (baseball size or smaller.)  The greens and tees received two other applications of some other fungicides as well, so I do expect them to receive 0.0% snow mold!

Currently, all of the fairways have received their spray application, and the greens and tees have recieved their first two applications.  We have one more application to make on the greens and tees as soon as we get one nice, calm day next week, and then the snow gods may release their fury (but only in Grand Forks and points northward, no snow to the south...)

On a side note, I made the decision not to apply snow mold fungicide to the lower part of 9 fairway and all of 17 fairway, as these two areas in particular have been a total loss 3 out of the last 3 years from the floods.  I guess it just seemed like a reasonable risk to take to save the money that will be wasted if the flood kills all the grass there anyway.  It was kind of a roll of the dice, but if we happen to luck out enough to not have to reseed those two areas after the flood in the spring, having a little bit of snow mold to deal with will still feel like a walk in the park!

October 27, 2011

Turf Slapped

I stole this video from another Superintendent's blog.  If only it were possible...

October 26, 2011

Concrete Cartpath!

While this is not a new phenomenon to most of the golfing world, here at the Grand Forks Country Club we are pouring our very first (at least as far as I know) section of concrete cartpath on the course.  While asphalt may be more cost effective on a larger scale, for the small areas that we are paving here on the course, concrete was the way to go because it was a do-it-yourself project for my crew and we didn't have the expense of mobilizing in all the large equipment necessary to lay asphalt.  I may not be a professional concrete flatwork installer, but at the course I was at in Montana we hired a contractor to pour 4 miles of concrete carpath at a cost of $1.6 million, so I am at least very familiar with the process!

A very generous member of the club offered to foot the bill for this process, and has been very supportive of us doing this project the absolute right way from the beginning.  That included adding a turnaround at the end of the tee on 16, and the only way to do that was to build a retaining wall in order to get enough flat area to turn around on.  The concrete will extend all the way to the front of 16 tee, and will also go down to the parking area for 15 green.  A drain basin will be added at the low point in the path to get rid of the water puddle that used to be there all summer.  The bunker by 15 green is being moved about 15-20 feet closer to the green to make room for the new path to exit the fairway at a reasonable point also.  All in all it is turning out to be a rather large project, but when all the grass is grown back in next spring the finished product should be remarkable! 

Now....we just need to get the golfers to realize that the cartpath is there for you to use, NOT the grass all the way around the rest of the greens and tees.  Below is a perfect example of one very well educated and considerate golfer utilizing the cartpath in order to preserve the quality of the rough in the green surrounds.  The other golfer in the group however would rather destroy the golf course in order to save himself the 6 second walk up to the green.  Now the next person that plays the holes will have to hit a chip shot out of matted down rough if their approach shot misses the green by only a few feet....

Adding new cartpath is a wonderful way to improve the flow of traffic on the course and to preserve the quality of the turf for all the rest of the golfers, but only if everyone USES IT!!!

October 17, 2011

Final days of fall...

So far we have been all over the weather spectrum this fall.  From a mid september cold snap that saw our first freeze on the 15th of the month at 31 degrees, to a massive high pressure ridge in early October that brought record highs (89 degrees on Oct. 5th) along with three straight mornings of record high minimum temperatures (64, 61, and 68 on the 5th, 6th and 7th.)  Those temperatures for the first week of October were very typical of what we should experience in the middle of July!  Furthermore, the amount of precipitation has also taken a nose dive since an extremely wet spring and early summer.  Since August 20th we've had only 8 measurable rainfall events totalling only 2.15 inches in the last two months.  I'm not sure what average is for that period but I'm pretty sure we're below that number by a bit...

Regardless, fall is still one of the best times of the year in my opinion.  Cooler days and nights allow me to sleep a little easier, football (or hockey season for those fans) is in progress finally, and the leaves start their annual signaling of cooler temps and shorter day lengths as well.  For those of you curious, at this point in October we are currently losing around 3 minutes of day light every day and will lose 22 minutes of daylight over the course of this third week of October.  Winter is starting to creep a little closer to the back door every day.

The staff on the golf course has dwindled a little more recently as the grass begins to grow less and the days are shorter, but there is still plenty going on out there.  Lots of tree trimming has taken place, and will most likely have to be finished up next spring.  I really had no idea that Ash trees were such droopy growers.  Furthermore, we are tearing into a large project of rebuilding the tee box on 16, removing, rerouting, and replacing the old cartpath from 15 green to 16 tee, as well as reshaping the bunker left of 15 green to make it a little more in play and to enhance cart traffic flow around it.  This is another project that we will be finishing up next spring.  Also, take a look at all the rest of the new tees that were seeded a week or two ago, lots of little greens hairs are starting to poke up all over the place.  Let's keep our fingers crossed for all of those little guys to brave the long winter and pop up fast next spring.

I hope everyone has had a change to get out and enjoy the course the last few weeks as the leaves were in their peak display.  It sure is tough to beat this time of year having the course to yourself on a nice warm fall afternoon.  Enjoy it while you can!

October 12, 2011

Starting over on tees

Unfortunately in life, sometimes things get so bad you just have to cut your losses and start over.  I think most would agree that our tee boxes at the club were at this point.  After 45 years of growing bentgrass without a single cultural practice (aerification, verticutting, or topdressing) the thatch layer beneath the surface has grown to an astonishing depth.  Some of the worst tees have well over an inch of thatch.  I had originally planned on agressively aerifying and topdressing our tees to try and coax them back in a moderately playable state, but after a little extra thought decided that would be almost impossible.

These cores were pulled from the blue tee on 17 back in July.  I realized at this point that
aeration and topdressing would be a 10 year process to get rid of this much thatch.

Not only were the tees buried in thatch (which is really nothing more than a layer of decomposing organic matter left over from dead plant material, which bentgrass produces rather quickly) but they are also horribly unlevel.  Most tees have an irrigation trench that runs underneath of them, and after years of settling and frost heaving have left some tees looking like a roller coaster (13 and 14 in particular come to mind)  Producing a more level teeing surface that is aligned properly with the hole will be as much of an objective in tee renovation as thatch removal will be.

After approaching the board this fall with the idea of starting the process of rebuilding some tees, the decision was made to try one or two this year to see how it goes.  I made the decision to start with #5 since it is a par 3 and tends to get hammered with divots.  Our new tees will be much firmer thus producing smaller divots that will also heal in much faster since the crown of the turf plant may be left intact in some cases.

We tore into hole 5 tee last week, the first part of the process was to completely remove the old tee surface and all the thatch so we could start over with a new rootzone.  A tracked skid loader was used to scrape off the surface and then haul it off.  I was absolutely amazed throughout the removal process of just how thick the thatch was in spots. 

Beginning of the surface removal process on hole 5

Close up of thatch depth, that's the soft junk that was allowing such massive
divots to come off the par 3 tees.

Every superintendent's dream: doing donuts on his own course before tearing it up for renovation!
On 5 tee also I decided that a tiered effect would break of the monotony of an otherwise long, straight, flat tee box, and would also provide better line on sight over the front edge of the tee from the very back.  With that, about 6 inches of soil was cut out of the front half of the tee and added to build up the back portion.  There is now about a 12" tier in the middle of the tee, that will still be mowed as tee height grass when all is said and done.

The next step would be to set the forms around the edge of the tee to place our new rootzone inside of and get the tee perfectly level.  After a discussion with some USGA folks and an agronomist, and sending in a sample of our bunker sand to a lab for analysis, the decision was made to utilize our old bunker sand as our new rootzone for the tees.  Doing this will allow us to kill the proverbial 'one bird with two stones'.  Not only will we be getting a better medium to grow quality bentgrass on for the tees, but we will then be able to put fresh sand in a lot of our bunkers, which is also something that was drastically needed.  Essentially we are only having to buy sand once instead of twice.

Forms set on 5 for the new tee rootzone.  This process was shot with a transit
 level to ensure a perfectly flat surface.

Removing old bunker sand by 5 green.  The sand depth after years of mechanical
raking was spread around between 1" and 12".

This is a close of the "ramp" into the bunker right of five green.  You can see that
the edge of the bunker has grown in about 2 feet from its original size and close to
8" of sand has been built up in the grass on the perimiters.

Spreading new rootzone sand on hole 5.

Our assistant superintenent, Andy Hokanson, discing in a soil amendement
into the sand rootzone.  This will give the sand much better water and nutrient
holding capacities.

The new tee surface was then spread around perfectly level (although a 1% pitch was provided to one side to allow for surface drainage, but I challange anyone to tell me which way that tee is pitched when you play off of it.)  After a good final grade raking, the entire area was fertilized with two products and then seeded in two directions.  A bluegrass/ryegrass blend was seeded on the outsides of the tee, while Penncross creeping bentgrass was seeded for the actual tee surface.  While all of these tees that we seed this fall will germinate and start to grow a little bit, I anticipate that it will not be until early next June 2012 that we will be able to play off of them.  Keep your fingers crossed for a nice, sunny spring!
Finished product on hole 5

Thus far the new tee on hole 5 and 12 have been completed and seeded.  Hole 12 tee was moved over to the right about five feet to allow for better line of sight past the trees on the left side of the hole, and a new cartpath will be added along the left edge of the tee for better access.  New red tee boxes on holes 2, 4, 7, 11, and 13 were also built this fall.  These par 4's were in desperate need of giving some of the ladies a little more advantage.  Furthermore, that will allow for more room for the remaining three tees (particularly the whites) to be moved around a little more on the rest of the tee surface. 
I will continue to update on here with the condition of the new tees as they grow in.  In the meantime, please be extra considerate of our temporary tees by filling all your divots on them!

October 8, 2011

A new blog!

After reading more and more about how a lot of golf course superintendents are communicating the dynamics of the golf course to their members via a blog, I figured it was time I give it a shot.  This is my first blog, and hopefully turns into something that will develop overtime to help answer a lot of questions about the conditions of and projects on the golf course before they ever even have a chance to be asked!  Furthermore, for those of you who don't know, I have a hidden love of writing and photography, and this just gives me one more avenue to express those with. 
A view of holes 1 and 10 in the middle of July from the chimney of the clubhouse,
the highest point in eastern ND that I could find...

Upcoming topics for this fall will include all of the course improvement projects we are undertaking such as tee renovation/construction, total bunker destruction followed by rebuilding in the spring, regrading and drainage installation on holes 6 and 11/12, and a variety of ongoing tree removal and pruning.  Other posts will most likely deal with the weather, as I am a bit of a closet meteorologist, which I think happens to a lot of superintendents when you work 80 hours a week in the outdoors and the outcome of your job is almost always 100% dependent on what mother nature gives you to to work with.  Lastly, we will probably be covering some of the ins and outs of winterizing and putting the course to bed in preperation for a successful start to the growing season in 2012!

Please feel free at anytime to leave any comments or drop me an email if you have a question about the condition of the course or our current projects.