April 20, 2012

A Busy Two Weeks

Andy displaying the glamorous part of being an Asst. Superintendent
while working on a mainline fix on hole 10.

We seeded some sunflowers and prairie wildflowers into
the native grass areas by hole 2, 3, and 6.

Slit seeding some bentgrass seed into the areas in the collars
where the Poa in struggling this spring.

Shaping the new bunker on hole 15.

Allie learning about "grass babies" as she calls them, looking for
bentgrass sprouters on one of the new tee boxes.

New irrigation line on the new elevated tee box on 14.

One of the downfalls of pumping water straight out of the river to the
irrigation pond, and no inlet screen on the pumpstation...fish parts
clogging the irrigation heads.

Reseeding some of the rough areas that died in the summer flood last year,
we seeded the left side of 9, right side of 15, right side of 18, both sides of 17,
the slot between 7 and 10, the bottom of the driving range, and the fire pit area.

Another nice implement resurrected from the "boneyard", an old spring
tiner for discing in the seed on the newly regraded area by 8 tee.

Finally getting started on the wall for 14 tee.

New sand bottle holder area completed, the open triangle in the front
will be planted with a colorfur array of flowers as soon as the
weather warms up a bit more.

April 19, 2012

What A Difference A Year Makes

Apparently there are some advantages to having friends in high places, literally!  A buddy of mine that is a helicopter instructor for UND sent me these aerial shots he took of the course exactly one year after our flood crest last spring.  After a river crest of 49.87' last April, we crested this spring at a mere 23' and are already down around 17.5'.  See the two aerial images of the property to truly see the difference a year can make....

Grand Forks Country Club property, viewing northeast on April 15th, 2011

Grand Forks Country Club property, viewing southwest on April 15, 2012

April 10, 2012

It's Official....the "D" word

Moderate Drought.

Turfgrass Physiology and Pathology 101

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one that freaks out about grass.  Don't laugh, because it happens more often than you think.  Although I initially thought the course had come out of winter in great shape, things deteriorated quickly as the weather warmed and the course began to green up.  While most of the course showed great signs of life, the exact opposite could be said about the Poa Annua populations.

The poa initially looked fine coming out of snow cover, then slowly started to turn from brown, to tan, to white....while the rest of the turf was going from brown, to light green, to dark green.  What made matters even more confusing, was the patterns of damage I saw in the Poa.  Very distinctly round, circular patches of dead leaf tissue.  Even more concerning, was the presence of black sclerotia (part of the survival structure of a fungus) on the dead leaf tissue.  To me, and to almost everyone I showed these pictures to, it appeared that we must have a horrible breakthrough of grey snow mold or snow scald.

Very distinct patchy, disease appearance of dead Poa Annua

Black sclerotia on dead leaf tissue
However, a very good deal of evidence did not point toward any type of snow molds.  First and foremost, I made a very precise fungicide spray application last fall intentionally to combat snow mold.  Even a small amount of disease development this spring would have been a surprise, much less any wide spread development like this.  Furthermore, the damage was not present when the snow melted, it wasn't for a good two weeks until I noticed these symptoms.  Lastly, ONLY the Poa was affected, none of the bentgrass or kentucky bluegrass was even touched by this.  Snow mold generally does not discriminate on what it infects.

Regardless, I had to know what exactly we were seeing here in order to know how to properly search for a solution.  On wednesday of last week, I overnighted 3 samples to a turfgrass disease diagnostic lab in Missouri for analysis.  With in 24 hours, I had the answer:  all 3 samples tested completely clean of any form of snow mold.  Case closed.

Not quite.  The turf pathologist called back on Friday to inform me that an incredible amount of a soil borne, root infecting pythium fungus had been detected in the roots of the Poa plants.  This was absolutely mind boggling to me.  Pythium is absolutely not something we should even be talking about in early April in North Dakota.

Whereas a lot of things in life may have a very definitive answer, dealing with an organism as dynamic as a stand of turfgrass rarely presents any specific answers.  Now that the infection had been pin pointed, a new question arose.  Was the pythium infection the cause of the turf damage, or more a result of the turf damage?  I spoke with a wide array of turf professionals in the last week who have been very gracious to offer me some of their insight.  Most tend to agree however, that a root infecting pythium, at this time of year in this part of the country, is a very weak pathogen.  Moreover, it would not discriminate if it was going to attack Poa, bentgrass, bluegrass, ryegrass....etc.  The fact that we saw the damage only on the Poa was telling of another story.

The issue here more than likely goes all the way back to last fall.  From the point when we blew out the irrigation system, October 29th, until Christmas Day, nearly two full months, we saw only .14" of precipitation.  Essentially nothing.  The turf on the golf course was drought stressed to begin the winter with.  Furthermore, although the ground began to freeze in late November, we continued to experience some warm days above freezing through December.  Although the turf plant is dormant at this point in the year, the plant still respires moisture on warm days.  However, when the ground is frozen, the plant is unable to uptake water from the soil.  This process, known as dessication, was further enhanced by the lack of moisture in the plant in the first place from the dry fall. 

Another factor in this scenario was the lack of snowcover.  Many of you who may have read this blog probably heard me complain in December about our open winter.  Snowcover protects the turf from the dry winter air and winds (preventing dessication) as well as protects the turf from direct low temperatures.  Although temperatures in December were above average, we still saw some nights dip down around -4 or -5.  Without snowcover as insulation, the turf takes those temperature directly, which is not ideal.

The combination of these two events more than likely were very stressful to the turfgrass.  The last piece of this puzzle however is the physiology of the turfgrass stands on our golf course.  Both creeping bentgrass and kentucky bluegrass are very hardy, cold tolerant perennial grasses.  However Poa Annua (which is latin for Annual Bluegrass) is just that, annual.  What most people don't realize is that Poa is a plant whose natural lifecycle is to die every year!  Remember those white seed heads we used to see on the greens and fairways?  That is the Poa plant producing seed, its offspring, because it is preparing to die later in the fall.  Unfortunately, when it creeps into a turfgrass stand on a golf course, we end up treating it with such delicacy (irrigation, fertilizer, fungicides, growth regulators) that it manages to survive year after year.  However, the fact of the matter is that Poa is generally a very weak plant species because its sole purpose is to grow, produce seed, and die.

What we are seeing on the course this spring is the story of how different grasses respond to different conditions.  The bentgrass and the bluegrass experienced the exact same conditions this winter as the Poa.  The Poa however was too weak to take the stresses, and basically kicked the bucket.  The pythium infection likely originated with the EXTREMELY warm temperatures we had in March, and just took advantage of a very easily infected host in the already mostly dead Poa.  Again, the bentgrass and bluegrass also experienced the pythium in the soil, but was able to defend its self against a weak pathogen....

The morale of this story is a few things.  This fall, let's hope for some timely rains in October and November.  Furthermore, let's hope for a good blanket of snow (but not too much snow!) to cover the course by Thanksgiving.  Lastly, my vote is to tear up the fairways and greens, sterilize the soil to kill all remaining Poa Annua seeds, and reseed the entire golf course with some desirable grasses this fall!  Whose with me....?

This picture sums it all up.  On the right, is a stand of almost entirely
kentucky bluegrass.  This area used to be rough (Poa likes to grow
in short mowed areas).  We widened the fairway here last year, however
the old rough that we mowed down was still pure kentucky bluegrass. 
The left half of this picture is old fairway, with a lot of Poa in it. 
Pretty telling sign of what happened over the winter....
Fortunately, or unfortunately, all of the dead Poa areas will quickly refill themselves with more Poa.  Although it obviously isn't a desireable grass, it is still a grass that we can manage into a great golf course.  It just makes for a lot more headaches.  6 and 11 fairways have the highest Poa concentration, and definitely took the worst damage.  We will probably try to reseed in some kentucky bluegrass/perennial ryegrass seed that we have that was left over from the flood last year into these areas to see if we can increase the population of some stronger grasses. 

I fully expect with some warmer temperatures and a little extra fertilizer that the rest of the damaged areas will take care of themselves just fine.

April 6, 2012

River Pump Up and Running!

Here we are in early April trying desperately to get water out of the Red River to pump into our irrigation reservoir.  Last year at this time, there was flood water 10 feet over the top of the irrigation reservoir, we would have loved to have taken some water out of the pond! 

We did the setup work last week by installing the 6" PVC mainline to connect down by the river, as well as getting the actual pump and hoses hooked up to our river float.  We received some much needed assistance again from Florian and Sons Excavating with a JD 120 excavator that gave us the necessary boom reach to set the pump out in the river without any of us risking our lives. 

After about 2 hours of work this morning we had the pump up and running and getting our pond filled up!  I greatly question the quality of our irrigation water....but I guess we don't really have a lot of options.

Lifting our floating river pump contraption out into the water.

River pump hooked up and ready to go.  I think they used to use the old
steel culvert pipe as a pump wet well back a few decades ago...


April 5, 2012

A Major Blowout

We made our first attempt at charging the irrigation system on Tuesday, both the pumps and new actuator valves in the pumpstation fired up and operated as they should.  However, it didn't take long to realize that we weren't building pressure and something must have blown out.  Sure enough, left of 2 green, in the scarp that is sliding into the coulee, were a couple of good bubblers coming up out of the ground.

Although we very thoroughly blew out the irrigation system last fall, left of 2 green the mainline dives down from the fairway before coming back up to 3 tees, creating a large dip in the pipe.  Every remaining drop of water in the line from all of 1, 10, and 2 fairway drains back down to this area.  Apparently, there were still a few drops of water that didn't get blown out....

Fortunately, we still have 10,000 lbs of Bobcat T750 on site compliments of Florians, so the digging went pretty quick.  Also, since we were way out in the rough, we didn't have to worry about keeping this project very tidy.  All told, by the end of the day on Wednesday we had dug up and pulled out 160 feet of PVC that the frozen water inside of had completely shattered.  Amazingly, while I was digging, I started to think how much sense it would make to add a stub off the mainline in the lowest spot that would allow us to drain that section of pipe in the fall.  No more than 5 minutes later I dug up an old buried valve box, about 8" below the surface.  Inside the box was an old gate valve, apparently someone must have had a similar idea a number of years ago.  Had I known the valve was there and it wasn't covered up with 8" of silt and sod, we would have been able to drain that section of mainline last fall and avoid all of this....

Piles of the shattered PVC that was removed
The old drain valve that could have prevented all of this...

However, this was really a two part story.  Yes, the mainline holds water in that low spot and needs a way to be drained in the fall.  However, I'm sure everyone has noticed that the entire left side of 2 green, the bunker, and the rough over there is slowly sliding off down into the coulee.  As the ground slides and shifts every year, the mainline is going to continue to break and slide downhill with it.

To mitigate this, we made the decision to reinstall HDPE (high density polyethylene) pipe instead of the traditional PVC.  HDPE pipe is significantly more flexible and shatter proof than PVC, allowing the new pipe to flex and move downhill with the enscarpment as it slowly works its way down into the coulee.  Also, we installed knock on fittings at the two ends where we connected the new HDPE pipe to the old PVC mainline system.  Each of these fittings has about 12" of play in it where the HDPE can actually start to slide out of the fitting before it becomes disconnected and leaks.  This, coupled with the flexibility of the HDPE, and the new drain valve that we added at the low point in the line, will hopefully keep this blowout from happening again, at least for while....

The end of the breaks on the old PVC mainlines, seperated close to
an inch on each end where the ground slide is pulling the pipe apart

A technician from Ferguson Waterworks in Fargo came up to fuse the
new HDPE pipe together.  The ends of the pipe are heated up until the pipe
begins to melt, then the two ends are rammed together while the melted
pipe re-solidifies, essentially fusing the pipe together.

The HDPE butt fusion machine.

One of the knock on fittings on the ends of the pipe where the HDPE
connects to the PVC, allowing the new pipe some extra room for movement
A view of the small scarp face left of 2 green.  Last summer this little slip
area was connected with grass all the way across, now there is a very
defined face of exposed soil where the ground is breaking off and sliding
into the coulee.