May 27, 2012

A Little Hobby On The Side

I have been working the last few months on getting a picture that I had taken from the course I used to work at in Montana, The Reserve at Moonlight Basin, signed by Jack Nicklaus, who designed the course. 

Getting a 24" x 30" picture in front of Jack to get signed was quite a task, but with the help of an associate architect who I knew pretty closely at Nicklaus Design, I was able to finally get my signed product back from Jack.  After a few days in my home shop to put together a nice picture frame, I finally have something special hanging on the wall in my home office.

Of all the pictures I took while building and working on this course for five years, which has to be in the tens of thousands, this one sticks out in my mind the most.  I snapped this one morning in late August of 2010 after a cold front dropped snow on Lone Peak down to about 8,000 ft.  The elevation I took this picture from is about 7,000 ft, so the golf course managed to stay just below the snowline.  However, the distinct contrast of the bright green grass in August and the fresh snow on the peak was over the top.

I am a firm believer that photographs are and always will be our most durable way of remembering certain events and phases of our lives.  In the year now that I have been in North Dakota, I have taken well over 1,000 pictures of GFCC.  You may haven noticed a few new photos posted on our newly redesigned website over the winter, or the new photos hanging in the proshop that I took, but those are only a tip of the iceberg. 

I also enjoy sharing my photographs with others, so if anyone is ever interested in a nice photo of the course please let me know, I would be happy to help.  I am not a professional photographer, so I like to share for free! 

May 25, 2012

A Picture Speaks A Thousand Words

The benefits of aerating the greens are numerous, as I tried to spell out in a previous blog this week.  However, this picture pretty much sums it all up.

While cutting cups this morning, I must have hit a spot on 3 green that put the cup cutter perfectly on the center of one of our aeration holes from last fall.  After the pulling the plug out of the green, I couldn't help but to notice what was hanging out the bottom.  That is bentgrass, mowed at about 1/8 inch, with roots down 7 or 8 inches.  The new aeration holes we just punches this week will also start to fill up with fresh, deep bentgrass roots as they dive deep into the ground looking for water and nutrients.  This is extremely important, because as we get into the heat and stress of summer, the roots on the greens will actually start to decline and die.  The more roots we can grow now, the longer the greens will stay healthy this summer.  Come August, almost all of the roots on the greens will have shriveled up into only the top inch or two of the soil before temperatures start to cool down in the fall and growing conditions become more favorable again.

On a side note, with what looks like a cool and wet period coming up in the forecast, Andy and I tore apart our pumpstation on Friday to replace a failed backflow prevention valve.  What we found was not only a blown seal on the valve, but a roll pin was missing out of the electronic butterfly valve that controls the flow coming out of pump 2.  I have no idea how long this pin has been missing inside the piping, but needless to say, the valve was certainly not operating as normal.  We managed to get everything repaired and put back together by the end of the day, and in doing so increased the flow and efficiency of our pumping system by atleast 10%-20%.

Pumpstation disassembled

May 24, 2012

Stump Removal

We rented a stump grinder today to get rid of two old stumps on 14 as well as one by 12 green.  Andy had a good time and showed some serious grinding moves!

May 22, 2012

Giving The Greens Some Love

We aerated all the greens and approaches on the golf course on Tuesday, making for a very long day for everyone on the maintenance staff.  My day at the course began a little after 4:00am and didn't conclude until around 6:30 in the evening.  The process of aeration involves a lot of planning and coordination, and I would just assume do it for one long day, rather than try and drag it out and keep the process going for a second day. 

The greens were punched with our Vertidrain machine on the back of the Bobcat tractor.  Solid 1/2" tines on 3" x 3" spacing were penetrated about 7" deep into the greens.  This depth goes well into the original soil of the greens they were built on in the 1960's out of clay and topsoil.  After 40+ years of aeration and topdressing, there is now anywhere from about 3"-4" of sand on top of that original soil, but it is important for us to penetrate and make sand pathways down into the old soil for roots to be able to grow deeper. 

We were also able to rent a very nice Toro 648 Procore machine from the Fargo Country Club for the day in order to pull cores out of the approaches and collars.  These areas, especially the approaches, are in desperate need of some dethatching due to the fact that I don't believe they have ever been aerated or topdressed since they were also built back in the 60's.  Similar to our tees, the bentgrass on the approaches has been growing uncontrolled for 40+ years, accumulating an immense amount of soft, puffy thatch in some spots.  This causes the approaches to be very wet sometimes, and doesn't provide a very firm surface for bouncing and running shots into the greens.  We started pulling cores and topdressing sand into the approaches last fall, so this was essentially round 2.  Every little bit will slowly help to firm the approaches, but it is going to take a couple of years to really make much of a significant difference. 

All told, if my math is correct, we punched approximately 2.5 million holes in the greens and approaches, and then topdressed and filled the holes with 130,000 pounds (65 tons) of sand.

Pulling cores out of 9 approach

Cleaning up the cores is still fastest the old fashioned way
with some shovels and sweat.

Sand hauling center

Sand transfer:  the big unit hauls the sand around the course, the
smaller unit is what we use to actually spread the sand on the greens.

Topdressing 4 green.

There were a few variables in this process however as we needed to treat a few greens a bit differently.  On holes 7, 8, and 17 we pulled the cores out of the greens as well as the approaches.  This was done specifically to these three greens because of their tendency to flood the worst, the sand profile is full of layers of silt thoughout it.  Much like the rings on a tree, the different layers of silt underneath these greens is like looking back through time at all of the floods the course has experienced.  These layers of silt greatly reduce the amount of water, air and roots that can penetrate into the green.  Pulling out the cores, therefore removing some of the silt and filling the holes with clean sand, will provide a better pathway for air and water to reach the roots.

Lasty, we pulled 6" deep cores out of the putting green.  This is a newly constructed green, but was built with 12"-14" of an extremely coarse, horrible sand for building a green on.  The coarse sand allows all water and nutrients to pass straight through it, essentially bypassing the roots all together.  After pulling the cores, we topdressed into the holes with a sand that we use on the rest of the greens, which meets the USGA specifications for putting green sand particle size analysis.  This sand is also custom blended with 20% of an organic peat material that will greatly enhance the ability of the sand to hold water and nutrients.  In fact, I made the decision this spring to use a sand on all the greens that is comprised of 10% of this peat material, which should help the greens stay a little healthier through the heat of the summer.

Amazingly, one of the best sources and vendors in the country of organic peat enhancers for golf course putting green sand is right here in Grand Forks!  They sell and blend sands for golf courses all over the country, check them out

Pulling and cleaning cores from the putting green

Three sands:  On the left is the coarse sand we pulled out of the putting green.  In the middle, the straight USGA
spec sand we use on the approaches.  On the right, is the same sand as in the middle, mixed with 10% peat.

Custom mixing an 80% sand 20% peat mixture in the sand shed
to fill the holes in the putting green with.

May 20, 2012

River Pump, Round 2

As if round 1 of putting the river pump out wasn't bad enough, here we are barely 6 weeks later taking it out and doing it all over again.

The pump quit moving water last week, although the motor still worked and ran, nothing was coming out the other end at the irrigation pond.  We made the decision to pull it out Thursday to discover that the diffuser plate on the bottom of the pump had cracked and partially dislodged, allowing the motor to run and pump water, but not build enough pressure to get the water up the hill over 15 fairway to get down to the pond. 

We had a part overnighted from Minneapolis, and then had the distinct pleasure of spending most of the afternoon on Saturday, my 29th birthday, back down in the river after our nice morning rain shower.  I forgot how much I love crawling around under a steel cage down in the Red River...

New diffuser plate in the bottom of the pump

My view from underneath the pump float

Pump and assembly ready to go back in

Hookup complete and pump running.  This time we managed to get the entire
thing in and out without the use of an excavator.  I think Andy only got the
tractor stuck once...

Amazingly, we managed to get the thing back out of the river, fixed, and put back in again without any major injuries or mishaps.  This whole thing is a recipe for disaster.  The worst part is that I have very little confidence in that pump that it will make it though the rest of the summer without having to come back out again for more repairs.  Even worse, between Andy and I we put in a total of about 20 man hours during our hottest days of the spring down in the river working on the pump.  Those are 20 hours we lost working on the course that could have been put to much better use fertilizing, seeding, spraying, watering the greens, etc.

To make matters all the worse, the pump went down during what so far has been our hottest, driest span of the spring.  Our high temps last week were 75, 82, 85, 66, 77, 88, 89.  Our average high temp during this week of May was supposed to be about 67 or 68.  Not only that, but before our nice shower on Saturday morning, we had only received about .45" of rain since the beginning of May, and most of that fell in the first few days of the month.  Lastly, the humidity has been extremely low and the winds very blustery, usually from the south.  Daytime RH (relative humidity) during the week was usually about 20%-30%.  That is dry.  When we get into the heat of summer and start talking about having really humid days and heat indexes, daytime RH is usually 60%-80%.  Needless to say, we were pumping out some serious water during the week.

We almost had the irrigation pond completely full on Monday last week.  The river pump quit sometime on Sunday evening, and over the next 5 days we pumped close to 1.4 million gallons of water out of the pond to water the course with, which lowered the water level about 2 feet in just those 5 short days.  We were pumping out water last week, this third week of May, equal to what we would have been using in a hot and dry span in July or August.  I have a really bad gut feeling about how this summer is going to treat us weather wise....lets all keep our fingers crossed for some timely rains and moderate temperatures.  Unfortuntately, this spring so far has not been very indicative of that happeneing.

This is the panel display on our pumpstation on Friday morning, after it was
88 the day before and predicted to be 92 that day.  If you look closely, you
can see that we pumped 279,000 gallons of water just overnight.

I hope everyone gets the idea how much I despise this river pump and how pathetic and old fashioned this method of pumping water is.  It is totally unreliable and I just have a gut feeling that something is going to go wrong again at just the worst time of the summer.  Our fallback plan of putting gas pumps in the pond across from 14 fairway and running hoses across the fairway to the irrigation pond is equally ridiculous.  A more permanent solution for filling our pond needs to be addressed in the coming years. 

However, in the meantime Andy gets kudos for coming up with the idea of us building a dock out into the river to put the pump on.  Instead of a steel cage that we have to lift and push out everytime the pump needs serviced, if we had a dock we could simply walk out to the end, hook the pump onto it, and drop it in. 

That being said, if anyone has any parts from an old aluminum dock from their lake house that they don't need we might be able to find some use for it......

May 13, 2012

Going Back To Native

We are starting the process this spring of converting approximately 30 acres of what had previously been mowed rough area, back to natural unmowed areas. 

The total golf course property encompasses about 220 acres.  That area includes about 3 acres of greens, 2 acres of tees, 25 acres of fairways, and about 110 acres of mowed rough!  That is certainly a little lopsided.  While obviously some amount of rough is necessary, 110 acres is not.  I would wager that there are areas of this golf course property that were being mowed regularly, once to twice per week, that might see less than 5 golf balls a year.

For me, from a financial standpoint, every acre of rough that we don't mow is money back in our budget to put toward other course improvements.  Based on some rough numbers (pun intended)  I put together from the cost of fuel and labor, we could save about $50 annually per acre of rough we quit mowing.  By taking out 30 acres of rough, we just put $1,500 back in our budget this year alone. 

My goal is to eliminate some areas of rough on the course that rarely, if ever, will see a golf ball come their way.  These areas are mostly around and behind tee boxes and the beginnings of fairways, and some other areas that are far off the beaten path of the golf hole along the edge of the coulee.  Think left of 17 green, between 9 and 18 green, behind and right of 6 tees, etc.  Furthermore, these areas are un-irrigated and will always end up turning brown and crispy at some point in the summer anyway.  By allowing the grasses to grow taller, the grass will go back to a more native appearance (similar to the area between 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) which will let the grass seed its self out, and hopefully some seeds from the surrounding tallgrass prairie areas will blow in and start to establish as well.  Basically, as opposed to these areas being dry, dead brown areas come August, they will start to resemble the appearance of a native prairie, giving the course a more natural feel.

We have started outlining some of these areas already and begun to quit mowing them.  I understand that this is likely going to be an ever evolving process:  some areas we have outlined may turn out to have a few too many golf shots go their way and we'll mow them back a little, and we may also find that there are some more areas we can quit mowing that rarely ever see a golf ball.  I would ask that everyone be mindful of these areas and realize, that if you hit a REALLY bad shot (sorry to be brutally honest) that you may lose your ball in an area that used to be mowed.

As with any changes to the golf course, any questions or concerns that you as members have is certainly welcome and appreciated.  Please share any thoughts, insights, or concerns about these areas as you continue to play the golf course in the coming weeks. 

One of many rough areas that we quit mowing

May 11, 2012

Someone Stop The Wind!

I realize that the wind is pretty consistent in ND, but this last week has been pretty rough.  I honestly think the only calm period we had the entire week was on Wednesday morning.  Other than that, all day, all night, the wind has blown, pretty hard too.  We barely squeezed in some much needed fertilizer applications during the week, and also managed to get in the first spray application on the greens on that nice calm Wednesday morning.  There were two other spray apps I would have liked to have made this week, but the wind never gave us any more chances.

To couple with that, we got a skimpy .15" of rain on Monday evening, and totally missed any rain from the storms we were supposed to get last night.  Also, the 30 mph south winds with a high of 83 degrees on Thursday was a little extreme for early May.  We are already irrigating nightly amounts of water equivalent to what we would be using in August (about 200,000 gallons per night).  Some of the un-irrigated rough areas are already started to show drought stress.  We are starting to hit the peak time of the year where the temperatures are getting warm and there should be adequeate rainfall occuring to really get the turf in healthy shape and develop some really intense roots.  These warm temperatures are certainly a bonus, but without adequeate moisture in the soil it is still hard on the plant.  Lots of those rough areas were already dry from last fall, and now with what is turning into a dry spring they are going to have a hard time greening up and taking off.  We may end up saving a lot of money on diesel fuel from not having to mow as much rough this summer unless it starts raining soon...

Lastly, this persistent wind is making it almost impossible to keep the sand and seedlings on our new tee boxes moist during the day.  Sand makes a great growing medium for bentgrass in order to provide a firm, well drained surface.  However, getting seed to stay wet enough to germinate in sand is a task that requires almost constant watering.  When the wind is blowing 20-30mph all day, the sand dries out quick, even under our covers, and the irrigation heads are almost futile, seems like I end up watering more trees some afternoons. 

Irrigation blowing directly up into the atmosphere....
With that being said, if any of you have received an unintentional shot of water while you were out playing golf, I apologize.  I try hard to make sure I don't water anyone during the afternoons while trying to keep the new tees moist, but I know once or twice there has been a cart hiding behind a tree that I didn't see until I turned the heads on and drove away....

May 7, 2012

Another One Bites The Dust

Must have been a monday, because nothing went right.  We were planning on fertilizing greens, but the nuclear ND winds were already ripping about 20-30mph by 6:00 in the morning, so that was out.  After that, we changed plans for the day, Andy went to charge the pumpstation, and thats when our second major mainline blowout of the spring happened.

A 4" line had blown out on hole 6, one of the flattest holes of course, making a temporary pond in the fairway that Andy and his help had fun pumping and squeegeing up.  What first appeared like a small fix...turned into another massive trench, this one fortunately turned out to be only 24' long.  What they found was just another section of 25 year old pipe that apparently decided today was going to be the end of it's lifespan....

The silver lining here is that we took the opportunity, since the mainline was already dug up, to add an isolation valve to the new pipe when it was installed.  For whatever reason, this irrigation system (installed in 1985 or 1986, I think) was put together without any gate valves anywhere on the system.  Almost every golf course irrigation system installed in the last 20 years utilizes these valves in order to close off a section of mainline in the event of a break, allowing the rest of the system to be left pressurized and usable while only one small section of pipe is closed off so it can be worked on.  Here at GFCC, when we have an irrigation break, the pumpstation and the irrigation on the entire course must be turned off!  This is going to bite us in the rear one day when we have a major pipe break that takes days to fix during a streak of 100 degree days in July.....knock on wood. 

We are going to make a habit of adding these isolation valves everytime we have to do a mainline fix, and hopefully before too long we'll actually be able to keep some parts of the irrigation system operational next time we have to fix a break.  With the addition of this new valve, we now have a grand total of 2 on the entire course.  Somewhere around 15-20 would be a more ideal number.....but we are slowly trying to bring this system into the 21st century.

Prepping to put the new section of pipe in

Andy and Blake quite stoked to have the pipe back together
and a new gate valve insalled!

May 5, 2012

Tee Renovation: Phase 1 of 3 Complete

With construction complete on the retaining wall and tee boxes on hole 14, we are officially done with the tee renovation on the first 5 holes, essentially phase one.  Without a doubt, we saved the "best for last" this spring by finishing with 14.  All told, our retaining wall included right around 500 concrete blocks, weighing in at 55 lbs each, we hand set 27,500 pounds of concrete.  About 400 cubic yards of clay fill as well as 100 yards of topsoil was hauled in for the project as well. 

The new tee on 14 is now about 3-4 feet higher than the original tee making for a clear line of sight over the crest of the fairway in order to see the pond at the bottom of the landing area.  Also, the new tee is 8-10 feet further to the right, meaning the massive cottonwoods on the left side of the fairway are a little easier to avoid.  On the flip side, we also added a new back tee, which was moved about 10 yards further back, but also moved further left, meaning you almost have to hit a perfect drive with a little draw to keep the ball in play from back there!

Base of the wall with drain line installed

Filling hollow core retaining blocks with pea gravel

Putting the finishing touches around the new back tee

I think I missed my calling in life as a stone mason....

Finished (almost) product
The remaining part of this project is to grow in the bentgrass from seed on all the new tees.  Although sodding would definitely be the more preferred choice for resurfacing, at a cost of about $2,000 per tee, it isn't very realistic for us.  In contrast, it costs us about $60 in seed for each tee.  To assist in the rapid germination and growth of the bentgrass seed, we are utilizing some old covers we have to cover the tees with after they have been seeded.  These covers essentially act as a greenhouse, trapping heat and moisture underneath of them, which are two very vital components in seed germination. 

Evergreen Cover on the new tee on 14

13 tee for whatever reason is growing in great without a cover, and at this
point is my bet to be the first to open.
Now that we are finally experiencing some warmer days, and more importantly warmer nighttime temps that aren't below freezing anymore, the seed should grow quite rapidly.  We will hopefully start mowing a couple of the tees in another week or two, followed by some extremely heavy sand topdressing and fertilization.  I am still hopeful that we might be able to open a few of the tees by the end of the month, maybe the beginning of June.

My personal thanks to all the groups and indivuals who went above and beyond by putting forth their funds to help sponsor our tee renovations so far.  The GFCC Ladies Association for #5, The White Tee Pack for #12, Charlie Bridgeford and Brad Westrum for #13, Dr. Bob and Penny Olson for #14, and Florian and Sons Excavating for #16.  Now that the tee boxes are finished, we are wrapping up the process by purchasing the new bunker sand to go in all the bunkers we destoyed to build our new tees with.  New tees and new bunker sand all in one project, definitely some much needed improvements for the Grand Forks Country Club!

Also, my very heartfelt thanks to Gunner for being extremely generous with his crew, equipment, and funds in this process.  From the continued use of that spectacular 750 tracked skiddy, to hauling in 500 yards of material for 14 tee, and a variety of other equipment needs and favors that are too much to name.  My job would certainly be much more difficult, and half of these projects only a pipedream, without his help.

Lastly, my push for more sponsors!  Next on the list this coming fall we will be tackling #1 (Plains Chiropractic and Acupuncture), #8 (Derrick and Tara Johnson), #9 (Matt, Michelle, and Lily Bredemeir), and #10 (Sadie's Couture Floral and Event Styling).  That is only four, we need at least two more sponsors to get to an even six to try and keep this on a three year timeline. 

I certainly appreciate everyone's patience with this project also, I know temporary tees are no fun to play off of, but I promise everyone that our main focus for the next month will be to get the new tees open as soon as possible!