July 25, 2012

Feast Or Famine

Like most things in life, it seems that rarely events ever happen in moderation.  After a solid two weeks without rain on the golf course and temperatures consistently in the upper 80's and 90's, the course was getting pretty baked.  And then last night, as if nature was trying to play catch up, it rained 1.50" in what must have been only 30 minutes or so.

In an ideal world, the skies would release about .30" to .40" of rain every 4 days.  Just enough to saturate the ground, then give things a few days to dry out and firm up a bit.  Of course that never happens, but I can always be hopeful.  1.50" of rain every 14 days isn't exactly how we like to "irrigate", but beggers can't be choosers.  While the moisture was certainly very welcome, that much rain when it comes that fast doesn't saturate into our heavy silty clay soils in the Red River Valley very quickly, meaning quite a bit of that runs off and puddles. 

Of the 45 bunkers on the course, 38 of them looked like this.

Fortunately we have plenty of pumps.

It is going to be a few days before we can get all the bunkers put
back together and cleaned up.
The wind must not have been too bad with the storm, but enough to
warrant blowing off some fairways and greens before they were mowed.

Just lots of leaves and small branches down this time, almost....

While the 100 or so massive old cottonwoods managed to escape any
serious damage, amazingly we lost only this one tiny little evergreen
tree that broke in half....?

I am usually not surprised by what I find on the course after a storm, but
the exploded propane tank that was in the middle of the driving range
tee was a little bit of an odd find.

July 22, 2012

Into The Fire

We officially just hit our highest temp of the summer today, with the thermometer hitting 97 degrees, a full 15 degrees above our average high for today of 82.  With the way the temperatures have been in the last month, the turfgrass on the course has been thrown into the fire. 

For those of you who may regularly keep up with my blog, you may remember my predictions back in March after we had experienced an extremely dry and warm winter, and then the temperature soared to 30 degrees above average by the middle part of that month, that we were in for a hot and dry summer.  I don't claim to be Nostradamus, but things definitely look to be shaping up that way.  For just a quick comparison, up to this point in the summer we have already recorded 10 days of 90 degrees or greater, and we still have a week and a half left in July and all of August and September still to go.  In 2011 we recorded only 8 days the entire summer over 90 degrees, 10 days in 2010, and only 4 days in 2009.  The summer of 2012 will likely go down as one of the hotter and drier ones on record.   

While the hot temperatures are certainly an issue for the grass, there are a multitude of different factors that lead to turfgrass decline during the summer months, including:

  • Hot daytime temperatures will literally cook grass.  Surface temperatures on a green during a sunny afternoon in the 90s without much wind can easily reach 105 to 110 degrees.
  • Warm night time temperatures give the turf less cool down time and lead it to use up its carbohydrate reserves stored in roots faster than it can make new carbohydrates through photosynthesis during the day.  This leaves the plant with an energy deficit, using up more energy than it can create, and slowly causing the roots to die off
  • Watering becomes a huge concern, most people don't realize that overwatering can kill the turf just as fast as an underwatered plant.  Especially on greens, water logged soils heat up faster and hold less oxygen, and will literally smother and kill the roots, which is even more exaggerated on humid days with little wind and warm nights that don't cool off the soils.  When you are standing on a green in the middle of the afternoon, sweating, and feeling like you can barely breathe because it is humid and there isn't any wind, the green you are standing on is literally suffocating.
  • Disease pressure starts to skyrocket.  Hot and humid conditions turn the soils and turf on the golf course into a petri dish for fungal growth.  Another reason to watch how much we water, as wet and overly saturdated soils will grow turfgrass pathogens much more rapidly than in dry conditions.
  • Mechanical stresses from our equipment makes matters worse.  With the NDGA match play this week we double cut the greens for 3 straight days and had the roller our for 5 straight days.  We are our own worst enemy by giving the turf the proverbial "kick when it is already down" by trying to keep playing conditions at their peak in this stressful time.

Double cutting greens on Wednesday
Fast and firm with the new roller

Textbook summer stress, especially on the collars from all the extra
compaction and abuse from where all the mowers and rollers
come on and off the green.

Now that we are starting to see some effects of a rough summer, there are some helpful actions we can take:
  • Starting this coming week we will be raising mowing heights a little on the greens and collars and approaches.  A little extra leaf tissue goes a long way toward to plant health this time of year.
  • Also, we will be mowing a little less often.  Cutting the grass plant in half everyday is a huge stress that requires the plant to use a lot of extra energy just to heal the wound.
  • Hand watering becomes even more important.  Fortunately, we took the time this spring to add the extra quick couplers by the greens.  Delivering water only where it is needed on the greens allows the dry spots to get enough water, which the over head irrigation sometimes can't do, as well as allow the wet areas that don't need any extra water to dry out a little bit.
  • Continuing to spray small amounts of foliar fertilizer and pesticides on a regular basis.  When the grass plant is stressed, they are much more suscpetible to being damaged by diseases.  Pesticides allow us to almost entirely eliminate that part of the equation.  Furthermore, small amounts of foliar fertilizer are quickly absorbed into the plant and give it a rapid boost of Nitrogen on a weekly basis to keep the plant photosynthesizing and producing carbohydrates.

Hand watering allows us to perfectly water the dry spots on the greens,
while keeping the rest of the green from being overwatered.
While the greens and collars have taken a bit of a hit recently, the fairways seem to be holding up quite well.  The main difference with the fairways is that their biggest threat is from a disease called Pythium, which our sand based greens aren't really threatened by.  Pythium grows in intensely hot and humid weather and wet soils.  While we have had the hot and humid conditiions this summer, we haven't had any massive rains from a thunderstorm that have left the course overly wet like we had frequently last summer.

Textbook pythium growing in 6 fairway in July of 2011
Pythium damage in 11 fairway in July of 2011

Looking down 11 fairway and Pythium damage in July 2011

11 fairway this July, hanging in there a little better
While I sure certainly love my job taking care of the course, the hot months of summer tend to raise my blood pressure a little bit.  Coupled with an alarm clock that goes off at 4:00am for 6 or 7 days a week, and hopefully you get an idea why I start really looking forward to those cool fall mornings this time of year...

July 13, 2012

If A Tree Falls On A Golf Course And No One Is Around To Hear It...

Then it probably still made a sound, most likely the sound of the bentgrass on 16 green being crushed.  While the storm on Thursday evening didn't really produce very strong winds, apparently the large cottonwood just to the left of 16 green was ready to go. 

Not fun to come into on a Friday morning....

Making fast work with a freshly sharpened saw.

Although a sharp saw still can't get through the last piece.  I actually
think it looks like a piece of art now.

I thought it would be fun to use the trunk pieces to make some seats
around the fire pit. 
Unfortunately, I don't think this will be an isolated incident in the coming years.  Cottonwoods are of course very fast growing trees, which is why they were probably planted here in the first place.  However, fast growing trees also tend to be very weak also.  Cottonwoods also usually have a lot of codominant, branching trunks, making the trees even weaker and more prone to decay. 

If only the next wind storm knocks over a few of those Cottonwoods to the left of 14 tee at least I know Gunner will be the first one out there to help us clean them up!

July 11, 2012

Fast And Firm

Here is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the golf business these days.  If anyone watched the US Open last month at the Olympic Club, the USGA knows how to go over the top to produce a fast and firm golf course.  One of the most important things we can do to any part of a golf course to produce firm conditions; green, tee, or fairway, is to topdress frequently with sand.  I would like to know how many thousands of tons of sand a course like the Olympic Club goes through in the year leading up to a US Open....

Unfortunately, our greens at GFCC have received a relatively limited amount of sand for a number of years in the past.  Although we are agressive in the spring and fall with aeration and sand topdressing, it is vital to continue to add more sand throughout the summer in order to keep the dead and dying plant material (otherwise known as thatch) diluted with fresh sand.  Another helpful process is called verticutting, or vertical mowing, which physically removes some of the dead plant material under the surface in order to get the thatch out, and get the sand in.  Verticutting also helps stand the grass up so that is mows tigher as opposed to laying over on the ground.

In an effort to continue to firm the greens in preperation for the state match play tournament next week, we did an agressive verticut of the greens on Monday evening, followed by a moderate sand topdressing on tuesday morning.  The sand was then broomed lightly and watered in order to get it worked into the turf canopy.  After a mowing the next morning and a quick roll, the 25,000 lbs of sand that was applied the day before is barely noticeable.  With the significant amount of organic material that we were able to remove with the verticutting and then filling those spaces with sand, we should see some serious firming and speeding up of the greens come next week....

Andy pulling some junk out of the greens with the verticutter reels.  All the dead plant material that was removed
was blown off the greens prior to topdressing.

An up close view of the surface disruption the verticutter produces

Nothing gets my motor running like a fresh coat of topdressing sand as the sun rises on a new day...
To sum up the importance of sand topdressing, I pulled a few quotes from an article written by Bob Vavrek, the Senior Agronomist for the North Central Region of the USGA Green Section.

"Getting back on track won't be easy, because eliminating thatch is a disruptive process, and the disruption is why unreasonable and uninformed golfers have denied some superintendents the opportunity to manage the greens properly in the first place. It's amazing how many courses have suspended 1/2- to 5/8-inch hollow-tine coring operations in favor of less-disruptive cultivation, such as solid deep-tine or 1/4-inch hollow-tine coring.

Addressing this problem may be as simple as adjusting modern equipment to apply more sand per application. And, yes, hollow-tine core cultivation needs to be an integral part of the greens maintenance program every year.

Old greens have been pushed to their limits and beyond to provide golfers firm, fast, smooth greens for day-to-day play. Cut back on topdressing and coring operations and you will have soft, wet, bumpy greens. We are all fooling ourselves if we think we can continue to accumulate thatch on greens and still produce a high-quality putting surface."

July 6, 2012

The Last Pieces Of The Puzzle

Over the last few weeks we have been slowly finding and locating some of the lost mainline valves and quick couplers on the irrigation system.  For a couple of days I felt like the wire tracer and metal detector had become a permanent fixture on the end of my arm.  While I did find quite a few buried "valuables" of our irrigation system with the metal detector, I also dug up countless buried aluminum cans, bottle caps, and even a few quarters.

After locating and digging up as many of the old components of the irrigation system as possible, we were left with only a few missing pieces.  There was no quick coupler for 5 green, and the quick couplers for greens 3, 8, 12, and 16 were located too far from the green, making them essentially unusable. 

I had planned on at some point adding or moving these remaining quick couplers to give us the ability to hand water these greens at some point this summer, but with the recent heat wave I decided sooner would be better than later.

We rented a vibratory plow on Thursday and put together a few spans of 1 1/4" PVC pipe and added or moved all five of these quick couplers in one day.  It was a lot of holes to dig, and some serious pipe reconstruction, but it was much easier to do it all in one day while the irrigation system was shut off and the water drained out of the pipe.  We were also able to add our last mainline valve on hole 8 to allow us to isolate the section of irrigation mainline that feeds holes 8, 15, 16, and the tee side of 17. 

Although our irrigation system was designed and installed in 1985, we have now added enough updates to feel like we have finally entered the 21st century of water delivery....barely.

Blake guiding the pipe in as Andy pulls it up toward 3 green.

A tie in to the mainline by 12 green.  The quick coupler used to be tapped right into
the mainline here, our new line puts the coupler 80 feet closer to the green.
Our new hand watering trailer, makes watering greens fast and efficient

All of our irrigation updates seem to have come together just at the right time, as our recent heat wave has proven.  The month of June wrapped up last week and continued the trend of the last 11 months:  monthly temperatures were 2.4 degrees warmer than average, and we received only 2.38" of rain compared to an average of 3.48", so we were just over an inch short of average rainfall.  Another interesting note, our low temp for the month of June was 38, and the high temp for the month was 93.  These two temperatures occurred only 3 days apart, the low of 38 was on June 9th and the high of 93 was on June 12th.  That is a pretty dramatic temperature swing in a 3 day period.  The weather here in North Dakota always keeps us on our toes....