August 30, 2012

It's About To Get Ugly Out There....

We have had a terrible summer for weeds in the tightly mowed turf areas, mostly collars, approaches, and fairways.  Most of these were able to take hold in the spring with so much dead grass out on the course early on as a result of the dry, open winter we experienced last year. 

Most of the weeds were eventually choked out by the turf as it filled in, except for one.  Prostrate knotweed popped up early in the summer (May for the most part) but didn't really start taking over until the middle of July or so.  Unfortunately, looking back I wished we had sprayed the fairways and collars a little more extensively early in the summer than just the few small spot treatments that we did.  The knotweed has become out of control in a few areas.

We sprayed the last summer application on the fairways this week with our typical mixture of Civitas, growth regulator, and fertilizer.  In this last one however we added another product to the mix, a herbicide called Sterling Blue.  Although it has a very low use rate (4oz/acre, think spraying out half of a pop can over an entire football field) it is a rather potent and very cost effective formulation that will hopefully knock down some of the knotweed this fall and give the turf the ability to start filling those areas in before winter. 

That being said, we are about to find out exactly how much knotweed is out there.  It has already started to turn a little white and curl up a bit, and hopefully will go to yellow and then brown in the coming weeks.  When that happens, there are going to be some pretty ugly spots out in the fairways throughout the fall as the turf takes back over those areas.

Hole 9 fairway, pretty thick

The knotweed in the approaches drives me absolutely crazy.  If I had enough
time I would go out and pull it all by hand.  Definitely learned my lesson
this year, I bet next spring we nail the weeds a little earlier....

August 28, 2012

An Early Fall or Symptoms of Drought?

Anyone who has played the golf course in the last week has probably noticed how many cottonwood leaves have been dropping already.  It isn't even the beginning of September yet, and you would have a difficult time finding your ball in the rough on a few holes (4, 13, 18 for example.)  While we had some chilly mornings of 41 and 42 degrees back in the middle of August, we have not had any frosts yet, leading me to believe that the leaves dropping off the cottonwoods is not a result of the typical passage of fall weather.

Rather, I would assume that this is the result of what has been a long, hot summer.  Cottonwoods are of course a water loving tree that typically grows around rivers and creeks.  Most of the ones we have planted on the course are certainly not in any bodies of water, and are well outside of our irrigation zones.  The cottonwoods dropping their leaves early is their way of trying to survive a drought by shedding their foliage in order to conserve water for the roots. 

Cottonwood going dormant left of 3 fairway

The foliage mess has begun, only 2 more months
of blowing and mulching leaves....

Blowing fairways prior to mowing has started a little early this year
with the cottonwoods dropping their leaves so early. 

August 22, 2012

High Tech Water Management

For those of you that may have been regularly following my blog this summer, you can probably recall a couple of posts highlighting the importance of water management on the golf course.  For us, water management is the integration of two components with one basic concept.  The components involved in water management are of course the irrigation/water delivery system, and the soil in which we are irrigating.  The concept is that we don't water to over water the turfgrass, and we don't want to underwater the turfgrass.  Just the right amount is critical.

A new tool arrived on the market in the last few years that marries these concepts into hard numbers and science, compared with old-fashion guesswork and feel.  Digital moisture meters, based on the concept of time-domain reflectometery, give superintendents the ability to put a probe into the ground, push a button, and instantly get a reading of the exact volumetric percentage of water in the rootzone.  The old standby method of checking soil moisture involved pulling a plug from the ground with a profiler and looking, feeling, smelling, tasting, and listening to the soil to try and "guess" how much water was actually in it.

I purchased one of these moisture meters last week, and am still learning the intricacies of exactly how to utilize it.  Every green responds to different levels of moisture differently.  Some greens have a much deeper sand layer than others, some are composed of different types of sand, almost all of them have different amounts of organic matter in that sand, and the turfgrass root structure capable of utilizing the water is different on almost every green.  While one water volume might be healthy on one green, on another green that same number might mean turf that is already way past the wilt point. 

The main goal with this instrument is to take the guess work out of determining how much moisture is in the rootzone.  We can pinpoint an exact mositure level a green is at, and determine if it might need only handwatered in a few spots, the overheads run on the entire thing, or if it has adequate moisture everywhere and doesn't need any water at all.  This will be especially helpful during the hot and humid period in the summer when we need to keep the greens moist, but not too wet to avoid suffocating the grass and increasing our disease potential.

Another area the moisture meter will be helpful with is producing uniform and consistent moisture levels across each individual green.  As everyone is probably aware, our irrigation system is horribly outdated, which means:  heads are improperly spaced, piping is too small, pressure is too low, and any sort of detailed control is impossible based on the 30 year old wiring.  What this leads to is greens that lack any sort of uniform moisture distribution.  The three following examples are all taken off of the same green, number 5:

From the back right of 5 green, with only 9% moisture this area was already showing slight signs of drought stress.
Also, this portion of the green is so firm that I think if you landed a PW here your ball would probably bounce
like it had just landed on a concrete cartpath.

From the front left of 5 green, 17.4% moisture seems to be a pretty comfortable moisture level for us.  This area of
the green will receive balls well, but should still provide a firm and smooth surface to putt on.

From the very middle of 5 green.  This area is where all the water from the irrigation heads on the perimeter of the green
land because they don't have enough pressure to throw back out to the perimeter on the other side.  At 30% moisture,
this area of the green is like a sponge, if you landed a PW here the ball might plug in its own ballmark. 

With such an outdated and inaccurate irrigation system, the only way to try and get any sort of uniformity in the moisture in the greens is by handwatering the dry areas with a hose, and allowing the remainder of the green to dry out.  You might notice in all of the above pictures, I took a soil profile with an old probe from each area to show how difficult it would be to determine with any accuracy how much moisture was there.  This meter gives us specific numbers in order to know in advance how to plan our watering of each individual green.

August 15, 2012

Red vs. Green

Probably one of the biggest questions in the turf industry these days, if you ask any superintendent, is what color they like their turf equipment.  Toro and John Deere are the two big players in the market, and everyone has their preference.  Both manufacturers make a quality piece of equipment.  Our fleet at this point is almost entirely Toro, with a small splattering of orange (Jacobsen) thrown in just to make things interesting.  While I have nothing against either one of these manufacturers, the fact of the matter is that some of our equipment is 10-15 years old and is just plain tired. 

We do not have a full-time mechanic on staff, and with nearly half a million dollars of equipment parked in our equipment bay, it needs to be taken care of by someone.  Between Andy and myself we had an extremely busy winter getting everything in tip top shape for this summer.  However, with some of our equipment that is just too old, we still end up putting the proverbial duct tape and zip ties all over them during the course of the growing season just to keep them going.  There are a few mowers in our shop that spend almost as much time either getting worked on or sitting around broken as they do actually working out on the course.  We are short staffed as it is in the summer months, and when Andy or I have to spend time in the shop working on equipment, it just means there is one more thing we are neglecting out on the course. 

Our oldest mowers, two Toro 325 rough mowers, were built in 2000 and have close to 4,800 operating hours on them.  To put that into perspective, imagine in your car averaged a speed of 50 mph over its lifetime of stop and go traffic and interstate cruising.  If you drove it for 4,800 operating hours your car would have 240,000 mile on it!  Needless to say, at some point it doesn't make sense to keep fixing it, its just time for a new car.

Last week, our friendly John Deere dealer out of SD brought us up a new 7500 fairway mower to demo for a couple days.  Our current fairway mowers are 2007's and have a little over 2,000 hours on them, and while they are still running strong, they are entering the point in their lifespan where major repairs are right around the corner.  For example, after one more winter of grinding and sharpening the reels and bedknives, they will literally be out of any steel left to cut with.  Replacement of reels, bedknives, and bearings for the 10 cutting units on our two fairway mowers is going to cost a quick $5,000 next winter, just to keep them cutting grass.  And those are only the forseeable costs....

Seeing the side by side cutting comparison of our 6 year old fairway mowers to a new unit was an amazing thing to see.  Our old fairway mowers have hydraulically driven reel motors.  Some of you may have seen the consequences, especially last year, when a 6 year old hydraulic hose just decides to crack and break one day:  lots of dead grass.  These new fairway mowers have reels driven by electric motors, meaning no hydraulic oil, meaning no potential for leaks.  Furthermore, these electric driven reels run faster and quieter.  The new John Deere fairway mower cut faster, more precise, quieter, and when all was said and done used about 25% less fuel.

Side by side comparison in 17 fairway. 

Green just looks better on a golf course....

August 11, 2012

A Reversal Of Fortunes

After my blog post on July 22nd, Into The Fire, reported how my dire predictions for a hot and dry summer were coming to fruition, it was as if mother nature was out to prove me wrong.  In the last 2 weeks, the weather has made a dramatic reversal back to "average", which after weeks straight of furnace-like temperatures, feels pretty darn nice. 

Truth be told, July turned out to be the hottest month ever recorded in Grand Forks with an average temperture of 6.2 degrees above normal.  However, we were much more fortunate than the remainder of the midwest and managed to sneak out above average precipitation for the month.  The 3.35" of rain that fell in July was only .20" above average, and while the majority of that rain fell at the end of the month when we received almost 2" overnight on the 25th, we were happy just to get anything at that point. 

Now however it appears that August is going to make up for the junk weather that July gave us.  In the last week of July and this first week and a half of August we have received over 3.5" of rain and have had temperatures near and even below normal.  By the third week of July some of the rough areas on the course that are outside of the irrigation could have gone up in flames if you had dropped a match on them.  Now, two and half weeks later, most of those areas have almost completely recovered and are green and growing again. 

Even better, the greens to seem to have recovered pretty well, except for 3, 6, and 10 which suffered enough damage in the heat that they probably won't completely recover until later this fall.  Cool season grasses thrive in daytime highs around 75 degrees, and especially love the cool nights when the temperatures dip down into the 50s.  We have had plenty of those days in the last two weeks.  If the grass had a face, it would likely have a smile from ear to ear right now.

Also, we are to the point in the season where our growth regulators are much more effective, and with our new roller we are able to finally get the speeds going pretty well on the greens.  While I rarely use the dreaded stimpmeter, I had to get it out this week just to see where we were at.  After a single cut and roll on Thursday morning, 16 green gave me some pretty reliable numbers at 11' 9" (US Open green speeds are probably around 12' -13' just for comparison).....which in all honesty is too fast for our 50 year old greens.  While some of you scratch golfers may like those screaming speeds, we don't have enough decent pin placements on our greens to support those speeds on a regular basis.  I would say somewhere around 10' is a better daily number for us, but it sure is fun every once and awhile to get a little carried away....

Well, it seems like for the last month or so I have had nothing but bad pictures of stressed out grass and flooded bunkers to put on the blog, so now that the weather is nice, and both the grass and I can take it a little easier, here are some nice pictures to give everyone a warm fuzzy feeling again.....

Hole 18 at sun up

Hole 9 looking nice, especially with the creek banks filled
in with vegetation this year

I had to throw in this picture of Allie out playing in the wildflowers
while we were out for a course tour one evening.  I have to admit that
they have been an amazing success this summer, we will definitely be
planting a lot more next spring!