December 28, 2013

Living The Shop Life

Its that time of year again in the northern plains to settle in and find something to do indoors for the winter.  December has been a brutally cold month, and with plenty of snow on the ground to go with it, Andy and I have made some significant progress on some shop work.

We were able to get all the reel grinding and setup done by the early part of December.  For the last 3 weeks, we have been tearing deep into some of the older pieces of equipment that are in need of some serious work.

Our two heavy duty Toro Workmans are model years 1997 and 1999 respectively, meaning they have both seen about 15 years of harsh conditions on the golf course.  Both of these units take a beating daily by hauling all of the heavy loads of gravel, sand, and soil that we need to move around.  One of the units also had an unfortunate collision with a bridge this fall, meaning it was in need of some body work as well.

Between the two units, beyond all the normal fluid, filter, and lube service, we replaced a set of collapsed leaf springs, replaced steering linkage bearings, built a new front bumper, repaired four broken fenders, replaced a leaking seal in a power steering pump, and repainted a bunch of chipped and rusted body parts.

Lots of torch heat was used in the removal and disassembly of all the
rusted and seized bolts on this 15 year old power steering pump. 
Next on the list was the 2007 sandpro.  While it is not one of our older units, it still needed some extra attention. It took almost 2 full days in the shop to trace and find a broken wire in the starting circuit that wouldn't allow the unit to start with the key switch.  We spent the last month of the season this year arcing the starter soleniod with a screwdriver to start the unit.  After the wire was found, we replaced a few worn bearings and bushings in the steering column that were making the unit steer very erratically.

Front steering of the Sandpro completely disassembled.

Lastly, our two 13 year old Toro 325D rough mowers have been in the shop for the last week.  With 5,000 hours on them, these units have the equivalent of about 200,000 miles on them if they were cars.  Needless to say, they are in rough shape.  Both of these mowers are old and slow, and worse, with a 6' wide fixed deck, do a terrible job mowing any of the undulations on the golf course.  These two mowers are top on the list of equipment that needs to be replaced.

In the meantime, they have been torn down pretty extensively this week to replace leaking seals, replace bad bearings, both units got new brakes (neither unit has had a functional parking brake for the last year), replace torn seats, replace leaking and cracked hydraulic hoses, replace worn out belts, and lastly, painting some of the badly chipped and rusted body parts.

The 325s are so torn apart they almost look ready for the junkyard...
Both of these units have already been in the shop for about a week, and still need another week to get them completely put back together.  All told about $1,000 worth of parts have already gone into them just so that they can hopefully make it through another season.  However, with every part we dissassembled to remove and replace, we would find 3 or 4 more associated parts that were worn out and on their last leg.  Realistically, every part on these mowers have outlived their lifespan and are on borrowed time.

I can almost guarantee that both of these mowers, regardless of our best repair efforts this winter, will still be spending some significant down time in the shop next summer replacing a seized bearings, broken belt, sheared off shaft, leaking seal, broken hydraulic hose, etc, etc, etc....

December 17, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Without a doubt, we are off to the best winter we have seen in the 3 years I have been here.  2011 didn't bring us a single snowflake until New Years Eve, leaving the turf to suffer the effects of brutally cold temperatures and drying winds.  2012 brought us a good early snowcover, but then was completely ruined in early January by a rainstorm that created ice all over the golf course.  2013 however has brought a healthy dose of early season snow, that has the turf completely covered and protected from the elements.  We just need this snow to stick around and avoid any mid winter melt cycles or rain (knock on wood).  If we can do that, we actually stand a chance coming out in the spring looking pretty good, as long as we don't get too much more snow in the coming months (again, knock on wood.....)

Early winter 2011 was so dry and open that cigarettes thrown out of cars
in the parking lot were catching the grass on fire!

Early January last year brought us a rainstorm that instantly created
ice, all across the golf course.

December this year has brought us the perfect cover of snow
to keep the turf protected and insulated.
Last week we experienced some brutally cold temperatures, dropping as low as -21 one morning.  To illustrate how much of an insulating effect the snow has on the turf surface, I dug a small hole on 16 green and checked the temperature on the turf surface underneath about 8" of snow.  The air temperature that morning was -16.  The surface of the turf under the snow was a balmy +20.  This 36 degree difference literally is the difference in life and death for Poa Annua.

December of 2013 has definitely created a winter wonderland.  We have already accumulated a total of about 17" of snow so far for the month, with still another 2 weeks to go.  The average snowfall for the entire month is only 12", so we are well ahead of that number.  Furthermore, the temperatures have been brutal.  The temperatures for the first 17 days of the months have so far added up to an average of 0 degrees, which is a whopping 14 degrees colder than average.  Global warming at its finest....

For me, one of the best times of the year on the golf course is the dead of
winter.  The complete peace, silence, and solitude on days like this are what
make the place so special.

November 29, 2013

Irrigation Pond Fixes

Now that the ground is frozen and our friends at Florians Excavating have a few spare moments, we finally were able to tackle the leaking pond overflow culvert.  I discovered back in the middle of the summer that the 15" steel pipe that acts as the high level overflow to the pond, had rusted out somewhere below the water level and was leaking approximately 50 GPM, or 72,000 gallons per day, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000,000 gallons over the course of the summer.  That was all water that we had to pay to pump back into the pond to keep it full.  Needless to say, it was a big deal to get this taken care of.  The old steel culvert was dug back about 5' into the pond bank, smashed, buried in 5,000 lbs of concrete, and then covered back up in dirt.  A new culvert was then dug in about 100' to the north.

Nothing is quite as exciting as that moment when a 25 year old piece of junk
(pain in my rear end) gets torn out of the ground to get replaced!

The new culvert is set entirely above the normal water level, meaning it can
never "leak."  Also, we set the new overflow level about 5" higher than
the old culvert, meaning our pond is capable of holding an extra 335,000
gallons now.

Good time of the year to tear things up....

The new overflow empties out into Cole Creek about 100' further north
of the old pipe, and is piped much closer to the actual creek bank, so
hopefully the bank failure will not continue so rapidly there.

When we finished installing the new overflow pipe, we then turned our attention to the other side of the irrigation pond by 14 fairway.  Back in the beginning of November I removed the old steel culvert that had heaved out of the ground there, with the intention of replacing it with a more functional culvert.  We were able to install a new 8" culvert underneath 14 fairway that will allow us to pump water out of the lakes north of the property without having to actually pump the water into our irrigation pond first.  When the lake level begins to drop as the summer progresses, we will have the ability to close that pipe, and fill our irrigation pond via the river pump or a pump on 14 fairway.

Furthermore, while we had the area torn up, we also installed a 4" pipe and some electrical conduit.  Next spring we should be able to buy a small electric pump that can be installed on the north side of 14 fairway, and pump water from the lake to our irrigation pond through the 4" pipe.  If all goes well, we should never have to use a gas pump or blue hoses on 14 fairway ever again....

Removing the old steel culvert that had heaved up in 14 fairway.

Installation of the new 8" pipe

Lots of new utilities installed under 14 fairway.

Like a lot of the projects we do on the golf course, this one will never be seen or directly affect anyone playing golf, but the impacts that it will have on the way we manage the golf course will be huge.  One of the biggest challenges we have had the last few summers has been trying to keep our irrigation pond full.  Not only will these two projects eliminate countless headaches for me and my staff and allow us to focus on more important aspects of the course, but the cost savings (mostly in fuel costs for the gas pumps, as well as more limited electrical power to run the river pump) should add up to a decent amount next summer as well.  And lastly, after we regrade and reseed the area in the middle of 14 fairway next spring, we should finally be able to have some nice turf there next year!

November 7, 2013

Drainage Upgrades

For those of you who played the course any this year a day or two after one of our big spring or fall rainstorms, you can surely understand the need for more drainage on our course.  While it would be nice to add drainage to the entire course, there are really only a few spots we need to concentrate our efforts in order to make a big difference

A bunker pond after a June rainstorm

Way too much water, and difficult to get rid of

Almost the entire right rough on 6 about 150 yard to the green
and in was standing water during June.

Bunkers in particular are a major concern.  Since they are completely shaped out of clay underneath the sand, they are essentially just a giant bathtub after a rain.  Even after a moderate rainfall, we have to pump out usually about 30 of our 45 bunkers, a huge waste of man hours, plus the fact that repeated pumping starts to destroy the integrity of the bunker.  As of this fall, we have installed drainage (perforated pipe covered with gravel, and then covered with a synthetic liner material to keep the rock separate from the sand above) in 14 bunkers.  We took the opportunity this week to actually continue those drains to daylight somewhere so that they are finally functional.

Secondly, holes 6 and 11 were in desperate need of some additional drainage.  There was some drainage installed on hole 6 back in the early 90s I believe, but after having located and dug up a few of those pipes, the old perforated pipe was either mostly or completely filled with soil, rendering them ineffective.  We started in the worst area, front left of 6 green, by adding a 12" sump basin in the lowest point, and then trenching a 3" drain line about 160' across 6 fairway to the sump basin in the right rough, which then empties into the drainage canal that parallels hole 2.

Hole 11 received some help as well in the trench it shares with holes 12.  After shooting a ton of grade points, I determined that the trench doesn't and can't even actually drain its self.  The farm ditch on the other side of 12 cartpath is actually higher than the lowest point in the trench.  We installed a 12" sump in the lowest point of the trench, which happened to be in the rough about ten feet right of 11 fairway.  We then added french drains (perforated pipe covered with pea gravel, and then sand all the way to the surface) in both directions of the trench.  We will still have to pump the trench out after a large rain, but the sump basin should make that process much easier, and the french drains will help dry out the rest of the trench, especially in 11 fairway where it has always been wet and devoid of any real turf cover.

Going to work on hole 6

French drain line going up the trench in 11 fairway

Bunker drain on 11

After 2 straight days running the trencher, my arms feel like jello...

Also, we have been harvesting the huge pile of old, flooded bunker sand that is piled up in the native area behind 6 tee, and using to fill in some of the really bad settled trenches in other areas of the golf course.  That has been one of my huge complaints about this course since I have been here, you can hardly drive a cart through the rough on some holes without bouncing your golf clubs off the cart.  By filling the trenches with sand, the drains can still function underneath, and the grass should easily grow back and fill the areas in this coming spring with the help of a little additional seeding.
Andy filling in old drainage lines in the right rough on 6

November 3, 2013

Geologic Problems

Of all the issues I try to mitigate as a golf course superintendent, geologic problems are always the hardest to remedy, and usually happen when they are least expected.  The Red River is very young, it formed only 9,500 years ago when Lake Agassiz drained, meaning that coupled with the constant flooding, the river valley is very prone to dramatic changes.

Apparently something shifted pretty dramatically down on the river bank recently.  Just last week we used the large compressor used to blow the water out of the irrigation system to blow the water out of our 6" water transfer line as well.  During the process, it looked like Old Faithful was going off there was so much air and water blowing out of the ground down on the river bank.

It appears that at some point in October, with all of the rain we had, the river bank took a severe slip back behind our maintenance facility.  The river pump transfer line pulled apart in two areas, once in an above ground section, and once again in an area where the pipe was buried about 3' deep.

We took the opportunity to dig up all of the broken pipe with the line out of use for the rest of the season.  We will repair the line as far back as it is broken, and leave the rest of the line disconnected and will just run it all above ground next summer.

We dug up about 120' of the line.

The first break separated the pipe about an inch

The fitting on the right, a gasketed coupler called a "knock on" fitting, used
to overlap the pipe on the left by about 6".  So here, the pipe moved about
10".  Kind of scary how much the ground is moving down by the river....

A scarp face is beginning to form where the bank is literally breaking
off and falling into the river.

Amazingly, this huge cottonwood is still standing, however
it is starting to press against our pipe.

This situation has future disaster written all over it.  Hence the reason the
entire line is coming out and getting moved next spring.  

October 20, 2013

Nursery Update

I blogged back in July about the new bentgrass nursery that we seeded this summer.  It is close to about 3,000 square feet and was seeded to Alpha bentgrass, a newer variety that we used to sod and seed our new tees with this spring.

Although I have to admit that tending to our nursery fell pretty low on the priority list this summer, we did manage to get a pretty good stand of grass established by this fall.  At this point, I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to harvest that turf first thing in the spring for a variety of uses.

Most importantly, as soon as we are finished doing the final seeding on our new tees in the spring, we will be able to sod a small pad in the middle of the teebox that will be available for immediate use while the rest of the seed is growing in.  What this means is that the use of temporary tee boxes should be very limited this coming spring.

Secondly, with whatever is left, we will be sodding out any of the dead collars around the greens.  Unfortunately, after 3 years in ND, I can honestly say that there will probably never be a "perfect" winter where at least some of the Poa Annua that so heavily infests our collars will not be dead.  Every spring thus far we have aggressively slit seeded bentgrass into some of these dead areas, but it has been an agonizingly slow wait for the bentgrass seed to germinate and the Poa to slowly fill its self back in around the collars.  Having an immediate stash of sod to use to instantly fix the worst of the dead areas will be really helpful.

3,000 sq ft of pure Alpha bliss ready to find a new home out on the golf course this coming spring!

If all goes well we should have all of this harvested and utilized out on the golf course by the end of May.  And then we get to rebuilt it and start over!  Next time, I am hoping to expand our bentgrass nursery to closer to 5,000 sq. ft. as well as seed another 10,000 sq. ft. to a newer blend of low mow bluegrass for use in our fairways.  It seems like a guy can never have too much sod on hand just in case....

October 15, 2013

Back Into The Swamp

The last 2 weeks have brought us close to 4" of rain.  We have had to pump bunkers more times in the month of October that we did in June, July, and August combined!  Combined with continuous leaf cleanup and a very small staff, it seems like we haven't been able to get a single thing done on the course recently that I would have liked to.

Worse yet, going into fall with completely saturated soils, and ditches and river channels already half full of water certainly isn't a good scenario for us going into spring flood season.  After all of this moisture in the fall, it is going to be vital that we receive a below average precipitation winter in order to avoid a large spring flood.  Definitely way too early to start thinking about that stuff, but unfortunately its always on my radar.

We are slowly getting to a few of the last tees that we needed to renovate this year.  4 tee has been rough shaped and sand capped, and 6, 7, and 11 tees have the old turf surface removed.  We need a few more days of good drying so we can get the skid steer back into a few bunkers to get some sand out to cap those tees with.  1 tee will be the last one we do.

Leaves and water make for a horrible mess this time of year.

We are in bad need of adding some significant gravel to our cartpats next
year.  Some paths have depressed so far that they are more of a water
channel than a cartpath after a big rain.

After the leaves in the bunkers get rained on, the water washes sand over
the leaves making them impossible to blow.  We have to rake out most of
the leaves out of the bunkers after the latest rain.
6 tee stripped off and ready for sand

A great view of the thatch layer that was left over even after the top 1" of
turf surface was removed.  This layer is one of the main reasons that
we are renovating the tees by removing the surface and capping
with sand.

Fortunately we were able to sneak in our cartpath project on hole 9 before all the rain came.  I am really excited about this area as it will make a great focal point for everyone driving up to the clubhouse.  We formed a landscaping bed below the main retaining wall that we will plant full of flowers next year.

We are starting to get pretty good at pouring roundabouts.

Andy putting the finishing touches on the new cartpath

Lastly, believe it or not there have been a few nice fall days for golf, so I will end this post on a positive note.

September 30, 2013

What Happened To September

Somehow a month has blown by since my last blog post in late August.  Things change pretty quickly this time of year in our part of the world.  During the month of September, we lost a total of 1hr and 40 minutes of daylight.  October will be just as dramatic, meaning that during our two "fall" months of golf, we will lose close to 3.5 hours of daylight.

September in particular is a very challenging month for the maintenance department out on the golf course for a variety of reasons:
1.  Staffing is reduced by almost 50% from the peak hours worked over the summer.  Most of the college staff has either quit or is working part time hours.
2.  There are still a lot of tournaments during the month, so there is lots of prep work, just with fewer people.
3.  The sun starts to show up a lot later in the morning, meaning lots of days we put in the first hour or two of work with headlights and flashlights.
4.  Leaves.  Lots of them.  Before we can mow anything or rake a bunker this time of year, the leaves have to be blown out of the way first.
5.  Lastly, we have a lot of agronomic practices to complete in September, mainly aeration and some additional fertilization.

Without a doubt, the leaves are the biggest obstacle for us right now.  I would wager that this time of year we spend a solid 20-30 man hours every week just keeping the leaves blown off of the greens, tees, fairways, and bunkers and mulching them up with the rough mower.  Windy days are particularly challenging, when the leaves tend to collect in bunker lips.  

A bunker that was blown and raked in the morning,
already filled back in with leaves by lunchtime.

The cottonwood leaves are particularly problematic as they fall from much
higher and have more of a tendency to drift in the wind.

Aeration of both the greens and tees went very well a few weeks ago.  There was one small hiccup with the new machine on 2 and 3 green after a pin that holds the depth adjuster sheared off.  We pulled 5/8" cores out of both the greens and the newly sodded tees, and did solid 3/4" tines on the seeded tee boxes.  All told we used about 70 tons of sand to fill the approximately 5,800,000 holes we poked in the turf in just 2 days.  We pushed a quite a bit of both liquid and granular fertilizers on the greens afterward in an effort to get the holes to grow over a little quicker as well.

Pulling cores out of 2 tee
Transferring sand between topdressers

Cleaning up cores.  Hard work, never fun, but worth it all in the end!

14 green covered with sand before being brushed into the holes.
September definitely went by insanely fast.  Now coming up in October we are in need of a "killing" frost, something down in the upper 20s that will finally send the turf on its descent into dormancy so we don't have to mow quite as much.  Also a really hard frost will get the rest of the leaves to drop off the trees and put us out of our groundhog day misery of blow, mulch, blow, mulch, blow, mulch.....

August 29, 2013

What Goes In The Sprayer

I field this question from golfers relatively often throughout the summer, about what goes in the spray tank.  With all the disease pressure that we have been dealing with on the golf course this week, I figured that now would be a good time for a blog post about it.

There are four main groups of products that we spray on the turf:  liquid fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and wetting agents.

Without a doubt, the number one used product that goes in our sprayer are growth regulators.  The sprayer almost never leaves the shop without some sort of growth regulator in it.  We utilize three different types of regulators, all of which in some sort of way affect growth hormones that are produced within the turfgrass plant.  One regulator we use is specifically for controlling leaf growth, which in turn focuses more of the plant's energy into growing laterally and producing roots.  Another regulator we utilize strictly for inhibiting seedhead production of the Poa Annua on the greens.  And the last regulator is used to both control growth as well as to help give bentgrass a competitive advantage over the Poa Annua in the turf stand.

Fertilizers are also a very standard addition to our sprayer mixes.  Applying small, controlled amounts of foliar fertilizers helps to feed the plant the nutrients that it needs to stay healthy, without producing excessive flushes of growth which is common when applying granular fertilizers.  Common nutrients that are sprayed foliarly are Nitrogen, Potassium, Calcium, and Iron.

Wetting agents are sprayed mainly on the greens and tees to help us more effectively utilize water.  As thatch starts to accumulate in the rootzone, the soil and sand particles start to accumlate waxy coatings that cause them to become hydrophobic (literally, afraid of water)  Wetting agents help to break the bonds of these coatings allowing water to not only better penetrate into the soil, but to also be held better in the soil and thus more available to plant roots.

The last group of products we spray on the golf course are pesticides, which encompasses fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides.  Within these groups are literally thousands of different chemistries, of which we only keep about 30 different kinds on hand.  These products are always used very judiciously on the golf course.  There are very specific thresholds and circumstances that require the use of all of these, it is only sound economic and environmental stewardship to use these if and when they are needed.

All of these products are very benign to humans and animals when used properly.  Nevertheless, there is still the potential for runoff or leaching of any product that is applied on the course, so we are always mindful of the weather conditions before, during, and after a spray application.

Andy mixing up a tank of growth regulator, fungicide, and liquid Iron.

A rare glimpse into the chemical storage room.  All of these products are kept
in a locked room separate from the main shop area.  On these shelves lie the
secrets of great and healthy turf....

August 27, 2013

Summer Continues, Fashionably Late

The last two weeks have felt like summer has known that it's days are numbered, but for good measure it had to make its presence felt one last time so we wouldn't forget about it.

With the last two weeks of July, and the first two weeks of August being rather cool and mild, the turf on the golf course could not have been happier.  Warm, but not hot days (75-80) and cool nights (45-55) are the absolute perfect growing temperature for our turf grasses, mainly bentgrass, bluegrass, and annual bluegrass (Poa Annua).  While we could have used some more moisture during that timeframe, the favorable temperatures made turf management dare I say easy for a couple of weeks!

But as it usually happens in life, all good things must come to an end.  This late summer heat wave has brought a heavy dose of 90 degree days, and even worse, warm night time temperatures, which prevent the turf from having an adequate amount of time to recover from the hot days.  

The real kicker during a heatwave however is humidity, and how we control soil moisture.  There is a very fine line between too much water and not enough water for us without any drainage on the golf course and a heavy Poa Annua population.  If we overwater the course and the humidity stays high overnight, we have created a perfect breeding ground for disease development.  However, if we under water the course, and the humidity drops too low during a 90 degree afternoon and a south wind picks up, our shallow rooted Poa will burn out in a heartbeat.  Thus far we seemed to have been doing a pretty good job controlling our irrigation output, however, on Monday night we received a quick .10" of rain, and with that followed an extremely sticky and humid evening and overnight period.

While the greens had been sprayed preventatively with fungicide last week before the heat wave started, we didn't have a chance to get around to spraying the tees.  The fairways were due for a preventative application about 2 weeks ago, but since the weather had been so favorable, I made the decision to skip the application since it isn't a cheap one.  It doesn't make sense to spend the money to spray if the weather conditions don't warrant it.  Hindsight being what it is, I am wishing we would have sprayed the fairways.  Such is life...

The greens have held up fine recently, but this morning with the extremely high overnight humidity we saw some of the most active disease development on the tees and fairways that I have seen so far in my 3 summers here.

The black tee on 14 exploded with Brown Patch, the first case I have ever
seen here so far.  Surprisingly, that was the only tee affected.

There is still some question as to whether this is Dollar Spot or
Pythium Blight.  It developed in some of the wet spots in the fairways.

A few of our newly sodded tees developed a very minor case of
Dollar Spot.  Only on 3 and 8 tee have I found any.
We were so close to making it through the entire summer without any major disease outbreaks, but this morning changed that very quickly.  The sprayer spent the rest of the day out on the course spraying both control and prevent fungicides on the tees and a few of the worst affected fairways.
Andy out spraying tees.