June 22, 2013

A Summer Evening Playground

During the summer, a golf course superintendent's job doesn't end everyday until the head hits the pillow.  Evening runs out to the golf course to check soil moisture levels and do a final setup of the irrigation system, especially on the weekends, have become a staple of mine here at GFCC.  While any modern irrigation system now allows the user to check online soil moisture meters and weather stations, and make irrigation adjustments from a laptop at home, our system hasn't quite met the 21st century yet, meaning I still have to go out to the course and do it the old fashioned way.

And what a perfect place to take the kids out to play.  Might as well make the most of a beautiful summer evening back out at "work"....

Apparently filling divots is child's play, its a wonder why
so many get left unfixed though....

Claire decided the bentgrass felt too good on
her little toes, and took her shoes off.

Allie, sporting her new pink hat that I got her at the US Open last week,
hamming it up for my camera on 3 tee.

June 19, 2013

Pumping Water The Other Way

Only 10 days ago we were entrenched in an epic battle trying to pump excess water off the golf course and get the place to dry up a little bit.  Now, as summer finally arrives, we reverse course and start pumping water back onto the golf course!  What a strange job this is sometimes always doing battle with mother nature, but in so many different ways....

In our first two large irrigation cycles that we ran over the weekend, we pumped a quick 500,000 gallons of water out of our irrigation pond.  Unfortunately, the pond is slowly starting to fill up with silt and sediment so it doesn't really hold much water anymore.  If we were to run the irrigation system for a week straight, with no rain and pumps to refill the pond, we could likely empty the entire thing in 7-10 days,

So with that, we scrambled on Tuesday morning to get the river transfer pump put back out in the Red.  Andy and I brainstormed up an idea over the winter to utilize a floating dock system to hook our river pump up to this year instead of the old steel cage that we junked last fall after we took the pump out.  After some sleuthing on craigslist, we scored an old dock section, reworked some of the decking, strapped some old fertilizer drums underneath of it for floats, and simply pushed it out into the river and tethered it to a tree upstream to keep it from floating up to Canada.  We then walked the pump out to the end of the dock, dropped it in the hole we cut out for it, hooked up the hose, and fired it up!  No more risking life and limb to hook up a 250 lb pump underneath a steel cage on the muddy river bank while trying not to drown like did last year....

Pumping water became much safer and easier this year with the new dock.

June 9, 2013

Collar Problems

One of the hardest areas on the course to keep in good shape are the collars around the greens.  Unfortunately, most of the problem is self induced.  Every piece of equipment that we use on the greens, whether it be a mower, sprayer, roller, topdresser, etc creates some sort of traffic, wear, and compaction that is always concentrated just outside of the edge of the green.  Because of all that extra abuse, the collars generally get beat to hell, and we try to make an extra effort to go easy on them.

For whatever reason, the collars on our course consist of almost a 100% stand of Poa Annua in some places.  While the greens themselves actually mostly contain no more than 20% to 40% Poa, the collars are ripe with this annual grass variety.  My best guess is that years of improper maintenance has beat them up to the point where the bentgrass thinned out, at which point the Poa started to take over.  Also, I have a sneaky suspicion that years of mowing off Poa seedheads before chemical seedhead suppression was used tended to disperse more Poa seedheads just off the edge of the green as the mower heads picked up and turned, dropping them out of the bucket or off the rollers.

Whatever the reason, we are seeing some serious collar problems this year from our brutal winter.  The ice that formed back in January from the rainstorm seems to have been the thickest and most solid in the fronts of the greens where all the water ran to.  While whatever bentgrass was in the collar is fine, the Poa Annua is toast.

We have been aggressively slit seeding some of the new Alpha Bentgrass into these areas and topdressing them trying to get them to heal, but it has been a slow process.  It is a very difficult area to get seed to establish due to the abuse from all of our equipment on the perimeter of the greens.  Any seed that does germinate there tends to get beat up before it can really take.  For that reason, we have been very careful with how we have been mowing the collars this spring, have been mowing them less frequently, and have tried our best to completely keep the greens mowers and the roller off of the thin areas all together.

The collar on 17 was the worst as that was the only green that we
didn't remove the snow and ice from.  The one sod patch of bentgrass
from last summer tells a pretty obvious story though.
A perfect ring of death around 5 green.  It is hard for me to look at this
picture without getting steaming mad at Poa.

We are finally starting to see some of the bentgrass germinate with all the
wet weather we have had recently.  We will be treating these areas extremely
tenderly in the coming weeks to try and get the seed to establish.

Not to sounds like a broken record, but the real solution is to simply get rid of the Poa Annua, which is not a cheap or easy endeavor.  The quickest and most effective solution would simply be to cut out and re-sod the collars.  Believe it not there are tons of other golf courses in the midwest with the exact same Poa problem, and have dramatically reduced their winter kill issues by resodding the 5' around every green.  Look again at the first picture, with the 2' by 2' square of perfectly green grass surrounded by death.  Imagine if all our collars looked as good as that patch of sod as soon as the snow melted, instead of trying to regrow seed every spring to fill in dead spots.

The sod on our bentgrass nursery up behind 13 tee will be ready to harvest here in the next week or two, so we will be using that to finish the new ladies tees on 1 and 10 and taking whatever is left to re sod some of our worst collars.  After we have used it all, I plan on hauling in a truckload or two of sand in order to enlarge our nursery.  My hope is to get the nursery reseeded with a new plot of Alpha Bentgrass by the beginning of July, get it entirely grown in by this fall, and have it ready for harvest immediately next spring in order to avoid this mess in coming years.

June 7, 2013

Wet And Wild

The first 4 days of June brought us about 2" of rain, considering that we are only supposed to get 3.5" total for June, we are well on our way to another wet month.  Coupled with all the rain from the last two weeks of May, and the course is an absolute swamp.

The most recent bout of rain ended Tuesday night, so first thing on Wednesday morning we knew what we had to do.  With the first large shotgun tournament of the year on Thursday, and the high holes on the course totally soaked, it was time to pump.

For 9 hours on Wednesday the entire maintenance staff of 13, including myself, pumped and squeegeed on holes 6, 11, and 12 trying to get as much water off as possible.  Furthermore, nearly every bunker had to be pumped out again.  All told we spent a total of close to 115 man hours pumping water on Wednesday, and I estimate that we moved close to 130,000 gallons of water off the course.

Water everywhere on hole 6

Getting the puddles off 11 fairway

Squeegeeing is such glamorous work....

The drainage vault on hole 6 at one point had 4 holes feeding it, and the 6"
drain line that exits it could barely keep up.

One of the guys on the staff took this before and after picture of the trench on 11/12 to show how much water we moved
Without a doubt I think that everyone was pretty well sick and tired of listening to pumps run and pushing a squeegee by the end of the day, but it was well worth it.  The ground is so entirely saturated right now that it would have been a solid week or more before all that water would have soaked in or evaporated.

Unfortunately, the sun never really did come out on Wednesday, so we had to do some serious roping and cart traffic for the tournament on Thursday to try and keep from destroying the course.

However, no matter how many ropes and signs I put up, there are always a
few folks that think the rules don't apply to them.  Some of the low areas in the
rough are starting to seep ground water from the water that has soaked
into the fairways above them.  

The gravel cartpaths unfortunately didn't get much of a chance to dry out
before the tournament either.  It is really difficult to try and control cart
traffic when the cartpath is almost worse of a muddy mess than the turf.

June 3, 2013

Cold And Wet

The month of May wrapped up a few days ago, meaning the meteorological "spring" of March, April and May has finally come to an end.  No big surprise, but it was very cold and wet.

May this year brought us a total of 5.18" of rain, almost double the average amount of moisture we should receive.  All told, the spring months turned out to be the 4th coldest and 3rd snowiest spring on record in Grand Forks.  March was 10 degrees colder than average, April 11 degrees colder than average, and May only 1 degree colder, so at least it turned out close to normal, but the heavy rain and the persistent cloud cover for the last 2 weeks of the month hurt quite a bit.

Amazingly, it is almost a distant memory now, but for 2 out of the 3 months of spring this year we were totally covered in snow.  Although we are now into the beginning of June, the course has only been snow free for about 35 days, and as of only about 20 days ago I was still pulling chunks of ice out of the irrigation valve boxes!

May also brought a really strange weather event in temperature extremes.  Our warmest day of the month was on the 13th when the temperature skyrocketed to 90 degrees.  Only 36 hours before that, on the morning of the 12th, we had a chilly morning at 24 degrees.  That was a dramatic one day turnaround!

The really unfortunate part of all this, is that the cold, damp, cloudy weather is really hurting the turf in its recovery from the longest winter Grand Forks has ever seen.  Not only did winter last forever and cause a lot of turf injury, but now spring hasn't really brought us much help either in the form of warm temps and sunshine.

That, and it seems like for the last 3 weeks all we have been doing is pumping water.  With the ground as saturated as it is, every little rainfall event puddles up in the bunkers and in the flat areas of the course, mostly on holes 6 and 11.  All told, in the last 3 weeks we have spent about 60 man hours running pumps and squeegees trying to get excess water off the course.  That has really cut into some of the other projects on the course that we could have been working on.

Squeegeeing out the last drops of a big puddle by 11 tee.  Our nearest
basin to pump into is on the other side of 6 fairway, requiring about
200' of hose.

This is why we have been putting drainage in the renovated bunkers
this year.  This bunker right of 2 green has been a pond the entire spring,
making it nearly impossible to get into and finish it.
And of course, as I take a look at the forecast for the rest of the week, looks like more heavy rain for the next 2 days and a balmy daytime high of 58 tomorrow.  Another cold, wet, cloudy day....  Summer can start at anytime now!

June 1, 2013

Phase 2 or 3 Complete

Despite the incredibly wet weather during the month of May this year, we have finally completed the second of three phases of our tee box renovation process.  The bentgrass sod arrived and was laid all in one day on Thursday the 23rd.  Only 3 days later on Sunday we opened the tees on 2 and 3, and just yesterday opened the tee box on 8 now that it has rooted a little bit it can tolerate some more serious divoting.  The tees on 15 and 17 are growing in nicely, and fortunately we had a little extra sod left over to make some small pads to hit off on on those tees, so as of today all the new tee boxes are open!

With that, my sincere thanks to all the sponsors who donated not only to our tee box renovations this year, but also to those of you who donated towards the new cartpaths last fall.  Without your help, we would not have been able to make the significant updates to the course in the last year that we did.

I like to compare our 50 year old golf course to a 50 year old house.  After years of use, abuse, and changes in design tastes and perception, things just need to be fixed, replaced, and updated.  Even though a golf course is a living and breathing thing, it to simply just wears out over time.

Laying down an instant carpet of bentgrass on hole 3
One week after sodding and 8 tee looks awesome

17 tees growing in nicely
As it stands right now, we have completely renovated the tees on holes, 2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17.  Furthermore, I have determined after some serious analysis that the tees on holes 9, 10, and 18 are "salvageable" in the sense that they are fairly level, not very thatchy, and don't require any serious design changes to make them up to date.  With that, we have been aerating and topdressing these tee boxes in an effort to help firm their surfaces, enhance surface drainage, as well as level them out a little bit.

All that is left on the list then to renovate this coming fall is 1, 4, 6, and the combined tee on 7 and 11 and we will have a complete golf course of new tee boxes!

Now if it would quit raining for a few days, we could actually finish the bunker renovation process also.  We still have 2 bunkers left to finish up, one on the right side of 2 green and one on the left side of 16 green.  Both of those bunkers required some reshaping/downsizing to make them a little more modern and maintainable.  All of the bunkers this year had drainage installed in them, however at this point the drain lines don't actually go anywhere, so later this fall we will have to rent a trencher to complete the project so that the water in the bunkers actually drains to somewhere.
The bunker left of 16 green is now about 40% smaller, but has a flash
on the back edge that makes it more visible from the tee.