July 18, 2013

Growing Our Own Sod

Most golf courses utilize what is referred to as a "nursery", which is essentially an out of play area on the property where grass is raised for the specific purpose of one day being harvested as sod to be used elsewhere on the course.  Doing this makes sense for a variety of reasons.  The first being, buying sod from somewhere else can be expensive.  Second, it allows us to grow a stand of grass that should be identical to what is on the course, meaning it will blend in better when it needs to be utilized.  Lastly, the nursery sod is available at a moment's notice, meaning that when we really need to lay some sod quick, we'll always have some on property to use!

Last fall we threw together a quick nursery area in the corner of the property behind 13 tee.  There were already a few extra irrigation heads over there, so it was a logical starting place (I'm fairly sure there used to be a turf nursery there a number of years ago actually.)  We mowed down some of the rough and overseeded with some bluegrass in order to form a stand of turf for fairway sod, and then in the middle of it we piled up some old aeration cores from the greens, leveled them off, and seeded some bentgrass into it.  We didn't put a whole lot of effort into it, but come this spring it was barely established enough that we could harvest whatever was in decent shape to finish the new red tee boxes on 1 and 10.

However, I made the decision this summer to expand on what we had.  I have realized that there will rarely ever be such a thing as "perfect" winter in North Dakota that will allow all of our turf on the course that is infested with Poa Annua to survive.  The collar damage we have sustained the last 2 springs is evidence of that.  It only makes sense to have plenty of sod on hand to fix as much damage as possible in the spring.

We rebuilt our nursery this week, and in doing so doubled it's size from about 1,500 sq. ft. to over 3,000 sq. ft. (next year we will rebuild even bigger!)  We just finished grading it out and seeding it today to a newer variety of bentgrass called Alpha (the same kind we used on our new tees this spring.)  This new Alpha bentgrass has shown that to be a very tight and aggressive bentgrass that should be able to outcompete the Poa Annua on the greens and collars much better than the 50 year old Penncross bentgrass that is out there now.

Tilling up the remainder of the old bentgrass nursery

After tilling, we added another 20 tons of sand to the area in
order to enlarge it to 3,000 square feet.

After final grading, we seeded 2 directions with the Alpha bentgrass, put
down a bit of fertilizer, a quick wheel packing, and then just add water!
  This time of year we should see germination in 5 or 6 days.

We are going to push the nursery pretty hard the remainder of this summer and fall in order to get the turf established enough that it will be able to be harvested first thing next spring.  All of the areas where the collars continue to die over the winter (most likely around the bottom edges of the greens where ice accumulates) we will immediately sod out first thing in the spring and get it over with.  The benefit of this will be two-fold.  For starters, we will not have to look at dead turf all spring while we try to reseed the areas and wait for it to recover.  Secondly, and more importantly, we will be replacing the heavy Poa Annua infested areas with a stand of pure bentgrass.  This means that instead of simply recovering from the problem, we will be fixing the problem!  As was evidenced last winter, the bentgrass can actually survive the conditions of a winter here, the Poa Annua cannot and will always continue to die.  We sod the dead collars out once with bentgrass and they should never die in the spring again.....

I think I have posted this picture a few times so far this year.  If there was
ever an argument for sodding bentgrass into the collars, this spot on 17
that we patched out last summer pretty well sums it up.
Poa = Dead     Bentgrass = Alive and Well

July 15, 2013

Joining The 21st Century

It has taken me close to 2 years since I have been at GFCC, but I have finally put together an updated and accurate irrigation map!

The current system we have was installed in either 1985 or 1986.  The map that I was left with when I got here is a colored pencil drawing on a blank piece of paper and is dated 9/18/1985.  It wasn't even an accurate map, I believe it was the original layout they used to install the system from, but of course what ended up going in the ground turned out to be quite a bit different from what was put on paper.

I have spent countless hours here with a wire tracer and a metal detector looking for grown over/flooded and silted over irrigation valves.  It is imperative to have a location for each of these, as there are often times when a zone valve will stick on and not turn off electronically, and it must be closed manually.  For the first year I was here, I would go to turn off an irrigation valve that was stuck on and it would take me hours to actually find it and turn it off.  Having this updated map will allow everyone on the staff now to know exactly where all the components of the irrigation system are located so they can be found and accessed at a moments notice.

While this new map is a dramatic upgrade, it still isn't quite up to industry standards.  Any new irrigation as-builts completed in the last 10 years are now all shot with GPS points and laid out in a CAD file.  That wasn't exactly an option here, but at least now the map is overlayed onto an updated aerial image and is saved in an editable computer file for future updates.

The 1985 pencil drawing that I was left with when I got here.  I almost fell out of my chair when I first saw this antique!

The new map is overlayed onto an aerial image taken last summer.  I have all the points saved in an editable Photoshop file so that it can be easily updated as we add, move, or remove any components.

July 11, 2013

Summer Flood Reseeding

Our summer flood went down just about as quick as it had come up, leaving behind another path of destruction, albeit pretty minor this time.  We ended up losing some rough on the left side of 9 and 17, and the right side of 15 and 18.  All the areas were really of no concern because since I have been here in the last 2 years we have never really had any grass down there anyway!

The really difficult part about getting some grass to grow in those areas is that we don't have any irrigation that hits them, except for the left side of 9.  While all of those areas have been seeded before, all that has ever really come up in them is a stand of knotweed, plantains, and some dandelions.  Our best chance of getting some good turf down there was when we reseeded them in the spring of 2012, but it turned out to be such a dry spring that nothing really took well enough, and the knotweed choked out whatever came up anyway.

This spring, after our first flood went down, we spent most of May spraying all the weeds that popped up in those rough areas in anticipation of being able to seed them as soon as the ground was dry enough.  However, most of May and June turned out to be entirely too wet to put a seeder down in them anyway.

With the hot and dry weather this week, those areas just now became dry enough to get our seeder in there.  We put down an incredibly heavy rate of perennial ryegrass, which is without a doubt the fastest germinating and establishing seed we can use.  Unfortunately, perennial ryegrass most likely won't survive our winters here very well, but in all honestly most of those areas will die in another flood again in the near future anyway.  It would just be really nice to have some grass down in those rough areas for the rest of this year.

Andy seeding the right rough on 18

Amazingly, in one of my many treasure hunting efforts with a wire
tracer and metal detector, I found an old quick coupler buried on the
mainline on 17, so we have been running a hose and sprinkler down
in the left rough on 17.

The left rough on 9 has two heads that irrigate it, it also though just
took a really long time to find the buried valve for it.

Also, with the river back in its bank, we were able to get the river pump back out.  It was still a little higher than we usually put it out at, but running the pumps on 14 gets old fast, so we sent it back out!  We had some small mechanical issues to work through with the pump once it was out, but with our nifty new floating dock it is as easy as walking out to the pump, pulling it out, and fixing right there on the spot.

River pump repair has been exponentially easier this year
with the floating dock.

July 8, 2013

More Sand

For a variety of reasons, our greens have a tendency to get puffy and soft as soon as the weather starts to get hot and humid.  It is caused by a combination of factors including lack of subsurface drainage as well as excess organic matter in the rootzone.  Also, the bentgrass on our greens was originally seeded to a variety called 'Penncross', which was one of the very first turfgrasses ever to be genetically bred back in 1955.  While it is still regarded as a decent bentgrass cultivar, it isn't the greatest.  Part of its issue is that it has a tendency to separate into genetic clones of its self over time, leading to a very distinctly mottled appearance.  Apparently, some of these clones have the tendency to get softer than others, which leads to small scalped patches on the greens as we get down to our summer mowing height of .125"

Genetic separation of Penncross is very evident in the spring as all the
different clones green up at different rates.

There are really only two solutions to this problem.  The first is water management.  We have been making a very conscience effort this summer to use our new moisture meter and keep the greens as dry as possible, without letting them get too dry.  It has proven however to be a very difficult challenge to effectively manage the moisture on the greens with our outdated and inaccurate overhead sprinklers, meaning we have to rely on handwatering, a lot.  That is very difficult somedays with our small crew.

Our other weapon against soft greens is sand.  I have a love hate relationship with sand however.  I love how much it helps to firm and smooth the greens surface.  I hate how much it destroys the reels on our mowers.  Regardless, it is a necessary evil.

We topdressed the greens with another good coat of sand today, only 2 weeks after the last application.  Hopefully the greens will respond well and should pick up some firmness and speed in the coming days. 

We also tried a new method of incorporating the sand into the turf canopy this time as well.  Our Penncross/Poa Annua greens aren't very dense in comparison to newer Bentgrass stands, so instead of using a brush we used our greensroller.  Furthermore, we utilized the spiker attachment on our roller at the same time.  This helped to not only get a little bit of the sand worked down into the top of the rootzone, but also helped to open up the surface of the greens to allow better oxygen exchange with the roots, which is extremely important this time of year with the heat and humidity.

Throwing sand.  A relatively heavy application for the middle of summer.

The roller/spiker combination did a great job of pounding the
sand down into the canopy.

July 5, 2013

The Flood That Was Too Dry

For some reason that is always how it seems to happen around here.  Whenever we get a flood, the weather turns hot and dry.  It always seems to make for a nice contrast.

The insane amount of rain that fell in the southern part of our watershed two weeks ago brought us our second flood of the year.  This one kind of surprised me though, as we didn't get a lot of rain around Grand Forks during that time.  Last Tuesday I was driving across the bridge on 9 and realized how quickly the coulee was starting to back up.  I checked the hydrograph on my phone, saw that the river had already come up from 15' to almost 21'.....and decided it might be a good idea to go check on the river pump, which we had put out in the river a few weeks ago.

Good thing I did.  We almost lost the entire thing down to Canada!  We managed to hook up the winch on the truck, I threw on a pair of chest waders, and we somehow managed to get it unhooked and pulled out without major incident.  Crisis narrowly averted...

The new floating dock setup for the river pump when we put it
out in the river at 15'

2 weeks later the river had come up 6' and we nearly lost the entire
thing.  Removal was a bit tricky at this stage....
Unfortunately while the river is high, it means the only way to fill our irrigation reservoir is to pump water from the ponds across from 14.  It is a really horrible setup; loud, unsightly, and burns a lot of gas.  But we really don't have any other option until the river gets down below 19' when we can put the river transfer pump back out in it.  And of course, we hit the hottest and driest stretch of the summer thus far while the river is up.  

Oddly enough for early July, the humidity has been absent to go along with the heat also.  A dry heat of course means that the soil is drying out quicker and the turf plants require more water, so the irrigation system is finally getting its first good workout of the year.  On average we have been putting out about 250,000 gallons of water nightly on the course, and as of right now are struggling to keep the irrigation pond full with the three, 3" pumps that are refilling it.  Either some decent rains or the river dropping quickly would be really ideal for us right now.....

Water in the right rough on 18

Crossing the suspension bridge on 17 was
a bit dicey for about a week or so...

This picture sums the entire situation up.  Watering the flood.  The water
had crept up high enough around the edge of some holes to get hit
by the sprinklers.  Seems like the perfect oxymoron.

At this point the water is mostly off the course.  This time of the year, with the soil, water, and air temperatures as warm as they are, any grass that was underwater for even just a day is dead.  We have some reseeding to do on the right side of 15 and 18, the right bench on 9, and the left rough on the tee side of 17.  Fortunately though, we were only able to seed those areas about 2 weeks ago since the rest of the spring had been so wet.  Not much real grass had really taken in them, mostly we had just done some weed control, so no major loss really.  We will get some ryegrass in the ground first thing next week and hope that we can get some of it to take quickly so there can at least be some grass in those areas for the rest of the summer.

The lower bench on 9 is completely dead, but had mostly been weeds
the entire spring anyway so at least now we get a clean
slate to seed into.