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.

August 26, 2013

Countdown to Ignition

After trimming the thousands of Ash trees on the course all summer, our tree limb dumping areas were starting to get a little spread out.  Today I rented a skid steer for an hour just to push the branches up into a pile so that we would have some more area to dump more limbs.  I must say, it really hit me while pushing up the piles how many trees we have trimmed so far this year.  So far there are a total of 4 piles of brush, each about 40 feet across and probably 10-15 feet high.

Deep down inside of me, the pyromaniac instincts of my childhood are welling up with excitement to light all of these.  Once the first good snowfall is on the ground this fall, the propane torches are coming out and the hotdog roasting sticks are getting sharpened.  Stand back, I think they might be a little toasty....

August 11, 2013

Just Add Water

Seems like a pretty simple concept right?  As a turfgrass manager, one of the most important parts of the turf health equation is balancing water:  don't want too much, and don't want too little.  During the spring months this year we struggled mightily to get as much water off the course as possible.  Two floods and numerous man hours pumping and squeegeeing fairways and bunkers seemed like a never ending battle.  And then, our good friend Murphy (if it can go wrong, it will go wrong) stepped in and shut the faucet off.

Since about June 20th the rains have stopped almost completely and we have been relying on our irrigation system almost every day since that point.  Fortunately this year, as opposed to last, we have enjoyed some temperatures much cooler than normal, which means that having to rely on our irrigation system really hasn't been too bad.  Everyone by now probably knows how much I gripe about our 25 year old piping and sprinkler network, but during a cool summer like this its shortcomings haven't quite shown as badly.

One of the major hurdles however continues to be keeping water in our irrigation pond.  The river pump was out for two weeks in late June and early July because of the summer flood, went back out in the river for 2 weeks, and then had to get pulled again for repairs.  With the river pump out, we have to rely on the gas pumps on 14 to keep our irrigation pond full, which is a very costly, noisy, and ugly compromise.  The river pump was repaired at Acme Electric, but then during reinstallation we discovered that there was an electrical issue with the 460V line that supplies it with power down at the river.

We rented a mini ex for a day to dig up the power wire for the river pump

The wire was buried surprisingly deep, close to 5'.  We discovered that the line
used to run down closer to the river, and at some point must have been
spliced and run to the new panel.
The river pump is up and working again, but even with it running 24/7 it will barely keep up with our irrigation demands.  The pump only provides about 150gpm, which equates to 216,000 gallons per day.  Without any supplemental rainfall, we go through anywhere from about 150,000 to 250,000 gallons per night irrigating the course, depending on the previous day's temperatures.

Furthermore, I discovered a few weeks ago that our irrigation pond is actually leaking quite badly also!  The 16" steel culvert overflow pipe must be rusted out somewhere underwater at the bottom of the pond, meaning we are continually losing about 50gpm out the overflow, or about 72,000 gallons per day.  Do the math on all of this and it means that our river pump cannot keep up with demand, so we will continue to have to run the gas pumps on 14 periodically to keep the pond full.

The pond overflow will leak out about 11,000,000 gallons
during our 150 day irrigation window from mid May
through Mid October.  Definitely a problem we
will be addressing late this fall.
What it really comes down to is that we need to come up with another way to supply water to our irrigation pond.  The river pump is very unreliable and doesn't even meet our water requirements anyway, and the pumps on 14 are an absolute embarrassment to even have out on the course running, not to mention expensive to keep putting gas in.  I will have to do some investigation into some other water supply options over the winter.

On a brighter note, we have taken the time in the last few weeks to add some irrigation heads in some rough areas that have turned toasty brown this summer.  Our irrigation system is laid out in what is called a "double row" grid.  Essentially there are two rows of sprinklers:  one that runs up each side of the fairway.  This does a good job of keeping our fairways irrigated, but a lot of the rough out past 15 feet of the fairway gets pretty torched once it quits raining.

With that, we have been pinpointing some areas in the rough where a lot of shots are played from, and thus it would be nice to have some more friendly turf to play from other than hardpacked dirt and crispy brown grass.  So far we have added heads in between the two fairway bunkers on the right of 6, in the right rough just short of 14 green, in the left rough along the cartpath up by 15 green, and in the left rough at the top of the hill on 18.  It was easy to add heads in these areas in particular due to existing irrigation lines that we simply tapped into.

The new head installed between the fairway bunkers on 6.  It is a Rainbird 1100
and puts out 61gpm in a 205' circle.  It is what we refer to as a "water cannon"

Adding a new head in the left rough of 15 to help water the dry turf
where the old bunker used to be.
Other areas we are targeting to add irrigation heads soon are in the left rough by the cartpath and bunker by 18 green, at the end of 17 fairway by the red tee box, across the bridge on the green side of 17 along the creek edge, and between 1, 6, and 10 green.

August 2, 2013

Tree Trimming

Someday I need to take an actual count of how many trees we have at GFCC.  It has to be well into the thousands.  While the trees add a lot of character to our golf course, they also require a lot of work.  Besides just cleaning up cottonwood limbs and leaves every time the wind blows, and the millions of leaves we have to clean up in the fall, the ash trees in particular require a ton of trimming.

Green and White Ash seem to have been the planting of choice back in the 70s and especially into the 80s and early 90s as the elms all started dying from dutch elm disease.  While the ash is a relatively quick grower, not too messy and has fairly dense wood, it is a really droopy grower and tends to lose its "tree shape" over a number of years and starts to look like a weird blob.

Hence, the weapon of choice for us against the ash trees is the polesaw.  It is a relatively slow and and laborious process cutting off all the low hanging branches and hauling them away, but the results have been well worth it.  Trimming the limbs up has shown a lot of benefits:

  • much easier for the staff mowing rough, not getting branches in the face all the time
  • increased turf health by allowing more sunlight penetration
  • a better line of sight through the rough areas
  • easier to play from underneath of, by not hitting branches in your backswing
  • a more shapely and beautiful tree that actual looks taller once it is limbed up off the ground

We have thus far been able to finish trimming on holes 2, 3, 6, and half of 14....which means we have a long way to go still....

The left rough on hole 2 before trimming

Everything limbed, just lots of cleanup left

The finished product on hole 2.  The view through the trees is much
more appealing now and significantly more playable!

Going to town on the ash trees behind 3 green

Andy taking off the branch hanging over the back of 1 green.