December 19, 2014

Winter Turf Update

Its that time of year again to start analyzing how mother nature is treating our golf course in the off season.  We've had a mixed bag of winter weather in my time here at GFCC, but this winter is turning out a lot like the winter of 2011-12.  We've had a very dry fall in September and October that is transitioning right into a dry winter as well.

For those of you who have followed this blog for the last few years, you know that this is a double edged sword.  Obviously, a dry winter means our likelihood of experiencing a significant flood next spring is dramatically reduced.  Conversely, a thick blanket of snow is the number one protection the turf needs in order to survive the winter.

We ended November with about an inch or two of snow on the ground.  Not much, but it was just enough of a blanket to keep the turf insulated during the first big cold snap we had at the end of the month.  Unfortunately, December has brought us just enough warm days to melt that little bit of snow, and then has deposited a small film of freezing rain and fog.  Fortunately, the temperatures in December haven't been too cold yet, but the exposed greens that now have a thin layer of ice and frozen sand on them is certainly less than ideal

There wasn't much snow at the end of November, but it was just enough.

Unfortunately the December thaw left a lot of puddles of ice in areas that didn't
completely melt off.  The following days of freezing rain didn't help the situation.
We still have a lot of winter left to go, but at some point we need a window of warmer, sunny days in order to go out and try to melt or shovel off the remaining areas of ice. After that, a good dumping of snow would be great.

December 10, 2014

Shop Season

Collin and I have officially switched gears from turf maintenance, to equipment maintenance.  We realistically spend 8 months of the year (April-November) ensuring the turf on the golf course is healthy, properly maintained, and in overall good shape.  We then spend the other 4 months of the year (December-March) putting some serious maintenance and repair into our equipment fleet.

Our entire line of equipment includes about 90 individual pieces that total in value of just about a million dollars.  Everything from a $50,000 fairway mower to a $200 string trimmer will spend time in the shop this winter receiving all its routine maintenance as well as a thorough check over that usually reveals a variety of broken or worn our parts that require attention.

It is important to realize that most of these machines live a life much more difficult than your typical automobile or home lawn mower.  In order to receive maximum hydraulic flow to operate the cutting reels, a fairway mower for example will run at full engine RPM for about 5 hours a day mowing fairways.  All told, in an entire season, one of our fairways mowers essentially mows a strip of grass 8' wide and 1,600 miles long at a speed of 5 mph, with the engine and hydraulic pump running at full throttle the entire time.  That's a lot of wear and tear.

Our two fairways mower are now 7 years old with about 3,000 hours on them.
Every winter we put them first on the repair list as they starting to have
more and more parts in need of replacement.

Each of the ten cutting units goes on the work bench and is completely
disassembled.  All bearings are checked, replaced if needed, and
reassembled in preparation for grinding.

Bad bearing left, good bearing right.  Overall about 30 of the 100 total bearings
 in all the cutting units ended up being worn out enough that we replaced them.

Lastly, the reel and bedknife receive a razor
sharp edge, and are reinstalled on the mower.

We are just wrapping up all of the general maintenance and repairs to the fairways mowers and the bearing replacement and sharpening on their ten cutting units.  Between Collin and I we put about 110 total work hours into just these two pieces to ensure they are ready for next season.  We only have 3 1/2 more months to get the other 88 pieces of equipment done now....

November 25, 2014

Irrigation Pump Removal

If there is one piece of equipment that is solely responsible for the well being of the golf course, it is the irrigation pumps.  Housed in the grey steel sided building along 7 fairway, I would be curious how many golfers have ever ventured inside and seen the pumps.  Tucked away out of view and sitting quietly most of the time during the day, they are nonetheless the heart and soul of the golf course.

Inside the building is a 20' deep concrete wet well that takes in water from the irrigation pond.  On top of the vault sits a huge concrete lid that holds the two vertical tubine pumps.  They extend downward into the wet well and suck up water when engaged, forcing it through a 6" mainline out to the sprinklers on the golf course.  Powering the two pumps are a 40HP and 20HP electric motor.  During a hot and dry period in the summer, it is not uncommon for both of the pumps to run constantly from 9pm to 7am in order to properly water the golf course.  All told we can water upwards of 250,000 gallons in a heavy night, and over the course of a season we will use anywhere from 13-20 million gallons of water.

However, it became evident this fall that one of the pumps was starting to experience some mechanical failure.  Not only was the 40HP pump starting to make some loud noises during operation, but we started losing pressure during high flow rates of over 600 GPM, meaning that the pumps were unable to supply the water that our irrigation system was demanding.  Because of this, and the fact that the system was installed in 1995 and has received very little maintenance, we made the decision to remove the entire system this fall in order to have it inspected.  If there is one piece of equipment that we simply cannot have fail during the summer, this is it.

The entire pumpstation: pumps, motors, valves, and piping before disassembly

It took Collin and me an entire day to take everything apart.

Due to the length and weight of the pumps, we had to remove a few
roof panels and have a crane remove them.

These two pieces of steel tubing and impellers are the difference between
a green and vibrant golf course, and a dead one.

Both the pumps and the electric motors that turn them are being taken to a company in Fargo that specializes in rebuilding large water pumps.  The big question is going to be how badly worn are the pumps, and does it make financial sense to rebuild them.  It a lot of instances, rebuild can cost upwards of 60-80% of the cost of replacing with brand new pumps that are more efficient and come with warranty.  We are hoping to have an answer in the next few weeks.

November 7, 2014

End Of The Line

We have reached the official end of golf season, but that doesn't mean the end of work season.  Believe it or not, the last month of the golf season is one of our busiest times on the year.  We act a little bit like animals preparing for hibernation out on the course, trying to squeeze in as much final project work and winterization of the course as we can before the ground freezes and the snow starts to fall.  Winter is hard for me, as I am forced to take my hands off the course for a solid 5-6 months, unable to adjust, tweak, or help the turf stay healthy.  Thus, October and early November are vitally important as it is our last chance to prepare the course to sit idle for a long, dark winter.

Our preparation for winter involves protecting the course from four main threats:  extreme cold, wind, snow mold, and snowmobiles.  All four of these pose a serious threat to the health of the golf course if we fail to provide protection from them.

Fairways, greens, and tees all receive a healthy dose of fungicide to prevent snow
mold, which can be a devastating disease if left unchecked.  Whereas in the summer
we may spray every 2-3 weeks to protect the turf, this application must protect for 5 months.

Our protection from cold temperature and wind is a two part approach.  First, a
thick covering of sand acts as a blanket for the greens, protecting them
from the elements.

Second, snowfence helps hold snow on all of our windswept greens.  Snow
is a great insulator and is our best protection from brutally cold temperatures.

We are trying a new snowfence technique on the practice green and a few tees
this fall by laying limbs from trees that we trimmed along the edges to help catch snow.
With about 13 miles of pipe in the ground, 650 individual sprinklers, and a  replacement
value of well over $1 million, irrigation blowout is a fall task not to be taken lightly.

Lastly, snowmobiles pose a serious hazard to the course by tearing up the grass
under a thin snowpack, and packing snow into ice that can easily kill
the turf.  There are about 100 signs across our property notifying snowmobilers
that they are not welcome.
Lastly, with every extra minute we have this time of year, we are trying to finish some projects on the course.  We finished pouring concrete by 2 tee this week, did a lot of final topsoil grading around all of our projects in preparation for sod next spring, and installed about 1,000' of drainage pipe to connect our new bunker drains to an outlet.

Putting the final touches on the last load of concrete cartpath along #2 tee.

The final product with the new bunker and cartpath by #1 green, once sodded
next spring, I think will be a tremendous improvement.

We were able to add drainage lines to eight new bunkers this fall, meaning that
at this point about half of the bunkers on the course now have sub-drainage.
Add in to all of this that we have to finish cleaning up all the leaves on the course, getting all of our equipment thoroughly cleaned and pressure washed in preparation for winter maintenance, staking off and roping all of the greens, and getting all of the accessories picked up off the course and put in storage, and hopefully you understand why late fall is one of our busiest times of the year.

October 20, 2014

Fall Projects Update

Here's a quick run down of a few of the projects we have going on the course right now:

We are pouring concrete on the cartpath coming off the bridge on 1/10 where it Y's off toward both of those fairways.  This is without a doubt one of the highest traffic areas on the course, so having this path finished in concrete will help keep things quite a bit cleaner as well as reduce a lot of wear in the rough where the paths end.

Furthermore, we will be rebuilding the triangle shaped retaining wall where the path Y's by #1 red tee as well as building a small wall by that tee in order to reduce the steep slope leading up to it.

The concrete path will be finished on Tuesday and the retaining wall portion will be going up next week.

Thanks to Midwest Refrigeration for their sponsorship of this entire project.

Next, thanks to another contribution from the Anonymous donor who sponsored our first concrete cartpath project on 15 green/16 tee in 2011, we are adding the last section of concrete to that path that comes down along the top of the bunker toward 15 fairway.  This section of path had always been gravel since we had finished that project three years ago, and was fairly steep and always prone to washouts, bringing lots of gravel down into the rough below it leading to poor turf conditions at the beginning of the path.

The fairway bunker on 11 is getting a minor re-do as we remove the sand area on about the left 1/3 of it.  There is an Ash tree encroaching on the left edge of the bunker, leading to the possibility of being in the bunker, as well as stuck behind a tree at the same time.  In order to make the situation more fair, we are simply removing the left part of the bunker.  While in the process of rebuilding the bunker, we added drainage to it as well.

Our last big project this fall involves moving the huge bunker front/left of 1 green and re-routing and pouring concrete on the path from 1 green to 2 tee.  The bunker left of 1 green was ridiculously large, most of it was even closer to 2 tee that it was to 1 green.  Furthermore, because of its size and location, it forced cart traffic exiting 1 fairway way too far around it and into the path of golfers teeing off on hole 2.  The bunker is going to be reshaped about 15' closer to 1 green, reduced in size by about 50%, and the cartpath is being re-routed to allow better traffic flow through the area.

Lastly, another big thanks to a group of 20 members that pooled their funds together in order to cover the cost of replacing all of the old, deteriorated asphalt path there with a new concrete path.

October 9, 2014

End Of The Growing Season

The growing season in Grand Forks came to an abrupt end on Wednesday morning when we bottomed out at 26 degrees.  While we have had a few frosts in the previous weeks, all of those came with temperatures above the freezing point (we have actually seen frost occur on the turf with temperatures as high as 41 degrees.)

With a low of 26 on both Wednesday and Thursday, the turf is officially done growing for the season.  Combined with the short day lengths and cooler soil temperatures, the grass plants are now well into their descent into dormancy in preparation for the long winter ahead.  We try our best to help the turf in that process by raising the mowing height and reducing the mowing frequency this time of year.  Doing this allows the plant to produce more leaf surface which in turn increases its photosynthesis capacity, which is much more important this time of year with the shorter days and lower sun angles (less sunlight).  Now that the turf is headed into dormancy, almost all of the carbohydrates it produces through photosynthesis will be directed straight to the roots in order to be used as food during the winter.  At this point in the fall, we will see almost no top growth of the grass, which means we essentially are done mowing.

In the turf management business, we are the only "farmers" crazy enough to grow a perennial crop that lives through a North Dakota winter (with the exception of a small amount of winter wheat).  Everyone else gets to harvest their crop in the fall and plant it again in the spring, but we don't have that luxury with turf.

A very white and frozen start to the day on Wednesday morning.  The staff
wasn't able to start doing anything on the course until almost 10:00am.

A close up of a very heavy frost on one of our bentgrass tees

The fairways are now being mowed only once a week.  We realistically
only have 3 or 4 mowings left to do this season on the fairways.
One last interesting characteristic of the golf course this time of year are all the different color patterns on the greens.  The original Penncross bentgrass that makes up our greens is notorious for genetically segregating out into a bunch of different clones of its self.  These different genetic varieties all react differently to cold weather and soil temperatures, creating some interesting colors and patterns on the greens.

No need to worry here, this interesting color scheme is completely
natural and normal, and actually kind of cool.

October 1, 2014

The Annual Autumn Mess

Leaf season.  In the world of golf course management, it falls just after aeration season, and right before the deep-freeze winter, golf course is closed season.  While we are all certainly very happy to enjoy the break from the barren plains that our heavy forested golf course provides, it is nothing but one huge headache for the grounds department this time of year.

Fortunately this year the leaf drop seems to have held off an extra week or two compared to years past.  The only thing worse than leaf cleanup, is a long and drawn out leaf cleanup season that slowly tortures us to death with just enough leaves falling every day to cause a mess.  Right now we are in the peak of the leaf drop and I expect that to last for the next 3 weeks.

While the leaves are certainly a headache, no one is complaining about
the beautiful mornings we enjoy on the course in the fall.

It doesn't take much of a small breeze however to turn
our morning view into something a little more daunting

We have two main tools with which to fight the leaves.  The first is our
turbine blower.  This piece of equipment runs everyday during the fall,
sometimes for 7-8 hours a day.

Our second piece of equipment we utilize heavily in the leaf battle is our large
rough mower, which also runs everyday for 8 or more hours.  It is fitted during the
fall with mulching guards under the deck that help chop up the leaves better.

The easy part is getting the leaves cleaned up off of the greens, tees and fairways and mulched up in the rough.  Our biggest struggle however this time of year is keeping the bunkers cleaned up and in some sort of playable condition.  The wind tends to collect leaves in the bunker lips much the same as snow drifts during the winter.  Furthermore, in our effort to blow leaves off of fairways and greens, quite a few inevitably end up in bunkers.

The real issue is all of the problems we cause by cleaning the leaves out of the bunkers.  Everytime we use a blower to clean the leaves out, we end up blowing a bunch of sand out in the process.  Sand coming out of bunkers is never a good scenario.  We are essentially blowing all the sand off of the faces and out into the grass along the bottom edge of the bunker.

Because of this, and the fact that our staff size is dwindling quickly this time of year, we only clean the leaves out of the bunkers when they get really bad.  Furthermore, we cannot rake the bunkers if they are not cleaned out first.  I have learned the hard way that piles of leaves that get raked into and mixed in the sand is not a good situation to deal with.

The bunkers nearest the cottonwood trees are always the worst

The deer are another part of the problem with the bunkers in the fall.  Lots
of bunkers that would otherwise still be raked and smooth are completely trashed
and cannot be raked until we have a chance to clean the leaves out first.

September 27, 2014

Hole 6 green progress

6 green continues to show signs of great progress after we reseeded the entire green about 3 weeks ago and cut all the cottonwood roots left of the green.  Furthermore, we have been mowing the green much less than the other greens, and have kept the mower and roller completely off the really thin areas.  Roping those areas off I feel has helped even more, it is amazing how much damage golf shoes can do to bentgrass seedlings growing in a fragile bed of sand.

We will continue to baby the green the rest of the fall with some additional fertilizer, infrequent mowing, and trying to keep the areas that are regrowing out of play.  Please continue to help in the process by staying off the sandy areas that are roped off.

Early morning dew patterns demonstrate how much bentgrass seed
has germinated from the slit seeding process.

The thin areas on the left side of the green are looking better every day.
We will continue to keep the mower and roller off these areas the rest
off the fall in order to help the new seedlings establish.

Overall the green is looking much better, I am confident that with the
cottonwood roots have been cut off, and with a significant amount more
bentgrass growing, 6 green will be one of our best greens next summer.

September 23, 2014

Tee Alignment

With the completion of our tee renovation process this spring it was time to do something to "renovate" the three remaining tees that were not rebuilt.  The tees on 9, 10, and 18 were deemed to be in acceptable enough condition and not in need of any redesigns to rebuild, so we have just been aggressively aerating and topdressing them in order to help level them out and firm them up some.

However, in the last 50 years on continuous mowing by different operators those tees have become shaped more like kidney beans than ovals, and are actually misaligned some.

We started the process this week of fixing those tees by using a string line to realign the tee down the middle of the fairway, and then sod cutting along those lines and flipping around the bentgrass and rough length sod on either side to recreate a more properly shaped and aligned tee by utilizing the grass that was already there.

Using a string line to realign and straighten the edge of 9 tee

Cutting and removing sod from 10 tee

Finished product on 10 tee now aims right down the middle of the fairway
and is much straighter along the edges

We even ended up with a little bit of extra bentgrass sod on 10 tee
so we added onto the front of the tee to bring the white tees a little
closer to the edge of the coulee.  Don't fall in off the front!

September 9, 2014

Hole 6 Green Update

It is no secret that over the years we have struggled with 6 green.  Even the first year that I showed up here at GFCC in 2011, it was evident that there had been a lot of sod patches installed in it the year prior.  However, more than ever, this year has been a real challenge.

There are a few factors in play that lead to 6 green performing much worse than the others.

First, the green is almost completely Poa annua.  However, we made a solid dent in the that issue earlier this spring when we interseeded an aggressive amount of bentgrass into it.

Secondly, and most importantly, the green is completely full of cottonwood roots underneath of it.  At least a few times a week when we cut a cup in 6 green we find cottonwood roots in the bottom of the hole.  While a lot of our greens more than likely have some tree roots under them, the magnitude of roots that is underneath of 6 green is the real issue.  The solid line of 15 old growth cottonwoods just 30' left of the green is simply too much.  All those roots take all of the water and nutrients that we apply to that green, suck them down through the soil profile, and send them 100' up in the air to the cottonwood leaves.  Whenever the weather gets even a little hot and dry, 6 green is always the first one to wilt and show stress.

Cottonwood roots sticking up in the bottom of
a hole we cut for a cup in 6 green
The issues this year with the green started almost immediately in the spring.  Shortly after the snow melted, and before the ground thawed out and we had a chance to charge our irrigation system, we experienced a brief warm and dry spell.  The turf has very little roots first thing in the spring after coming out of winter, and that short dry spell, combined with the cottonwood roots aggressively sucking up moisture, caused the green to wilt and kill the Poa almost immediately.

While we did a serious reseeding project on the green back in early June, it was both successful and unsuccessful at the same time.  We succeeded in increasing the bentgrass population in the healthy parts of the green, but the bare areas on the green had very little success.  While lots of new bentgrass seedlings did germinate in the bare spots, they were quickly destroyed.  We were as careful as we could be with that green, but with all the constant mowing and rolling we perform on the greens over the summer, the new seedling simply got too beat up in the thin areas.

This fall however we are going to try something new, and relatively dramatic, in an effort to ensure that 6 green is in much better shape next summer.

Today we performed a process referred to as "root pruning" on the row of mature cottonwoods to the left of the green.  We used a trencher to cut and sever all the cottonwood roots along the edge of the cartpath, about 15' from the edge of the green.  This process will effectively kill all of the tree roots that are currently under the green.  I have never done this before, but from having talked to a lot of other Superintendents that have performed this process, it sounds as if the effect on the health of the turf on the green should be dramatic.  Furthermore, from what others have told me, this process should have no negative effects on the health of the trees either.

Our trench was about 200' long and 3' deep.

A view of all the cottonwood roots we cut through.
Some roots were easily 3" in diameter,

The positive impact on the health of the turf on 6 green should be huge after having completed the root pruning.  However, we still have a few bare spots on the green that we have been struggling to grow in all summer.  With the slow down in golf play, along with the cooler fall weather, we took the opportunity last week just after aeration to slit seed the entire green and do some hand topdressing on the bare spots.

Essentially, we are going to treat 6 green as a brand new green for the rest of the fall.  We will be fertilizing it more, and watering it regularly throughout the day in order for all the bentgrass seed to germinate and start to grow.

Slit seeding Alpha bentgrass into 6 green at a fairly high rate.

Close up of slit seeder lines

Extreme close up, if you look very carefully you can see the tiny
bentgrass seeds laying in the groove.

However, the most important part of this process, is that we will be removing the entire left side and back of 6 green from play.  We will not be mowing or rolling any of those areas regularly this fall as well.  Once the weather gets cold, we may even use some covers to keep the new seedlings warm and growing.  In fact, I would prefer if people don't even walk on that part of the green as we try to repair all of the damaged areas.  We will continue to mow the front, right, and middle of the green and keep the pin location in that those areas the rest of the fall in order to keep the hole in play.

I realize that this a fairly aggressive solution, but in the 4 years that I have been here, 6 green has never really been any good.  Every year we baby it with extra fertilizer and water, but it only takes one small slip up on the wrong day and an entire season worth of hard work seems to vanish in an instant (by going straight up the trunk of a cottonwood tree.)

Please be patient with the process this fall as we try to ensure that 6 green is one of the best ones on the course next golf season.

September 7, 2014

Bentgrass Nursery Update

As expected, we used up the entire 2,500 square feet of bentgrass sod that we grew in our nursery by 13 tee this spring.  Most of it was put into areas of Poa annua that died in the collars over the winter.

Back in the middle of July we reshaped the entire area and enlarged it to about 4,000 square feet of bentgrass, with an additional 10,000 square feet available as bluegrass (for fairways and roughs).  The area was seeded by the end of July, but unfortunately suffered a few very bad washouts from massive rain events in the 2 weeks following that really set the area back some.  Regardless, we continue to push the new turf along with additional fertilizer and topdressing in order to aid in establishment as fast as possible.  Here in the coming weeks we will even be putting an insulating cover on the area to keep the turf actively growing once we start to get some frost.  The goal is to get the bentgrass to the point where we can harvest it for use on the course again first thing next spring.

Alpha bentgrass just starting to emerge out of the sand on July 25th

Fast forward to September 5th, about 6 weeks later and the area is filling
in very nicely.