January 31, 2015

Mid Winter Turf Update

While the mid winter warm up we experienced the last week was a nice break from the brutally cold temperatures that one would expect in January in North Dakota, it was about the last thing the turf on the golf course needed.  The situation with the small amount of ice we accumulated on our greens in December was less than ideal, but really not too bad considering how isolated it was.  However, the warm temperatures last week followed by another deep freeze in the forecast has taken the situation from bad to worse, for two reasons.

First off, a mid winter thaw cause turf, especially Poa Annua, to dramatically lose some of its ability to withstand cold temperatures (cold hardiness.)  Having some exposed turf warm up and thaw out in January, and then go right back to subzero temperatures like we are forecasted for this week, leaves turf plants prone to direct low temperature kill.

Secondly, in areas where the snow melted down but did not completely disappear, we are now left with thick sheets of ice.  This however isn't too much of a concern unless we get another long and prolonged winter that drags through March and April again.  At this point in the winter, our bentgrass will be able to tolerate an ice layer just fine until spring.  The Poa Annua can only live about half as long under ice, so if we get into March soon and there is no end to winter in sight, we will be going out to clear snow off of our greens again.  Here is a great article from the U of M about winterkill on golf courses if you would like some additional insight.

Greens like 5 that get a lot of wind and have most of their snow blow
off are now about 30% to 60% snow free and exposed to the elements.

9 green is in a very tough situation where the front of the green is free of snow,
and the entire back half of the green is a sheet of ice.
With the warm up evident on Monday morning, Collin and I were close to going out and clearing all the snow off the greens in order to prevent the ice buildup like you see in the above picture of hole 9.  However, with the forecast showing a large arctic airmass bringing subzero temperatures again, we decided that the risk of low temperature kill on ALL of the greens was greater than the risk of some additional ice on just a few areas of the greens.  A lot of greens still have a consistent blanket of 2" of crusty, junky snow, that will nonetheless provide plenty of protection from the cold temperatures.

With a winter like this, when conditions are less than ideal for the turf, it makes the preparation work we do back in September and October that much more important.  A few timely, additional fertilizer applications and raising the height of cut during those months without a doubt created a stronger, healthier turf plant that is more likely to survive these tough conditions.  Also, the extra heavy layer of topdressing sand that we put down just before the ground froze is providing the turf crown (the living portion of the plant just below the surface) enough protection from the cold temperatures and wind to help it stay alive.

A good illustration of a turf crown.  This is the only part of the plant that needs
to survive winter.  All the rest of the leaf tissue can die, but if the crown (which
is supported by the roots) lives, then the plant will regrow in the spring.

This closeup of the turf from an open area on 5 green this week shows how our fall topdressing thoroughly covers the crowns, leaving just some leaf tips sticking out through the sand.  While some kind of permanent cover (like you see at the other courses in town) are a more ideal protection measure, this works very well also.
At this point in the winter we are just hoping for an early spring.  Regardless, when the first initial signs of spring start to show up, hopefully in early March, we will be going out to clear however much snow is left in order to melt the ice that has been present in some areas for most of the winter.

Lastly, winters like this are why we expanded our bentgrass nursery to 4,000 sq ft last summer.  Without a doubt, we will experience a lot of dead Poa Annua in our collars and greens this spring, which means we will be harvesting all of that nice, healthy bentgrass sod to put out on the course as soon as possible.  Hopefully this coming summer we can expand our nursery even larger.

This picture from early September last year shows the full size of our bentgrass
nursery that will be available to be used as sod on the course immediately this spring.
Trying to end on a positive note.  Winter will end at some point, and summer is going to be great!

January 20, 2015

Taking Down Giants

With the beautiful January weather we had in the last week, Collin and I were busy removing the three cottonwood trees in the row between 6 green and 11 tee that were identified as problem trees last fall.  One tree in particular was incredibly rotten at the base and leaning toward the cartpath on hole 6, creating a significant hazard.

The other two trees that we removed were at the end of the row all the way toward the back of 11 tee.  These two massive trees in particular were causing an extreme amount of shade on 11 tee.  It is a well known fact of turf management that extreme shade is a leading cause of decline of highly maintained bentgrass.  Especially this fall as the sun angles got lower and the days got shorter, the turf quality on 11 tee went downhill dramatically.

Those two trees that were removed will allow significantly more early morning sun to reach 11 tee, which is particularly vital to bentgrass.  Furthermore, being as they as so far down the row from 6 green, they really don't provide any screening or protection from errant golf balls on hole 6, so removal wasn't really a big deal.

11 tee on an August afternoon is in complete shade.
The removal of these two trees will allow significantly more morning
sunlight to reach 11 tee.
The dead of winter is a great time of year for us to perform large scale tree work on the golf course for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, it obviously makes a huge mess, so not having to contend with golfers makes the process much easier.  Also, with the ground frozen hard as a rock, we caused significantly less damage to the turf.  One tree had to drop directly on 11 tee, and hardly even left a scratch.

While we were already in the process of removing the trees, we did some significant pruning to the rest of the trees as well in an effort to raise the limb height.  This also will allow more morning sunlight to reach 11 tee.

I've cut down a lot of trees in my career, but none this big.

It was very evident that the one tree that was overhanging
the cartpath by 6 green was a rotten mess inside, and a
disaster waiting to happen.
The remaining trees were all limbed up much higher.

Cleanup was a breeze, as all the large branches and trunks were chained to the
back of the pickup and skidded down the path and piled up in the waste
area behind 6 tee.

A look at the entire row of trees after removal, trimming, and cleanup.

In the next week few weeks a stump grinder is coming in for a day to remove all the stumps as well as a few other remaining stumps on the course from some other tree removal over the years.  Beyond that, we just have a few sticks to rake up in the spring and fill the stump holes with dirt and grass seed and the project will be wrapped up.