Friday, May 11, 2012

Seedhead Setback

As we neared the end of April, everything around the golf course was starting to come together to create great playing surfaces on just about every part of the course.  The greens were rolling nicely, the bermuda fairways have filled in and greened up, the tees are more dense and uniform than in years past, and the rough...well it's still the rough.  We've still got work to do there.  So as all is going good, imagine my utter disbelief and frustration as our poa annua greens began to seed for the second time this year.

White, fat seedheads...The stuff of nightmares.

Here I have one standing up on the point of my key chain card. 
I'm still trying to learn the why behind what happened to cause this.  Typically you can expect one good flush of seeds in the early spring.   In an effort to lessen the amount and size of the seeds produced, we use growth regulating products designed to suppress seedhead production.  As far as I understand, these products are designed to be used only once per year.  Regarding our situation - I haven't been able to get any recommendations on using these suppressants again heading into summer.

I believe this second flush of seeds is a product of the weather.  In early March we had temperatures well above average, which caused an early flush of seeds from the poa.  Temperatures in April were then typical of temperatures in March: cooler and very dry.  Now in May our temperatures are around what we might see in April.  I really think the turf is a bit confused as it has seen two periods of weather that typically serve as the signal to start producing seeds.  There could be many other factors here, but I think the weather is having the most impact.

Poa annua seedheads are the bane of a smooth putting surface.  Not much else does more to ruin the speed and consistency of the green surface.  The actual process of producing seeds is also detrimental to root development of the turf.  The turf diverts vital resources to produce seeds instead of roots. Unfortunately we will have to deal with these seedheads for another couple weeks.

Oddly enough this is from the same green as the previous pictures.  This biotype of poa  hasn't seeded again.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Golf Carts: A Necessary Evil?

There are few things in our profession that can get a superintendent irritated quicker than seeing a golf cart traveling where it shouldn't be.  The thought alone of golf cart traffic can drive some superintendents (including myself) crazy.  While golf carts have made the game accessible to more and more people, they can also present difficult challenges to maintaining a quality playing surface.

Golf Cart History

Motorized carts were nowhere to be found on golf courses until the 1930's.  Initially carts were developed and allowed on courses for those with disabilities or those who couldn't walk the course.  Production ramped up in the 1950's and since then the golf cart has become integral to the modern game of golf.

Present day, the game is played from a golf cart.  Many come with all modern amenities, coolers, air conditioning and now include gps systems.  Carts allow people of all shapes and sizes to get around the golf course in relative comfort and ease.  Carts can also facilitate a faster pace of play, though this is not usually the case.  Modern golf course design has also increased the need for golf cart use.  Courses routinely measure 7000+ yards and have holes individually strung out across a very large spaces.  Some modern "sensationalist" designs are actually unwalkable, due to the distance and/or elevation change between consecutive holes.

Golf purists bristle at the previous paragraph.  They hold dear the notion that golf was originally meant to be played on foot because that was essential to the spirit of the game.  Walking from shot to shot afforded the player time to converse with a friend, think his own thoughts, or just enjoy being outdoors.  The golf cart has essentially eliminated that aspect from golf.  But as I noted above, our industry is built around the accessibility that golf carts provide.  Today's infrastructure could not survive without golf carts.

Wear issues caused by carts:

The wear and tear that golf carts can cause can be staggering at times.  Cart traffic flattens turf, compacts the ground, and when left unchecked, can leave areas on the golf course entirely void of grass.  All of these issues cause us, the superintendent, to have to dedicate moderate amounts of time and resources to counteract the effects carts can have on the turf.  We also have to set up unsightly rope stakes, cart signs, and directional markers that detract from the "natural" look of the course.

The following picture was taken from Sean McCue's blog.  He is the Superintendent at The Country Club at Castle Pines.  His picture shows the effects of just one day of cart traffic on turf:

At Nutters this year, the warm weather has brought out a lot of players and consequentially a lot of cart traffic.  Our bermuda fairways have been slow to green up due to the amount of traffic they endure.  I have a picture that illustrates this point:

Note the color difference between the turf that is right next to the 150 pole, and the turf right of the 150 marker.  
This picture quality isn't great, but really tells all concerning the impact cart traffic can have over the course of a few months.  Because golf carts rarely drive right next to the 150 pole, the turf there is green, lush, and healthier. The turf everywhere else is stunted, brown, and not doing as well.  

Another interesting thing about this picture is that you can see the sole influence of stress on the turf.  Because the turf is just emerging from winter dormancy, it hasn't had much of a chance to use the fertilizer we've already applied, which would cause the turf to appear much more uniform. It's a stark look at the impact golf carts can have on turf.  Still, this is a small issue as the surface is still great to play from, even if it's unsightly.  

Here are a look at some more severe issues:

These pictures come from hole #2, greenside.  Over the last decade carts have been allowed off the cart path and up onto the greenside.  Because no effort has been make to keep them off, the ground is compacted and the playing surface is terrible to non existent...The problem is magnified by our lack of resources to properly address and fix the issue.  For now, carts will not be allowed on these areas (even the maintenance carts).  My plan is to aerify the area multiple times in the fall, seed and fertilize the area.  I'm hoping by next spring many of these areas will be on the road to recovery.  

A world without carts:

Believe it or not there are courses out there that do not allow motorized golf carts on the property, or off the paths and I was fortunate to intern at one of them.  

The Coeur D'Alene Resort is located in northern Idaho and has one of the highest standards of maintenance in the world.  While they do have golf carts, they do not allow them off the cart paths - instead they employ an excellent caddy program.  Caddies ride with and run along the carts on the paths, providing players with yardages at the ball so that they can take what clubs they need to hit their shots.  Caddies also assist in the maintenance by repairing divots and ball marks.  

Combine this with near limitless resources, a 50 man crew, and the direction of Kevin Hicks the superintendent, and you have incredible conditions.  Behold:

I admit that I'm using an example where you can't draw much of a comparison to Nutters Crossing.  I also admit that even if Coeur D'Alene allowed cart traffic on the course, that place would still look amazing.  But not having carts out is one significant factor to their success.  


After reading that you might think that all superintendents would love to ban golf carts all together from the game.  While undoubtedly some of us share that sentiment, many of us welcome the accessibility and revenue that carts bring to the game.  We are turf managers first and customer service providers a close second.  We dedicate our lives to growing great grass so that the people that come to play will be satisfied with the product, and golf carts facilitate more people coming out to play.

The Nutters Crossing Model is built on having golf carts, and getting them out as much as possible.  Many of our players wouldn't be able to play as often (or at all) without them.  So I'm happy to accommodate golf carts as best I can, without causing too much stress to the turf.  The revenue and play generated by golf carts puts food on my table, and so I accept the challenge to find ways to provide great conditions no matter what.  

Greens Health Update: Verticutting results

I wanted to follow up on the condition of the greens since we verticut and topdressed them 2 weeks ago.

As the weather has warmed the greens have enjoyed a spurt of color and growth.  The turf has knit together over the sand filled grooves in the greens:

This photo was taken on hole #13
The picture above makes me pretty happy.  As you can see the grooves have filled in with healthy turf, leaving a smooth surface. What is also interesting is the color of the filled in areas vs the rest of the green.  The new turf is darker in color and my guess is that because the sand filled grooves are a much better spot for healthy roots to grow (less thatch & gunky soil).  So despite the initial pain caused by the invasive process the results are worth the price.

Edit:  Also a note on the greens as a whole.  Things are looking good!  Remember this mess?:

14th green.  Late July.  I would say 30-40% of this green died.

Same green, doing great today!
Now the goal is to keep it that way!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Greens Health: Managing Thatch

As explained in previous posts, one of the keys to healthy greens is a healthy soil profile.  One common enemy to a healthy soil profile and a healthy green is thatch.  Thatch is an accumulation of dead and decaying organic material just below the putting surface.  It occurs naturally and too much of it can be a very bad thing.

Too much thatch on a putting surface causes the green to feel spongy when walked on and bumpy when played on.  Thatch restricts water penetration into the soil, and causes turf to become shallow rooted.  A good superintendent manages thatch production by being prudent with watering and fertility treatments and employing cultural practices when needed.  

The "hairy" layer between the grass and the soil is thatch.
As I've monitored the greens this spring, I've noticed we could do with some thatch removal.  One method we will use through the spring and fall is to verticut.  Verticutting is the process of using saw style blades and cutting grooves in the turf.  The blades remove the thatch layer and leave room for sand to be incorporated if desired.  
These are our brand new blades which are very aggressive at removing thatch
The result
Despite the disruption to the surface, this process of verticutting and topdressing with sand will help to smooth out the putting surface.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Greens Health: Water Management

The months of spring are some of our busiest months of the year here at Nutters.  We spend a lot of time preparing the turf for the summer months to come, so that it can play at its best.  Applications of fertilizers and water are carefully planned so that the turf is as healthy as possible when the heat comes.  

This year the weather has been favorable for me to condition the greens by keeping them relatively dry and firm.  As the turf stays dry on top, it will dedicate more resources to seek out water below.  I've been careful to only apply water when needed.  The humps and slopes of greens are first to dry out, and so I'll water those areas with a hose until the rest of the green needs a drink. 

A drier soil profile also allows for more oxygen in the rootzone, and consequently we have healthier roots.  I've taken out many soil samples like the one below, which has been rinsed in water.  I'm relatively pleased with what I see, but I hope we can get more white roots and more mass going into June.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Growing Pains - An Update on Fairway Conditions

Much of the talk among the turf community on the Eastern Shore has been about the incredibly warm weather we've experienced over the last few weeks.  The warm temperatures have set us weeks ahead of schedule in terms of course green up and maintenance practices.  It's been pretty remarkable.

At Nutters Crossing the bermudagrass in the fairways and roughs has emerged from dormancy and started growth 3 weeks ahead of schedule.  While initially it was nice to see the green appear, the early start has left the turf susceptible to the lower nighttime temps we've seen in the last week or so.  As the pictures show below, all cart traffic has caused severe discoloration of the fairways.  Purple tire marks are everywhere, and the bermuda has already begun to thin at cart entry and exit points.

Hole #1.  Purple tire marks caused by cart traffic.

More damage caused by a mower.

Severe thinning of the turf at a cart exit point. 

We are happy that the weather is nice and rounds are up.  The fairways will take a beating, but should come back just fine once the hotter weather hits.  We will do our best to scatter the cart traffic on the fairways, but expect the ugliness to hang around for another month or so.

One other small issue of note.  You will also notice circular spots in the bermuda where nothing is growing back in.  These are spring dead spots, caused by a fungus that strikes the turf in the fall.  Chemical control is costly and somewhat ineffective, and so we usually wait these out until the summer months.  The turf will eventually fill back in.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Course Update 3/23/12: Aerification Success

At the beginning of this week we successfully aerified our greens.  The weather was optimal and we were able to complete the project in a timely manner.  To aerify we used a Toro 648 machine fitted with .4'' hollow coring tines.  We removed quite a bit of material from the greens and incorporated around 40 tons of sand.  This is the finished product.

18 green post aerification.  

I think it turned out so well because we used our buffalo turbine blower to fill the holes with sand, instead of trying to brush it in.  Brushing sand that has any moisture in it can cause the sand to bridge over the hole.  Holes that don't get filled can cave in and cause an uneven putting surface.  Making sure the hole gets filled is also key to the whole reason of aerification.  We are trying to amend the soil profile with straight sand, which drains water much better than what we currently have.

The sand doesn't go as far down as I had hoped, but this is a good start to improving the soil profile.

The holes should heal up in about 2 weeks.  The greens will be cut at a slightly higher height for a week, and then brought back down to normal height.  Thanks for your understanding.