Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ball marks are your responsibility

This past Saturday, I walked mowed greens with the crew since we were short on help with many staff members on vacation. Walk mowing greens is like riding a bike so I enjoy the opportunity to get behind a GM1000 and stripe up some turf. More importantly, it gives me a really good look at the greens and forces me to see every square foot of the surface.

Saturday, I was disappointed to see many unrepaired ball marks on some of the greens that I mowed. The number of these blemishes really varies over the year. Winter time is one of the worst periods since the fog and precipitation keep the greens soft and the cold temps reduce the healing ability of the turf. If you don't repair the ball mark right away, the turf will die and may lead to other problems like moss, algae, or snow mold. We will get to those problems in another post.
Back in 2007, I placed a flag on every unrepaired ball mark resulting in over 85 flags on one green. We actually ran out of flags, but this photo definitely makes the point. If there are this many bumps and bruises on the green, you can forget about the ball rolling smooth and consistent on the way to the hole. A bouncing ball is not always a result of the dreaded poa annua or a thatch problem. Sometimes it is caused by poor golfer etiquette and unrepaired ball marks.

Luckily, we have many members that will repair every mark they see. I truly do not believe that golfers intentionally skip their portion of course maintenance, they just forget or have never got into the habit in the first place. I occasionally will be paired up with a golfer that is oblivious to this task. They don't look for a mark when they get to the green, they don't own a ball mark repair tool, and in many cases, they don't think that they make ball marks because they don't hit the ball that far, high, or hard. When you point out a ball mark to an owner of this variety, they are honestly surprised to see it. After you provide them with a spare ball mark repair tool, this person will make up for lost time and repair multiple marks during the rest of the round.

Your playing partners may need a little encouragement to clean up after themselves by raking traps, filling divots, and fixing those ball marks. Don't be afraid to be that person that reminds them of their responsibility because they probably won't mind, they just forgot. If they do mind, then tell them on every hole, right before they putt, and their etiquette will improve just to shut you up.
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Frost on the Fairways

When frost like this greets us in the early morning hours, we can forget about working on the course until 9:00 am or later. The frost varies throughout the course due to the wide variety of micro climates. On a very cool day, like the one pictured above, the entire playing surface is covered in a thick white blanket.

The first bit of frost will occur when our weather station registers 34 degrees or lower. The specific cause for frost is when surface temperatures drop below the dew point of the surrounding air. A light frost is common on a cool morning and many times will not interfere with our work. The staff is well trained to determine the severity of the conditions and make a judgement call of where they can drive, walk, and mow.

The first portion of turf to turn snowy white is the rough which has more air space within the canopy of leaves. The fairways are much tighter and they will require a deeper drop in temperatures before they are bitten by the frost. Finally, the greens will be frosted only when the mercury drops below freezing and settles in for a number of hours.

Once the sun rises, the frost actually gets worse as air temperatures continue to decline. This is when we can get a feel for the day and communicate with the proshop with such predictions as when can we set up the range, when is the first tee time, and will the putting green be open today. A portion of the putting green does not get any sunlight all winter long and sometimes will be roped off to protect it from foot traffic.

Now that we know we have frost, and have determined the severity and length of the delay, we now work backwards waiting for the greens to thaw last. The greens are always the last area to freeze and unfortunately are the final spots to open back up because of the tight turf and lack of air movement between the blades.

When a golfer, or in this instance, a staff member, jumps the gun and drives onto frozen turf, the result is brown streaks that can last all the way till spring. When foot or vehicular traffic meets frosted turf, the frozen cells within the plant are crushed. Sometimes only the leaf tip is damaged, but during a heavy frost, when the entire plant is basically frozen, the turf can be crushed from top to bottom including the crown. The crown is the growing point of a turf plant and lies just above the soil. If the crown is lost, so is the plant.

So if you get to the course a little early and see a blanket of white where there should be green, grab a cup of coffee and some breakfast and enjoy the view. A frost covered golf course is a winter wonderland, but certainly a 'look don't touch' situation.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winter is here, but I am not

A cold snap of weather has finally made it to Stockton just in time for my wife and me to leave for vacation in Barbados. No cell phone, no appointments, and no problems. Of course we couldn't even survive without Internet so we brought the laptop and I'm updating the blog on our first 75 degree sunny morning. Meanwhile the staff is sitting through another frost delay in Stockton, CA.
This radar image is from last Monday when the club hosted the December meeting of the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association. As I am sure you all know, the blue is snow and it is extremely rare for that shade of precipitation to stretch all the way across the central valley. Even so, 26 brave members of our association came out to play golf in the cold after dusting the snow off of their vehicles. The staff and I enjoyed the few flakes that fell on Stockton early that morning and the local meteorologists were downright giddy of the strange weather. However, I would much rather drive 90 minutes and see some snow than have it fall on my head.

That's all for today as I head out to enjoy this wonderful island. I can't help myself and will probably post a few more comments rubbing in the fact that I'm here and you're not. Also, I have some heavy frost pics to share and I will update the course conditions now that the bermudagrass has been put to sleep for the rest of the winter. Stay warm Stockton.
Sunday, December 6, 2009

Training by Committee

Last week provided yet another opportunity to learn a new skill from somebody who knows what they are doing. There are so many odd jobs that come up at a golf course property, than many times, I have no experience doing the work and need to look for help. Lucky for me, the instruction I need can often be found right in our own maintenance department.

In this instance, we needed to frame, pour, and finish a concrete basin to collect water near the storm drain. The original placements of the drains were less than perfect and the small plastic catch basins we had installed were subject to frequent clogging and became a maintenance nightmare. I have minimal experience working with concrete, but I knew that Teddy, a two year member of the crew, came to us from a small concrete company. All I had to do was paint the area for the concrete to be installed and walk away.

On top of Teddy's leadership, we also received some instructions from Jim Worrall, a member who is always willing to help and is an avid reader of this blog. The support network at a private club is pretty amazing if you're willing to accept some advice and constructive criticism. There is a lot of knowledge in our club and we frequently use it to our advantage. While I may get a little more advice than I sometimes need, the portion that is useful makes it very worthwhile and the rest still shows an interest in making the course the best it can be.

So, just like I tell the staff, keep sharing your suggestions because they won't hurt my feelings. The maintenance crew occasionally has to be put on the spot to share their thoughts on the maintenance of the course. I encourage them to take ownership of their work and if they feel there is a better way to get the job done, by all means let's investigate all of our options. After four years they are starting to warm up to the idea and now we have brand new members of the staff leading projects that show their individual expertise.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Green Speed Management

The trend of golfers wanting faster greens continues to pick up pace and popularity regardless of the golfers' skill levels. Players whose game is better suited to greens stimping 8 still want to be challenged by green speeds of 10 or more. The faster the better. So we do whatever we can to keep our greens rolling at their best.

Starting in late October we decided on a major change to our maintenance program and the results have been spectacular. Good ball roll is not as simple as choosing the right height and mowing every day. We also must verticut to relieve thatch, topdress on a frequent basis, water properly, fertilize properly, roll the greens, and aerify. Consistency is the key to translating a good maintenance program into smooth, fast greens.

Another key component to good green speeds is the use of growth regulators. We have always used a product called Primo on our greens to reduce upright growth, improve density, conserve water, provide better color, along with other benefits. Growth regulators pay for themselves and in my opinion are the key to consistent quality greens. Our major change in October was switching from Primo to a product called Trimmit.
Trimmit is another growth regulator that limits the growth of poa annua slightly more than it limits the growth of bentgrass. We had been using Trimmit on two of our greens with low percentages of poa throughout the summer and started on all of the greens when the summer heat had passed. The use of this product at our course is slightly unorthodox due to the make up of the greens, nearly 50/50 poa/bent.

Since we have started we are getting stimpmeter readings of close to 12 each and every day. We also have decreased our mowing to 4 times a week with rolling on the other days. When summer rolls around we will probably back off the Trimmit and return to Primo to avoid any problems with our annual bluegrass. However, the use of Trimmit through the fall, winter, and spring will help to limit the increase of annual bluegrass and should result in a healthier stand of bentgrass. The long term possibility of returning to solid bentgrass is something to hope for, but is far from likely.