Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Punchin' holes everywhere

So the greens are aerified and completely healed. We finished off the process last Monday, three weeks after aeration, by verticutting the greens at a depth of 1/8 inch. This helps to close any remaining holes and smooths out the dips and bumps that remain on the surface from all of the recent traffic and disruption.

Now we turn our attention to other amenities like our tees, approaches, and fairways. Aerifying all of these areas is a standard practice at most golf courses. The last few years, we've really ramped up our cultivation and will continue to aerify frequently until we reach the quality we are looking for.

A year and a half ago, I was ready to quit aerifying fairways because the process was tearing them apart. I know what some golfers are thinking, "Of course it tears them apart, that's what I say every time you aerify." 

The process is always disruptive to an extent, but the photo below shows you what I mean.  The old aerifier we were using would pull up large chunks of earth even with solid tines spaced very far apart.  The ground was so tight and the machine so violent that the roots could not hold the turf together and portions came up the size of softballs. 

I had to send out the staff to flip over the clumps and step them down like the audience of a polo match during intermission.  Some of the craters would not get patched and a depression that could harbor a ball was the result. 

Now take a look at what a modern piece of equipment can do on the same soil:

We are using closer spacing, much quicker speed, and more depth than the old machine could ever handle.  I usually don't promote the products or equipment we use, but the Wiedenmann aerifier has worked beyond my expectations.  Hopefully, all of this shameless promotion will result in a free set of tines or a hat or something.  You can't buy this kind of exposure; almost 30 hits a day (mostly my mom).  Thanks for reading.
Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bring on the heat, the bermuda is ready

I love watching a golf course come back to life this time of year. The trees are blooming and budding, the bentgrass is getting back up to speed, and the bermuda is finally climbing out of bed. Watching the once dormant plant peek out from winter's poa annua is exciting for a turf nerd like me. The bermuda looks stronger than ever this year and that's allowed us to spray out the cool season grasses months earlier than last year.

As mentioned in earlier posts, we decided not to apply pre-emergent which would have kept poa annua from germinating. This was the first year that overseeding was skipped and without some poa, many fairways would turn to mud after a few decent rains.

The eleventh fairway would be the exception and should have been maintained as clean and dormant common bermuda. The mat of turf survived the winter without a problem and the poa that grew in was an eyesore, not a benefit to play. Next winter this hole, and hopefully others will be kept poa-free throughout the year.

The eleventh fairway was sprayed with a herbicide called Revolver ® . This product kills all of the cool season grass to wipe out bermuda's competition and does so very slowly. The cool season turf will turn brown in 2-3 weeks, but will remain playable for up to 6 weeks providing plenty of time for bermuda to fill the voids.

The pictures above were taken four weeks after treatment and the cool season grass is just now starting to break down.  We are fertilizing the bermuda fairways slightly more than the others to encourage the bermuda to thicken up well before summer.  A general rule of thumb is bermuda needs 90 days without competition to be in good health for the following year.  2010 will provide 7 months from April to October; a huge improvement from seasons past.

A couple other fairways, numbers 10 and 17, just got sprayed on Monday, April 19th.  Number 10 is in its third year of transition to bermuda, while 17 was sprayed for the first time last summer.  In the picture below, you can see the poa annua mixed in with the bermuda.  The white portions are seed head from the flowering annual bluegrass.  The poa on #10 came in surprisingly thick and became a decent playing surface for our winter rounds. 

Other spots were more of the clumpy variety and not attractive at all.  I would rather see a solid brown fairway than the mottled appearance of dormant bermuda with clumps of bright green poa annua.  Next winter might be our first go at a couple dormant bermuda fairways.

I know that it is odd to have three holes as solid bermuda.  Why not manage all of the fairways in the same manner?  Converting to bermuda is a relatively new idea at a very old course.  It takes some time to adjust players', managers', and employees' acceptance of dry playing conditions.  Keeping the course as dry as possible obviously favors bermuda grass, but also results in the death of some of the poa.  During this lengthy transition, there have been many brown spots and bare areas that waited for bermuda to fill in.  Thin spots have reduced in size and number each year with the increased population of bermuda.  Little by little, we will continue to encourage a move to a stress tolerant playing surface. 

The next fairways to be converted may be number,1 which has the largest stand of hybrid bermuda and few trees shading the fairway.  The 7th, 9th, and 14th holes are also good candidates.  Shade patterns definitely limit the potential of bermuda and dictate our management plan. 

So what is the best part of solid bermuda fairways in California's central valley?

Happy turf at 100 + degrees.  
Monday, April 19, 2010

Aerification Update

The greens were aerified 2 weeks ago and are very close to being completely healed. This time of year always takes longer than fall aerification because of the lower soil temperatures. It is not uncommon for the scars to heal up in less than a week in September. On the other hand, last March our aerification was still noticeably a month later.

Smaller holes, proper fertilization, and exceptional weather will move us along much quicker this year. As usual, the membership has been extremely patient and supportive during the process. While all this disruption will affect your golf game for a couple of weeks, the greens will be improved for the next 6 months. About that time, we will do it again and look forward to the shorter heal time.

These pictures were taken after ten days of healing and just before my first round of golf in 3 months. The course played pretty well, but the greens were softer and bumpier than we'd like. Another week and we will be lookin' good.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Adventures of Izzo

Izzo, our course dog, is a frequent character highlighted in the blog. She has more excitement in her life than you might imagine, some good and some not so pleasant. Today I have a story that fits the latter half.

In mid-January of this year, I drove out on the course with some staff members and encountered a very friendly pit bull. He was obviously well cared for, but had become lost the night before and found his way inside our gates. I took him to the vet to check for an ID chip, but had no luck. I proceeded to post the finding in the local paper, the ASPCA, and two different websites.

I took this dog home with me that night and he stayed in my garage. I didn't want to call the pound because pit bulls do not last very long once they arrive. I've heard 7-14 days is about the maximum lodging until they are euthanized due to over population and their very aggressive nature.

We returned to the course the next morning and sought shelter from the rain inside the office. I did my best to keep Izzo away from our temporary pet because she does not like other dogs, whether they are aggressive or not. She was probably living on the street for a little while before she was brought to the course and may have had to fight for food. The shop is her domain and another dog does not belong.

She came walking into the office that morning and the pit bull headed around the desk to meet her. I got up and tried to intervene before they got face-to-face, but I was too late. The pit bull was whining and went up playfully and Izzo responded by biting him on the nose. A switch went off in that pit bull's head and he had Izzo by the neck in a split second.

First, I tried to pull him off which was a waste of time, then I resorted to kicking the dog, another waste of time. I proceeded to straddle the pit bull and punch the top of his head as hard as I could. Left, right, left, right with Izzo screaming a sound that shouldn't come out of a dog. All of this probably took 15 seconds.

By then Mike, our assistant at the time, and Gary the Equipment Manager had made it to the office to help out. Gary, in a stroke of genius, grabbed a club from my bag and started laying it into the head of this pit bull. Mike did his best to hold Izzo is one place and I continued to straddle the pit bull. Gary missed a few times, hitting the floor and my ankle bone (wow, that took a long time to heal), but he mainly hit the dog's forehead and barely shook him. Finally, he let go and Izzo crumbled to the floor and appeared seconds from death.

I scooped her up and headed to the same vet I visited the day before. I was sure she was going to pass before I got there, but halfway down the road, she rolled on her side and raised a paw so I could scratch her belly. Luckily, the pit bull only got his jaws around the fleshy portion of her neck and choked her out without any major damage. She spent the night at the vet and returned the next day with a $475 bill with my name on it.

The pit bull headed off to the pound, in surprisingly good shape, just a small cut above the eye. I love animals and the image of beating that dog the way we did stuck with me for days. What a terrible feeling. It really wasn't his fault, he just responded to being bit in the face. I learned a lesson and will not have any other animal in our shop.

The membership at Stockton Golf and Country Club, upon hearing about Izzo's wounds and the bill, immediately started to pitch in to help cover the costs. The course was extremely wet for these couple of weeks and few golfers were making it down to the Proshop. Even so, I recouped the expenses within a matter days. How is that for support? I can't say I was surprised at their generosity because I see it every day in the way the staff is treated. Thank you very much for all of the contributions, that really helped out.

This post is already longer than I intended, but trust me, this is the condensed version that I've told a hundred times. In order to leave on a high note, here is an example of Izzo enjoying herself on some better days. The picture below was sent to me by a member, Jim Worrall. In one shot, he beat all of my previous attempts, nice work.

Finally, I've been trying to get video of Izzo and the fox for the last two years. The red fox has a funny yelp or cry when she plays with Izzo. In the background you can hear a couple of staff members imitating the sound.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fairway Fertilizer

Today we finished up our spring fairway fertilization. The product we used came in 500 lb bulk bags which probably saved us well over an hour of loading time. Normally, our fertilizer is packaged in 50 lb bags which all need to be loaded to the lip of the hopper, split open with a knife, and dumped and shaken until all of the material falls out of the bag. Now we're doing ten of these bags at once with very little effort.

The fertilizer was watered in quickly by on and off showers that stayed with us throughout the day. The recent weather patterns have been wonderful for growing turf. This past storm, the course received just over 0.6 inches which found it's way into the soil without making a mess or limiting the use of golf carts. The grass gets some much needed water, the irrigation system continues to rest while we perform our spring checkup, and the fertilizer is washed off the leaf and down to the roots.

Bert and our new employee, Ricardo, did a great job putting out this product. The only problem was the smell of the organic source, mostly chicken crap. I tried to convince both of them that the smell was that of healthy plants and vitamins for strong turf. They did not agree, but never complained. The fairways will appreciate the effort and since they did such a good job, it's their job for good. Congratulations guys!!
Friday, April 9, 2010

Drought Update

Water is the name of the game in California where the rain stops falling for 6 months each year. The last three winters have had less than average rainfall, but 2009-2010 is looking better. For those of you who are interested, I've included a link to the California Drought Update.

This 14 page document includes many graphs and tables comparing current precipitation totals with those of past years, and the driest and wettest years on record. Also, reservoirs conditions are shown compared to the average. Lake Oroville is still pretty low so let's hope our largest reservoir, the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada, is doing well. The state relies on the frozen storage system to get us through the dry summer months.

If you live in California, you should check out this link. It's great information, and pretty positive too.
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mainline repair

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a Superintendent like a blown main line. Imagine a geyser rocketing from some fresh cut turf, twenty feet into the air. Most of the water is brown because tiny parts of the fairway are being sent to the skies. I hate thinking about things like that and I am not anxious to encounter the problem while checking the course.

Recently we had the privilege of repairing a leaky main line in the dead of winter. What a perfect opportunity to prepare for a disaster that could strike in the middle of summer. We took our time finding parts with the best price and planning the repair. By the time we finished, three of us understood the process and we have a good source for large pipe and fittings in the future.
Richard and Marvin really kicked some tail on this project. Three days in a row, they returned to the shop sore and covered in mud. The leak occurred in a low spot where ground water is only a foot below the surface. Therefore, they had to dig a dry well and pump out the hole whenever they were working on fixing things up.

Once we had the parts on site, I helped the guys get the 6 inch tapped T installed on the mainline. The next morning I needed to spread some fertilizer on the greens so I showed Richard how to complete the job on the whiteboard. He said, “I would prefer that you were out there too.” I replied, “So would I.”

The next time I heard from Richard he said, “We’re ready to turn it on.”

I checked out the work and it was downright perfect. The main was on within minutes and I slept well that night. Not because we adverted disaster and could water a dry course, after all, it was the middle of a wet winter. I was relieved to know that we can handle a mainline break with no problem at all.

I think it’s time for a victory pose!!
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

18 greens in one day

Yesterday, we set a new record by completing aerification on all of our greens in a single day. Normally we would aerify 6 greens on Sunday evening and finish the rest on Monday. We were rained out on Sunday by a solid 3/4 inch of rain. Luckily, Monday's chance of showers never amounted to anything and we were able to work all day long without a hitch.

A day of aerification involves many steps that must be coordinated to maximize efficiency. The pictures below illustrate many of the steps involved as the day moves along. Eventually, I would like to improve my computer skills and put together an aerification montage, but today isn't the day, so a bunch of pics will have to suffice.

The first thing we need is some decent weather and we definitely had that yesterday. A few storm clouds passed by, but only a handful of drops hit the ground. All in all, a beautiful day at SGCC.

Our aerifier is set up with 3/8 inch quad tines which are spaced much closer than traditional aerification tines. In the photo below, you can see two rows of tines for every tine-holder resulting in 70 holes per square foot. We switched to this method three years ago and it is here to stay. By using the smaller tines at closer spacing, we can impact a greater amount of surface area and reduce healing time simultaneously. Pretty sweet.

Now for the fun part, we get to clean up the plugs. As always, the staff did a great job clearing the greens so we could continue toward the finish line. I guarantee there are some tired legs working today, I know mine are.

A final preparation before the fertilizer goes down is blowing off the greens with a walking blower. This gets any plugs that were missed and helps to open up the holes so the sand and amendments can filter in.

I only put out two products this year instead of 5 like last time. The main reason is I had to put it out myself and 2 products is plenty for one person. Also, our soil tests have been good and there are many granular fertilizers which water in well and can be applied outside of aerification.

Next comes the sand. Izzo helps to supervise the loading of the topdresser, or she's just warming her fat belly. We use kiln dried sand which spreads better and falls into the holes like sugar.

This next picture is a little blurry, thanks to some sand in my pocket, polishing my iPhone. Richard is dropping out some bentgrass seed as Bert finishes up #15 green. Very little of this bentgrass will germinate and what does may not be able to compete with the mature bent and poa. However, it never hurts to encourage an increase in bent population so we normally put a little seed out with each aerification.

After we have the fertilizer, sand, and seed applied, we drag the greens with a broom until nearly all the holes are filled. I always try to leave a little sand on the surface to be broomed again after some irrigation. The next few days we will send two or three staff members to walk the greens with brooms and buckets, filling in open holes and removing any excess sand.

So there you have it. A long day and a long post to explain the process. Most golfers hate aerification because it interferes with play, but trust me, there is no way we would go through all of this trouble if it wasn't necessary.

If you stare at an aerified green for long enough, a picture will develop and it looks like a great big smile. The greens are happy.