Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cup O' Bermuda

Last week, we closed out the Junior Camp for 2010 with our final class. Most of the participants in this group had seen us talk once or twice before so we did our best in showing them something new. Richard and Rob helped out in our lesson plan which included green construction, fertilizer composition, seed types, irrigation, and drainage.

This is really an intelligent group of young people. They easily remembered the number of sprinkler heads from last year's talk, one young man correctly identified fertilizer analysis numbers, and they all had a basic understanding of what we do and how they can help us keep the course looking good.

During the fertilizer portion, we offered the attendees the chance to use a spreader across the driving range tee with a little gypsum. Most of the time, the handle bars were above the operator's head, but they seemed to enjoy it. A usual favorite is the radio controlled irrigation and they all cheered when the heads popped up one fairway away.

Rob took care of the seed exhibit with some ryegrass, bentgrass, and blue-coated Yukon bermuda. Of course, the blue seed was the favorite and I really enjoyed the question, "Will the grass be blue when it grows?"

Each student was given a small plastic cup and instructed to fill it with sand, add some of the organic fertilizer we had showed them, and sprinkle in a few bermuda seeds. We watered each pot heavily and watched them drain before our eyes avoiding contact with clothes to keep mom and dad happy.

We sent them home with their seeded soil sample and encouraged frequent watering until the seed popped. When they have a nice patch of grass peaking over the rim of the cup, they can bring it back to the course and plant it in a fairway divot. They liked the idea of their own project being part of the golf course and so do I; one less divot to fill.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tree Program: Say goodbye to the redwoods

I would like to be more optimistic about the condition of SGCC's many redwoods, but the realist in me refuses to ignore the signs of decline. Redwoods seemed to be the tree to plant as they are fast growing, evergreen, and fairly durable. They are not native to this region, but driving around town, you'd never know as they've become a favorite for homeowner landscapes and street borders. In fact, I will be planting a few in my yard just 30 minutes north and they will do just fine.

So why are the redwoods that line the fairways and dot the rough slowly fading into firewood? Two reasons: sodium buildup in the soil and a high water table.

Our water source isn't the worst water out there, but it isn't the best either. Coupled with our dense clay soils and high water table, the sodium present in our water builds to levels toxic to redwoods. We've tried to flush the soil surrounding these trees using gypsum and heavy irrigation just as we would the greens. A flush on the greens requires nearly 6 inches of irrigation to drop the sodium by 50% in a sand green. This is with water flowing through the profile at a decent rate. That kind of drainage is not possible around the redwoods.

Another factor is the climate itself which is not favorable to redwoods for 8 months of the year. Stockton is too hot and dry for redwoods which prefer large amounts of rain, well drained soil, and moist, foggy air. The morning fog in Big Basin Redwoods State Park is just what the massive trees need to make it through a warm day. Some studies estimate that redwoods take up 30-40% of water straight through the needles, although the real benefit is the reduction of water loss, not water uptake. Stockton can be a very foggy place in the winter, but summer air is dry with humidity levels below 50% on average, 20-30% by mid-day.

The slow decline of the redwoods roughly occur in 3 years upon the first symptoms by my estimates. A tree will turn brown coming out of winter and drop many needles. New growth fills in the thin spots and it looks back to normal for the first season. Here is a picture of some redwoods left of #13 fairway which just started to show some stress this spring. They recovered fairly well, but next year will be worse.

The next two years repeat the cycle, but the rebound is not as good. Density and color are obviously compromised and the limbs begin to shrink inward and droop toward the ground. By the fourth season, removal needs to be scheduled. This last pic is a tree left of #10 green. There will be little to no green needles when summer 2011 rolls around.

So that explains the problem and next time I will share some of the solutions and plans to rebuild the forest. The main component of this plan is selecting trees that are well suited to our micro-climate including saline soil, high water tables, and hot, dry summers. There are plenty of trees that will grow very well in Stockton and we have many to observe right here on the course.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Share Buttons

Just added, below each post is a group of tabs to link up an article to your favorite social network. So if you're really hurting for material on your Facebook page, simply click on the Facebook icon and up it loads. Shortest post ever.
Sunday, July 18, 2010

Flex Your Power

I don't remember hearing a "Flex Your Power" alert for quite some time, but we could have used one in Stockton a few days ago. Friday morning, the irrigation control computer reported our nightly output of water per each station. All the numbers looked good, so we headed out to check the areas that we had turned off and any hot spots on the course.

Richard tried to pop some heads on #13, which looked especially dry and called on the radio to relay the problem. We had no pressure and no water, so the pump must have shut down that night.

As I made my way to the pump station, the day was getting a little brighter and it became obvious that nothing received water that night. The bunkers were bone dry, the occasional puddle on the cartpath was absent, and divot sand was just like kiln dried.

The pump station is smart enough to recognize a problem and will shut down to prevent catastrophic failure. In this instance it suffered three faults in a row, resulting in a hard fault that ends the re-boot process. It is much, much better to lose one night of irrigation than to destroy a pump.

When I made it to the pump station, I simply pushed the reset button and we were back up and running. Richard turned on his hose to give parts of the putting green a drink while I scrambled back to the shop to run any programs I still had time to complete before play or our crew got soaked in the process.

At 6:00 AM there were a whole lot of sprinklers spinning circles just like the opening scene of Caddyshack. We were able to give most tees and green surrounds their normal prescription of H2O, but much of the rough and fairways would have to wait until later. Greens and approaches were supposed to be off and we checked those by hand watering.

At one point, Richard told me that this is kinda fun. I prefer to get my kicks in other fashions and would take a long string of dull, 'unfun' days for the rest of the summer.

In the afternoon, I gave all the fairways a little syringe by turning them on for two minutes each. A stretch of four, near-triple-digit days kept some of the golfers from venturing onto the tee, so a quick shot of water was easy to accomplish. By the next morning, most of everything looked fine and the pump was going strong.

Each summer this happens a few times, especially during a string of hot days. All the ACs are turned up through the night and the grid wears down. So next time you roll into the course and hear I'm Alright playing in your head, you'll know why all that water is misting up the morning.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No word is the good word

All is quiet on the maintenance front. It's the middle of summer and there isn't a whole lot going on. The greens are doing well besides a couple of salty spots stressing out the turf. We've treated those with gypsum and hand-flushed with a hose to avoid soaking the entire green. Below is a sample of this problem on #18 green.

We've done well this year keeping our bicarbonates in check with proper monitoring and irrigation to clean out the soil profile. Only 4 greens are currently experiencing these pockets of sodium and we walk and probe them daily to keep the fire below a smolder.

If the soil gets out of balance with sodium topping potassium and many other nutrient ratios out of whack, bad things will happen. Back in 2006, my first summer as Superintendent (lucky it wasn't my last), the instrument I use to test bicarbonates in the soil was not calibrated correctly and the stuff hit the fan.

It's hard to keep down your lunch when a few of the greens look like this:

Today that green looks great and contains a much higher percentage of bentgrass since much of the poa did not survive that summer four years ago. Many aerifications later and amending of the soil have improved drainage and the sodium is not holding on like it used to. The roots have some air to breath and there is some pore space for water movement and additional growth.

Now the greens look like this and lunch is easy to enjoy once again.

The staff has done a great job this year and each and every day they continue to improve the conditions we offer the membership. There is still a ton of work to do and we have a massive list to prove it. One item was: write a positive blog today. Check. Done. What's next?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Junior Camp 2010

Last week, Rob, Bert, Richard, and myself participated in Stockton Golf and Country Club's Junior Program as instructors. None of us are qualified to teach these children how to hit a golf ball, but we can show them a thing or two about fancy machines, soil, turf, sprinklers, seed, fertilizer, and of course, aerification.

This year, (our third as part of the program) I assigned each participating staff member a section of our lesson plan. Richard handled irrigation and amazed the students when he told them he is in charge of 2500 sprinkler heads.

Bert just finished aerifying fairways an hour before our time slot, so he explained the function and purpose of our Wiedenmann unit. He then operated the machine for a short distance so they could see what it really does. Comments from the gallery included, "That's really loud." "I don't like it." and "It looks like dog doo."

Rob was up next and he demonstrated our soil moisture meter, showed off some purple coated bermudagrass, and shared examples of turf maintenance in England and Australia.

We truly look forward to our small part of this camp each year. The goal is to educate these young golfers on the expense, time, and maintenance practices required to keep the golf course looking its best. We encourage them to help us by fixing ball marks, filling divots, and raking out their foot prints. This particular group of students was commended for walking properly on the greens and leaving no drag marks; a nice change from the last two years.

Last year we demonstrated aerification on the driving range tee and one young man really took an interest in this process. We told him that the grass needs oxygen, just like we do, so we make holes to improve drainage, porosity, and root growth.

Director of Golf, Rich Howarth, accompanied this boy on his round of golf that afternoon and was a little puzzled when he hit his ball, pulled out his tee, and repeatedly put it back in the ground. He was down on his hands and knees jamming this tee into the turf while everyone else started to head down the fairway to their balls.

Rich asked him what he was doing and he said, "Rich, the grass needs air just like us." Rich responded, "That's great buddy, but we need to play some golf." Rich and I have this same conversation every time we put aerification on the calendar.

Just kidding.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bad Dog

Izzo decided to try her hand at gardening and Rob was there with his camera to capture the moment. It's hard to get angry at such a mournful face, so a firm "bad dog," will have to do.