Friday, February 6

Food for thought this coming spring

I was reading through the results of our recent member survey today and a couple of the open-ended comments reminded me of one of the annual problems we deal with each and every year.  Most notably in the springtime, our greens appear patchy and are often a little bumpy and slow especially in the afternoon hours.  Morning golfers will get great putting conditions while I have to listen to the afternoon guys tell me how rotten the greens were.  Below is a link to a USGA article explaining this in their "Fore the Golfer" section.  I will summarize the article in the next paragraph and then I think I fancy a bit of a "rant".

What is important to remember is that our older greens consist of not only two types of turf - bentgrass and Poa annua - but also many different biotypes within those species.  As greens age, environmental pressures, stresses and natural processes segregate into many different strains across a putting surface.  All of these strains behave differently throughout the seasons and even the time of day to result in inconsistent conditions that can negatively affect ball roll.  In the springtime, all of these different biotypes are coming out of winter with different carbohydrate reserves, seeding rates, growth rates etc and it can be impossible to foresee exactly what to do to get good putting conditions.  Everyone comments how their lawns take off in the spring and they can't keep up with the mowing, but somehow if that happens on greens they don't seem to understand.  Yes we apply growth regulators religiously to combat that as much as possible, but Mother Nature can ignore those if she choses.  As turf managers, the best we can do with Poa annua is keep watching, trying different growth regulator cocktails and react as best we can with cultural practices to make the greens as good as possible day to day.

Now let's begin the rant - Usually, by the end of May into June, these growth patterns tend to steady and seedheads begin to disappear making things much smoother and in turn faster.  This is the reason the greens progressively get better and faster right up to the first week of July, which makes people think I just do it for the LPGA (paraphrased from survey comment).  I assure you our department does as much as possible within the financial resources and weather provided us to make the course as good as possible each and every day.  Do you really think we want the greens bumpy and slow?  Do you think I want to listen to the afternoon players moan and complain?  Would you deliberately create less than perfect results for your boss if you had the choice to do otherwise?  Think about it.  Also consider when you go to other courses, the makeup of their greens, the microclimates, the soils, the way they've been maintained for the last 80 years are all different so your comparison of our greens to theirs quite frankly means about jack and squat to me.  Trust me - we superintendents are a tight bunch - when we hear how great X's greens are we usually call each other about it and guess what - it's a perception problem that I will likely rant about in a future article.  (END OF RANT)

As always this spring, we will try some different things this year to keep improving spring conditions and I hope my rantings and the USGA Green Section article below will be of help to generate a little more understanding.


USGA - Patchy and Bumpy greens - click here

Thursday, January 15

Happy New Year!  2015 is off and running and the course is perfectly nestled under a layer of snow.  The Grounds Department staff (what's left of it) is busily preparing equipment, course accessories, budgets, and their brains for another great season.  As you can imagine, there's not many things that may be of interest to the golfer happening right now.  The construction and electrical work are almost finished in our new Range House/Pump Station.   As much as a photo of a light switch may be good news to me, I'm sure you can use your imagination.  In fact, as of today, the most interesting thing I can document is that we just finished sand-blasting and repainting all of our course ball washers.  We have painted them black instead of the traditional "1960's country club green".  A slightly new look for 2015 that will tie in better with our new upscale accessories we put on the range last year.  We are also standardizing the height and making several repairs so they work a little better for us.

We are trying to renovate our accessories to better tie into the upgraded accessories we purchased for the range last year.  As I like to call it the "1960's country club green" just seems a bit outdated and not quite as upscale.  Look for more blacks and browns to tie everything together.

Aside from the fascinating world of ball washers, I did happen across a really nice article from the USGA about winter play, frost delays, frozen greens and other issues we deal with every fall/winter.  I took some heat this past fall for leaving the golf course closed on several occasions due to freezing/thawing/winter conditions.  The below article from the USGA explains everything in nice detail.  If only they had posted it last fall when people were giving me grief!

Click Here for USGA Article on Winter/Cold Weather Play

I hope 2015 has started out as well for you as it has for me.  I am exciting to begin my 11th season at Highland Meadows.  April 16th will be my 10-year anniversary and I am looking forward to many more.


Monday, December 15

Sooooo close but yet sooo close....

As we get closer and closer to Christmas, every week has meant serious progress on the great water project of 2013-14.  Last Thursday and Friday, we took another big step - installation of the actual pumps.  

There has been some confusion about the pumps which is probably my fault.  My mistake was calling the new building on the range a "pump house" when in actuality there will not be a single pump in there.  The wells we dug over the past two seasons are just larger versions of a well you might use to get water to your house or garden.  The pumps are "submersible" meaning they sit at the bottom of the well and pump water upwards.  My little corner of the "pump house" actually is used to house our new electronic pump control system.  A large electrical panel, sensors, wires, flow meters, and a state-of-the-art acid/fertilizer/wetting agent injection system will be inside to control all of our irrigation operation.  This panel will communicate wirelessly with our irrigation computer back at my shop and allow us to run our system efficiently and accurately.  The panel was set this week, but nothing is hooked up yet.  This will be the final step, along with getting all the electrical work completed to give it juice.

So let's all agree to call it a "range house" from now on.  Most of the building is for much needed range storage and two indoor hitting bays anyhow and I just have more of a large "closet" anyhow.  

More pics coming as installation proceeds.  We should get most of the equipment in place in the next week or so, some finishing touches on the building, and then after Xmas start looking for the final electrical work. 

Hope everyone has a great holiday!

THIS is what a 100-horsepower submersible pump looks like.  More like a long range missile but will move around 700 gallons per minute for us.  This will be the workhorse for the system.

Here is the smaller, 60-horsepower rig waiting to be put down the hole.  All of the pipe stacked underneath will be attached to bring water to the surface into the manifold.

Here's the "brains" behind the whole operation.  A new Flowtronex control panel.  If you remember, the fact we needed to replace our current one of these is what got this whole thing started. 

Tuesday, December 2

Back from Margaritaville

First of all I must apologize for such a gap between posts.  With winter weather looming, my family and I took a much needed break and headed to south Florida for a week during Thanksgiving.  After a few days of sun, sand and a couple of (small) fish, I am back in full swing with late fall work.

It sure seems like winter snuck up and smacked us all in the mouth!  With so many projects happening at once, the unseasonably cool and snowy weather still has us scrambling.  This week, we will be applying our last blast of chemicals for snow mold protection, dormant feeding our greens, and trying to pick up the mess from the high winds of last week.  All this while trying to start our winter preventative equipment maintenance regimen and moving further forward on the water project.

The water project passed a major hurdle last week - the last of the new main lines were installed.  There was quite a bit of worry regarding the potential for hard bedrock which we would be digging through to install our lines.  While the digging wasn't easy, the contractors managed (with only a day or two of jack-hammer use) to get through it all.  Basically, the biggest source of anxiety I had leading into this project is done and over.  Now that the lines are in and through the building, we are awaiting the installation of doors, drywall, and electrical to complete the interior work.  Afterwards, the "brains" of the new irrigation supply will be installed along with the pumps and we will be 90% of the way home.  Look for cranes and pumps on the golf course next week along with the finish work on our range house.  Feel free to contact me any time if you want a tour or would like more information.

The main line trench filled in from behind the range house down to the existing main line.  This line takes all the water passing through the system to the entire golf course.
The main line passes through the pump station area.  Here there will be sensors, injection ports, and all sorts of gadgets that will help manage and monitor our irrigation activities.

Hopefully the holes in the range house make sense now with the new main line manifold passing through.

This portion of the main line is stainless steel.  This is done in order to prevent corrosion from the acid injection system.

While originally I was hoping to have this project buttoned up by November, I am not displeased with the progress.  Managing so many different contractors and inspections and permits in so many specialized areas offers a lot of potential changes and obstacles which seems to stretch things out.  There are some definite advantages to completing work in December however.  First of all, we haven't really disrupted play or range use with the bulk of the hard construction happening in November-December.  Also, with the final few bills coming in late this year/early next year, we are going to pay for this project without touching the club's line of credit.  This is possible because of all the prepaid dues payments member's make in January to fill up the cash coffers at the club.  In essence, we will fund a $400,000 project with only a minimal $500 assessment to golf members and no interest payments.   That's pretty good if you ask me.  It is exciting to think what we can accomplish on the golf course with that kind of creative financial management.

As of today, the greens are frozen and technically closed for at least the next few days.  I am missing Florida already!

 We had a great time in Florida.  My daughter got to dip her toes in the ocean for the first time!  

Thursday, November 13

It's still fall right?!?

On the bright side, the unseasonably cold temperatures seem to make everyone work just a little faster.  ProPump and Controls, Liebold Irrigation and your maintenance staff are working hard to tie up all of our fall projects as well as putting the finishing touches on our new irrigation source/pump station/range house.  All the while, we are still grinding away on #14.  We have never been so busy in November, and we love it!

"Project Water" (sounds better than 'water project' to me) is moving along nicely.  ProPump and Controls/Liebold Irrigation are installing our new main lines and doing battle with the bedrock on the driving range.  There's been digging, welding, grinding, and every manner of physical labor involved to get that new pipe in the ground.  Our electrician has been busy with staging materials and there has even been a Toledo Edison sighting as they decided to finally install our new transformer and pull the remainder of our underground supply line.

Carl, "The Wizard" prepping our well heads for new hardware.
The new valve assembly goes on.  The pumps have still not been installed, but we are trying to get the infrastructure set asap.
Custom fixtures for our main line drops.
The trench line headed to the new range/pump house.  

When you work with one of the most highly regarded irrigation companies in the world, you get a really nice result.  Trench backfilled, compacted, sod laid and cleaned.  Pretty clean result for the amount of disruption burying a 10 inch pipe over 2 feet below the surface.
Carl started work setting the portion of the main line that will run through the pump station.
By day four they were digging on well #2.  Here comes the bedrock.......
A little in the field metal work getting the custom pipes just right.
Even Toledo Edison made an appearance to install our new transformer and pull the remainder of the underground supply line.
While all of this is going on, we have been busy trying to get #14 as close to done as we can before everything decides to freeze.  There is finish work, bunker sand placement, drainage work, and cleanup to do before the bitter cold comes next week.

Getting the drainage installed for the front bunker.  The last of the three to be drained.  Hope to get finished and dump sand in tomorrow.
With the depth of the bunker, we had to trench pretty far to get the necessary fall needed to drain the bunker.  A perfect example of how many corners were cut in the construction of the golf course over the years.  Nobody wanted to handle this much work to do things right before.  Now it is done and done correctly.
The back left bunker finally getting filled.
A little fine tuning and compacting.  We are pushing the sand up to the edges of the sod to protect against dessication.
Also, you may notice a fresh sand topdressing on the greens.  With colder temperatures approaching fast, we wanted to ensure we could get some protection down before the ground freezes.  If there is another day of golf available before we put out temporary cups, we will make it as playable as possible.

Overall great progress despite the weather.  Very pleased thus far but still a long way to go.

Further updates as events warrant.

Friday, November 7

The anatomy of a bunker

While "Operation Agua"  plods along, we shifted our focus temporarily to tackle the renovation of #14.   After much debate, consideration, research, and a little yelling, we have moved forward and rebuilt, tweaked, and even added bunkers to our toughest par-4.

Obviously, there has been quite a few opinions on the plan.  Thank you to all who attended the informational meeting to voice said opinions.  My own opinion is irrelevant, but frankly I think everything came out great.  Some classic features of the hole were preserved, updated, and accentuated, and some new features were added to give the hole more modern, strategic (and even penal) value.  Aesthetically, there will be rolling lines and shadow faces which will offer tremendous visual appeal.  From a playability standpoint, there are some great new features and nuances that will add some new strategies and options for higher handicaps and our better players.  Yes, I said my opinion was irrelevant, but this is my blog, so you have to listen.  

The one opinion of mine that is relevant and most important is this: We performed the work correctly.  Regardless of your opinion of the placement and design, the bunkers were built, drained, and shaped properly.  They will be better to maintain, more consistent, and infinitely re-buildable.  Grades were shot on every contour to make sure surface water moved in the correct direction.  They were done right.  We have an excellent professional golf course architect and hired one of the best golf course shapers in the business today to do the dirt work.  Your maintenance staff did the rest, with great attention to detail.  If there is one upside to doing a great deal of the work in-house, we are really good at trying not to create extra work for ourselves down the road.  In other words, we strive to get it right the first time. 

So if you have been avoiding the cold weather and haven't made it to the club in awhile, below are a few photos of the process and the result.  I evidently suck at taking cohesive photographs showing a natural progression of work, so enjoy these semi-random photos of the work and I will explain them as best I can.  

So far, those that have seen the result have reacted positively.  I know I did.

The BEFORE - Our goals were to 1. Renovate the bunkers with drainage, new sand, and rebuilt faces 2. Open up this narrow approach in order to offer strategic options and improve playability.  3.  Make the hole more aesthetically pleasing

Another "BEFORE" - you could drive a Mack truck between the green and approach.  We wanted to get the bunker up next to the green where it belonged.
When Shawn saw this natural "valley" on the back left, it was just screaming for us to punch a bunker here.  It would offer improved aesthetics as well as protection for dicey back left pins.
We decided to work counterclockwise around the green.  Step one- the maintenance staff removed all sod from the area of disturbance.  Step 2- fill in the front right bunker and create the new "bailout"/collection/run-up area. 

Once the bunker was filled, Shawn and our construction super developed a strategy.  Javier and I worked together on my last golf construction job over 10 years ago.  He is one of the best in the biz and it was a pleasure working with him again.   
Once the right bunker was filled in and collection area completed the front right bunker was turned into a back-right bunker.  It's objective is to collect errant run-ups and protect the newly expanded back right corner of the green.
The shaper Fernando was one of the best operators I have ever worked with.  He was fast, efficient, and paid great attention to detail.  I hope he will build every new bunker we ever do here at HMGC.
The new collection area where the bunker used to be and the new bunker location.  This low area will become fairway that will offer some really fun and new shots to be played on the hole.  Also, the fairway will run dangerously close to the edge of the bunker which should swallow up errant or overly aggressive running shots.
While all the shaping was going on and once the sod was stripped, it was time for our crew to start cutting in drainage.
Your maintenance staff hard at work doing all of the detail work.
The biggest obstacle our bunkers face towards being consistent is lack of drainage.  No more problems here. 
In the blink of an eye, Fernando had the back left bunker knocked out too.  The crew had it compacted and ready for sod.
Time to remove the sand and get going on the front bunker.  This was only day two and 1 bunker was gone and two new had already been finished.  I cannot say enough about the proficiency and care with which this crew worked.  

Another blink and the front bunker is shaped.  Notice that the high face was kept and moved closer to the green.  An homage to the old bunker but closer to the green and a little deeper.

Compacting the bunker bottoms.

What would a blog post be without comments about trees.  My glove is in what is about to become fairway.  Those sticks around my glove are tree roots from the pin oak in the background.  We are well outside the drip line of the tree.  These roots would cause havoc for this part of the fairway were it to remain.  Not to mention it hides all our work on the left side and someday will obstruct the green itself.  Also, positioned right next to the cart path, it makes an already stressed, high traffic area struggle even more.  It's gotta go!  
With the rough sod laid it was time to start rebuilding the new fairway lines.  Sod was removed from the start of #10 fairway.  There is no reason a fairway should run all the way up to the front of the tee box.  We have about 50 yards of unnecessary fairway cut.  Using it will have an added benefit of opening up traffic paths for the Marathon.
This sod is where the old bunker used to be.  We added about 8-10 feet of flat run-up.  The intention was to protect the left side of the green from the spine to the left edge.

This is thursday.  It was miserable, rainy, cold, and just plain wet all day.  Your maintenance staff busted their ass transplanting almost 6000 square feet of fairway sod from the start of #10.  NOTE how the fairway runs right into the bunker!  Should swallow up some failed recovery or run-up shots.  And you thought we were making it easier.
You used to be able to drive a Mack truck between the green and the bunker, now you can barely get a golf cart in there.  Also, the collar is pitched towards the green which will punish short shots to tight front pins.
Another look at the BEFORE.  Narrow neck, bunkers almost pushed up in an unnatural look and few strategic options on our longest par-4.

The AFTER :The end of Day 4.  There is no sand in the bunkers yet, so their aesthetic impact can't be fully realized just yet.  The new collection/run-up points straight to the new back bunker.  Once sand is added, I think the back left bunker will jump right out.  Check it out in person and you will see all the small contours, creative lines, and natural feel.  Much more nuanced, strategic,  and aesthetically pleasing.

We did get a tremendous amount of work done in only 4 days but we still have quite a bit of finish work remaining to complete the project.  Unfortunately, the cold weather looks like it will be bearing down on us soon.  We will tidy things up as soon as we can in hopes you may get to play it before the season is over.

I hope this is the start of a great journey for our club.


Tuesday, October 28

Water project update and fall testing

It's been awhile since my last post, but honestly, I can only talk about leaves and fertilization so much.   Fortunately, there is some nice progress to report on the water project.

 Over the last few weeks, the walls have been erected, the directional boring has been completed to install conduit across the golf course for electricity, and Toledo Edison has made an appearance to begin their work.  A few snapshots of the progress below.

It took just a handful of workers about a week to get the basic walls in.

Beam being set for the large range house door.  This was a bit dicey at first balancing a 700 lb beam on a couple of scrap blocks on my light duty skid-steer, but it got the job done.

The "bones" complete, By the way I got a kick out of watching you all sweat thinking we were going to paint it white.  
The roof went up over the weekend and a refreshing coat of paint set to match the rest of the facility.
With the bones complete, the electrician was able to begin his work.
Edison setting the service pole for our new electrical lines.  Thanks to former member Doug Bahrs for not pitching a fit when I told him they were going to put it in his back yard.

Had to help this equipment onto the course to pull wire from the splice box to the pole. 

The coming weeks will see the concrete floor poured, the transformer pad completed, and the rest of the installation by Toledo Edison.  Next week will begin the pipe installation.  Heads up to expect closures of the driving range while this work is going on.

With all this going on, it has been a busy month on the golf course.  Winter is fast approaching, and it is the time of year where we take a little focus off of daily conditions and try to prepare for the long dormant season.  Mostly we are trying to assess and correct any issues that could impede maximum root growth and plant health.  Through this process, we also gather information that guides agronomic planning and strategies for next season.

Before we punched the greens early this month, I have a soils and fertility guru independently evaluate our soil and turf conditions.  Through extensive chemical and physical testing, we can make assertions on the success or failure of our current cultural practices.  We get answers to many important questions:  Are we developing thatch?  Are we accumulating too much organic matter in our profile? Do we have sufficient air space (aeration) in our soil?  Does water infiltrate our greens surfaces sufficient for plant and soil health?  Do our mowing, rolling, and fertility schemes cause plant health issues?  All of these questions and more are important to answer on a regular basis.  My hope is that we are constantly moving in a positive direction.  We have to improve a little every year in order to make the greens better, firmer, faster and healthier.

A close look at our soil profile.  We are looking for several things here.  1.  Aerification holes are completely and properly filled.  Proving YET AGAIN that using a solid tine instead of "pulling a plug" is adequate to incorporate sand into the profile. 2. The depth of sand layer is increasing from year to year as we religiously sand topdress. Sand is a much better media for greens to grow in due to increased water infiltration, soil oxygen and root penetration.   3. Look at the nice "puncture" at the bottom of the sand channel.  Our aerification process is doing a great job fracturing lower soil layers.

The tools of the trade from left to right - 1. Soil infiltrometer measures water infiltration,  2. Agronomic consultant 3. Firmness meter

This is the first time I have used a firmness meter on our greens.  Simply put, this thing makes a ball mark on the greens and measures how deep it is to evaluate how firm the greens are.  Our greens were of a firmness of a tour event on this particular day.  
The results are in and I am pleased.  Overall we have made great progress in amending our soil pushup greens to perform at a higher level.  They are firmer, faster, and healthier than they were when I inherited them.  Our regular topdressing is paying off and our unique aerification strategies seem to be working great to increase the sand in our profile.  We will stay the course next season with a few chemical tweaks and continue to monitor.

Finally, thanks to all that attended the "evening with the architect".  It felt good to put our golf course master plan back out for consideration by the members.  While there was some errr.....passionate concerns, I am confident that the improvements and plans we have in place will be an absolute success.  I intend to prove this with the #14 bunkers we are doing this fall which should begin next week weather permitting.  I'm sure I will have more to babble about as that project moves forward as well.

Enough from me for now.  See you on the course.  Bring a leaf blower.