What’s the Plan?

The title of this post comes straight from a question I was asked by a long-time member a couple of days ago. His interest was in what was “the plan” heading into this winter. Given the ice and snow mobile damage we incurred this spring I thought I would provide a short highlight as to what the next month to six weeks has in store from a maintenance standpoint.

While we have made great strides to past couple of seasons in increasing our bentgrass population on our greens. I am not that big of a fool to realize that the Poa is still there, and, on some greens is still the dominant turf species. We have made large strides this season with our practices (smooth rollers, regular light top-dressing, managing water, fertility and disease tolerance). We still need to protect the Poa going into the winter. Here is a great read via Michigan State University and their turfgrass department on winter preparations http://t.co/u7yGWHczGl.

Today was our first time mowing greens since Sunday. We raised the mowing height from our in-season height of .120″ to .140″. Increasing mowing height may not protect the turf from winter damage, but it may allow it to go into winter under less stress;

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The Tuesday after Thanksgiving (October 14th) we will be performing our 2nd aeration of 2014. This process will include a 1/2″ solid tine aeration with a walking aerator (3 inch depth), followed by a 2nd 1/2″ aeration with our deep tine aerator (8 inch depth) at a 37 degree angle (thanks to hard work in finding the best angle to do a second aeration by a former US Superintendent Jerry Kershasky) from the first. By doing 2 at once we will be able to add more sand to our profile without the disruption (see the August post on aeration http://wp.me/p1ufSX-sY) of a core aeration. Fresh sand channels produce new roots, and double the holes will provide some surface drainage over the winter. Here is a look at the deep tine work we did earlier this week in a few spots;

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We have tentatively scheduled our final greens spray to take place (weather permitting) Monday November 3rd. We will be using the same Premis/Insignia mix of products we used last year. Once this application is completed, a week later we will bury the greens in sand top-dressing. Why bury in sand you ask? Protection is the one and only reason;

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A couple of newer measures we are planning on this year include tarping of 3 greens and snow fence around 4-5 greens that have been regular snow mobile targets. While I detest tarps, there are some merits to them. Particularly Midlands 7 and 8 green and the new green at Southern Uplands 2 based on the fact these three greens are the last to melt off all the snow every year. We have three tarps and we incur no expense by using them. Below is a look at a tarpped green for winter protection purposes;

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The snow fence will be used on Highlands 4 – 5 and 6, Midlands 6 and possibly Uplands 9. Quite simply the fence will be a visible barrier against anything that attempts to make its way over these greens. Below is a picture from another golf course and their snow fence;

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Once again we will also be removing some selective trees around greens this fall. We have contracted out this process to M.C. Tree and they will be starting this process in a couple of weeks. Why more trees? While we have made amazing strides the last 3 winters (Uplands 1 green is the testament of this work!!), there are still shade issues that are affecting greens. This was taken last Saturday afternoon at 2pm;

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Above you can see that 3 trees are blocking afternoon fall/winter sunlight to this putting surface. To put it in simple terms, these trees “need to go” to promote healthy turf on this green.

Sadly, as much as many of you are likely sick of hearing this from me. The greatest issue we still face heading into the winter is Mother Nature and the unpredictability of the weather. It is such an unknown and as much as we have planned and tweaked the plan. Chances are we will face some challenges come April. Fingers are crossed that we won’t have issues (the realist in me has a hard time typing this cliché).

As much as we are winding down, in some respects we are really just getting started. Once you factor in this work with our regular maintenance (blowing leaves, once a week mowing, irrigation blowout and cart services). Our small crew has a full plate heading into this 6 week run to the finish line.

Andrew Hardy
Superintendent

One Tee Marker Explained

When I began researching for this post I was unaware of the rules of golf when it pertains to tee markers and their place in daily play. Both the Royal and Ancient and the USGA determine that tee markers are for use in “competition”. While the actual rules digs deeper into the competition aspect of tee markers. There is really a huge grey area when it comes to “daily” play.

Our reasoning for switching to one tee marker has many layers. As a course Pheasant Run has always tried to keep the course “clean” with minimal signage, ropes and painted areas. Ropes are used in specific areas for golfer safety, signage is used to help golfer get around the course and identify what hole they are playing and paint for a club like ours just isn’t necessary. Another reason for the single tee marker is time. Staffing levels for maintenance shrink each year and the one tee marker system has made us more efficient (faster mowing, only one marker to move for setup and distributed wear for divots we were already filling) in caring for teeing grounds. A third reason is the single tee marker really allows you to set your own path for play on a given day. The game (the time it takes to play it is a topic for another day), the difficulty of the course and our obsession with rules is what is driving many away from golf. Another big reason is the turf-industry has long struggled to get staff to point the two tee markers in the right direction. It seems like a reach, but, you would not believe how awful many staff are at this placement. How many times have you stuck your tee in the ground only to notice the markers are pointed into the bush? Lastly, the single tee marker system is quite simply creating conversation.

Here’s a look at some of the reasons with some explanation why this system works. Below is the traditional teeing ground with 2 tee markers. The area is 144 square feet with the 2 club length depth added (hence the driver).

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Where the one tee marker system we increased the teeing area to 240 square feet. For today we have painted a border that defines the hitting area on the three first tee’s. But for daily play you should be able to define the lines yourself. By placing the single marker in the rough on the cart path side of the tee. Our tee mowing equipment (mowed 3 times per week) are able to get the tees mowed and get out of your way so you can enjoy the golf course.007

The picture below is on a much wider teeing ground. That 144 square feet (18 feet wide) with the two tee marker system is increased drastically on this tee to 370 square feet (46 feet wide!!!). So as an example, on this tee (Highlands #2). If you are a right-handed player who fades (or slices) the ball. You now have the option to move to the extreme right side of the tee and “play your slice”.

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The feedback has been generally negative about this change in our maintenance regimen. The people who seem to be accepting of the change are better players who use the leniency to their advantage. As a child, my teaching pro always told me to use the teeing ground to your advantage. We have made this an even bigger advantage should you choose to view it as such. The game of golf is one steeped (or marred by) traditions. But it is many of these traditions that make the game difficult and unappealing. By making conversation (good or bad, it’s still conversation) we aren’t looking to change the game or its rules. We are just hoping to break down some of the barriers that seem to be holding the game back.

We have no intentions of putting the second markers back out at this time. When we have competitions and tournaments there will be 2 markers out there as per the rules of golf. Have an open mind and have some fun out there. The 2nd tee marker is such a small part of the game.

Andrew Hardy

Superintendent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving range closure

The final day for the driving range being open for 2014 will be this Sunday the 28th. While this is a couple of weeks ahead of the typical closing date. It is for maintenance and staffing reasons that the range is being closed. A significant amount of time needs to go into the grass hitting areas to rejuvenate them for the 2015 golf season. Staffing in the fall at most golf courses becomes very tight. With the shortage we have in the Turf Department maintaining a decent playing surface at the driving range (mowing, divot work, etc…) has become nearly impossible. There are also staffing constraints on the golf services department (setup of balls, picking balls, etc…) right now as well. While this isn’t an easy decision to make, it is one that must occur.

Below you can see even after 2 weeks recovery time that the tees are beat up badly. A large-scale aeration, over seeding and topdressing is what is needed to help recoup this teeing area;

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Below you can see that the current teeing ground is completely destroyed and will require extensive work to recoup it for next season;

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Below you can see how the mass stripping of turf while practicing is hard on the range tees.

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While we are sorry for the early closure of the range this year, but, it must be done. Work will begin on the teeing grounds next week to allow for better recovery before fall weather conditions slow down the healing process.

 

Andrew Hardy

Superintendent

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its a Process

It’s a process is quite likely my favorite Tiger Woods quote. It seems as though it is his “go-to” catchphrase when his game is less than stellar. Golf course maintenance has its processes too. And the fact that turfgrass is a living organism, subject to the natural elements can make “the process” a long and arduous one.

A dominant number of golf courses in the Toronto area suffered severe damage from last winter’s ice storm. Many of the great golf courses in Canada have made decisions to rebuild, re-sod and essentially start over. The majority of these golf clubs are member owned facilities (private clubs) who access members and carry on with their process. Why rebuild? Poa annua had/has become the predominant grass on many (it’s actually most) golf courses in our area. By renovating, these golf courses are starting over with Creeping Bentgrass. Bentgrass, especially the newer cultivars, are able to handle the weather extremes (hot/humid, cold/icy) we deal with here in Ontario.

As much as it’s a luxury to be able to simply rebuild. Golf courses driven by public green fees like Pheasant Run cannot afford to “hit reset” and switch to Bentgrass. Or can they?

Poa is an amazing putting surface when all the stars align. When its good, it’s really good. But when its bad, it’s not pretty. There are tools now available to golf maintenance that can allow us to push Bentgrass. The conversion is slow, it may take 2 years, 5 years or 10 years nobody really knows. But Poa/Bent greens will always have some Poa in them, it’s just going to take managing them to have the Bent that gives you a chance to win that battle. How do you manage greens for Bent to win?

There are a number of things we’ve done with some success, and there are also some things that have occurred that I can’t explain. Doubling our Bentgrass population on putting surfaces that were 75-80% Poa in the spring seems like a small leap for now. But it is certainly something positive we can build on going forward. A few changes we have made the last 2 seasons include;

Sand top-dressing, and lots of it. We are up to 14 sand applications in 2014.

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We made the switch from grooved rollers to smooth roller. This allows the grass the “lay over and spread out”.

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The photo below shows the Bentgrass “laying over”. By rubbing my hand against “the grain” (I can’t believe I just used that word) you can see how the Bentgrass spreads;

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We began using TDR300 Moisture Meters last season. The TDR’s measure moisture levels at a 3 inch depth. We will typically take 8-10 readings per green and add water where it’s needed via a hose watering. Poa thrives in wet environments, and to promote Bentgrass we need to water less. Below are the readings from a couple different greens;

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One of the biggest adjustments we’ve had to make is just not spraying. Yes we still apply chemicals for long-term survival of our high maintenance turf areas. But in some cases allowing turf (namely Poa) to simply suffer (read die) and allow the Bent to creep into those damaged areas. Or below, plugging in new T1 Bentgrass from our greens nursery to replace diseased/damaged turf;

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Here is what a plugged T1 Bentgrass area looks like. The new damage will also be plugged out at a future date;

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I won’t use this platform to shill for any products or fertilizer’s. Our use of a wetting agent (holds water in the soil to promote equal distribution) and a new fertility product that has improved our overall turf health have been big contributors to our Bentgrass population surge also. But those types of claims are hard to quantify, and that’s why I won’t promote them until I get more years of proof. We have also stopped vertical mowing (promotes minimal disruption) and implemented an over seeding program at times of peak germination. Below are T1 Bent seedlings emerging from aeration holes;

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The good changes I can explain have been discussed here previously. Sodding damage as opposed to seeding this spring has produced a nice putting surface. Above is 1 Highlands in April, while below is the same green this morning;

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The unexplained are like the picture below where a snow mobile created ice damage on 9 Highlands green. And yet it has recovered and come back almost 100% Bentgrass;

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What does all this technical mumbo-jumbo mean to the golfer? Hopefully a better putting surface that’s less prone to disease and winter and summer damage. We will continue on this path of promoting Bentgrass, doubling a population that was dwindling is a huge feat. But doubling it again is most likely unattainable, so the process will slow. As long a the process is progress, we all win.

 

Andrew Hardy

Superintendent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agronomics vs. Economics

It has been brought to my attention a few times this week that some feel we are “making a mistake” by going forward with greens aeration next week. I just thought I would take a few minutes and explain why its been an industry-wide practice to perform aerations in August or September. Most golf courses in Northern North America do their aerifying in August or September, and most who don’t certainly wish they could. Aeration is a messy, labor intensive and time-consuming golf maintenance practice. But the fact is that it is one that is completely and absolutely necessary.

The removal of old material from our greens not only opens up air chambers, but, it allows us to refresh the soil with fresh channels of sand. You can see from this picture taken last September the fresh white roots that have generated from the August aeration. Simply put, without strong roots, grass will fail.

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Now I get it that after a tough year with our greens last year that we shouldn’t be doing extra aerations. But the fact is, that if it wasn’t for the 3 aerations we performed in August, September and October last year. Our greens wouldn’t look like they do today. And believe me it hurts no one more to rip them up starting Monday than me. Learning from past errors of letting aeration go, or simply solid tining greens has shown us that our greens WILL fail without aeration. This timing is also critical for us as most of our summer students will be returning to school soon. By maximizing our labor pool we are making the entire aeration process easier. This will allow us to run basically “around the clock” with split shifts early in the week (fingers crossed the weather forecast is wrong) and have all 30 greens done in a day and a half.

Below is a picture of the core size (1/2″) we took in last years aeration (size of a dime);

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And here is a picture of the 1/4″ tine we used yesterday on our greens nursery (hole isn’t much larger than the head of a typical screwdriver);

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This year we have the ability to pull this smaller plug, and many more of them (achieves more removal than our old aerator at 1/2″!!) because we have rented a newer aerator for this aeration. In turn, we will have a much shorter heal time, and have the greens back in top condition quicker. The new Toro 648 gives us far more flexibility than our old Toro Greens Aerator or Vertidrain will with regards to spacing and aggressiveness. The impact will be a week, as opposed to, a couple of weeks.

The Toro 648 with the Turf Pride core collector (core collector means a lot lees shoveling);

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The last 2 seasons we have changed how we have communicated greens aeration. In the past, we used to just go ahead and do it without pre-warning to customers. The last 2 years we have announced it and are offering an additional rain check to your paid green fee experience. I hope that this clears the air as to why we are aerating, and I hope you understand why we are doing it. But most importantly we hope you understand why we are doing it now.

Andrew Hardy

Superintendent

 

Non-Traditional maintenance practices

Many of you who played yesterday morning will have noticed that we tried something new on all three nines. Removing tee markers was a sample project to see how players would respond to it, promote some conversation and reduce some maintenance man-hours. It was likely one of the more short-lived attempts at change we have made here at Pheasant Run. We modified our thought process in the afternoon and placed one tee marker out on the edge of the tee in line with the permanent Golf Association of Ontario markers (which are located in the center of each teeing area with red, white and blue disks).

Though most of you hated it, as a purist (and low single digit handicap player) I personally loved how clean it looked;

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Why did we try this? Well in previous years we have attempted and/or made other significant changes (returned areas to a natural growing state and the fairway/tee mowing pattern to name 2) to the golf course for one major reason….reducing maintenance costs. Tee markers in the rules of golf are for “competition” play only. Seeing how we really only have 2 serious competitions a season that require physical tee markers, the thought was “do we really need them?”. One of the daunting issues with golf is that quite simply “its just too hard” of a game. By removing the markers, we had hoped that the stigmas attached to us (maintenance staff) determining what course you play for the day would be replaced by you the player determining your course.

It’s just the straight facts that golfers are not ready for radical change right now. And that’s ok. We have modified this setup by placing one marker on the edge of the teeing area:

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This setup will remain in tact for the rest of the season except for club events including; the Club Championships and the 27 hole Classic.

On the weekend my son and I had the opportunity to play the new “Yellow” tees. And it was an enjoyable experience and really gives you a different perspective of the golf course. I hope that many others (judging by the divots, some are) will use them and have some fun;

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Enjoy the nice weather and play with an open mind, after all it is “just a game”.

Andrew Hardy

Superintendent

 

New teeing areas and Thinking outside the box

This will my first time posting on consecutive days in a long time. But I just wanted to bring to light some minor changes on the course. First, you may or may not have noticed the addition of yellow tee blocks on all of the fairways and some tees and approaches. Call them what you may “Junior tees”, “Forward tees” and/or “Family tees”. Below is an example of the markers past the bunker on Highlands 2 fairway.

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They have been placed to play about 1500 yards on each nine with the hopes that they will see use from new players, juniors and family’s. Below is the junior camp using them on Southern Uplands.

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We are also going to try something experimental on Monday with the regular teeing areas. We have a green fee special taking place on GolfNow and expect to be busier than usual. So we will be removing all the tee markers (red, white and blue) for Monday and Tuesday. Why you ask? We are going to allow players to play the length/difficulty of course that they desire without the parameters of “predetermined teeing areas”. Let the debate ensue………….

Andrew Hardy

Superintendent