Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bunker Maintenance and Etiquette

Bunkers on golf courses have come a long way from when they were simply hallows dug out by sheep and other livestock trying to escape the stinging sand driven by the winds off the Scottish coast.

In today's world of golf course maintenance, bunkers have taken on a whole different meaning.  Bunkers are considered a hazard but for many golf course superintendents they consume the most time and money from their budgets, just behind greens.  In many cases good golfers, especially professional golfers, will aim at the bunkers because they are almost assured of a close to perfect lie or at least one that is relatively consistent and predictable.

 Along with the daily maintenance performed on bunkers including blowing out leaves and debris and raking the bunkers, there is also the special work that has to be done including removing water and silt after storms, pushing back up washouts, adding new sand, packing the sand, or complete rebuild of bunkers when needed.  There is also the maintenance of the turf surrounding the bunkers that has to be done as well.

This week the agronomy staff spent two days in the hot sun flymowing the faces of the bunkers, edging the lips, pulling/removing grass runners from the edges, blowing out the bunkers and packing and raking the bunkers to get them back in the shape they should be and golfers expect/demand today.

So after all the work and expense put into preparing the bunkers the way golfers demand it is extremely frustrating and disheartening to find bunkers left in this condition by the very golfers demanding pristine playing conditions.  If you are a golfer it is your responsibility under the rules of golf, and simply common courtesy, to leave the surface as close to the condition that you find it for your fellow golfers following you.  Golf course maintenance teams all around the world do their best each day to provide the best playing conditions possible but you, the golfer, also have a part to play in the success or failure of the course you play.

Please do your part and rake your tracks out of the bunkers, fix your ball marks on the greens, fill your divots on tees and in fairways, put your trash in the trash cans, ect. In general, treat the golf course as if you own it and want it to be the best it can possibly be each and every day.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Renovating Greens Surrounds

Sometimes the turf around and on greens just has to be replaced.  Whether it is from stress from disease, traffic, or weather it takes time and effort, and the attention to detail to get these areas repaired properly.  Over the past couple of weeks we have been working on these areas around several greens.  This past week we moved to #16 to sod the surrounds and repair some weak areas around the edges of the greens.

For many years we have battled with small areas on the surrounds of the greens.  These areas have gotten extra special attention with extra aerification, extra fertilizer, extra water, all to no avail, as they simply never healed in but the area less than a foot in on the green looked fine.  So since we can not use these areas for pin placements we decided to move the green in just a touch in these areas.  Our process began with the removal of any good Champion sod to be used to patch areas in the greens and then the removal of the poorly performing 419 grass which surrounds our greens.

We took the good Champion turf that could be salvaged from the weak areas around the greens and repaired some weak areas in the greens.  It will take a couple of weeks to allow these areas to heal in completely and then hopefully we should not be able to tell the work has been done.

Once the bad grass was removed we had to add some dirt and sand to fix the poor slope going from the walk on area near the cartpath to the green.  New sod was then laid on these areas.

After a few hours on a very hot day the area was repaired and all cut in.  I have to say special appreciation to my great agronomy staff who continue to do everything needed to produce a great conditioned golf course with all the weather issues and being short staffed.  These men deserve all the credit for how the course performs.

It will take a couple of weeks for these areas to heal in before we can lower the turfgrass and blend it in with the existing surround.  We will be moving on to do the same to the remaining holes which need some repair work and hope to be finished with this project by the end of the month.  We appreciate your patience and please consider these areas as Ground Under Repair until they are grown in.

Friday, June 19, 2015

HBEC Eagle Day 2015

Once again this year we have had the blessing to watch two more Bald Eagles hatch and grow thanks to our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam and all of our great viewers, chatters, sponsors and donors. We have always held to the belief that a golf course is more than just a place to chase a little white ball around and put it in a hole.  Golf courses are a fantastic sanctuary for wildlife, insects, plants, and especially, birds.  Our camera gives us, and anyone else around the world, an upclose view of the life and struggles from breaking out of the egg to taking that first leap of faith and launching into the wind to soar free.

 This past Tuesday we got to welcome just a few of the people who have logged on to view the eagles this year when we held our first annual HBEC Eagle Day at Harrison Bay.  In 2011 when we started this project I would not have imagined that it would have gathered such a loyal following or would have brought so many different people from different parts of the nation together, but it has.  Each Tuesday morning we have a nest tour for the locals who want to come view the eagles from the ground but not everyone who watches the camera is local. So, with the help of our moderators, we put together a date when people outside of our local viewing area could come to the course to see the eagles.

The festivities began on Monday night where many of us met, some for the first time, at the Harrison Bay rec hall for a "meet and greet". With over 50 people in attendance from 9 different states we had the great opportunity to watch Harrison Bay State Park Ranger Matt Vawter give us a demonstration of Scarlett, a red tail hawk who is a resident at the Harrison Bay SP Raptor Center.  Scarlett is blind in one eye and so she can not be released into the wild but she has a great home and does wonderful educational programs at Harrison Bay.

One of our moderators, affectionately referred to as PTomahawk, brought this specially decorated cake for the event.  Not sure who to give credit for the skill and creativity but it is amazing.

Special appreciation has to go to the Friends of Harrison Bay State Park for providing food and drinks at the "meet and greet" as well as for the moderators lunch on Tuesday.  Wonderful group of people who have supported, sponsored, and encouraged the eagle cam from the beginning.

Sadly, not everyone that wanted to attend Eagle Day could make it so we turned the camera on some of the visitors so they could wave at all their HBEC friends.  It was nice to see people who had chatted together all year meet each other and put faces with names.  Our eagle cam is like a little family spread out all over the world.

Watching Elliott and Eloise raise their young each year has truly been one of the highlights of my career.  There is a special sense of pride and responsibility in keeping their "home" safe for them and their young and we take that very seriously.  I hope that we will continue to be blessed by these magnificent creatures for many years to come and I hope you are able to get a glimpse of them when you are on the course.

Remember, golf courses are for more than just playing golf.  Take a look around next time you play and take in all the course and the environment has to offer.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Summer has finally arrived for us and while many people are going on vacation or laying out by the pool for the managers of ultradwarf bermudagrass greens the work is just beginning. Speaking for myself I can say that I love my job. I love being outside, seeing the sun rise each morning, watching the wildlife play on the course, and I even like the challenges that comes with my chosen profession.  One of the biggest challenges that we, golf course superintendents, face is finding the balance between the expectations of golfers and the health of the turfgrass, especially when it comes to putting surfaces.

For managers of the new ultradwarf bermudagrass cultivars that are replacing bentgrass greens all over the south thatch accumulation is probably one of our biggest issues.  Thatch according to the dictionary is "a tightly bound layer of dead grass, including leaves, stems, and roots, that builds up on the soil surface at the base of the living grass of a lawn."  Thatch according to a superintendent creates soft, patchy greens which are slow, can easily be scalped, harbor insects and disease pressures, and restrict the inflow of water, air, and nutrients.

The greatest tool that we have in combating the excessive accumulation of thatch is the use of vertical mowing or verticutting.  This is a process of using blades which are positioned vertically to slice through the surface and raise/remove growth which is not removed during normal mowing operations.  Is thatch a big issue?  Well the picture to the left shows the material removed from a single 10,000 sq. ft. putting green.  If this material is not removed on a regular basis the greens will become soft and puffy and will not be an acceptable putting surface and will eventually fail to perform correctly.

Our practice for the past two days which we called "Verticutapalooza" because it was a party for both us and the greens was to vertical mow up one direction and then back down the same line with the blades set 1/16" below the rollers. This picture shows on the left the green surface following the verticutting practice and on the right the greens surface once it has been mowed with our normal cutting units.  The thatch that was removed and the excess growth that is cut off of the surface helps to provide a firmer, faster, and more consistent putting surface.

Once the greens were mowed they were topdressed fairly heavily with a kiln dried green sand which was then drug into the surface with a carpet drag mat.  The incorporation of sand to the surface helps in the breakdown of organic matter in the soil matrix, fills in any voids in the putting surface, and helps to aid in the infiltration of water.

We use kiln dried green sand for our topdressing sand because it mitigates some, if not all, of the concerns and/or complaints by golfers of the greens being topdressed.  Many golfers are under the misconception that a green which has been topdressed will be slow, bumpy, or will drastically interfere with their round.  A light application of topdressing sand will actually make the greens smoother, faster, and more consistent but the sight of a green topdressed with white sand, no matter how well worked in, will still cause some golfers to complain to the proshop.  With our green sand if you don't see us putting it out you are most likely not going to be able to tell the greens have been topdressed and in our mind is worth the extra cost.

This is a picture of #18 green after being verticut twice along the same line, mowed, topdressed, and drug.  A massive amount of material was removed from the putting surface but it will only go to help the green both in the short term and the long haul.  Some golfers may see agronomy departments verticutting greens and think "They are destroying the greens.  Why can't they just leave good enough along?"  We could but the putting surface would not be the best it can be and would eventually begin to fail, resulting in lost turf and extensive restoration of the surface. Basically it is a very short term, minimal disruption for the overall longevity of the green.

May was a very busy month for us with 21 outings and tournaments which limited the amount of cultural practices we were able to perform to the greens.  We will resuming our biweekly verticutting program starting next week so that we can continue to improve our putting surfaces in an effort to provide the best putting surface we can for our golfers and guests.  Some had questions about what we were doing to the greens and I hope this has helped to alleviate some of those questions and concerns.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tee and Fairway Aerification

It took us several weeks with all the tournaments and outings that we had during the month of May (21 to be exact) but we finally finished up the solid tine aerification of all the tees and the back nine approaches.  We will continue with the front nine as time allows.  This practice has really helped out the growth of the turfgrass on the tees but more than that we have had several golfers comment on how much it has helped them be able to place their tees into the ground without needing a hammer to do so.  We will continue to do this non disruptive cultural practice as time and manpower allows to continue to improve the playability of the course.

To help out the fairways we have gotten access to an AerWay Sportstine Aerifier that will allow us to slice the fairways quickly and to a depth of up to 6" with little to no disruption of the playing surface.  You may have seen us on #15 fairway last week trying the machine out and it did a great job.  Just a quick mow with the fairway units following the practice and the slits were rolled down but the result will last for several months.  This is a very quick operation and we should be able to do six to nine holes per day and have them mowed back out before play even gets to the hole.  Strong roots=Strong plants. And that is what we are going for.


Here is a great slow motion video of the AerWay Sportstine aerifier in action.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sunlight, Growth, and Patience...My Three Requests

With over 20 inches of rainfall in 2015 so far and close to 10 inches of that coming in April alone, the golf course is greening up at a slower pace than normal.  Areas which have been completely saturated over the winter months with little to no sunlight to dry them out are coated in a combined layer of algae and thatch/clippings which have floated up in all the rain.  As you can see in the picture to the right where there are breaks or cracks in the algae as it dries, there is green grass under there we just have to work to get it to the sun.

We have been fortunate this week that the algae/thatch layer has begun to dry out in sections.  In an effort to remove the material from the fairways we began vertical mowing these areas to bust up the layer and then used our turbine blowers to blow it into the roughs.  The vertical mowers, or verticutters as they are called, have blades which are positioned vertically and cut or slice into the surface, lifting and breaking up this layer.

Hopefully the sun will continue to shine and the soil temps will climb which should generate the growth in the turfgrass that we all want to see.  We will have some areas which will have to be sodded or seeded so we will have to ask for your patience as we work through these areas.  Patience is the key word here, both on the part of the golfer and for us as well, as we want to provide our guests with the best possible playing conditions just like they want to play on the best possible playing surfaces.

One practice we will be doing over the next few weeks will be to solid tine the tee boxes and the approaches.  This cultural practice will help to allow water to penetrate into the soil and will also allow for sunlight and air to reach the soil surface and the root system.  Just like aerification of the greens this is a vital process in the success of our golf course.

The tines we will be using for this process will be 3/4" solid tines which will be set to penetrate around 2.5" into the soil.  Following the venting process these areas will be mowed or rolled and should not affect your ball roll or play in any way but will pay off in dividends as the grass starts to grow.

We have also begun the process of leveling the irrigation lines around the holes which were renovated this winter.  Adding sand to the trench lines will help smooth out the area and will eliminate any disruption to your ball roll.  It will take a few topdressings to completely eliminate any evidence of the trench lines but they will be gone before you know it.

As I stated before, please be patient as we work to repair the golf course from the damage caused by the four wettest months I can remember in my career.  By the end of the summer this will all seem like a bad dream.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Punching Holes, Spreading Fertilizer,and Growing Up

It has been a wet spring so far at Harrison Bay this year but there is still work that we have to get done to get the course ready for when the sun does come out and the grass starts growing.  I have been assured that the sun will eventually come out and the rain will eventually stop.  Still keeping a look out for Noah though.  This week we performed our spring aerification to the greens which will help jump them out of their winter dormancy and provide them with the new juvenile growth they will need to get through the summer. We are very pleased with how the greens came out of the winter this year due in most part to a different chemical and fertilizer program that we used which kept the greens healthier during their winter nap.

As always I was very proud of our golf course maintenance staff for their dedicated work on Monday to get the greens completely topdressed, aerified, drug, rolled and blown off all the while dealing with a constant and aggravating light to moderate rain.  It is definitely not textbook by any means to aerify in a rain event but when you are only closed for a couple days you make sure you get it done.  We will continue to roll and add light amounts of topdressing to the greens over the remainder of this week to get the greens back in top notch form.

With the course being closed on Monday it was a perfect time to get our season long pre emerge and fertilizer spread on the course.  Based on our success over the past several years we continue to use Harrell's PolyON controlled release fertilizer on our course.  This year we chose to try a different pre emerge product from FMC called Echelon.  Changing the chemistry or product we use from time to time helps to reduce or eliminate the chance of weeds becoming resistant to the herbicides we use.  Thanks to Rusty who drives the spreader truck for Harrell's for doing a great job without any damage to the course even though it was rather wet out there.

We have also spent a good amount of time this spring watching HB7 and HB8 grow from little eaglets into the fish, turtle, and coot vacuums that they have become.  These two are really keeping Elliott busy keeping the pantry full and are really getting a personality that all our viewers love to watch.
Even HB7 at his/her young age already has an idea of where the furniture should go.  At this stage, two weeks old, they are beginning to get their pin feathers, moving out of the nest bowl to explore their new world, can focus on their parents without looking at a blur, and, of course, they are beginning to grow those hilarious "clown feet" that we all love so much.

Hopefully the rain will soon go away and we can start having several days or weeks of good growing and playing weather.  Soon the air will be filled with the sound of new eagles flying overhead and the sound of golfers enjoying the course we work so hard to provide.