Thursday, December 11, 2014

"Liquid Overseed" has come a long way

It wasn't too many years ago when golf courses were expected to be "green" year round and so courses in the south spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours overseeding the golf course to satisfy the demands of the golfer.  It is great to see that our industry has, for the most part, gone away from this practice and has found other, better ways to keep our courses looking good in the winter months without the drain on budgets and the environment.  For many of us we have replaced the overseeding of greens, tees, and fairways with "liquid overseed", otherwise known as paint or pigments.

Just like everything else in the golf course industry, there are as many different ways to paint the greens and as many different products out there as there are superintendents.  We have tried many different colorant products and many different ways to get the job done but we like our little ProLawn walk behind sprayer the best.  It only takes about 10-12 minutes to do an average size green and we think the final product looks very nice.

This year we are using a new product from Harrell's called Dormant Green.  In the years past we have used a different product which was a lighter green and thus we had to add a black paint with it to get the dark green color we desired. The Dormant Green is already tinted to the dark green color we want so mixing is very convenient.  The picture to the right shows the different stages of painting.  On the far left is the green prior to painting.  The short pass in the middle of the picture is a single pass where I began to run out of product in the tank and the far right shows the final product, that being two applications up and back on the same line.  Going up and back on the same line helps to eliminate any streaks or skips that might be made during the application process and gives a more uniform finished look.

Painting the greens instead of overseeding them allows us to eliminate the cost of the seed, fertilizer, mowing, and water, as well as eliminates the competition between the primary turfgrass on our greens and the overseed during spring transition.  Many benefits come from using a "liquid overseed" and we will enjoy them all.  Hope you do as well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why Do We Cover The Greens?

On Monday the Agronomy Staff spent several hours pulling the covers on the greens.  Some of you may wonder why we cover the greens at certain times so I wanted to try and explain why. Our ultradwarf greens are most susceptible to injury during the winter months because they do not go completely dormant and yet are not actively growing either.  They still have live green tissue in the leaf and crown area which can be killed or damaged by winter desiccation or sudden cold temperatures.  Much like you need a coat on to go outside right now, our greens need a little extra protection to survive the cold nights.

Here is an example of how the covers help to protect and insulate the greens.  The air temperature at 7:35 this morning was 25 degrees with a wind chill of 16 degrees.  The measurement on the top is of an area which was covered all night. Our soil thermometer gave us a reading of 38.8 degrees while the bottom picture shows an area that was uncovered which had a soil temperature of 30.1 degrees.  Simple explanation for using covers is this, turfgrass plants have water inside of them inside of the plant cells. If this water is allowed to freeze it will, and often does, act like a balloon when frozen, it will burst.  Turfgrass cells which are damaged or burst/killed in the winter months will not revive themselves and the damaged areas on the greens will not green up in the spring.

Having the golf course closed for a few days while the covers are deployed is a minor inconvenience compared to the alternative which could like this green pictured here.  We will only pull the covers when I feel it is necessary to protect the golf course, not just to keep you off the course.  Trust me, pulling covers is not a fun task in the first place.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Harrison Bay Eagle Cam Almost Ready to Fly

We have had several people ask us about when the Harrison Bay Eagle Cam will be back on line again so I thought we should fill everyone in on the improvements we have made for this coming year.  We think you are going to like them.You just have to be patient a little while longer.

Last year when HB5 was injured and then rehabbed by Al Cecere and the fine people at the American Eagle Foundation we were able to gain some great friends and mentors in the eagle cam world.  The AEF team has been broadcasting live feed of eagle nests from Dollywood for several years and in the past couple years has added a site in northeast Florida to their portfolio.  They have provided us with information on the proper camera to purchase and streaming service so we can provide a better, high quality product to our viewers.

All of our equipment has been upgraded this year from the camera to the microphone to the website, all the way to the communication cable transmitting the signal to the world. If you want a clear signal then fiber optic cable is the way to go and so we did.  Harrison Bay State Park Ranger Matt Vawter has taken over the technological side of this project (it is all way over my head) and has done a tremendous job.  He and Mrs. Angie Underwood of the Friends of Harrison Bay State Park have created a new, user friendly website that we think everyone is going to enjoy.  Matt enlisted the assistance of his father, Paul Vawter, and his lifelong friend CL, to come to the course and terminate the ends on the fiber optic cable.  For one, I was amazed at the special care that had to be taken with this fiber but more amazed at the quality of picture it helps to produce.  Special thanks to Mr. Paul and Mr. CL for their help.

Once again this year Angelo came down to assist us with the installation of the camera and other items that go way up in the top of the tree.  We can not thank Angelo enough for his help, for if he did not help us I don't know if the project would even get off the ground.  I have to give him all the credit though.  He worked for over three hours at over 100 feet in the air in a pine tree that was swaying and twisting in the wind and did a fantastic job.

Although the website is not yet completely ready for public viewing I did want to provide everyone with a screenshot to show the clarity of picture we will have the pleasure to experience this year.  Also this year we will not have any ads or commercials running during our broadcasts so teachers, if your are out there, you can tune into the broadcast and let your students watch the activities without fear (short of the occasional bloody coot that they will eat).

Our site will go live in a week or so but if you want to see an active Bald Eagle nest right now we suggest you visit the American Eagle Foundation Northeast Florida website and see the activities of their beautiful Romeo and Juliet.  AEF Northeast Florida Cam

Monday, October 20, 2014

2014 Mowing Season is Done

As another mowing season comes to a close at Harrison Bay we have to look back to what all has been accomplished this year and look forward to the enhancements and improvements scheduled for the winter months ahead.  Your agronomy staff has been working hard this year to bring you the best playing conditions possible so if you see them out on the course, let them know you appreciate your efforts.

Last winter brought us some unexpected and unneeded very cold temperatures and snow cover.  Extended cold temperatures and shade are not the best friend to 419 bermudagrass which we have on our fairways and roughs.  As a result we had close to 3 acres of turf which had to be replaced or resodded. These areas have come in nicely and are ready for this winter to come.  If you have noticed we learned from last winter and have raised our height of cut on the fairways a bit more than normal and have moved some of the fairway cuts in on a couple of holes.

One of the biggest improvements we made to the course over the past year was the installation of new irrigation heads around many of the greens.  These heads have allowed us to only water the greens surface instead of using full circle technology which watered the green and the surrounds.  This has cut our watering time and has reduced the amount of water we use to water our greens by over 1 million gallons of water this year alone.  We have 6 more holes to go and this project will be in the books.  I bet Willie and Jonathan will be happy about that.

One change we made to the course this year (some liked it and some did not) was to change the way we mow the fairways and tees.  Instead of striping the fairways which we have done for several years we decided to mow the fairways and tees in the "classic cut" manor which means we mow up and back on one side of the area.  This was a drastic change but the final result was exactly what we wanted.  Not only did it give us a different and unique look, it saved us a considerable amount of time and fuel.  This season, by making this one simple change, we eliminated over 312 man hours spent on mowing fairways.  This reduction in mowing saved over 811 gallons of diesel fuel and eliminated the creation of over 18,000 pounds of carbon emissions.

In an effort to correct the many years of neglect and soft handedness we have given to our greens, this summer we got really aggressive with our aerification and verticutting of the greens.  There was a great deal of debate and concern over the process but in the end it turned out to be one of the best things we have done for our greens in quite a long time and as many of you have been telling us, they are the best they have been in many years.  Sometimes you have to break several eggs to make a really good omelet.

To repair some of the areas on the greens which were damaged from the winter we had to use our nursery, which is what it was made for.  After we used what we needed we went back and sprigged it and grew it in.  It was a good bit of work but having a source of sod on site and having the area double as a short game practice area is the perfect solution.

This year in an effort to help the pollinator population on the golf course we created two areas designated to the growing and cultivation of native wildflowers.  Working with Syngenta through their Operation Pollinator project we selected two areas, one beside #1 tee complex and one between #10 green and #11 tee complex, to create these areas.  The project has been a great success and we see these areas teaming with bees and butterflies.  We will continue to improve our planting processes over the winter to hopefully have these areas even more plentiful with wildflowers and pollinators.

As we look ahead to next season we have many improvements in mind.  We will be adding the DryJect process to our aerification in August. We hope using this process will provide better subsurface drainage and root growth and will reduce the disruption to the putting surface so we can get the greens back to their desired quality sooner.  This winter we will finish our greens irrigation renovation, add surface drainage to #10 fairway, selectively reduce shade around the course, renovate the native planting bed between #1 tee and the driving range, and renovate the remaining fairway bunkers.

It is going to be a long winter and a lot of hard work.  We will do our best to not interfere with your round but please remember that all the work we are doing is simply to make your course better.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

American Eagle Foundation Visit and Harrison Bay Raptor Center Opens

Mr. Cecere with HB5 before release
Back in June we had the great pleasure of getting to meet Mr. Al Cecere, founder and president of the American Eagle Foundation.  After one of our eaglets, HB5, was injured trying to learn how to fly, Mr. Cecere and his great staff at AEF took care of the eaglet, rehabbing it to get it healthy enough to return to the sky HB5 Flies Free Again. Mr. Cecere was gracious enough to invite us up to Dollywood to the AEF headquarters for a tour and to discuss the best options for us to improve our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam.

On Tuesday Mitch and I took a trip up to the AEF Headquarters which is located on the Dollywood property.  It was quite impressive to see the operation and hear Mr. Cecere speak about how his passion to protect the American Bald Eagle had grown to the size operation it is today.  Currently they have over 80 birds which are housed on property either as educational birds, repopulation mating pairs, or birds which are injured and are being rehabilitated with the hopes of returning to the wild one day.

The highlight of the trip, besides gaining all the valuable information from Mr. Cecere, was the upclose time we got to spend with Challenger, the Foundation's most famous ambassador.  Challenger is a 26 year old male Bald Eagle who can be seen flying at many sporting and social events around the country.  If you watched the opening of the Eagles-Redskins game on Sunday then you were able to see Challenger fly before the game and if you read this before Monday night you can tune into Late Night with David Letterman as Mr. Cecere and Challenger are scheduled to make an appearance.

We were fortunate to be there during Challenger's daily exercise time and were able to watch Mr. Cecere and another handler let Challenger fly back and forth down a 200 foot hallway in the enclosure house.  The silence as Challenger flew by use was amazing and made it very clear why they are such good hunters.  Prey simply can not hear them coming.

Challenger had to be placed in his travel case while they got his "treats" cut up and prepared for his flight time.  Even in a "cage" he still looks regal and demands respect.

Besides providing educational and instructional programs for Dollywood and many many other organizations the AEF also is very active in trying to repopulate the skies with American Bald Eagles.  This structure is known as the "breeding house" where they have mating pairs of bald eagles which have bred hundreds of eaglets which have been raised, trained, and released into the wild.  The adult eagles in this area are disabled in some form or fashion and would not survive in the wild so this is a fantastic place for them to live.  A free nest and free food plus a mate.  How could it get better.

If you have had the pleasure of going to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee hopefully you have taken the time to stop and watch the eagles in the Bald Eagle Aviary and have watched the "Wings of America Birds of Prey" show which is performed four times per day by the AEF.  There are currently 18 bald eagles in the aviary with a couple of nesting pairs inside of the enclosure.  It is quite a site to see all those white heads lined up at the top of the aviary basking in the sun.

Mr. Cecere was kind enough to take us behind the scenes to see the show operation where we got to see a very curious Bald Eagle named "Spirit" who was very interested in what we were doing looking into his enclosure.  Birds like "Spirit" and the other raptors on property make up the "Birds of Prey" show that you can see at the park on a daily basis.  The AEF has been putting on the raptor show since Dollywood opened over 25 years ago and is one of the most popular entertainment activities at the park.

One of the main reasons we went to AEF was to pick Mr. Cecere's brain about how we can improve our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam Project for this year.  He was more than willing to show us the entire setup and gave us all the information we needed to copy his NE Florida operation.  Gaining friendships with experienced people in the eagle world is fantastic and will allow us to provide a better experience for our viewers.

Thanks so much to Mr. Cecere and everyone involved with the American Eagle Foundation for their time, experience, and encouragement.

Back home at Harrison Bay State Park we have some exciting news to tell you about as well.  Last week the rangers at the park were able to add three injured birds to the Harrison Bay Raptor Center.  These birds are injured or disabled and will remain at the Center where they will be cared for and will provide educational and viewing opportunities for park and community guests.  This is a great project initiated by Park Ranger Matt Vawter and funded by The Friends of Harrison Bay State Park.

We have a Red Tailed Hawk named "Scarlett" who doesn't miss a single movement outside of her enclosure.  Yes, eyes like a hawk.

The resident "camera hound" is "Happy" a Turkey Vulture who can not sit still and wants all the attention.  Shaking of a set of keys will get him hopping up and down and looking straight at you.

The last member of the trio is an owl named "Marley".  She has over half of her left wing missing and can not fly so she uses the branches and limbs which have been positioned in her enclosure to move about.  She also does not miss any movement outside of her enclosure and has "night watch" duty on all the guests coming in and out of the park.

We encourage guests to stop by and see the raptors.  For those interested in more information or how you can help support the project click here Harrison Bay Raptor Center.  Donations are readily accepted as feeding these birds will be an expensive venture.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The TOUR Championship 2014

Again this year I had the pleasure to volunteer to help the Agronomy Team at East Lake Golf Club prepare the golf course for the 30 best golfers in the world who were participating in the TOUR Championship.  Every year that I have volunteered I think Ralph Kepple, CGCS and his staff have the golf course dialed in about as good as it can possibly be, yet each year they surpass my expectations and those of the golfing world.  This year was no exception.

 The details to the setup and maintenance of the golf course are, in my opinion, what sets East Lake apart from other high end golf courses that I have had the pleasure to be on.  It is evident when traveling around the golf course that the Agronomy Team takes exceptional pride in their work and in the product they produce and that pride certainly starts at the top with the management team of Ralph, Shaune Achurch, and Jason Tharp.

Each year improvements are made to how the course is set up and presented to the PGA golfers and this year was no exception.  In addition to a bit higher bermudagrass rough, the bunkers were prepared in a different way than years past.  The process of having a firm, smooth area around the perimeter of the bunker allowed for the golf ball to roll down the sand face and rest more consistently in the floor of the bunker.  This process provided a more fair and predictable lie for the golfer if they hit into a bunker.

Although the bunkers look very nice and play even better, remember this, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army to prepare and maintain bunkers in this manner.  After a slight 3/4" rain storm on Friday night close to 30 East Lake Agronomy Team members and volunteers spent close to 5 hours repairing slight washouts in the bunker faces, repacking areas on the faces, and raking the bunker floors.  This process is not for the average golf course or even the mildly dedicated private course.  The fancier you want your course the more effort has to be exerted.

Morning activities on the golf course consisted of mowing all the short grass which included a double cut and roll of the greens along with all the approaches and collars.  Tees and fairways were mowed and leaves, clippings, and debris were blown from all areas of the course.  As you can see the work begins early but the staff is well trained to provide the highest quality of results even in the dark.

Afternoon shift activities included mowing of the fairways and surrounds followed by all areas being blown for debris and leaves once again.  I was impressed that the equipment mechanics came out to the course and checked the height and contact of the mowers before they allowed the fairway units to go from the front nine to the back nine.  Making sure that the mowers are cutting the same on the front and the back can easily be seen in the final product.

After the greens were double rolled again in the afternoon Ralph was right there to check green speeds to see what practices needed to be performed in the morning to ensure the expected speed and consistency of the greens would be available for the pros.  After a little "jittery" start Ralph finally got the stimpmeter to cooperate and give him the measurements he needed. (Sorry, inside joke)

 As I have ridden around East Lake over the past several years I have noticed that there are not many areas which can be maintained toward the "environmental" side.  Although this is discouraging I know that not every golf course is designed or set up for native grass areas or bird houses or other environmental projects.  What I do like however at East Lake is they use the areas which can be used to help protect the environment very seriously.  The maintenance department area is a prime example of doing what you can.  Here the Agronomy Team and volunteers are using a self contained wash pad which uses recycled water to clean the equipment. In the background and to the left is an "organic refuse area" where clippings and cuttings are collected and recycled.  As I have said many times, just do something.  I am very happy to see East Lake is doing what they can to help and protect the environment.

I still say this cameraperson does not get paid enough

MetLife Snoopy 1 soaring over the course giving some awesome overhead video

Downtown Atlanta in the background

Again thank you to Ralph, Shaune, Jason, and all of the East Lake Agronomy Team for their hospitality and friendship over this and previous years.  Volunteering for The TOUR Championship is work there is no doubt about it but the information I gain and the new friends met and old friends reconnected with make it worth all the effort.  I know I can not implement most of the processes carried out at East Lake but it gives me several ideas that I can bring back to Harrison Bay to improve our course and our operations.

Until next year!!!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

DryJect Demo--Changing Perceptions about Aerification

It's time to talk about aerification again.  Don't panic we are not going to aerify the greens again this year but we are already discussing the aerification timing and process for next year.  As I have said before, aerification is a "necessary evil" but if we can find techniques and processes that will provide our greens with the cultivation management needed but will be less disruptive to the putting surface and require less time to recover then we will investigate that process.

On Friday we saw a demonstration of a "new" technique known as DryJect from Chad Gamble owner of DryJect of Tennessee.  The DryJect process is unique from traditional core aerification in that it uses high pressure water injectors to incorporate sand or amendments directly into the putting green profile.  This is different from core aerification where sand and/or amendments are placed on top of the green and every attempt is made to drag/brush/broom the sand down into the holes, which honestly is nearly impossible to accomplish.

This illustration shows how the DryJect process works to make for a better aerification process with little to no disruption to the putting green surface while at the same time completely filling the soil with sand or amendments and fracturing the subsurface of the green to provide greater movement of air, water, and roots.  The DryJect process is better for the soil also because compared to normal core aerification it does not "glaze" the side of the core hole which limits where air, water, and roots can penetrate.

Here is a link to a very informative video made by a good friend of mine, Mark Langner, Director of Agronomy at Pursell Farms in Alabama made the DryJect process and why it is beneficial.

This is a photo of the demo area on the putting green on Friday following a pushbroom brushing and a rolling.  The spacing on the DryJect in this area was spaced at 3" x 3" and placed the sand/amendment to a depth of at least 6" deep, leaving a hole on the putting surface close to 3/8" in size.  Once broomed and rolled we were very impressed with how firm and smooth the area was and Robin and Mr. Nixon had no issues with putting quality.

Here is a photo of the same area on Saturday morning after the area had an irrigation cycle applied to it and had been mowed.  Even though you could tell that something had been done to the area it was drastically different in both firmness and smoothness from what one would expect to experience following a normal core aerification.

As we look ahead to next year we hope to continue our pursuit of providing you with a high quality golf course from putting green to fairway to bunker.  Each improvement we make to our maintenance program and practices helps us to achieve our goal of being among the best golf courses around and somewhere everyone will want to play.  We hope we can include the unique DryJect process into those programs and reduce our need to aerify the greens so aggressively or as often.  A "win-win" for everyone.