Monday, December 19, 2016

Farewell 2016...You Will Not Be Forgotten

As we say goodbye to another golfing season at Harrison Bay I wanted to take a quick look back at the 2016 season.  This summer marked my 25th summer on a golf course and my 16th at The Bear Trace.  Although I consider myself a pretty decent superintendent I have to admit that this summer definitely educated, and humbled me more than any other year I can remember in my career.

In preparation for this season the agronomy staff worked hard during the winter months to make improvements to the golf course.  The biggest projects were the renovation of #3 green  and the extensive drainage project in the landing area of #10 fairway.  We also worked on some bunker renovation, irrigation improvements, and improving drainage along cart paths.  With all these improvements we felt pretty good about the upcoming season as dormancy broke and the growing season began.

#2 Green on April 19 under attack from nematodes
Unfortunately our season got off to a terrible start with a massive nematode infestation that devastated many large areas on our greens.  The original diagnosis of our problem was a root pathogen which was attacking the root system, which was accurate, but this disease was really only allowed to attack the greens root system because the nematodes had weakened the roots to the point that they could not defend themselves or recover quick enough.  As the greens continued to come out of dormancy the nematodes continued to feast on the fresh, new, susceptible young roots that our bermudagrass greens produce each spring.

Putting green Nov 2 recovered from nematode damage
After receiving the results of a soil assay that showed sting and root knot nematode counts drastically elevated we were convinced that the primary concern was not to combat the root pathogen but rather the microscopic nematodes that were reeking havoc on our greens.  After several application of products to reduce the nematode population and provide protection for the root system the greens began to recover.  Over the summer the agronomy staff worked hard to repair areas on the greens that were damaged from the nematode attack including the complete renovation of #9 green.  It has been an long battle by I am proud to say that our greens are back to their championship form that we have been known for for so many years.

After an exciting week hosting the TGA Match Play Championships at the end of July the agronomy staff jumped right back into improving the golf course.  Our aerification of the golf course this August was the most extensive we have undertaken since we renovated the greens back in 2003.  Removal of major amounts of thatch and organic matter from greens, tees, fairways, and the driving range made a tremendous improvement in the course.
All of the activities cataloged in posts about 2016 Greens Aerification and Showing the tees, fairways, and driving range some love.

The fall was a definite reminder that every year is different from the next.  The hottest, driest summer that I can remember that gripped the southeast was unprecedented with Chattanooga breaking long standing records with a total of 108 days with temperatures over 90 degrees and over 7 months without receiving a total of 1" of rainfall in a single day.  This was the first summer I can remember of having to place supplemental irrigation sprinklers around the course just to save wilting 419 bermudagrass.

On the environmental front we welcomed the latest two eaglets HB9 and HB10 to the HBEC family and unfortunately said goodbye to Eloise as we got a new female eagle at our nest, which Hannah named Eliza.  We are currently experiencing some technical issues with the main PTZ camera and sound resulting from the storms a couple of weeks ago but hope to have this resolved in time to watch the next brood of HBEC eaglets enter the world.

Barry supervising Mitch's work in the mini-ex.

The golf course lost two very good employees this year.  Barry Webb passed away unexpectedly on May 29th.  Barry was one of those guys who never complained, always showed up to work, and did his best for the course.  RIP Barry.

We also said goodbye to my first assistant Mitch Sivley. After 17 years of dedicated service to the golf course he left to follow his dream of being a truck driver.  Mitch was a cornerstone of our course and I relied on him greatly throughout the years.  His skill on heavy equipment and with a chainsaw will be missed as will his dedication and passion for the golf course itself.

Outreach, education, and accolades continued this year beginning in January at the 50th annual TTA conference where I received the Dr. Tom Samples Professional of the Year Award.  At the Golf Industry Show in San Diego we were honored by Golf Industry Magazine for our social media presence and outreach with the Dr. John Kaminski Award.  I was fortunate to be able to present our environmental projects and programs to several organizations including the New England Regional Turfgrass Council, Sustainability in Golf, and most recently at the 2016 Carolinas Golf Course Superintendent Association Conference and Tradeshow in Myrtle Beach.

After a long summer we are eagerly looking forward to the dawn of 2017.  This year I have realized that even after 25 years in the business I still have much to learn and that I can not let my guard down at any time of the year.

The agronomy staff deserves all the credit for the turn around in the conditioning of the golf course this year and I am grateful for their continued dedication to the course.

From frustration to elation, from failure to victory, from questioning my future in the industry to remembering why I really love my career.

Farewell 2016...You have been an interesting year and one we will not forget.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What does a "Clean" course cost?

Some of the beauty of a golf course, especially BT@HB, is that you can get away from the hustle and bustle of metro areas and enjoy a peaceful day in nature.  Although the trees that frame shots and line fairways make golf courses beautiful and strategic, they also create a maintenance nightmare in the autumn months when the leaves begin to fall.  We, like most every other golf course I know, work very hard to keep up with blowing and mulching leaves as they fall so that golfers can find their golf balls and enjoy their round.  Personally I think our staff does an amazing job of keeping Harrison Bay clean, especially since every single hole is surrounded by old growth hardwoods and pines.

So what does it cost to keep a golf course "clean"?  One of my staff members ask me that question last week and it got me thinking, and the figures I came up with are striking.  Just looking at the month of November alone, we used 350 man-hours blowing leaves with our turbine blowers and/or tractor mounted blowers and 100 man-hours blowing leaves with backpack blowers.  If we average $8.00/hour for pay then we spent $3,600.00 on labor alone to blow leaves from the course.

The fuel needed to operate these blowers has to be calculated as well.  We used 117.2 gallons of gasoline in our turbine blowers during November.  At $1.85 per gallon that means we spent $216.82 on gas for the turbines.  Tractor blowers, front end blowers and mulching mowers that run on diesel consumed 45.9 gallons of diesel, which at $1.48 per gallon means we spent $67.93.  Mix gas for the backpack blowers consumed 40 gallons of mix gas during November.  Gasoline and two cycle mix oil combined cost $165.80.

Now I didn't bother to figure up costs for engine oil or batteries for the turbine remotes and I am extremely thankful that we have electric utility vehicles so we don't have the added fuel expense that they would use.

This also doesn't account for the cost of
equipment that is used to keep the course clean.  Turbine blowers like we have can run between $8,000-$9,000 each and tractor mounted blowers can run several thousands of dollars.  I consider myself lucky in that I have a forest surrounding my course and not homes because I always have somewhere to blow the leaves but some courses are not as fortunate and have to collect leaves and pile them in a selected location on the course.  Sweepers and vacuums can run between $20,000.00 to $40,000.00 depending on how big and what features you want out of your vacuum/sweeper.

So as you can see golf courses with beautiful, tree lined fairways that separate one hole from the others and give each hole its own look and feel, invest a ton of money and resources in keeping the playing surfaces clear of debris and playable.  We have, and will continue to, invest the time, manpower, and resources needed to keep the course clean and enjoyable for all.

What does a "Clean" course cost?  A LOT!!!

Monday, November 21, 2016

First Frost and What to Expect at Harrison Bay This Winter

This morning we experienced our first full frost of the season as the temperatures at the course dipped to 25 degrees.  It was quite a shock to the system since we were at 79 degrees at the end of last week.  As this will not be our last frost, and in turn frost delay, this year I wanted to try and pass along some information about why we need to keep foot traffic, cart traffic, and maintenance equipment off of frosted grass in order to keep it alive and healthy.

Again the United States Golf Association can explain better than I can what happens to grass when it is under the grips of cold weather and frost.

We all hate to have our round delayed but we have worked too hard to get our golf course back in shape this year to allow anything to risk damaging it now.  So please be patient as we allow the frost to burn off and realize that we are doing it for the betterment of the golf course, not to keep you from your round.

Good Lord willing you will not see any heavy equipment tearing up the golf course this winter like last year with The Renovation of #3 Green and Installation of Drainage in #10 Fairway.  We will be continuing to make improvement to the golf course however with smaller projects.  Projects for this winter will include limbing up of trees to provide clearer shots for you the golfer and more sunlight for the turf.  We will also be installing more cross tie curbing along the cart paths in needed areas and will be renovating the main sign at the front entrance.  Lots of work but all intended to make your course better.

As I said before we are going to make every decision this winter with the health and survival of the turfgrass in mind.  So we may not be mowing the greens first thing in the morning or changing cups right before play goes out or other practices that are routinely done before play during the summer.  These practices will be done later in the day when we are positive that the greens surface and the surrounds are free of frost and are not frozen.

We will be foregoing our normal painting of the greens this year in an effort to eliminate any foreign substances covering the leaf blades and blocking any issues that we need to be seeing during the dormant season that might be harming the greens.  Hopefully there will be enough distinction between the putting surface and the greens surrounds and if needed we will apply a dose of our normal green dye that we use when applying our routine foliar fertilizer and plant protectants.

I can also tell you to expect a greater probability of the greens being covered this winter compared to past years.  In the past I have pushed the envelope on whether or not to cover the greens during questionably and potentially damaging weather to try and keep the golf course open for play.  However I realize that I may have been putting the health of the turfgrass at a greater risk than what the reward was worth.  Like all other decisions, when and if we cover will be done with the greens health and survivability in mind.

As you can tell from the tone of this post there is a different mindset at Harrison Bay going forward.  We have recovered from a trying and hard summer and our course is in the best condition that it has been in many, many years.  We will do what ever it takes to keep it that way and we hope you understand and agree with our decisions.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Hottest, Driest Summer I Can Remember

As I watch The Weather Channel and see the massive amounts of rainfall dumped on the Atlantic coast from Hurricane Matthew and the recent storms in the Pacific Northwest I am astonished that we have received so little rain this summer.  As of today we are sitting at a total rainfall in the past 57 days of 0.15".  It is so little rainfall that this creek which runs below the bridge on #14 has dried up.  My heart goes out to those who have had their lives disrupted or destroyed by the recent storms but we could definitely use some of the rain.

Not only has this summer been a dry one but it has been a relentlessly hot one as this graphic from September shows.  It actually dawned on me the other day that we have not had a "rain day" where the agronomy staff gets rained out all summer long.  Usually we can count on several of these throughout the year but this year, not one.

Other areas of Tennessee have received periodic rainfall during the summer but our lack of rainfall has set us up for an exceptional drought conditions in the Chattanooga area.  For the golf course these dry conditions have provided some good and some bad conditions.  On the bad side it has been extremely hot especially during the heat of the summer but our faithful golfers still came out and enjoyed the course and we thank you for that.  On the good side the dry conditions resulted in some rather firm fairways which gave our golfers some added distance on their drives, and how doesn't like a little extra distance on your drive.

If you have played over the past few weeks you have probably noticed the use of portable sprinklers being used on extremely dry areas around the course.  Yes, we are running our irrigation system most every night but these areas are in need of extra attention and in most cases simply don't get good coverage from the irrigation system.  Making sure the turfgrass goes into dormancy healthy is the main priority during the fall months and will hopefully ensure a good transition in the spring.

It has been a looooonnnnnggg, dry summer and our dedicated staff has accomplished a lot of great work on the golf course.  This is my favorite time of the year as the leaves on the trees change colors, the shadows creep farther across the course, and the wildlife on the course get more active.  We will be working everyday to keep the leaves off of the course so you can find your golf balls in the playing areas, after all we do have one or two thousand trees on our course.  We hope you will come join us and enjoy the course during this special time of the year.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A new lady in the HBEC nest

To be honest we are not sure what to make of the happenings at the Harrison Bay Eagle Cam nest over the past two weeks.  Our beloved Eloise has not been seen at the nest in the past 10 days and a new female eagle has been a regular visitor and contributor to the "crib rails" placed around the perimeter of the nest to keep the eaglets from tumbling out.

There was a lot of speculation in the beginning that the new eagle was Eloise but was just having a bad hair day but we have had the pleasure of viewing her for many years and there was no doubt that this eagle was a new one.

The new female eagle has made herself at home spending a couple of nights in the nest and bonding with Elliott.  It is widely believed that bald eagles mate for live but as detailed in this article from William and Mary Cams Reveal Deadbeat Dads, Cheating Wives, and Nest Intrusions we are now learning with the vast increase in eagle cams around the world that this might not be the case.

Eloise looking over HB9 in the nest bowl.
Where is Eloise?  We do not know but we are not going to speculate on what has happened or if she will return to the nest.  We hope and pray that she is safe and sound and just taking a long vacation but if not we have to move on.  Things happen that we are not aware of and we have to remember that we are watching nature in it's most true and raw form.

Since she seems to be happy at the nest and Elliott seems to like her we may have a new nesting pair of eagles and she needs a name.  My daughter Hannah who named Elliott and Eloise has decided to name the new female eagle Eliza.  So that will be her new name.  Hope everyone likes it.

Again we hope and pray that Eloise is safe and sound and will return to the nest if possible.  We still feel very fortunate to be able to watch these eagles and if this is our new pair we will get to learn new and different nesting patterns.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Showing the Tees, Fairways, and Driving Range some "Love"

Greens Aerification wasn't the only work that got accomplished last week.  We also performed summer cultural practices on tees, fairways, and the driving range tee as well.  All the tee boxes were aerified using 3/4" solid tines, topdressed heavily with sand, and then once dry enough the sand was drug in.  This practice will make the tees healthier, will increase drainage, and will loosen the compaction of the soil making it easier for you to get your tee in the ground, which we know has been a challenge sometimes this summer.

The big practice that we took on this year was to verticut or vertical mow the fairways.  This year since we had a few extra days I decided to go "deep" to really get down into the thatch layer and clean the grass up.  With the blades set at 1/4" below zero we surely accomplished that goal and pulled a lot of debris up.

Just like the verticutting units for the greens, the ones for the fairways are designed to cut into the turfgrass on a vertical plane pulling long stolons and dead/decaying thatch to the surface so it can be removed.  Here is a video of the fairway verticutter in action.  As you can see there is a tremendous amount of debris removed during this process.  Following the verticutting we blew as much of the clippings as we could from the fairways and mowed them in a circular pattern to "attack" the grass from different angles than it is used to which really cleaned the fairways up.  Since we do not have a leaf/turf vacuum to pick the clippings up there was a lot of debris to blow and you will still experience a little bit of it for a week or so but it will soon be gone.

One area that we really wanted to work on while the course was closed was the landing area on #10 where we installed all the drain lines this winter #10 Fairway Drainage Project Complete.  The work on this fairway has turned out great but the areas where the drains were installed needed to be smoothed out.  Using our John Deere tractor aerifier Willie aerified the landing area with 1" coring tines, allowed the cores to dry and then used a steel drag mat to bust up and spread the cores around.  The area was then blown off and rolled several times with the 1.25 ton vibratory roller we rented for the greens.  We also, as to not waste anything on our course, used the sand removed from #9 green that we had stockpiled in the parking lot to top dress the area heavily which will help continue to fill in the trenches and smooth the landing area out.

To try and make sure all the areas on our golf course felt some love throughout the week we also aerified and verticut the driving range tees on Thursday.  Using the same JD tractor and coring tines the range tees were aerified, then verticut with the Toro verticutters, all the sand drug in and then all the debris blown off to the front of the complex.

In fact there was so much thatch material removed from these tee boxes that when Willie got it blown to the front of the tee complex we had to take the Bobcat up to load it into a trailer to haul it off.  In total we removed 5 full trailer loads of clippings from the area which is an incredible amount.  Just goes to show how badly it was needed to be done, and therefore it will be done a little more often from now on so we don't get in this situation again.

We all love our golf course and believe that all the work we performed last week will only go to improve it moving forward.  We still have a few tees to top dress and will be blowing some of the clippings as we mow fairways over the next couple of weeks.  We are already seeing some response from the fairways as they look more lush and healthy and the tee markers are easier to set in the ground on the tee boxes.  It's always nice to see all the hard work paying off.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

2016 Greens Aerification

Early Monday morning we began our summer aerification of the greens and other areas on the golf course.  Aerification is one of the most important cultural practices we do to the greens as explained in this Course Care from USGA Why Aerate?.  This year we chose to use a 1/2" side eject coring tine set on a 1/5" x 1.5" spacing.   Using this spacing we affected 10.91% of the green and removed close to 30 cubic feet of material from the green per 1000 sq ft.

The organic matter content of our greens has increased considerably over the years to over 6%.  The recommended limit for greens is 3% so this year we had to remove the cores and since we don't have the proper equipment to do this, it was left up to the agronomy team to do this manually.  It was a tremendous effort by our staff over two days to remove close to 3,900 cubic feet of material from the greens surface by hand.

Here is a plug taken from the putting green which if you remember was devastated by nematode damage coming out of dormancy this spring, Greens Update.  Two things to take from this picture 1) We have reduced the impact of the nematodes and the damage they caused, and have grown some very nice roots.  2) We have a considerable amount of organic matter (roots, thatch, live tissue) in the top 1.5" of the greens surface.  Ideally we should be closer to 3/4" of this organic layer. This layer is a haven for disease, nematodes, and holds excessive moisture making the greens soft and slower.  Removing this material will only make the greens perform and play better.

After all the cores were picked up and hauled away (to be used to fill in low areas, tree stump holes, and drainage lines around the course later) the greens were blown off leaving a clean surface.  The holes created by the aerifier were open and ready for sand.

After the greens were cleaned off they were double rolled and heavily topdressed with AS45 damp sand from Golf Agronomics.  Over the entire golf course we applied close to 35 tons of sand to the greens.  The sand was allowed to dry, actually a couple of times as we had a few stray showers pass through which got the sand wet again, and then drug in twice using a circle pattern.  After the second dragging the greens were heavily watered to relieve some of the stress from all the abuse to the surface and to work the sand into the surface.

The next step of the process was to perform a vertical mowing of the greens surface.  This year our intent was to remove as much organic matter from the greens as possible so we set the blades at 0.200" below zero and made passes up and back in two directions.  This process removes a lot of the dead and decaying leaf and stem tissue from the green.  It also pulls the stolons to the surface so they can be removed which will make the greens healthier and roll smoother.

In between each direction the greens were blown off to remove the debris from the green and allow for a cleaner and more consistent cut with the verticuttters on the next pass.

We verticut following aerification rather than prior to pulling the core because experience, and advice from our friends at East Lake Golf Club, has shown that this process helps to work the sand into the holes and reduce the size of the surface opening of the aerification hole.  The vertical mowing process will actually pull the leaf blades over the hole reducing the visual affect of the aerification process and will aid in helping the grass to grow over the opening faster which will help make the golfer happier, quicker.

The next step was to remove the leaf surface that was stood up by the vertical mowing process.  We set our sand reel cutting units at 0.150" and mowed up and back in one direction.  The greens were then blown off again and heavily watered again.

On Thursday the greens received another 35 tons of sand to continue filling in the aerification holes.  The sand will help to dilute the organic matter in the top of the greens profile, will help water and air exchange compared to the heavy thatch layer which was present in the top two inches of the green, and help smooth the surface out for better putting.  The greens were drug multiple directions and in circles after each mowing and topdressing.

After all the coring, topdressing, verticutting, mowing and dragging there is only one step left and that is to roll the greens with a 1.25 ton street roller.  The heavy roller will remove the majority of the tire tracks from the greens and start the greens along the path to recovery. Several different fertilizers and soil amendments were applied to the greens and after one final drag and after one more heavy irrigation cycle Greens Aerification 2016 was in the books.

So yes this has been a lengthy blog post but it has been a very long week and all the work done by your agronomy team will pay off tremendous benefits from here on.  I have to thank Robin and our upper management in Nashville for allowing us the time to perform all these tasks properly and not rushing through them as we normally have to.  We usually have only two days to accomplish all the tasks we performed over these five days but this way we got to take our time, slow down, and do the job better which will allow the course to recover quicker and perform better.

I can not thank our agronomy staff enough for their dedication and hard work.  After all the long hours for the TGA Match Play Championships last week to come right behind that with aerification was a lot to ask.  They performed flawlessly and had a great attitude the entire week doing all the hard work in the baking sun to make your golf course better.  If you see the agronomy staff out on the course let them know how much their commitment to the conditioning of the course means to you.  They deserve the recognition for all their efforts.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tennessee Golf Association Match Play Championships

Last week The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay had the honor of hosting the 2016 Tennessee Golf Association Junior Amateur and Senior Match Play Championships.  It was great to be able to welcome golfers from all across our great state of Tennessee and we saw some outstanding talented golfers.

The Agronomy Staff has really been working hard over the past several months with the goal of getting the course in great condition for this event and according to many of the players, we succeeded.  Hosting an event like this means that everyone has to do their part, from the operations side, the food and beverage side, and the golf course maintenance side.  It is a team effort and we are very proud of the dedication and work of our team.

From the golf course maintenance side of planning for this event it meant many early mornings with work being done in the dark to make sure the course was properly prepared and ready for the players at 7:30.  So what all was done before most people were out of bed?  Greens were double cut, then rolled.  Pin locations set.  Championship tees mowed.  Bunkers blown out and raked.  Fairways drug and cart paths blown off.  It takes an army and we have a good one.

Afternoon course preparation for the event also needed to be done to keep the course in prime condition and our agronomy staff came through again.  Each evening they returned to mow fairways, tees, approaches, blow off fairways and roughs, and to roll greens.

It is not every day that we can put this much time into the course but the extra work really proved worthwhile and we hope the golfers enjoyed the course and enjoyed their round.
Congratulations to William Nottingham of Kingsport, TN for being the 2016 TGA Junior Amateur Match Play Champion.

Congratulations to Mr. Bob Rice of Pikeville, TN for winning the 2016 TGA Senior Match Play Championship.

We are half way through the year, and it has been a challenging year at that, but our staff has worked extremely hard to get the golf course back in the shape that we and our guests expect it to be and we are not going to reduce our level of expectation.

This week we are performing our summer course aerificaiton, all in an effort to make the course even better.  The course will be closed this week but the driving range is open, except for Thursday when we will be working on the range.