Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Winter Injury, Earth Science and Tomatoes!

Hello and welcome to The Greenkeeper!  Today is Wednesday, April 18th and Winter Kill is defined in Merriam-Webster as "to kill a plant (or part of a plant) by exposure to winter conditions."  Now, that is a vague definition, but winter kill is a vague phenomenon as exposure to low temperatures alone are not the sole cause of plant injury or death.  To be clear, I am speaking solely about warm-season grasses and specifically about Bermudagrass.

We have over 100 acres of Bermudagrass growing on our tees, fairways, rough, and practice areas, and there are reports of winter injury and winter kill surfacing throughout North and South Carolina again this spring.  This article by the Carolinas Golf Association (CLICK HERE) was released less than two weeks ago as an alert to golfers and owners to help everyone better understand what conditions they are currently experiencing on their golf courses.  Granted the article focuses more on recent ultra-dwarf Bermudagrass putting green conversions, but Bermudagrass grown at any height of cut can be subject to the whims of Mother Nature.  
No. 1 Fairway
I stated above low temperature alone is not a sole cause and factors such as low light (shade), elevated moisture (too wet), and heavy traffic significantly contribute to Bermudagrass injury during cold winters.  Sometimes just a fraction of an inch more in height of cut, or one or two degrees more of temperature can be a difference maker.
This past Monday we assessed the overall health and condition of our 100 acres and determined about 1 acre, or one percent suffers from significant winter injury requiring replacement.  There are some additional areas although injured with enough healthy plant material present they will heal with a little extra management (fertilizer and water) as soon as Mother Nature agrees to provide appropriate growing conditions (but that's a different topic).  Today I want to talk a little about the areas needing replacement, and how we plan to repair them.  But before we get deep into those details let's take a closer look at the golf course from above to gain a better understanding of the types of winter injury we've encountered and why.
Google Earth Image of Carolina GC
Remember back in elementary school when they taught us in Earth Science the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west, and the sun makes its way across the southern sky on its daily trek across the earth.  In the summer the sun travels at a very high arc, nearly overhead and the days are long and quite warm.  In the winter however, the sun is much lower in the sky and the days are shorter.  Also, because the sun is lower in the sky, that angle creates long shadows formed by objects (trees, buildings, etc.) located on the south side.  
Hole No. 1
Holes No. 11 & 12

When I was growing up in VA my grandparents lived in a ranch house that faced due north.  In the winter months there was either frost or snow lingering in the shadow of the house long after it was gone in other portions of the yard.  In the two photos above you notice the trees located to the south and west (in the case of 11 & 12) of the respective golf holes and thus it's easier to understand why the turf in this area of the property may be subjected to more winter related injury than others.
Hole No. 9
Hole No. 16

Holes 9 and 16 are also not immune as they both possess large trees growing on their southern sides that create cooler micro-climates throughout the dormant season.  Even the practice tee located at the back of the range is at risk, as those same trees that provide comfortable shade in the summer provides too much shade during the coldest of winters.
Back Range Tee
Does this mean we need to cut down all the trees?  No, especially since not all the trees I've highlighted are growing on club property.  But what it does mean is there is a reason the majority of winter turf injury during extreme cold years occurs mostly on the southern border of the property.  In fact, of the entire one acre of turf loss estimated approximately 95 percent of it is located in those areas I highlighted above.
Tale of Two Halves
Interestingly, it is not just a factor of trees and shade either.  Do you also remember in Earth Science that cold air sinks and hot air rises?  Well, the area above the blue line is the portion of highest elevation on the property compared to below.  The highest place on the golf course is the tee box on Hole No. 6 at roughly 765 feet above sea level and most of Hole No. 1, along with No.'s 11, 12, and 13 all sit below 700 feet (now you know why most putts break towards No. 1 green).  Sixty-five feet in elevation may not sound like much but when you are talking about prolonged exposure to extreme winter conditions that may cause plant injury, even a few feet can be the difference in a degree or two.

So now you understand why the injured turf on the golf course is located where it is on property, and you want to know what we are going to do about repairing it.  I have reserved two truck-loads of new sod to be delivered in the next two weeks (one truck each week).  This will remedy the injured turf on the golf course.  We will give a little more patience to the practice range areas before committing to new sod.  The plan next week is to replace all the injured turf on the collars and tees before proceeding to other areas in need.  What doesn't get completed next week will be repaired the week after.  

SIDEBAR - I know some of you read "injured turf on the collars" and your heart sinks as that is an issue we battled quite extensively for several years.  I can tell you the amount of turf damage this year is far less than experienced in 2015 and I'm certain the impact to your golf activities will be as minimal as can be.

One other important piece of the ever mystifying winter injury puzzle is varietal differences.  If you're confused by what I'm referring to, I mean the different types of Bermudagrass present on the golf course can have different tolerances to winter extremes.  Wait, you mean you didn't know there are more than one type of Bermudagrass on the golf course.  Well, let me ask you a question, do you like tomatoes?  If yes, what's your favorite type?
You see, there are many different types of tomatoes and similarly there are many different types of Bermudagrass.  Our 100 plus acres is mostly comprised of Tifway Bermudagrass (A.K.A. 419) but there also areas of Tifgreen (A.K.A. 328), Celebration, and Common growing on the golf course along with genetic off-types mutated from the 419 planted ten years ago (Grandma's Quilt).  You may or may not have noticed certain irregular shaped patches greening up quicker than its neighbors earlier this spring.  Similarly, there is a newer Bermudagrass variety now on the market known as Latitude 36 CLICK HERE.  It was bred to possess a higher cold tolerance threshold than 419 or others and is available from our grass supplier.  We will be incorporating some in these injured areas to see how well it passes the test.  Fingers crossed the Latitude 36 could well be the key to reducing winter injury in our susceptible areas in the future.

That's all for now, time to get back on the course and continue to give our Bermudagrass the TLC it needs to get the course where we all want it.  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please don't hesitate to email me directly.  I am always happy to help.

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Rebooting Spring, To Do List, and Kevin Bacon!

Hello and welcome to The Greenkeeper!  Today is Wednesday, April 11th and Patrick Reed is the winner of the 2018 Masters.  Now some of you may recall Patrick successfully qualified for the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship right here at Carolina Golf Club, but before we discuss the degrees of separation between us and the green jacket winner, let's take a close look at some recently completed and ongoing course work as we continue to prepare for spring.

Speaking of spring, we are 41 days into meteorological and 21 days into astrological spring, yet it hasn't really felt much like spring to me.  You recall last post I shared photos from greens aeration where it snowed, and Monday morning while conversing with my superintendent peer from Charlotte Country Club, John Szklinski it began to sleet!  We were comparing notes (okay, lamenting) about the delayed bermudagrass green up we're both experiencing and Mother Nature was definitely having a good laugh at our expense.  The good news is the immediate forecast calls for a warm up to spring like conditions through this weekend. We may even see one or two days at or near 80 degrees.
Brad Panovich
The downside is there are reports indicating one more last blast of winter (or shall I say cooler than average temperatures) may be returning to our area on the back side of this week's warm up.  The chart below reflects the percent chance temperatures will be a departure from normal (average) over the next two weeks beginning back on April 8th and extending through April 24th.  You can see the warm up we are about to experience on the second row, but notice it is short lived as the blue and green hues associated with a cooling trend return to the southeast in rows three and four.  
WeatherBell Analytics
Something about the Madden-Julian Oscillation heading back into phases two and three.  I know, I lost you at Madden-Julian but you can CLICK HERE to learn a little more about the MJO and its impact on our weather in the continental U.S. if you choose.  In the meantime just know that yours truly is ready for the arrival of spring and my team and I are hoping it unpacks its bags and stays for good real soon.

Despite the cooler than average temperatures there has been a good deal of activity on the golf course. Mowing has begun as we've cut select fairways twice and select tees and approaches once each.  Rough is being mowed for the first time today and tomorrow.  Back on April 2nd all bermudagrass areas (tees, fairways, rough, etc.) were fertilized with our custom blend.
Custom Blend
Spreader Truck
This fertilizer is formulated based on soil tests and polymer coated to provide a slow, steady feed to our playing surfaces this spring and summer.  As the bermudagrass continues to wake, albeit slowly from its longer than usual hibernation period, this product will provide the plant with the nutrition necessary to develop into the strong turf and premium playing surface we desire for you and your guests.  

Other course related news saw over 30 tree stumps ground and removed back on April 2nd.  A small maple tree growing in the natural/native area left of No. 13 tee was relocated to the natural/native area near No. 14 tee and several lower limbs and branches were pruned from three trees growing left of No. 13 fairway in order to provide an unobstructed view of the bunkers guarding the left side of the fairway.
Phil Flowers Stump Grinding

Maplewood Company
New Home!

Much Improved

Needless to say it's been a little busy of late, and even crowded with all the specialized equipment on property.  And speaking of crowded, the City of Charlotte (Charlotte Storm Water) recently initiated a project on Donald Ross Road that required us to grant them temporary access to a small portion of the property.  Underneath Donald Ross Road is a culvert that discharges storm water into the stream channel below the teeing area of No. 13 and flows across No. 11.  The culvert and concrete headwall were both in a state of decline but CSW has been making quick work of the repairs and should be off site pretty soon.
Charlotte Storm Water on Site

New Boulders In Splash Pool
Repairs to Bottom of Culvert Pipe
So back to our 2018 Masters Champion, Patrick Reed.  You may or may not recall we hosted the qualifying tournament for the Wells Fargo Championship for five consecutive years (2010-2014).  During that time many veteran and aspiring professionals played the course in hopes of securing one of the four coveted spots in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club.  In 2012 a young Patrick Reed, with then girlfriend (now wife) Justine on the bag as caddie, fired a 5-under par round of 65 (the qualifying tournaments always played No. 13 from a forward tee making it a par 4 and the course par 70) securing a spot in PGA Tour field.  I recall he birdied 18 ensuring he was in the tournament and avoiding the crowded playoff that ensued when ten guys tied at 4-under played off for the final two spots.  That playoff took six holes and two days before everything was determined.  Sidenote: that year Patrick successfully qualified 6 times on the PGA Tour.

Anyway, as I watched the drama unfold this past Sunday evening I remembered our connection, albeit small to this year's Masters Champion.  I searched the results of that year's qualifying tournament and realized that 2014 Fed Ex Cup Champion Billy Horschel was also in that field and in that 10 for 2 playoff (unsuccessful).  I searched the results from the other years and was surprised to remember some of who had played at Carolina Golf Club and what they had gone on to achieve, like Gastonia's Harold Varner III (2016 Australian PGA Champion) finished T25 in 2013, current U.S. Open Champion Brooks Koepka no carded in 2014, and this week's defending champion at the RBC Heritage, Wesley Bryan finished 97th in 2014.  

Anyway, for those of you curious here's a look back at five years of Monday Qualifying at Carolina Golf Club. 
2010  2011  2012  2013  2014 

That's all for now, time to take advantage of these next few warm days and whip this golf course into shape.  With the Masters in the rear view, I know everyone is excited and raring to go.  I'll be back with another update next week with greater detail on some changes to our mowing patterns and hopefully a better idea of the overall state of our bermudagrass health and winter recovery.  Until then...

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

Thursday, March 15, 2018

March Madness!

Hello and welcome to The Greenkeeper!  Today is Thursday, March 15th and it's been exactly twenty-one days since my last update.  Since that time we've experienced 2.82 inches rainfall, snow twice, warm temperatures reaching 80 F and cold temperatures as low as 25 F!  Needless to say, it's all been quite maddening!  When I was a young greenkeeper my least favorite month of the year was August.  This was probably due in large part to my recollection of the brutal heat experienced during August 1996.  My dislike for August even lead me to say, "the only good thing to come out of August is September".  

But with age comes maturity, experience, even dare I say, wisdom.  I've learned to recognize and understand August isn't so bad after all as the Dog Days of Summer end on or about the tenth and the days in the latter half of the month begin to become noticeably shorter leading to cooler nighttime temperatures.  I mean compared to March, the playing conditions in August are absolutely outstanding.  March on the other hand.  March is a transitional month as winter comes to a close and spring arrives.  I believe the old saying goes, "in like a lion, out like a lamb."  It's like we are living in a constant tug-of-war between the two seasons with a roller coaster of temperature swings.
It can all be quite maddening, to both people and plants!  I mowed my home lawn Sunday before last (Feb 25) as the unseasonable warmth in late February stirred things awake.  Then winter came back and there hasn't been any noticeable growth the past 18 days to warrant firing up my Sears Craftsman again.  The golf course was slowly beginning to green up but by yesterday afternoon most of the chlorophyll responsible for the noticeable green hues was absent and the course returned to biscuit brown.
Pretty Much Sums Things!
And if all that isn't maddening enough, in my opinion the golf course is overall its least attractive this time of year.  Trees are still bare from winter, cool-season grasses are beginning to grow, but yet warm-season grasses are still snoozing.  The canopy structure of dormant bermudagrass is now matted down from months of winter traffic making for extremely tight lies.  If there is even a hint of wetness (see rainfall totals above) it is easy to hit the ball fat!  Chunked chips, fat approaches, or even the dreaded thin shot because you are subconsciously avoiding mud to the face after impact can be frustrating and lead to even more madness (see what I did there). ;)
Spring cannot get here fast enough to suit me and my team.  We just wrapped up a second consecutive three-day spring greens aeration thanks to Mother Nature and her mood swings.  Monday saw over 1 inch of rain fall on Carolina Golf Club and at one point large snowflakes were in the mix!  Despite this weather challenge I still managed to deep tine 19 of our 22 greens on this day and we core aerated 16 of those before the long, cold day ended.
Tuesday we wrapped up the deep tining and core aeration and spent all day removing cores, blowing and rolling the surfaces, and applying soil amendments to all 22 putting surfaces.  This is why we needed the extra day to complete the topdressing, and that even had its unique challenges.
Yes, that is snow you see falling in the video above as we started topdressing yesterday morning!  A small squall passed over Charlotte early leaving us to wonder what else could we possibly experience before we wrapped up this project!  Shortly after it passed we enjoyed bright sunshine and gusty north winds leading to a long, cold day but one me and the team will not soon forget.  I'm proud of how the staff came together to overcome all the setbacks and challenges Mother Nature bestowed upon us.  
Before I go, I want to share something with you I experienced yesterday morning during the snow squall.  As we were readying the team for the day's operation ahead, I couldn't help but laugh as the snow continued to fall harder and harder.  When I was a young greenkeeper I would have complained and allowed my frustration to grow at the inconvenience, but as I said earlier with age comes maturity and experience and despite what was happening I remained calm.  In the madness it happened, a brief moment of peaceful beauty as the squall passed to our east and the sun peeked over top the storm clouds.  I'm blessed to call Carolina Golf Club my office and my office has the best views in town, enjoy!
I'm happy to report greens aeration is complete and we are ready for spring's arrival so we can start mowing grass and grooming some turf!
Good Grief!
I know, it's maddening! ;)

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Spring Fever, Sally Field, & Special Gift!

Hello and welcome to The Greenkeeper!  Today is Thursday, February 22nd and spring is in the air all around the Queen City!  Cherry blossoms are blooming, trees are budding, it's crazy when you think we are setting record highs and 3 weeks ago my last post mentioned how cold winter had been.  Such is life in the Transition Zone.
Since returning from the Golf Industry Show on the 9th the average high temperature in Charlotte has been 67 degrees with 5 days reaching at least 70 degrees or more, including a record smashing 82 degrees this past Friday (Feb 16)!
And we even hit 80 degrees yesterday to establish another record!  You may be wondering what impact, if any this early warm-up may have on our bermudagrass tees and fairways.  Surely we all remember from our high school biology class that plants produce their own energy via photosynthesis, but what about a plant that's been in hibernation.  There isn't any photosynthesis taking place on the biscuit brown canopy of dormant turf.  Bermudagrass relies on stored energy in the form of carbohydrates to assist with the process of breaking dormancy and producing new shoots and leaves.  Once the plant fully exits dormancy will it be able to resume production of its own energy.

As you can imagine, if the plant wakes from dormancy too early using its carbohydrate reserves in the process, what will happen if the plant is once again subjected to freezing cold temperatures sending it back into a dormant state.  Such is life in the Transition Zone.

We've seen this scenario play out several times before, to the point I'm beginning to think it's the "new normal".  Each year a portion of winter is too warm and just when everyone is fully smitten with spring fever, Old Man Winter reminds us that March, and even April can have its fair share of cold.  I wish I could tell you this warmth is here to stay, but unfortunately there already is talk about a potential change in the pattern for early March.  Until then, I suggest you dust off those clubs and enjoy the course.  I know that's what Matt Claunch and I plan to do today as we have scheduled our first "course inspection" of 2018 for later this afternoon.  

Earlier I mentioned my return from the Golf Industry Show.  This year's conference was a whirlwind of education and activities.  It was a treat to witness Ernie Els receive the Old Tom Morris Award from GCSAA and I collected my own little piece of hardware when I picked up the Kaminski Award from the good folks at Golf Course Industry and Aquatrols.  Thank you all for your kind congratulatory words, it was an honor to both represent Carolina Golf Club at GIS and accept this recognition knowing it's all because of how we communicate.
You Like Me!

Upon returning from GIS I immediately walked the course to inspect conditions and assess where things stood considering the cold pattern we had endured.  Overall I was very pleased and shared my observations in a string of tweets linked below.  

Since that time we've been busy applying all our pre-emergent herbicide to the tees, fairways, and rough for management of unwanted crabgrass and goosegrass.  
The team has also been in the process of tidying up mulched areas on the golf course, ensuring we have a fresh edge and smooth transition from turf to mulch under our hardwood trees and pine straw underneath the conifers.  Of course if this warmer weather continues much longer we might have to think about mowing bermudagrass turf, I can't believe I just typed that in February.  Such is life in the Transition Zone.

One final closing note, yesterday I received a message from a former employee.  Hernee Gift Palabrica was one of our International Interns from Philippines and worked here the entire 2015 season.  Since returning home to Philippines he has been working at Iloilo Golf and Country Club, the oldest golf course in Philippines built by English and Scottish expatriates in 1907!  
Hernee Gift Palabrica (L) and Joeven Guilaran (R)
Outstanding Contributions!

Seems Gift has ascended to the role of Assistant Ground Supervisor and received some accolades of his own from the club.  I'm extremely happy and proud of him for the accomplishment, but even more happy he maintains our connection and shared his good fortune with me and the team.  Well done Gift!

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

Friday, February 2, 2018

Cold Start, GIS, & Texas Two-Step!

Hello and welcome to The Greenkeeper!  Today is Friday, February 2nd and happy Groundhog Day everyone.  I wish I could tell you the cold start to 2018 was over and an early spring was around the corner, but I'm hearing reports the groundhog saw his shadow which means six more weeks of winter. :(  Speaking of cold starts did you know January 2018 was the coldest January in Charlotte since 2014.  And although the Januaries of 2010, 2011 and 2014 were all colder than this year, the drastic difference between this year and last (January 2017) was one of vast proportion.
Mean Avg Jan Temps - Charlotte 1879-2018
The area circled in red indicates the mean average January temperatures for the years 2008 - 2018.  Just look at the far right and notice the drastic plunge from Jan 2017 to Jan 2018.  No wonder rounds played were down nearly 50% from a year ago (589 vs 1153).

Unfortunately it doesn't appear to be warming up anytime soon either as long term forecasts are expecting a return of cold, Canadian air to make its way into the eastern half of the U.S. for a significant portion of February.  Considering Feb 2017 was one of the all-time warmest Februaries in Charlotte history I guess this month's graph may eventually look similar to the one above, at least the course should be well rested when spring finally arrives.  

If there is a silver lining to be found within this cold winter, the lack of activity has allowed the team to accomplish several important course care items without undue delay.  Recently the entire network of cart paths (over 4 miles) were edged and the overgrowth removed.  We have been busy raising and leveling irrigation heads around greens, patching all tee and fairway divots, and making selective herbicide applications to remove unwanted winter grasses from our dormant bermudagrass playing surfaces.  Later this month we will apply our annual pre-emergent herbicide to all tees, fairways, and rough to prevent crabgrass and goosegrass from infiltrating our playing surfaces this coming spring and summer.  As you can see, our work is never done.

This coming Monday I will be heading off to the annual Golf Industry Show in San Antonio, Texas where I will attend accredited lectures and seminars at the education conference, view the largest gathering of exhibitors to discuss the latest products and services in turf and facility care at the trade show, and represent my chapter, Carolinas GCSA as official voting delegate at the GCSAA Annual Meeting and Election.  But despite the busy schedule next week there is one fun thing that's going to take place.
Once again Golf Course Industry magazine and Aquatrols are hosting the Super Social Media Awards and this year I was selected as the recipient of the Kaminski Award for Leadership.  I was totally shocked when I received the news for I have never thought of my social media use and communication efforts as anything more than my means of conversing with you about Carolina Golf Club.  I had no idea those efforts have made a positive impact on others to the point they would bestow recognition upon me.  It's very humbling to say the least.  GCI's Senior Editor, Guy Cipriano wrote a very nice piece about my receiving this award and I shared it on Twitter when first announced a couple weeks back.  In case you missed it you can find it here.  America's Greenkeeper.

In other but related news, the Greenkeeping Team at the Home of Golf (St. Andrews Links Trust) are also being recognized for their communication and social media prowess with an award in the category of Best Use of Social Media.  Recently their Director of Greenkeeping, Gordon Moir sat down for an interview to discuss the type of work typically accomplished on the historic links in winter months (there's something needing to be done no matter where your course is located) and how their blog, has helped them share their message of environmentalism around the globe.  The podcast interview is just under twenty-three minutes, and Gordon does possess a Scottish accent, but if you love the Old Course it's definitely an educational listen.  Hope you enjoy!  CLICK HERE 

Well, that's all for now.  Time to prep the course as much as possible today as we prepare for a bitterly cold night tonight in advance of tomorrow's Saturday Shotgun.  Sunday's forecast appears to be another wet one so maybe more Super Bowl viewing than golf.  Feel free to follow my adventures in San Antonio next week on Twitter and I'll be back to recap soon.

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG