Friday, September 1, 2017

Thick & Lush, Metallica & a Trip to the Spa!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, September 1st and although autumn doesn't begin for another 3 weeks astrologically, yesterday marked the official end of summer meteorologically (how weather records are kept).  The summer of 2017 (June-August) will be remembered at Carolina Golf Club for lush, thick, green conditions as rainfall (15.44 inches) was plentiful this year after two consecutive dry summers.  In fact, we received more rain in August alone this year (5.62 inches) than we did all of summer last year (5.54 inches).  The most common remarks and comments I've heard the past few weeks revolve around how thick and challenging the rough is this year.  I agree, it's as dense and uniform as I've ever seen it.  In fact, it's beautiful.  

Now, before you assume my evil twin is laughing at your pain and suffering while you attempt to extricate your ball from the rough, I'm referring to the definition evident across the golf course because of the uniformity we've achieved this season.  Areas in the past where rough has struggled to grow because of either high foot traffic or repetitive golf car traffic managed to produce thick, dense turf providing a cohesive look across the property.

Even the teeing areas and bunker faces have a crisp, well defined appearance about them.  Perhaps the best comment I heard this summer came from one of our senior members about a month ago.  We chatted briefly after his round and he told me, "I know you like to be in control of the water, but the golf course never looked this good when you're in control."  Now you might think a comment like that would sting a little, but I understand where he's coming from.  Irrigation is actually only a supplement to natural rainfall, not a total replacement.  The past two summers we received very little natural rainfall taxing our irrigation supply and producing a very lean golf course which is a little less pleasing to the eyes of some.  I guess the USGA still has more work to do on the whole, "Brown is the New Green" initiative.
Black Tee No. 7
Left Greenside Bunker No. 14

Of course with summer in the books my team and I will focus our attention on next week's greens aeration.  But that doesn't mean we aren't excited about preparing the course for this weekend's Club Championships.  In fact, we've been readying the greens for this coming weekend for the past several weeks.
Pay close attention to the time stamps on the two tweets above and you notice we've been at or below pre-summer mowing heights for the past three weeks.  We will make one more height of cut (HOC) adjustment this weekend in an effort to provide everyone the best possible playing conditions.  Of course the rainfall we received yesterday (0.62 inches) and the forecast for today will work against us to some degree but rest assured the putting greens will be smooth and the hole locations will be a fun challenge.

Before I get back to aeration I wanted to share two more items with you.  Recall last time I mentioned we postponed fairway topdressing until immediately after the week of the PGA Championship.  We applied 300 tons of sand to all tees, fairways, and approaches week before last, even yours truly got in on the action as we scrambled to complete the task after rain interrupted operations for two days.

We will make one more topdressing application before the season is over, but for now enjoy the smooth, tight conditions made more possible from this cultural practice.

My team and I are counting down the days until next year's U.S. Mid-Am.  We are just a little over a year away until we assist our neighbors on the east side testing the best career amateurs in the country.  As part of the preparations I had Patrick O'Brien, USGA Green Section Agronomist for the Southeast Region on site last Friday for a half-day visit.  
Examining Soil Profile No. 10 Green
Patrick and I spent about three hours together touring and examining all 18 holes.  We focused our attention mostly on the mowing pattern changes to the golf course, but also discussed the summer season and its impacts on turf health along with our cultural practices.  Afterwards my two assistants, Ben Albrecht and Matt Claunch joined Patrick and I for lunch and an educational discussion.  In all it was time well spent and I'm happy to report things are looking good on our end as we head into fall.

Now, back to aeration. Tuesday and Wednesday of next week the entire golf course will be closed both days to allow me and my greenkeeping team to aerate the putting greens.  We have 122,607 square feet of bentgrass (just a skosh shy of 3 acres) spread across 22 surfaces (1-18, Large putting green, Small putting green, Chipping green & Nursery green).  The process is very labor intensive with core removal, applications of soil amendments, sand topdressing and hand brushing but the end result is well worth it.  Think of it like a trip to the spa, the greens will spend two days getting deep tissue massage and other beneficial treatments readying them for our favorite time of year... fall golf at Carolina!

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Waterlogged, Major Moments, and By Appointment Only!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is August 15th and the backside of summer is upon us.  With just three more weeks till greens aeration (friendly reminder fall greens aeration will be September 5th and 6th) one can easily see why some of us are excited for more comfortable temperatures, lower humidity, and hopefully less rainfall.

As I write this we are under CPO (cart path only) conditions as thunderstorms rocked the Queen City and dropped 1.25 inches rain on the golf course last night.  Considering we topdressed fairways yesterday you might think all that rain was perfect for washing in the sand, but when you realize we were only halfway complete with the project you realize all that rain has delayed operations today.  Oh well, you can't have it both ways so you just make the best of it.  

Speaking of rainfall, our total thus far for August (4.07") has already exceeded our total for all of July (3.44").  Couple that with the twenty plus inches we received April through June and you begin to realize this has been an extremely wet golf season.  I don't recall the last time our irrigation lake was at full pond on August 15th, perhaps never.  And somehow, despite the wet conditions we have managed to mostly keep up with regular golf maintenance and our putting greens have not thinned too severely as experienced in prior wet summers.

In fact I'm very pleased with the recovery we've made these past three weeks after the rough patch encountered in mid-July.  And even though we have warmer than average temperatures in the immediate forecast I have already initiated steps to prepare the greens for the upcoming Club Championship (Sep 1-3) less than three weeks away (stepping down HOC, etc.).

Well, it's hard to believe just 48 hours ago the golf world's eyes were on the Queen City as Justin Thomas persevered at neighboring Quail Hollow Club winning the 99th PGA Championship.  I did manage to take advantage of some early Saturday morning rain at Carolina Golf Club and ventured over to see the action that afternoon.

Also, I'm very proud of the fact three of my staff members, Senior Assistant Superintendent Ben Albrecht, Assistant Superintendent Matt Claunch, and Equipment Manager Bob Hall were part of the volunteer effort to assist Keith Wood and his team with their preparation and presentation of the golf course.  
Matt Claunch Mowing Collars
Ben Albrecht Mowing Tees
Whatever It Takes! MC Flymowing.
There was a large contingent of volunteers, both locally and from abroad and it was a great opportunity for them to experience that environment.  More often than not the time spent networking and sharing information is more valuable to one's growth and development than performing actual tasks assigned.
If you look closely at the picture above you will recognize Bob and Ben (Ben is behind Bob facing the other direction).  Contrary to the caption, my team members made their way back to CGC each day between morning and evening shifts to ensure we did not fall behind and our equipment was ready to go each day.  Thanks Guys!  
I included the above just because the sheer number of staff working on one hole simultaneously is a little eye opening.  No wonder sustaining true championship conditions day in and day out is challenging.

In other news, I recently ran across an interview with our restoration architect, Kris Spence.  Kris is this month's Feature Interview on the popular golf course architecture website Golf Club Atlas.  GCA is probably best known for their ongoing Discussion Group where members (I've been one for several years) discuss the topic of golf course architecture, but they also provide a Feature Interview each month.  I was thrilled to discover Kris had been interviewed and even more thrilled to read the kind things he said about our work together at Carolina Golf Club.  You can access the interview by CLICKING HERE.

I've been a member of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association since 2005 and a member of their Board of Directors for nearly the past three years (I'm currently in the first year of a second consecutive two-year term).  Due to a life changing experience (albeit a good one) our Vice President resigned from the board a couple weeks ago.  In response the current Secretary/Treasurer was immediately appointed to VP and yours truly was appointed to the position of Secretary/Treasurer for the remainder of this year's term.  Officer's positions are one-year terms.  I'm humbled and honored to be selected by my peers and I'm most appreciative of the opportunity to represent Carolina Golf Club each and every step of the way.

That's all for now, but before I go let me remind everyone we are less than one week away from the highly talked about solar eclipse (August 21st).  Don't forget to obtain properly approved eye protection before viewing the eclipse as you can permanently damage your eyes without it.  I am curious to see how this once-in-a-lifetime event impacts our next Maintenance Monday... stay tuned!

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

Monday, July 31, 2017

Care 4 Carolina!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is July 31st and we are now just one month away from the start of this year's Club Championship.  With the first two months of summer in the books let's recap what happened the past thirty days and take a quick look ahead at next month.  

Remember, July came in on the heels of three consecutive wet months and when last we met (CLICK HERE) a few greens had encountered some difficulty with the sudden change in the weather when June ended.  Our rainfall this month was much closer to average (3.44 inches), but that total is only approximately half the amount the golf course received each of the previous three months.  With an abundance of soil moisture from spring and early summer, the ability to finally groom and mow regularly, and the use of growth regulators you get some amazing definition and course conditions.

Of course when the weather is ideal for bermudagrass things sometimes gets a little touchy on our bentgrass putting greens, and the middle of July saw Mother Nature really turn up the heat.  It's not uncommon during those times for the turf canopy to begin to thin and this certainly was the case a couple weeks ago.  I was very pleased with the progress made last week and with this current respite from the hot and humid dog days I see even more progress and a quicker pace of recovery.

A couple of other things that took place this month was all hardwood trees were trimmed removing their lowest, downward growing limbs and branches to assist with sunlight penetration to the turf below as well as enhance recovery and playability.

The difference may be subtle and that was our intent as we want to keep things looking natural while improving the characteristics.  

This month also was the launch of Care 4 Carolina or #C4C.  The Greens Committee and Golf Committee would love to see a little more effort as it applies to respecting and caring for the golf course in general.  Ball marks are always a nuisance but during the hot, humid summer months they take even longer to heal and the scars become quite unsightly.  Also, both committees are strongly in favor of reducing/eliminating litter on the course.  And when I say litter I'm referring to broken and/or discarded tees. Not only are these items unsightly, but more importantly they damage mowers if not picked up daily.

So that pretty much sums up July.  August begins in less than ten hours and that means we are now just ten days away from the start of the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club.  After Jordan Spieth's exciting victory in The Open Championship a couple weeks ago he will venture to the Queen City with a chance at history going for the career grand slam.  We were scheduled to make the second of three fairway topdressing applications this week, but I decided it might be best to wait until after the championship considering there is an anticipated demand for client and guest golf next week.  Also, I'm pleased to announce three of my staff will be members of the volunteer effort so hopefully next post I may have some cool photos of their experience to share.

Well, that's all for now.  Looks like I'm going to manage to just sneak this post in under the July deadline but please remember to Care 4 Carolina.  Besides, if you treat the course with care and respect she may reward you with pars and birdies.

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

Friday, June 30, 2017

No Cause For Alarm!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, June 30th, where does the time go.  When we were last together I was introducing a new assistant, new intern, and we had just wrapped up our annual small tine pre-summer aeration on putting greens.  Since that time it rained nearly 6.5 inches, including one stretch last week where we received rainfall seven consecutive days (more on that later).  We even endured a severe flash flood event the evening prior to our Friday Guest Day back on the 16th.  Somehow despite all the wet weather, we managed to spread 300 tons of sand on our tees, fairways, and approaches and install 10,000 square feet of new sod.  Let's take a look.

After experimenting with topdressing fairways in the summer of 2014 CLICK HERE utilizing all the old bunker sand that was replaced the previous winter, we committed fully to topdressing fairways on a regular basis going forward.  New equipment was acquired in 2015 to assist with this intensive cultural practice and since that time we've now applied approximately 60 tons of sand to every acre of bermudagrass growing on our tees and fairways.  I mentioned earlier about all the rain we've been receiving but we managed to complete what is the first of three applications scheduled for this season just before the heavy stuff helped wash it in. 
Assistant Matt Claunch Slinging Sand
10 Tons Per Acre 

Our next application is scheduled for the first full week of August and our final will coincide with September greens aeration.

Recently the Greens Committee decided to convert a small portion of the natural/native area behind No. 13 green to bermudagrass.  This was completed early last week when we installed several pallets of sod to the right of No. 13 green down below the Championship tee of No. 18.  This change was made primarily for pace of play, but it also will permit us in the near future to create a closely mowed area around the green that ties directly into the neighboring teeing ground similar to those found on other portions of the course.
New Sod Right of 13 Green
Since this conversion only required a small amount of turf, we took advantage to obtain a full load and make repairs to random areas throughout the property.  Whether it be an area severely shaded underneath trees or just worn out alongside the cart path edges, the team worked hard to improve the overall condition of the course.
Other projects in the works is the mowing of our warm-season native areas.  This removal of old growth helps to remove weeds and other unwanted vegetation and make room for this coming season's new growth.  A couple of passes with the old bush hog and then a quick collection and removal of the debris and we are all set.

Earlier I referenced the amount of rain this month.  Can you believe we've had more rain in June 2017 than we received all of June through August in either 2015 or 2016?  That's right, the past two summers have been very dry with little rainfall, but this year has been anything but with over 20 inches rain falling on Carolina Golf Club since April 1st!  The lush conditions everyone has recently been talking about is the direct result of abundant rainfall since the bermudagrass began to grow.  I even had one member tell me he knows I prefer to be in control of the water but the course never looked this good when I was in control.  What can I say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  

There's an old saying about having too much of a good thing and it's true in the world of turfgrass, especially when it comes to water.  The abundant rainfall that has brought deep, lush conditions to our tees and fairways has given me slight pause for concern when it comes to our putting surfaces.  Our roots are not as deep at this time as past years.  Why?  It's quite simple really, if you were a turfgrass root would you make the effort to dive deep searching for moisture when it's always supplied in abundance every time you turn around.  Wet springs make it challenging to grow deep root systems and this has been one of the wettest springs I can remember.  Our rainfall total in April was 6.69 inches, May was 7.07 inches, and with a few hours remaining in June our total is currently 6.38 inches.

Now, the good news is despite a lack of depth to our root systems we have more root mass and density than ever before.  One of our new products we've been using since last summer is a vermicompost extract and it's been university tested and proven to increase root mass.  The photos below definitely show an abundance of vibrant roots.

It will be interesting to see how everything plays out over the remaining months of summer with this significant extra volume of roots.  Frankly, I'm not overly concerned about the depth being slightly more shallow compared to years past simply because we have so many more viable, healthy roots than ever before.  

So back to last week's rain.  For seven consecutive days we endured cloudy skies, very humid conditions, and measurable rainfall.  The weather pattern broke at the beginning of this week and we've all enjoyed Chamber of Commerce type weather with lower dew points (low humidity) and comfortable temperatures.  It's important to keep in mind turfgrass is a living, breathing thing and as such its vitality is affected by a myriad of factors including but not limited to wind, sun, rain, drought, heat, cold, and more.  As a result it is not uncommon for bentgrass to react negatively when exposed to such rapid changes in climate like we just experienced.  We encountered some higher than normal wilt pressure brought about by the extreme low dew points and as a result some turf lost its color turning brown.  

The plant is still alive and new leaf blades are being generated by the crown.  Putting quality is not impacted as the discolored turf areas provide the same smooth ball roll, it just looks different. Although wilt has happened before, many times, I understand some of you may be alarmed but I assure you all is well.  Besides, the USGA has been telling us for years that brown is the new green.   ;)

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Getting Ahead!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Thursday, June 1st and much has happened since my last update.  In the past month we've hosted two major club tournaments, aerated greens, I've welcomed a new assistant, and started Jedi training of a new intern.  Let's get caught up and along the way I may share a few more items of interest.

Last time I mentioned how April was the warmest ever in Charlotte history and it was a wet month with well over 6 inches rain (LAST POST).  Would you believe May was even wetter!  That's right we had just over 7 inches (7.07") rainfall at Carolina Golf Club in May.  With meteorological spring in the books it's refreshing to know soil moisture levels are not at a deficit and the irrigation lake is at full pond as summer officially begins.  Also, with that much rain last month it's amazing we completed both the Member-Guest and Member-Member events without any negative weather related impacts. We definitely dodged a few bullets those two weekends.

I hope each of you will welcome the newest addition to the greenkeeping team, Assistant Superintendent Matt Claunch.  Matt was born in Baltimore and his family relocated to Charlotte when he was very young.  He's a graduate of Charlotte Catholic High School and earned a Turfgrass Management Certificate from Penn State University in 2015.  
Matt Claunch
His previous golf course experience includes both Providence Country Club and TPC Piper Glen locally.  The past two years Matt has been working in South Florida with a brief stop at The Floridian before most recently becoming 2nd Assistant Superintendent at Pine Tree Golf Club in Boynton Beach.  For those of you that enjoy the course related information provided on Twitter you can find Matt @MCClaunch where he has a great eye for detail and promoting the course and team in a positive manner.
Matt joins Sr. Assistant Ben Albrecht, Equipment Manager Bob Hall and Assistant in Training Eric Sosnowski as my senior staff.  Welcome home!

Also new to the team in Zac McMurry.  Zac is from Kings Mountain, NC and just completed his first two semesters at Catawba Valley Community College where he studies Turfgrass Management. Please help us welcome Zac to the Carolina Golf Club family!
Zac McMurry
If you were paying attention then you already read a glimpse of everything the team accomplished this past Tuesday.  Greens were core aerated (quad tines) with cores removed and rolled for smoothness.  This pre-summer aeration has always been critical to determining the level of success we experience each summer.  Why you may ask?  Simple, oxygen is critical to life and these holes alleviate a lot of stress we impart on the greens during the last few weeks of May with all our tournament preparation (mowing, double mowing, rolling, etc.).  And as you can see, after just 48 hours the greens are well on their way to a speedy recovery.
So what's next you ask?  In the next 15 days we will be converting the area immediately adjacent to number 13 green to bermudagrass with sod.  At the same time we will sod other places such as cart path edges and other high traffic areas where the bermudagrass turf doesn't meet our standards.  Of course with this being the beginning of summer the fans will be installed very shortly.  There will be new ones this year at both the Putting Green and Chipping Green along with hole Number 2.  We will be converting the area immediately right of the tee complexes at hole Number 9 to fescue.  We will start by treating the existing bermudagrass with non-selective herbicide so don't be surprised when this area turns brown.  

Men's Guest Day is 15 days away (June 16th) and then immediately following the U.S. Open at Erin Hills we will be closed for two days for fairway aeration (June 19th and 20th).  It's a busy time but the mood is upbeat and positive in Golf Course Maintenance with fresh blood and projects to keep things exciting.

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG