Friday, March 30, 2012

Dress Code Violation and More New Faces!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Friday, March 30, 2012 and it is my responsibility to inform each of you what has happened most recently in regards to our collars and what the plan of action is going forward.  When Benjamin Franklin said in 1789, "nothing is certain but death and taxes" he obviously had no knowledge of the game of golf or the profession of greenkeeping.  However, his famous phrase fits perfectly with my profession as we deal with dead and/or dying grass more frequently than desired.

I believe it is safe to say nearly everyone has been surprised by the above normal temperatures (not only this winter, but most recently this month) and the early arrival of late, spring-like conditions.  Bermudagrass has greened up earlier than any of us can ever remember and each day the temperature gets warmer and warmer (forecasts as of this morning are calling for temperatures this coming Monday, April 2nd to reach 88 degrees).  I am frequently asked by members if I am liking the weather or if the weather is good for the course.  Although I enjoy the spring like conditions and am thankful this past winter was considerably more comfortable than the previous two, I am a firm believer that things in nature work better when things occur within the normal range.  In other words, whether it be trees, shrubs or turf those plants have a much greater chance of survival if they are not asked to endure the abnormal.

So what does all this mean about the collars you ask.  When we aerate greens each year in the early spring the bermudagrass is still dormant (usually).  Greens are aerated completely, meaning the collars also receive some attention and of course the topdressing and brushing also transcends into the collar region.  It is important to note the collar, or apron as some refer to it is a transition zone between the fairway/approach into the putting surface.  It is almost impossible to apply a treatment to the putting surface that does not also get applied to the collar when making the effort to treat the entire putting surface.  Having said that, let's review what happens when bermudagrass goes dormant then later wakes from its dormant period.

At the conclusion of summer as the days begin to shorten bermudagrass begins to store energy from photosynthesis for later use.  Like a squirrel hoarding nuts for the winter, the bermudagrass turf stores away the energy it will need for the spring green-up period (post dormancy transition).  It has been said that bermudagrass uses its last "gallon of gas" to wake itself from winter dormancy and thus the turf is in a vulnerable state at that moment.  This is exactly why we have already applied fertilizer to our tees and fairways about a month sooner than normal, to make nutrients available to the plant since the "tank is empty" at this time.  When we were aerating greens our collars were just starting to break dormancy and I was pleased to see so many green leaves looking up at me considering the cold winter injury we had endured the two previous years that required sodding.  As the past few days have gone by I have watched the collars decline rather than continue to fill in from their post winter hibernation. 

Yesterday, I asked a colleague to stop by and give an unbiased "second opinion".  We toured the course together looking at the greens and collars and he asked questions about when we aerated the putting greens.  The two of us replayed the timeline of events like "Turfgrass CSI".  In conclusion, we determined the bermudagrass turf in the collar region was most likely at that vulnerable moment where it was unable to tolerate the mechanical stress imposed by the putting green aeration process.  You may recall I stated one of the reasons the greens are always so good when we aerate is so they are better able to withstand the mechanical stress of aeration.  Had our bermudagrass turf been completely dormant at the time of aeration this most likely would not have happened and if the turf had been fully greened up and actively growing this definitely would not have happened. 

Unfortunately, neither of those scenarios describe the scene of our aeration this year and now we are faced with the task of either enduring the unsightly collar regions until the turf can fully recover and grow back or replacing the turf with sod.  I spoke with both Roger Wolfe (General Manager) and Stephen Woodard (Greens Chairman) yesterday and informed them both of everything concerning this situation.  The three of us mutually agreed and my staff and I will be prepping the areas for new sod on Monday (sod is scheduled for delivery Tuesday morning).  I believe it will take us at least two days to complete the task.  With our upcoming schedule of events (Master's Shootout, PGA Tour Qualifiers, Member-Guest and Member-Member) it is clearly apparent waiting for the turf to recover and regrow is not a viable option at this time.  Thank you for your understanding! 

In other news I wanted to introduce to you some other new faces you have probably seen working on the golf course.

Cameron Phillips is originally from Douglasville, Georgia. His family moved to the Charlotte area eight years ago and he is a 2008 graduate of Porter Ridge High School in Indian Trail.  Cam started working at CGC on February 15th of this year.

Hidden Creek Contractors from Bakersville, NC is once again providing our seasonal staff.  The six young men above are all from Moldova, a small country located in eastern Europe (between Romania and Ukraine).  They are here through the U.S. State Department and the World International Student Exchange (WISE) as part of their education.  Please make Grigori, Serghei, Igor, Dionis, Andrei and Vladimir or as we call them (Greg, Sergio, Igor, Dennis, Andy and Vova) feel welcome. 

I hope today's update has helped explain the current situation with the golf course and you have a better understanding of what happened, why it happened and everything will be as good as new very shortly.  I will update you on the progress of the project next week and include some before and after photos.  Thank you again for your patience and understanding and here's hoping I will...

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Friday, March 23, 2012

Colonel Kilgore, Bunkers and Pitch Marks!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, March 23, 2012.  This past Monday and Tuesday my men and I were tasked with tearing up the best greens in Charlotte.  The scene looked a little something like this:

I jest!  Actually the task was completed seamlessly over the 2-day period thanks to a very cooperative Mother Nature and looked something more like this:

With aeration behind us we set our sights on the bunkers.  Our property contains 78 sand bunkers (76 on the golf course and 2 practice bunkers).  The task for the remainder of this week was to probe the depth of the sand throughout the bunker floor to ensure adequate and consistent sand levels.  Displaced sand was returned to areas in need and the edges of the bunkers were packed to create a smooth transition for ball roll at the turf/sand interface.  With this objective in mind, our newly arrived seasonal staff from Moldova were instructed and supervised over the past three days as they completely transformed our bunkers from this:

To this:

The difference may appear more subtle in these pictures than is real but any semblance of a vertical "edge" has been removed and a ball approaching the bunker along the ground should gather in the bottom of the bunker away from the edge.  This is going to be a point of emphasis with the daily management of the bunkers in an effort to help alleviate the penal nature of their design. 

Ball marks or as they say down under...pitch marks are always a good topic of discussion.  I was approached by more than one member prior to aeration to remind everyone of the importance to repair ball marks and to do so properly.  Funny thing is I usually find that most people really have a hard time repairing ball marks immediately following aeration because of the difficult nature of locating them while the greens heal.  Anyway, it is always good to have a refresher course in ball mark repair so I enlisted the services of my dear friend David Warwick at Avondale Golf Club in Pymble, Australia.  Thanks to the wonderful world wide web I captured this video of David demonstrating proper pitch mark repair from his club's website:

Hopefully you were fully able to understand him!  David has a couple of other really good course care videos I will share with you in "The Greenkeeper" at later dates.  Thanks for your help, mate!

Until next time...

See you on the course

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rabbit Season, Green Acres, Old Dogs and Robert Duvall!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Saturday, March 17, 2012 and a beautiful day in Charlotte, NC!  It may be St. Patrick's Day to most but today is also the start of rabbit, duck, rabbit, duck season...I mean tournament season!  At approximately 8:30 am this morning Patrick Leatherwood struck the opening tee shot of the Carolina Cup and the 2012 tournament season at Carolina Golf Club was underway.  Although the Carolina Cup may not be thought of as a "major" when compared to our slate of other member events it is still a great, fun way to kick off the year... and it warrants the same tournament treatment...painted cups! 

Good luck to all the participants the next couple of days!  The course is really greening up rapidly (hee hee) and with greens aeration scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, you definitely have the best putting surfaces in town to compete on.

Did I just say greens aeration?  I did, but more on that later!  This week we began bushogging and mowing all our natural areas in preparation for the 2012 growing season.  I felt a little like Eddie Albert as the tractor and bushog made its way around the course mowing the broomsedge areas.  We will finish the mowing next week and that will be the only scheduled mowing for this year.  Over the next couple of months the fine fescue will thicken and then produce its signature seed stalk as warmer weather approaches.  Also, don't forget we seeded many pounds of warm-season native grasses last fall and they will germinate in late spring/early summer and begin to contribute to the overall look and feel of CGC as well.  I will post more about the natural areas as the season progresses so be sure and check "The Greenkeeper" for updates!

Earlier I mentioned something about the course greening up thought this was where I was going to discuss greens aeration, not yet!  Thanks to my good friend John Szklinski (Golf Course Superintendent, Charlotte Country Club) this old dog learned a new trick this week (okay, so maybe I'm not that old...but you know what I mean).  John and his staff have been using ferrous sulfate to assist the process of bermudagrass breaking dormancy for some time now and I have been talking with him about it for a couple of years.  I decided last week I was going to give it a try and I am very pleased with the results thus far.  The application of ferrous sulfate darkens the turf canopy as shown here in this picture of the eighth fairway shortly after treatment.

The darker surface captures more of the sun's radiant energy and thus the soil surface warms more rapidly.  It's essentially the same phenomenon one experiences on their back when wearing a navy blue or black shirt on a sunny day.  As the darkened turf canopy heats up the hibernating bermudagrass underneath is jostled awake a little sooner than normal.  The whole process is really just an enhanced, acceleration to the natural order of things.

This is a small "check" plot we created at the beginning of the eighteenth fairway with a small piece of plywood (2'x4').  We began treatments to the tees, fairways and green surrounds Tuesday afternoon.  We worked late into that evening and finished just shortly after lunch the following day.  Today is Saturday and we are going to need to mow sometime real soon!  Anyway, I hope everyone is enjoying the sight of green tees and fairways and excited about golf at Carolina in 2012!

Now we've come to the part you've been waiting for.  This coming Monday morning you will be able to hear me exclaim in my best Lt. Colonel Kilgore's voice, "I love the smell of aerator cores in the morning!"  It is that time of year again and yes, I know the putting greens at CGC are absolutely fabulous right now, but they need to be in order to tolerate the mechanical stress imposed by the aeration process. 

Aeration is a mechanical process that creates more air space in the soil and promotes deeper rooting, thus helping the grass plants stay healthy.  In most cases, it's done by removing 1/2-inch cores. The spaces are then filled with sand "topdressing" that helps the soil retain air space and makes it easier for roots to grow downward.  Other aeration techniques use machines with "tines" or knives that simply poke holes through the soil profile.  There is even a technique that uses ultra high-pressure water injected through the soil profile to create small holes that relieve some compaction but heal quickly.

Like so many things, the quality of a good putting green is more than skin deep.  In fact, the condition of a green has a lot to do with what goes on below the surface.  In order to grow and maintain quality turf at 0.125 inches or less you have to have deep, healthy roots.  Good roots demand oxygen and in good soil, they get the oxygen from tiny pockets of air trapped between soil and sand particles.  Over time, the traffic from golfers' feet (as well as mowing and rolling equipment) tends to compact the soil under the putting green.  When soil becomes compacted, the air pockets on which the roots depend are crushed, and the roots are essentially left gasping for air.  Without oxygen, the grass plants will eventually wither and die.  The bottom line is aeration is a necessary practice and I sincerely hope you will think of it as a short-term disruption with the best long-term benefits.

That's all for now!  For those of you that requested I remind everyone about repairing ball marks, raking bunkers and filling divots can look forward to next time...I have to have something to blog about while we all wait for the aerated greens to heal!

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pawn Stars, PSA, Barbara Walters and Divotsville!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, March 9, 2012 and the bar is buzzing with members watching the ACC basketball tournament!  It has been a busy week since my return from the Golf Industry Show in Sin City but I am happy to report I made it home with my shirt!  Insert observational comment here...only in America can you get yourself a television show and turn your business into a bona fide tourist destination!  Case in point...
The Gold and Silver Pawn Shop!
Unfortunately I didn't see Rick, the Old Man or Chumley but did catch a glimpse of Big Hoss before he stepped into the back.  Off topic, has anyone else noticed there isn't any history on the History Channel?  Reminds me of MTV!
Anyway, it is good to be back on the course!  One thing I noticed upon my return as Solomon and I made our morning rounds was the amount of discarded and/or broken tees and cigarette butts strewn about the property.  My staff and I pick this up daily because it is extremely unsightly but you can help keep your course pristine by refraining from discarding these items on the golf course.  
You may or may not be aware but we do not have lots of items (i.e., hole signs, ball washers, broken tee caddies, containers of divot mix, etc.) on the property in an effort to avoid "visual clutter".  The Board of Governors created and supports the "less is more" concept and firmly believes this approach is one of our strongest attributes in the daily presentation of the golf course to members and their guests.  Also, with fewer trash receptacles you may need to keep something with you a little longer until you come to one but please do your best to refrain from "flicking" a broken tee or cigarette butt several yards into the rough.  This concludes the Public Service Announcement portion of this blog and we in golf course maintenance thank you in advance for your cooperation! 
One of the projects we completed this week was the removal of the added back tee box from the tenth hole.  It is important to remember this tee was added one year after the conclusion of the restoration project.  Since its construction there have been many discussions regarding this tee box and its placement in committee meetings and at the Board level.  This is not the proper forum to discuss the political nature of such things but the short version is most everyone loved playing the hole from that tee, yet it severely hampered (eclipsed) the view of the 18th green.  The Board voted some time back to have it removed someday.  With the construction of the new patio underway it became apparent now was the time to restore the view overlooking the 18th green.  My staff and I removed the teeing ground this week and restored the area to its original grade and replaced the sod.

What tee? ... ;)
One final note and commentary regarding the current condition of the golf course.  As winter concludes and spring arrives it is helpful to keep in mind the dormant golf course turf is "faster" than ever.  By this I mean when the turf canopy first enters hibernation there is more dormant tissue present than now.  Over the course of the winter months the dormant canopy has been subjected to traffic and wear and it becomes thinner and tighter than 2 or 3 months ago.  This leads to an even greater reduction in surface friction which in turn leads to faster and more ball roll.  So where am I going with this you ask?  Certain holes such as the third and seventh with their greens perched up on the hills can be extremely frustrating in the summer months but this time of year those features can frustrate some of you to tears!  Balls just short of the seventh green may roll back 30 yards in the summer and 50 yards in the fall but now come to rest over 75 yards back down the fairway in divotsville (and this can be from a ball that was on the putting surface just moments ago!).  I have seen the looks and heard the grumblings and please know I feel your pain and suffering.  My staff and I have not done anything to the golf course to make it more difficult it is just the unfortunate side effect of a dormant golf course in the transition period before spring.  I encourage you to take a deep breath, try to remain calm and not let gravity (and our challenging topography) get the best of you...and pray for warm weather!
The Greens Committee will be meeting this coming Wednesday, March 14th at noon.  If you have any comments, questions or concerns feel free to contact Stephen Woodard (Committee Chairman) at his email or myself.  I encourage and welcome the feedback.
See you on the course,
Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent