Friday, June 29, 2012

Benefits, Good Scouts, They're Back and "Solomon Says"!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, June 29th and it was another beautiful sunrise at Carolina Golf Club this morning.  In the past week since my last post (which many of you still need to read) I have had the good fortune to witness some pretty awesome sights in the early morning hours.  If any of you have ever wondered what some of the fringe benefits to being a greenkeeper are let me share...

A momma and her 4 baby ducks ready for the day!

The fescue looks best in the early morning light!

A momma turtle laying eggs in her new nest!
A hawk greets me near the first green!

I can't help but wonder how many of you realize just how much nature is taking place on the course.  These days our society is so fast paced and instantaneous and you may not take the time to stop and "smell the roses" as they say but there really is a lot of cool stuff going on if you take the time to notice!

I seem to recall from many years ago the Boy Scout motto is Be Prepared!  This week we did our best to do our prepare the putting surfaces for the extreme high temperatures forecasted for today and the near foreseeable future.  The process started back on Monday (25th) as we vented the greens with our PlanetAir aerator.
PlanetAir Aerator
Vented Openings on the Putting Surfaces

The next day (Tuesday, 26th) the greens were flushed and the vented openings served two purposes.  One, to assist with the penetration and infiltration of the water required to flush and two, once the putting green cavity flushes oxygen is drawn into the canopy and down into the rootzone from the outside air.  By having fresh openings at the surface we were able to ensure we were maximizing the amount of oxygen entering the root zone.  On Wednesday (27th) the greens were treated with a plant protectant product recently developed in the past couple of years, Turfscreen.  Turfscreen is a sunscreen for grass consisting mostly of titanium and zinc oxides which have high reflective properties (thus the bluish color).  Yesterday the greens were treated with a combination of two plant protectant fungicides (Bayer's 26GT and Signature) when tank mixed appropriately is designed to be a "summer stress guard".  Also, the greens were not mowed yesterday (only rolled) to allow the turf a chance to grow up to the newly established higher mowing height implemented today.  During the next several days we will mow every other day and roll the greens on the days in between in an effort to preserve and protect the playing surfaces from the stresses associated with these conditions.  All the while we have closely monitored our moisture levels and as mother nature turns on the extreme heat we are as ready as we could possibly crank up the fans, cross our fingers, hoses are at the ready!

In other related news, the return of summer means the return of those pesky cicada wasps.  The Eastern Cicada Wasp or "cicada killers" as they are more commonly known emerge now and look very scary and menacing to those not familiar with them. 

Cicada Wasp
Their sole purpose is to capture and prey on those annual summer noise makers, the Cicada.

The female wasps sting the Cicadas to paralyze them and take them to their burrows underground where they deposit their eggs on the bodies. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the Cicada...yuk!  Anyway, what you really want to know is what affect this has on you.  Basically, the cicacda wasps are solitary wasps and they do not sting to protect a nest (only to paralyze their prey).  They are a huge nuisance pest on the putting surfaces because of the burrows they create (they like the easy digging of the sandy root zone).  They are difficult to kill because they do not feed on the turf (most insecticide products applied to turfgrass is designed to stop pests from feeding on the turf) and catching them in flight with rapid, knockdown insecticides is practically impossible.  We have been researching the issue online and will be trying a couple of different things in order to eliminate them and prevent their young from developing into pests for next year.  In the meantime, take solace in knowing they will not harm you...but I wouldn't go out of my way to provoke one!

That's all for now as the temperature is rising and I am needed on the course.  Over the next few days take the following precautions to protect yourself from the elements:  1) wear light colored clothing, 2) drink plenty of fluids, 3) apply lots of sunscreen, 4) seek shade whenever possible and 5) schedule your outdoor activities in the early morning.

Solomon says, "Stay Cool"!

If you do those things here's hoping I will...

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Friday, June 22, 2012

Congratulations, Ratings, Dress Code Revisited and Staff Update!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, June 22nd and the Guest Day tournament is stifling, summer conditions!  Congratulations to Webb Simpson, the 2012 United States Open Champion!  I know the Charlotte Observer likes to reference his membership at Quail Hollow Club quite often but as far as I know, Webb was a Touring Professional Member of Carolina Golf Club before he joined Quail Hollow...and I am not aware of him resigning the membership here at Carolina, therefore the United States Open Champion is a member of Carolina Golf Club...Awesome!

I wanted to briefly touch on the subject of "The Greenkeeper" and the success, or failure to reach our audience.  There have been 22 posts prior to this one.  The first 10 posts were viewed an average of 14 times when removing the high (62) and the low (3).  The second 10 posts were viewed an average of 91 times when removing the high (123) and the low (28).  The two most recent posts were viewed 48 and 44 times respectively.  So why the slow start, up trend and recent decline?  There are several clues.  "The Greenkeeper" launched at its new home in late November and the first 10 posts were made during the winter months.  The rise in "viewership" coincided with the beginning of spring and it makes sense people are more interested in the golf course and its conditioning when weather warms and the course greens up.  The current dip can be attributed to the fact I have not sent a direct email to the membership announcing an update (due to an administrative issue the General Manager is currently resolving).  The past two updates have been emailed to the membership in conjunction with other club related emails but those went out days after the update was posted to the site.  Anyway, I just wanted everybody to know I sincerely hope you are able to locate the info and reference the archived material and stay "in the know" about your golf course and the methods we use to care for it.  Please bookmark the site and save it to your favorites and check back never know when you might discover something your friends and neighbors do not know!

On Friday, March 30th I posted to the blog "Dress Code Violation and More New Faces!".  It was then I explained about the condition of the bermudagrass turf surrounding the putting surfaces and the plan to replace with sod.  In my next post "Jim Nantz, The Driving Range Tee and 7:46 PM!" on Thursday, April 5th I included some photos of the work accomplished and described the process.  In the time since the sod was installed I can honestly say things have not gone as smoothly as I planned but I do have good news.  However, before I share with you the good news let's look back at the process.  If you recall the weather was unseasonably warm (mid to upper 80's) at the time we installed the new sod but immediately after we completed the task Mother Nature decided we were entitled to a real spring and the mercury promptly dropped.  Simultaneously we had a very busy spring with member tournaments, outside outings and the PGA qualifying events.  We rolled the greens (and collar regions) quite frequently during this time and the new sod became compacted.  During this time the turf managed to tack down roots but that is about it.  Leaf growth and development was non-existent and the new turf appeared thin with no vigor.  It was obvious the areas were in need of aeration and we managed to muddle through the busy tournament schedule without disrupting the turf but not without the questions and second guessing.  For the record I do not mind the questions as the world needs checks and balances and I appreciate being held accountable for my decisions.  I knew the Board of Governors had some concerns when I was included on an email discussion about the topic.  A couple of things I shared with them were the facts the new turf was installed in early April and the past two years when it was necessary to replace some areas damaged by winter injury we did so in early June.  Also, the new sod was taking residence immediately adjacent to established, 4-year old, mature turf.  It was impossible for the new sod to look as favorable visually when constantly being compared to a mature stand established over 4 seasons.  I also knew summer weather had not yet gripped the region.

Anyway, aeration was two weeks ago and the turf began to improve but slowly due to the still present cool conditions (morning lows in the upper 50's to low 60's).  I could see the improvement and subtle changes and knew we were close...then this week happened!  Monday, we topdressed all the new sod (3rd time since installation) with a dark sand/peat mixture (same material we use to fill divots on the driving range tee) and then Mother Nature did the rest starting Tuesday when she turned on the heat!  By yesterday morning the turf had surged in growth and came through the topdressing sand.

Back left corner of #6 Green as Viewed from Behind
Left edge of #6 Green

Back of #6 Green as Viewed from Right Side

This morning we were actually able to walk mow the collars!  We will still need to topdress the areas lightly a few more times to completely eliminate any indication where the new turf meets the old but for the most part we are no longer in violation of any dress code policies regarding collars!  For those of you who trusted I thank you for your patience and for those of you who did not I thank you for your questions and concerns.  It is good to know Carolina is filled with members who love their course and are not afraid to speak up when they see something amiss.

On Tuesday, June 5th I posted "Fairway Aeration, Perseverance, Dirty Jobs, Defections and Don't Turn Off the Fans!" and mentioned some staffing issues we were experiencing.  I am happy to report we are back to full throttle with our staff numbers as two young lads (Ivan and Dmitri) arrived this past Sunday (June 17th) from Moldova.  Ivan is our first "repeat customer" as he was employed here last year through the program.  He experienced some issues regarding his visa application and that is why he is arriving late in the season.  Also, I informed you about a young lad getting ready to start his employment with us after his high school graduation (Jeremy Smith).  Jeremy's first day was June 11th.  At this time I do not have pictures of these young men but I promise to include them next time.

That's all for now!  I hope the Guest Day participants enjoyed the course today and the Nine & Dine participants enjoy it later this evening because the staff sure was proud of the way it looked when they left!  The guys have worked very hard this year and I am happy to report spirits are up!  Until next time...

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

U.S. Open, Spared, Necessary Evil and It's Not Me It's You!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Wednesday, June 13, 2012 and tomorrow begins our nation's golf championship as conducted by the United States Golf Association.  The U.S. Open by its very nature (over 9,000 entries this year) gives us golf fans some of the most compelling story lines and drama ever witnessed over 72 holes and this year is already no different.  Whether it is 42 year old Dennis Miller, qualifying on his 12th attempt or the 14 year old amateur Andy Zhang, originally from China (now resides at the David Leadbetter Academy in Orlando) making the field, I am confident once balls are in the air tomorrow morning you will not want to miss anything!  Added bonus this year, with the event being contested in California we East Coasters get 4 days of prime time golf :)

However, I did not come here today to talk about the U.S. Open.  I have some important information regarding the agronomic practices on the golf course and their schedule but before I go there I must tell you we have received a grand total of 0.34 inches rain the past 48 hours.  That's not a misprint!  Why is that significant you ask, because over 3 inches have fallen in the Charlotte metro region over the last two days.  My counterparts at both Carmel C.C. and Myers Park C.C. have reported to me receiving between 3-3.5 inches total going back to Monday with both courses getting deluged last night with over 2 inches rain.  Our total in the gauge this morning was 4/100ths!  This is a shining testament to the power of Mother Nature and the true meaning of "scattered showers and thunderstorms"!

Now back to our regular programming.  Aeration.  I said it.  Aeration is a process by which golf course superintendents operate machines better suited for medieval torture than turfgrass management across pristine, finely manicured golf courses during prime golf season in order to obliterate the conditions and irritate golfers. 

Just seeing if you were paying attention!

Aeration is a mechanical process that creates more air space in the soil and promotes deeper rooting, thus helping the grass plants stay healthy.  Just like you and I, grass plants need oxygen in order to survive.  In order to grow and maintain quality turf you have to have deep, healthy roots and good roots demand oxygen.  Roots get oxygen from tiny pockets of air trapped between soil and sand particles and over time, the traffic from golf cars, pull carts, mowing and other maintenance equipment compacts the soil (especially heavy clay such as ours).  When the soil becomes compacted, the air pockets on which the roots depend are crushed, and the roots are left gasping for air.  Without the needed oxygen, the grass plants eventually die and the turf fades away.  The bottom line is aeration is a necessary practice (albeit a time consuming, labor intensive one especially in the context of fairways and roughs) and I sincerely hope you understand I would not perform the task if I didn't already know it is going to make the conditions of our golf course turf better.

Which brings me to my next topic...why  is "The Greenkeeper" here?  In other words, why do I take the time to make available to you information pertaining to the condition of the golf course.  "The Greenkeeper" began as a monthly contribution to the club's newsletter with the very first one appearing in June 2005.  As the club's newsletter was phased out a few years later in favor of direct member emails "The Greenkeeper" became a regular email to the members from yours truly starting in March 2010.  On November 21, 2011 "The Greenkeeper" appeared for the very first time on blogspot.  Why?  For you and your benefit!  Emails are easily ignored and/or deleted and by moving "The Greenkeeper" to a permanent home on the web, posts are now archived and still readily available to you.  Also, the format of blogger makes it much easier for me to include photos which I believe are valuable contributions and greatly assist in helping you, the reader better understand the message.  The point is, I have always been asked to communicate what is going on at the course and why.  It is important for you to have an understanding of what it takes to maintain the golf course and to maintain it to your standards.  Members armed with the knowledge of agronomic practices taking place and when they are scheduled are typically much happier members because their expectations of the golf course are not distorted.

Now you ask what is that supposed to mean...all to often each year there exists a member or group of members disappointed to discover the golf course isn't as "clean" or "manicured" as they expected (or remembered since their last visit) because they failed to read the emails or forgot that aeration was scheduled for that week.  I apologize for not making sure each and every one of you fully know and understand what is happening, when it is happening and why but I and the golf shop can only do so much to ensure you are aware of what is scheduled at Carolina.  For the future I have proposed a modified aeration schedule (cool-season and warm-season grasses) to the Greens Committee for approval.  If approved we will know a year in advance when all aeration practices will be scheduled and I will make it a point to publish the "Aeration Calendar" early next year so everyone can save the dates and schedule their golf accordingly (assuming you read the blog).

In the meantime, please take solace in knowing the roughs will not be aerated again until next year, the greens will not be aerated again until late September, our natural areas look their best ever (rugged, natural and beautiful)  and although the fairways are scheduled for one more aeration later next month, it will not be as aggressive as this time.

Hole #12
Hole #13

Also, for the first time in several years June weather is truly June-like...and the U.S. Open starts tomorrow.

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fairway Aeration, Perseverance, Dirty Jobs, Defections and Don't Turn Off the Fans!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Tuesday, June 5, 2012 and much has happened since my last entry so let's get everyone caught up. The Member-Member ended in dramatic fashion as Steven Sherck birdied the final hole to secure a one stroke victory by the defending champions. The twosome of Sherck and Kevin Link navigated their way around a very challenging set-up over the 3-day holiday weekend in a total of thirteen (-13) under the words of Head Golf Professional Jeffrey Peck, "Well played gentlemen"!

The following day (5/29) the course was closed for aeration.  The crew and I began our very auspicious plans of aerating the greens and fairways simultaneously (did I mention we were also using the new Aera-Vator on all the fairways ahead of the fairway core aerator…(Tim Allen voice, “Orh orh orh”)). 

The Aera-Vator prepares the way for the Toro 880 Fairway Aerator!

It rained on three different occasions with the last shower somewhere around 4:30 pm being too much to tolerate as we all nearly drowned (tic).  We called it a day and reconvened Wednesday morning (5/30) with only 6 putting surfaces remaining but only 5 fairways completed!  The bearings in the gear box of the fairway aerator went out just as the last shower brought operations to a halt the day before and we were unable to start on fairways right away with the 880 "behind the wall" and we were getting lapped.  With the unit back online around 1:00 pm we began to gain ground on the fairways before another mechanical failure (this time multiple roto-linkages, most likely a side effect of the gear box trouble from the day before) forced the unit “behind the wall” again as the sun was setting and only 4 more holes completed.  Two full days of aeration and only half the fairways complete…I was not a happy camper!

I made several phone calls Wednesday evening and was very fortunate my good friend Scott Kennon (superintendent, Myers Park Country Club) was willing to loan us their fairway aerator Thursday morning (5/31).  I quickly traveled across town to haul it back to our place and started using it immediately while my equipment manager was trying to determine if the roto-links we needed for our unit were available.  Unfortunately, we learned the total number of parts required to repair our machine properly were not readily available and at that time a decision had to be made (continue all day with only MPCC’s unit, which meant not finishing fairways until Friday or locate a second machine elsewhere).  Unable to procure a second machine in the time required and unwilling to push aeration into Friday we decided to go “old school” and use the rough aerator (ground-driven, tow-behind model) on some of the fairways.  Hey, ground-driven, tow-behind aerators were all we had for years in this industry!  We determined the best course of action was to use the rough aerator on only those fairways that grow the most vigorously in order to recover more quickly.  Also, in order to ensure similar results with the old unit in comparison to the newer models we decided to overlap the passes and double up our hole production.

In the end we were able to complete all the fairways on Thursday (5/31) with holes 10, 13, 14 and 17 being aerated with the “old school” machine; holes 6, 11, 12, 15 and 18 being aerated with MPCC’s unit and holes 1-5, 7-9 and 16 being aerated with our fairway aerator…whew!  Three days and the staff really came together to complete the job!  Days two and three were late ones with most of us getting out the gate around 9:00 pm but everyone pitched in to complete the task (even your's truly) so our fairways can be even better.  Yesterday saw a little lime and fertilizer going on the fairways and with the rain things should be back to perfect real soon!

Superintendent Matthew Wharton does his impersonation of Mike Rowe of the Discovery Channel's Series "Dirty Jobs"

In other news I wanted to share some information with you regarding the maintenance staff.  We have encountered several developments all in the past two plus weeks.  First, two of the Moldovan seasonal staff absconded.  They called out sick as the other four came to work one day and when the four returned to their apartment after work the two others were gone along with all their personal belongings.  This is a very unfortunate incident and a risk we take when deciding to employ these young men from Eastern Europe.  I encountered one defection from a young man two years ago after only one month and earlier this year four lads working at Myers Park Country Club (they participate in the same program) departed less than one week on the job!  These young men come to us via Hidden Creek Contractors, Inc. in Bakersville, NC and I have been in contact with them daily as they are working diligently to bring us two suitable replacements.

Also our summer intern from Oklahoma, Larry Pigeon has unfortunately resigned his position after only two weeks citing health related issues due to diabetes.  This was most unfortunate and disappointing to learn.  The silver lining in all this news is Sean Hatch from Central Piedmont Community College’s Turfgrass Management Program is serving a summer internship. 

Sean Hatch
Sean started at Carolina back on May 24th and has shown great enthusiasm and desire thus far and we are happy to have Sean be a part of our team!  Next week Jeremy Smith (a soon to be graduate of Butler High School) will join our team for the remainder of the summer as he prepares to enroll this fall in the same turf program as Sean at CPCC.

Finally, as the warm temperatures were prevalent at the end of last month it became necessary to operate the fans which service several putting greens.  These fans are instrumental agronomic tools which are vital to the health and survival of the putting surfaces and they are not to be turned off by anyone unauthorized to do so.  As a friendly public service reminder below are a couple of pictures which demonstrate the importance of the fans.

This is the 8th green in late July 2010 (prior to fan acquisition)

This is the 8th green just 3 weeks after the fan was installed

Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this manner!  Until next time…

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent