Friday, December 20, 2013

Quick Update, Reflections, and Merry Christmas!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Friday, December 20th and I want to quickly bring you up to speed with what's going on out on the golf course, then share something I hope you will enjoy.  Our bunker renovation project is moving along at warp speed.  At this time Golf Course Services has completed bunker renovations on holes 1,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,14,15,17&18.  This totals over 50 bunkers.  During my last post I referenced the new tee construction scheduled to begin once bunker renovations are complete.  Preparations for this work is underway as my staff has been clearing underbrush from the surrounding area, and sand is being stockpiled on site.  After GCS takes a short break for Christmas, they will return to renovate all the bunkers on holes 12 and 13, then we will turn our attention to the new tee construction. 

In other course related news, last week I met with the members of the Greens Committee.  The discussion went something like this...

The following day was what I will describe as a prototypical late fall day in North Carolina (remember the first day of winter is tomorrow) with bright sunshine and not a cloud in sight!

Thanks to all of you following along.  I hope you find these nuggets informative and helpful, as well as entertaining.

This past Tuesday I was attending the Past President's Dinner of Carolina Golf Club.  I have been very fortunate to receive an invitation to this annual event each year since becoming superintendent, and I always enjoy the stories about the club's history.  Anyway, this year a microphone was passed around the room giving each person a chance to say a little something, or not.  As the microphone made its way around the large table there were many great things said about Carolina Golf Club, its leadership (past and present), its membership, the golf course, and the staff.  When my turn came I simply passed the microphone, and an opportunity to say something meaningful and profound was momentarily lost.  However, knowing I have the luxury of this forum and having had a few more days to reflect...

Ahem (clears throat).

I was first introduced to the game of golf by my grandfather, John M. Hankins, Jr.  Pap Pa (pronounced Pap Paw) as he is affectionately known is a veteran of World War II and a retired railroad man.  He was a devoted husband for over 50 years to his late wife Margaret, and he still loves golf and fishing.  He will celebrate his 91st birthday this coming Monday (December 23rd). 

He made my very first golf club by cutting down an old Powerbilt 4-wood of his when I was about four years old.  I still have it on display in my home, and it is one of my most cherished possessions!

Old Faithful!

Remember These!
Hillerich and Bradsby (since 1916)

A few years later my first-cousin and I each received junior sets of clubs for Christmas.  That spring we took Pap Pa's riding mower and removed the pin used to control the mowing height on the floating deck.  We scalped a large circle out in front of the house then used a garden trowel to dig a small hole.  We placed an empty tin can in the hole for a cup, and took turns deciding where the tee was located and the route you had to take to get to the green (you were not allowed to go over the house or Granny would kill you!).  When I look back on these timesI believe I was destined to be a golf course superintendent.

Fast forward several years to 1988.  I am about a month shy of my 20th birthday and I get an offer to work at Lake Bonaventure Country Club in Castlewood, VA.  LBCC is a modest 9-hole private club formed in the late 1950's.  Although I had played there on a few occasions while growing up, this opportunity truly set me on a long, winding path that led to my current destination.  LBCC was designed by Alexander McKay (more on him later) and truth is during my tenure at Bonaventure nobody knew that (at least nobody I knew ever discussed it).  In fact, I never knew it until after I became superintendent of Carolina Golf Club in 2005.

Prior to coming to Carolina I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees at Virginia Tech and then worked at two other golf courses, Augustine Golf Club in Stafford, VA and Swan Point Yacht & Country Club in Issue, MD.  Augustine was designed in the early 1990's by Rick Jacobson, a former design associate of Jack Nicklaus.  Augustine was Jacobson's first solo design in the U.S. and it is widely considered to be the grandfather of upscale, daily fee golf in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  Swan Point was designed by Bob Cupp in the late 1980's and both courses really are good golf courses, and I enjoyed playing them, but something was missing.  During those years, my wife Darless and I would travel when time allowed and play other courses in the region.  We found most other public access courses were also modern era designs, and although most were very well maintained, they too were not the most pleasing to our palettes.

In the spring of 2005 an opportunity to become the golf course superintendent of Carolina Golf Club became available.  Darless and I traveled from Virginia to see the course and explore the possibility of relocating to Charlotte.  During that first round at Carolina something clicked.  I saw features that reminded me of Bonaventure, and the game I remembered so fondly from my early greenkeeping days came rushing back.  It was this experience that prompted me to track down the original architect of Lake Bonaventure and ultimately discover Alex McKay and his history. 

Alexander G. McKay was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1893.  He learned golf at Cruden Bay Golf Club in Aberdeen and moved to the U.S. shortly after World War I.  After bouncing around with several odd jobs he became the superintendent and golf professional for the city of Louisville, KY in 1926, caring for their city parks and golf courses.  He remained in Louisville for ten years before moving to Charleston, WV and designing Meadowbrook CC.  He served as that club's first professional and superintendent, and remained there until after World War II.  Following World War II, Mr. McKay became the golf professional and superintendent of Holston Hills CC in Knoxville, TN and became famous for successfully converting their bermudagrass greens to bentgrass.  He remained at Holston Hills for a decade before becoming a full time course architect and turf consultant.

Why is all that significant you ask.  Anyone with any knowledge of Donald Ross knows Holston Hills is widely regarded in many circles as one of the top 10 golf courses ever designed by Donald Ross.  Thus, it is only natural someone entrusted with the care of a top 10 Donald Ross design would incorporate Ross like features in design work of his own down the road.  Thus, my love affair with Donald Ross originated via a surrogate!  (Sidebar: Alex McKay is credited for having designed Statesville CC just up the road in 1962.  He died in Nashville, TN in 1964 at the age of 71.)

Since arriving at Carolina I have had the pleasure of seeing first hand this well crafted layout transformed to a golf course which can hold its own with the finest of Ross designs.  Over the years I have managed to enhance my Ross education by traveling and experiencing several other courses of his in the Carolinas: Grove Park Inn (Asheville), Mimosa Hills CC (Morganton), Roaring Gap Club (Sparta), Catawba CC (Newton), Charlotte CC, Myers Park CC, CC of Salisbury, Camden CC, Forsyth CC (Winston-Salem), Sedgefield CC (Greensboro), Pine Needles, Mid-Pines, Southern Pines CC, and of course Pinehurst No. 2.  What I have discovered is how brilliant the man was and how he mastered the simple.  There are no gimmicks on a Donald Ross golf course, the challenge is right there in front of you.  His courses truly challenge the best players of the game, but are very playable and fun for the highest handicappers.  I am constantly amazed how courses like Carolina, Southern Pines, Mid-Pines, Catawba, Mimosa Hills or Camden still have a high resistance to scoring when played from between 6200 to 6600 yards!  Ross courses are brilliantly routed with holes cleverly crafted along some of the most beautiful, natural topography I have ever seen. 

Copy of Original Ross Routing

Being entrusted to care for Carolina Golf Club is an honor and a privilege, and I cannot think of anyplace else I would rather be... or play!  (Voice of the late Paul Harvey, " ...and now you know the rest of the story".)  Hey, I said it was long and winding!

Darless and I will be traveling tomorrow to Virginia to celebrate Christmas with both our families.  Although we both are looking forward to getting there and spending time with our loved-ones, we are already looking forward to getting back to Charlotte and to Carolina Golf Club, our home!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all the members of Carolina Golf Club!

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Information about Alexander G. McKay courtesy of "The Golf Course" by Geoffrey S. Cornish and Ronald E. Whitten, May 1985

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Big Surprise, Catching Up, Other News and Many Thanks!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Wednesday, November 27th and I want to share some important things with you before I wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving!  Last time I mentioned you can find me on twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.  In the short time I have been a twitter newbie I have picked up several followers, and I sincerely hope you feel the information you have been receiving is worthwhile.  I will admit I have more industry followers than members currently, but that is okay... I find it useful to see what my peers are doing on their respective courses too.

Early last week I was in Myrtle Beach attending the annual conference and trade show of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendent's Association (CGCSA).  In attendance with me representing Carolina Golf Club was Senior Assistant, Brett Stowers and Equipment Manager, Kenneth Bailey, Jr.  Brett and I attended several accredited classes and seminars for continuing education and pesticide license renewal requirements.  JR is a member of TETAC (Turf Equipment Technician's Association of the Carolinas) and he attended several classes at their education conference held in conjunction with ours.  Prior to the beginning of the education conference I competed in the annual golf championship, something I have done each year since 2007.  In 2008, I managed to finish T3 (two shots back) but really hadn't managed to make any noise since then until a strange set of events this year.  To find out what happened Click Here for the rest of the story.

In the short time I was away last week, our good friend Mother Nature visited to put the rest of the golf course to sleep.  The frost we experienced back in late October took the color out of the rough but this time, with morning low temperatures in the low 20's, she managed to make things look a little different.

Anyway, despite the dormant appearance of the golf course there was still much work to be done.  I got busy and took advantage of a warmer day to make a scheduled fertilizer application.

Monday, both my staff and the guys from Golf Course Services were trying to accomplish as much as possible knowing yesterday was going to be a rain out (2.8 inches rain recorded by the way).  We painted the target greens and took steps to protect some bermudagrass turf with a history of vulnerability.

Covers on the North-facing Faces!

We also covered a handful of tee boxes on the 6th and 9th holes, so be sure and look for the markers in alternative locations while these areas are protected.

At this time GCS has renovated the bunkers on the following holes: 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 & 17 (save for the large, greenside bunker on the right side of 17).  This totals 36 bunkers in all, meaning we are practically at the half-way point of this project.  We were blessed with some great weather the first three weeks and GCS made incredible progress.  With some wetter weather and holidays, expect things to slow a little but remain ahead of schedule. 

In other news, I am happy to report at last week's meeting the Board of Governors approved funding for the construction of a new back tee on number 13, reconfiguration of the back tees on numbers 14 & 18, and construction of a new 17,000 square feet alternative tee located at the back of the driving range.  All three of these projects will be conducted under the design and supervision of our architect, Kris Spence and Golf Course Services.  These projects will commence once the bunker renovations are completed so more info on these in future updates.

Okay, so tomorrow is Thanksgiving and one cool thing Carolina Golf Club does on Thanksgiving is close the club for the holiday.  This permits all staff members to have the opportunity to spend the holiday with those near and dear to them.  The golf course is accessible for those members wishing to get out of the kitchen and walk a few holes.  As is customary, I will be making a stop by the course to "check on things".  I ride through each year on Thanksgiving morning to make sure nothing is out of place or out of the ordinary.  The past few years the weather has not been an issue and frost has not been a threat, but this year is a little different.  With morning low temperatures tomorrow expected to be near 23 degrees frost is certainly a concern, and I will be hanging around a little longer to make sure nobody inadvertently helps themselves to the course before they should.  I only ask those of you planning a good walk spoiled tomorrow to please use good judgment with regards to how early you arrive!

For years now I have compiled a list of things I am thankful for at Thanksgiving.  The past two years I mentioned how thankful I was for my wife and how she tolerates me at the end of the list...well this year I am listing her number one!  I am thankful for many things in 2013 and they include...
  1. My wife...and more importantly, her love and support through it all!
  2. Our family...a granddaughter's love is the best love!
  3. My faith...many more blessings than deserved!
  4. My grandfather...90 years old, my hero!
  5. Golf...truly is the greatest of all games!
  6. My staff...simply the best in Charlotte!
  7. Carolina Golf Club...your support inspires me!
  8. Friends...both on and off the course!
  9. New golf clubs...getting fitted truly makes a difference!
  10. Being your place I'd rather be!
To all the members of Carolina Golf Club I want to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

See you on the course,
Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tweet Tweet!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Saturday, November 16th and I wanted to let you know you can now find me on twitter.

Be sure to follow me and stay updated with more frequent news and nuggets from the turf care world of Carolina Golf Club.


Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Friday, November 8, 2013

Congrats, Renovation Update and Busy Beavers!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Friday, November 8th and I want to quickly bring you up to speed with everything taking place on your golf course.  We just wrapped up a spectacular weekend with some incredible golf in this year's Carolina Invitational (won by our very own Stephen Woodard and Brett Boner).  Their two-day total of 126 (16 under par) may or may not be a tournament record but their second round 64 was definitely one of the best rounds this year given the cool, breezy conditions the field encountered.  The Invitational is always special and this year was no exception with beautiful sunny skies both days.  Check out the scene below I captured just moments after the fog lifted prior to the start of play on day one.

A Beautiful Morning!
The tournament wrapped up late Sunday afternoon and with the time change back to standard time my staff and I jumped head first into "off-season" projects.  Monday saw all the greens at Carolina aerated and topdressed.  Did he really just say that?  To clarify, the putting greens were vented using solid, needle tines and lightly topdressed to help smooth the putting surfaces.  October was a very busy month with the Donald Ross Challenge, Pro-Am, Guest Day and Tough Day all leading into the Carolina Invitational.  During all that time the greens were mowed, double mowed, mowed and rolled, double mowed and rolled, even mowed and double rolled all in effort to provide the absolute best putting surfaces.  We performed the venting operation to alleviate compaction from all the rolling and the topdressing was applied to help smooth the accumulation of ball marks over the course of those events.

Of course Golf Course Services, Inc. (GCS) mobilized and began our bunker renovation project right away.  Taking advantage of a closed golf course this past Monday they were able to work unimpeded on the par 3 ninth hole. 
Old Sand Being Removed
To reiterate, we are removing the existing bunker sand.  This old sand is contaminated with silt and clay soil particles from several years of severe rain events washing the sand away from the bunker cavity.  The contamination changes the playing characteristics of the sand.  The silt and clay particles hold moisture thus making the sand "heavy".  (The old bunker sand is being stock piled on site to be reused as topdressing for tees and fairways).  Once the sand is removed the original bunker cavity dimensions are exposed and grass lines modified accordingly. 

Exposing the original bunker edge
Notice the sand build-up above the clay cavity

New, improved bunker sand is installed.  The newer bunker sand we are installing was not originally available when the golf course was renovated in 2008.  This newer sand is more angular and thus provides both a firmer surface but also holds in place better minimizing severe wash outs which lead to contamination over time.  The new sand is compacted and the bunker then raked and ready for play.
New Sand Being Compacted
If you look closely at the two photos below you can see the new sod that was added to portions of the bunker face to reestablish the grass lines back to the original contours.  Also, the layer of sand build-up has been removed from under the turf and the sod tamped to create a "rolled" edge into the bunker on the low side.
Finished Product!
Raked and Ready for Play!

After all four bunkers on number 9 were completed the crew moved directly to the par 5 eighth hole where they have managed to completely renovate 5 of the 7 bunkers on that hole and they are working on one of the two remaining this morning.  That's 10 bunkers in one week thanks to some very cooperative weather!  There are 79 total bunkers on property (77 on the golf course and two practice bunkers).  This project will be continuing over the next couple months as we make our way through the entire golf course (minus of course, the bunkers renovated in the same manner this time last year).

A few other projects we are busy working on include trimming low hanging limbs and branches on three key holes.  Holes 8, 13 and 14 are located on the perimeter of the club's property and many limbs and branches from our pine tree buffer were too low and adversely affecting our ability to grow and maintain quality turf.  We have been busy working along these holes lifting the tree canopies to allow better sunlight penetration.
Not for the Faint of Heart
Also, we have installed additional stone "curbing" alongside the cart path where some people have a propensity to drive NASCAR style (through the grass) on the inside edge of turns.  These areas will fill in with new turf next season and add to the overall aesthetic quality of the golf course.

Number 8
Number 10

Since we are on the subject of cart paths, this time every year we edge the cart paths to remove unwanted bermudagrass encroachment.  The process is lengthy because we have several miles of cart path but this is a perfect time of year for such a project.

Removing the Debris
A Clean Edge!

Another task we are working on right now is applying compost to high traffic and weak turf areas.  Currently we are concentrating only on the roughs so as not to adversely affect the playing conditions of fairways since the bermudgrass has ceased growing for the year as it enters winter dormancy.  The compost will break down and help modify the soil in these areas to better sustain quality turf.

Fully Loaded!
Always Improving!

So, to recap...congrats to Stephen and Brett, greens recently aerated and topdressed, bunkers being renovated, trees limbs being trimmed, cart paths being edged and curbed, compost being applied...wonder what we are going to do next week!

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Friday, October 25, 2013

Renovations, Mat Time and Tough Day!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Friday, October 25th and I want to discuss some important items with you.  You may recall last year in late November/early December we contracted with Golf Course Services, Inc. (GCS) to renovate a handful of greenside bunkers.  J.D. Downey and his crew removed the old, contaminated bunker sand, restored the original grass lines by installing sod and then installed new, improved bunker sand Labor Surge, Bunkers, Trees and Drought!.  The process only lasted about three weeks (11 bunkers total were renovated) but the impact has been dramatic.  Thanks to the positive feedback many of you have provided this past year with regards to the improved playability of the renovated bunkers, the Board of Governors approved the recommendation of the Greens Committee to renovate the remaining bunkers this off-season!

I can honestly say the biggest "complaint" or negative commentary received in my department or at the Greens Committee level is mostly about the bunkers.  The typical gripe is the bunkers are inconsistent.  This can mean several things such as the sand depth is inconsistent, the sand texture is inconsistent, the sand moisture content is inconsistent, etc.  In the past year since we renovated nearly a dozen bunkers my assistants and I have examined our maintenance procedures in order to identify areas where we may directly or indirectly contribute to these types of problems and we have been successful in making a few adjustments this year to ensure we are not a contributing factor to future bunker degradation.  However, over time bunkers and their playability do change regardless of the time and effort my staff spend attending them.  Recently the United States Golf Association's Green Section released a short video on sand bunkers and namely the reasons why bunker inconsistency is a consistent complaint on golf courses throughout the country.  I have shared it with you here... USGA Bunker Video.

The project is scheduled to commence Monday, November 4th so that is just around the corner.  We originally scheduled this project to begin in December but all parties agreed to move up the start time to allow for potential inclement weather delays since several long range forecasting models I review are calling for a colder than normal winter this year.  Anyway, our plan is to complete par 3 bunkers on Mondays when the course is closed.  When renovating greenside bunkers on par 4's and par 5's we will use temporary hole locations in the approach same as last year.  Temporary tee locations will be placed in the fairways when working on fairway bunkers.  We are taking these steps to avoid closing golf holes but also we want to allow GCS and their crew to perform the work without delay... and without having to dodge golf balls.  Bunkers will only be renovated on one golf hole at a time so as to minimize your disruption to the golf course.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation as we all work together this winter to make your golf course and playing experience better!

With our first frost of the season taking place yesterday and a hard freeze forecasted for tonight it is only a matter of time before our bermudagrass begins its annual winter hibernation.  The protocol with regards to the driving range tee and its use during the "off-season" is to close the natural grass teeing area after the end of Daylight Savings Time (DST) and all range participation takes place from the artificial teeing areas.  This year DST officially ends on Sunday, November 3rd thus we will be closing the range tee and utilizing the artificial teeing areas beginning Tuesday, November 5th (election day).

I wanted to inform everyone my staff has spent this past week working diligently on the artificial teeing surfaces.  Each 5'x5' mat was removed from its location and examined.  The base material under each mat was re-leveled and mats were reinstalled.  Before reinstalling the mats were shuffled throughout the tee line and rotated in order to provide a fresh area from which to hit golf shots.  The mats were topdressed lightly where necessary and I am pleased with their appearance and feel as our "off-season" approaches.  We had to completely replace two mats and I am sure the new ones will be readily noticed and used more frequently when available.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation!

Remember when we were kids and your mother would fuss at you to be quiet and not run through the house, especially the kitchen when she was baking a cake because she didn't want the cake to fall?  Well, this past Wednesday (October 23rd) my cake fell.  Let me explain.  Tough Day is supposed to be a very difficult golf challenge.  Like a mad scientist I stretch the golf course to its maximum yardage and locate holes in positions where creativity and imagination are required to unlock the puzzle on how best to approach them. 
Not to mention the golf course is firm and fast and the greens are double mowed and rolled to provide a smooth and terrifyingly fast putting surface.  In other words there are several ingredients that go into the challenge that is Tough Day.  The staff worked diligently all morning preparing the golf course and cleaning the property of divots, leaves, pine needles, etc. and say the wind began to blow would be the understatement of the year.  As the cold front which brought us yesterday's frost approached the wind began to quickly undo everything my staff and I worked so hard to create.  Like a mother wanting to yell at the kids to be quiet and stop running through the kitchen I could only watch as my cake fell.  The wind was so strong at Carolina this past Wednesday I know it added at least 10 shots to the golf course.  Attempting to strategically place the ball on the proper portion of the green from the fairway along with any other strategy was thrown out the window and the day became a survival test, just getting on the greens was a minor victory...until you saw what kind of putt you faced!  Needless to say, the wind alone would have made normal pin positions and normal tee placements "tough day" so this year's Tough Day was extremely tough...but it was also fun!  I am already thinking about the setup for next year, Bwaahahaha! 

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Tufts Archives and Grandma's Quilt!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Friday, October 4th and I have a couple of things to share with you today but before I do I wanted to point out an interesting fact.  There are several members of the PGA Tour and Champions Tour living in the Charlotte Area that are members of Carolina Golf Club.  Two of those individuals, Webb Simpson and Brendon de Jonge are both participating in the President's Cup matches currently underway at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.  Interestingly Brendon is playing for the International team as he is originally from Zimbabwe and of course Webb is playing for the United States thus Carolina can't lose.  Fun fact of the day!

On August 28th I received a letter from Audrey Moriarty, Executive Director of The Tufts Archives in Pinehurst.  In conjunction with the 2014 U.S. Men's and Women's Opens next year at Pinehurst No. 2 the Tufts Archives and the Donald Ross Society want to emphasize the extent of Mr. Ross's contributions to classic golf architecture by displaying pin flags from a collection of courses Donald Ross designed.  The letter went on to state the flags will be displayed at The Tufts Archives in the Village of Pinehurst during the Opens and later become part of a permanent exhibit in the Archives.  I didn't hesitate to draft a letter of response and send a flag from Carolina.  A couple of weeks later I received a hand written note from Audrey informing me she received our flag and thanking the members of Carolina Golf Club for our contribution.  She also stated we were in very good company as the first two respondents of their request were Dornoch and Carolina Golf Club!

Hopefully you recall my post on August 30th titled Headaches, Favors and Stewardship! and the section where I shared a question I received from a member and my response with regards to some of the things we do in my department to be good stewards of the environment.  I wanted to touch on another point from that particular member's email as this person mentioned the renowned courses he has played and their multi-textured look.  To the novice it may seem as if we only have three or four types of grasses growing on the golf course.  The putting greens are bentgrass, the tees, fairways and roughs are bermudagrass and the natural/native areas are fescue and broomsedge but what if I told you we have over one dozen different grasses growing on the golf course!

The putting greens were established with two bentgrasses.  A 50/50 blend of A1 and A4 were seeded into these greens.  Although both varieties come from the same parent material they are indeed genetically different thus each contributes its own characteristics to the sward.

The tees, fairways and roughs consist of 4 different types of bermudagrasses.  There is the hybrid 419 or Tifway bermudagrass planted in 2008.  We also have Celebration bermudagrass, a more shade tolerant variety growing in several places throughout the property.  There is common bermudagrass in various patches and swaths as it has regenerated itself over the past five years and then we also have what is known as off-type.  Off-type is a term used to characterize a genetic mutation which commonly occurs in hybrid bermudgrasses.  The mutation is typically caused by a recessive gene from the parent material and off-types in 419 bermudagrass are widespread.  They are easily identified by their fine texture but lighter shade of green compared to the darker hues associated with 419.

The irregular shaped patches in the two photos below are examples of off-type bermudagrass formation within a stand of 419 bermudagrass tees.

15 Tee
18 Tee

The two photos below depict the different varieties of bermudagrass growing in the fairways.  The photo on the left shows three different varieties.  My radio is resting on pure 419 bermudagrass, my keys are on a patch of off-type and in the foreground is common bermudagrass.  The photo on the right depicts 4 different types of bermudagrass growing in the 10th fairway.  In the foreground is Celebration bermudagrass, the keys on the left are on 419, keys on the right on off-type and the radio is sitting in a small patch of common.

10 Fairway

17 Fairway

From a distance these irregular shaped areas of different colors and sometimes different textures give a mottled appearance similar to an old quilt.  In fact, mottled turfgrass swards are very indicative of older golf courses because over time this is the natural selection of things in nature. 

Our natural/native areas also have a similar appearance with sheep fescue, hard fescue and chewings fescue growing among bluestem, side oats gramma, blue gramma and broomsedge.  The two photos below show the bluestem and side oats gramma growing together in a large section of fine fescue.  This area is located to the left of the 14th tee.

Side Oats

I hope this helps everyone have a greater understanding of the types of grasses we grow and maintain on the property.  We truly are multi-textured like many other classic American golf courses and my goal as always is to produce the highest quality playing surface possible.  Enjoy the weekend and the President's Cup matches.

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Monday, September 16, 2013

Aeration and Renovation!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Monday, September 16th and I wanted to briefly update you on the process of putting green aeration.  Yesterday wrapped up the 2013 edition of the Men's Club Championship and thus summer is officially over in golf course maintenance land.  As we turn our attention to fall my staff and I would like to congratulate Brett Boner, 2013 Men's Champion; Rob Campbell, Jr., 2013 Senior Champion and Jenny Porter, 2013 Lady's the words of Head Golf Professional Jeff Peck, "Well played!"

There are several ways to aerate and several reasons why but core aeration, physically removing small cores of soil, etc. is a vital process in the long term health and performance of our putting greens. 

Thatch is naturally occurring as it is an accumulation of dead and decaying organic matter.  Over time leaves and roots of the turfgrass die and this material sloughs off into the canopy and begins to decay.  Some thatch is desirable but too much creates a myriad of problems such as higher disease pressure and poor water infiltration, thus removing this material annually and replacing with sand allows us to maintain our putting greens with the amount of organic material that's best for the expected performance of our greens.

We are fortunate to be closed today and tomorrow to complete the aeration process.  This is a vital time of year for the golf course.  The greens need to be aerated and all the bermudagrass areas (tees, fairways, roughs, etc.) must be treated with pre-emergent herbicide to prevent the germination of annual bluegrass (A.K.A. poa annua).  Without the application of a fall applied pre-emergent herbicide poa annua would germinate and infest our bermudagrass areas.  Once the bermudagrass goes dormant the poa annua would become unsightly and playing conditions would deteriorate to unacceptable levels.  Thus we use both days of putting green aeration to perform the important task of spraying the golf course with necessary herbicides to keep our turf weed free.

Last time I informed everyone how the natural/native area on number 9 was ready for reestablishment.  The staff had applied compost prior to Labor Day and then last week we got back to business.

After the area was prepped with the power rake the staff smoothed the surface and removed small rocks and clods of soil.  Next, I hand seeded the entire area and then staff members mulched with a product called Seed Aide.

Seed Aide Mulch
Paul and Roman Spread Mulch

Seed Aide is composed of recycled newspapers mostly and also contains some fertilizer.  Once the product becomes thoroughly wet it helps retain the moisture so seeds do not dry out.  We watered multiple times daily and the early results are promising...
Green is Good!
Looking Better!
Well, that's about all the time I have for now as I am needed back on the course.  We'll see you in a couple of days and don't worry, the greens will be back before you know it!
See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Friday, August 30, 2013

Headaches, Favors and Stewardship!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Friday, August 30th and I wanted to bring everyone up to speed on our overhead power line removal project as well as share something from earlier in the week I hope you enjoy.  You may recall my post on July 26th A Little Perspective, What it Means, What's Happening and Back on Track! where I showed you some photos of Pike Electric Co. installing a new transformer as well as installing underground cable in a new ditch left of the golf car path on #9.  I am happy to report as of this past Tuesday the poles have finally been removed from the property.  The events that transpired the past month to reach this goal have been nothing short of eventful, after all we are talking about working with public utility companies!

The purpose of this project was to have all overhead lines removed from the property.  The poles belonged to Duke Energy Co. but the club's phone (AT&T) and cable (Time Warner) were also attached to these poles.  Before the poles could be removed the club had to reach an agreement with both AT&T and Time Warner regarding future services.  It was determined Time Warner needed to install new underground cables to service the club and they did so about one week after Pike installed the new cables for Duke Energy.  AT&T showed up about one week later to remove their overhead lines from the poles and Pike also removed the overhead electric lines from the poles leaving Time Warner holding up traffic.  Several unanswered emails and phone calls later (and another week) and finally Metro Tech (A Time Warner contractor) showed up on the 20th of this month to transfer the club's service to the new underground cables and remove the overhead lines from the poles.  I met with the foreman and we agreed on the best route that would allow him to get his line truck near the poles and perform the task without damaging the golf course.  He then promptly left and a crew did not return till the following day (without the foreman I spoke with).  Things looked a little like this...

Not Cool!

Not the best first impression!  However, I was able to turn this incident into something positive as I explained to him the fee for pulling him out with our Cat 277 skid loader.  It seems one of the two ropes by the clubhouse flagpoles was needing replaced and they had just the equipment we needed.  Now the state flag flies with Old Glory once again!

Tow Fee!

Anyway, with Time Warner Cable now out of my way I immediately began pleading with my contact for this project at Duke Energy to send Pike back to the club to remove the poles.  As I stated above, they arrived Tuesday and now things look a little different.

Removing the Poles!
What Poles?
Ready for Reestablishment!

With the poles finally removed and out of the way my staff and I can begin to repair these areas and reestablish grass.  We will be replacing the damaged bermudagrass near the tee and the area near the end of the golf car path shown in the picture above with sod (scheduled for delivery next Wednesday).  The larger swath adjacent to the path will be reseeded with both our fine fescue and native short mix blends to reestablish the natural/native area.  My crew has already applied compost in advance.  This coming Tuesday the area will be tilled, hand raked, hand seeded and mulched with Seed Aide.

In other news, earlier this week I received an email from an esteemed member with a link to a story about the golf course superintendent at Merion Golf Club and his approach to golf course maintenance and the environment.  Here is the link for those of you interested and the member's email to me:

Below is a link to an article about the superintendent at Merion.  I wanted to share it with you because his approach seems so enlightened to me.

I used to think the quality of a golf course was how "perfect" it was, every blade the same, no blemishes. In recent years I have gotten to see some of the more noted classic courses: Cypress, Shinnecock, National, Merion, etc.

As described in this article, all of them have a variety of grasses and a multi-textured look. It is the quality of playing surface that matters most.

Merion has gone to some length to be "Eco friendly". I wonder what things we do in the interest of environmental stewardship?

I thought this may very well be the best question anyone has asked me in my 8+ years at Carolina and below is my reply:

Thanks for the article!   I really appreciate you sharing and I appreciate and value your comments regarding quality golf courses.  If the modern day golf course superintendent is not a friend of the environment then he or she is in the wrong business.  We are caretakers and stewards of God's creation and it is important we do the best we can to preserve and protect the environment.  I am very proud of the fact although we are very much an urban golf course, we are home to blue herons, red tail hawks and mallard ducks plus we have coyotes, deer, rabbits and squirrels wandering around the property as well.  The other day I watched two white egrets fly over the course and stop off for a visit.

Many members of the golfing and non-golfing public assume golf courses use too many chemicals, fertilizers and water when the opposite is the case.  I use soil test analysis to determine the nutritional requirements for our golf course.  This way we are only applying what is needed to sustain the plant versus over applying by simply guessing.  When making fertility applications we make every effort to remain a safe distance from all bodies of water to help prevent needless runoff and contamination.  As for our irrigation practices, I have had a reputation as a water miser for many years now.  I believe in only giving the plant what it needs, when it needs it thus maintaining a lean, firm and fast golf course as opposed to a lush, green oasis (when this occurs you know we have received lots of rain).  We even implemented soil moisture meters into our regimen last year to assist our efforts in only watering when and where necessary and further fine tune our process.

Another example of how Carolina Golf Club practices environmental stewardship is through the creation of the natural/native areas (over 20 acres).  These areas are non-irrigated after establishment thus another way we are conserving water.  They also receive no fertility after establishment thus another way we are reducing inputs.  I also use plant growth regulators on all short-cut turf areas throughout the growing season.  These products help reduce the number of mowings required each week to sustain a quality playing surface thus we have reduced fuel consumption and therefore reduced emissions.

I hope this helps everyone have a better understanding of how the things my staff and I do each and every day to your golf course impact our environment and you can take solace knowing we are doing our best to be good stewards and caretakers of this beautiful property!

Take care,

I hope you enjoyed the updates and lesson this time.  In the blog piece I linked near the top from July 26th I talked about a feeling I would get on Friday afternoons when I take in the beauty of the golf course and enjoy the fruits of the week's labor and efforts to produce this outcome...Well, it is Friday afternoon and I've got that feeling again!!!

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Monday, August 19, 2013

Discovery Channel, Several Thousand Words and Short Circuit!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Monday, August 19th and just when you thought it was safe to go back in the wait Shark Week was two weeks ago...just when you thought firm and fast was back...the strange year gets stranger.  Last time, I mentioned the possibility of an announcer's jinx when I blogged about the lack of high temperatures so far this year and sure enough we did endure our longest heat wave of the season (August 9th - 13th) along with a prolonged dry period of nearly 3 weeks from late July into mid-August.  During this stretch we monitored the putting greens closely as this occurred while we hosted the second round of this year's Charlotte City Amateur Championship.  Also during this time the remainder of the course began to blossom once again into a lean, mean, fighting machine...with gnarly rough.  Prior to Saturday morning the golf course was firm and fast for the first time since late May/early June... before we all moved to Seattle for the rest of summer.  Anyway, easy come easy go I guess as over two inches of rain has fallen on Carolina Golf Club since, I am not complaining.

Mondays we typically mow everything associated with the driving range and practice facility (i.e., driving range tee, target greens, short game fairway, driving range landing area (a.k.a. range floor) and all rough).  We also mow all tees, fairways and approaches on the golf course along with as much rough as possible in a full day.  Today we managed only to mow the driving range tee along with some rough (here and there) as all other areas were saturated from the steady rains over the past two plus days...not to mention we endured two significant rain periods today. 

Fear not, with a full crew and a day to ourselves I managed to think of something productive for the guys...verticutting greens!  Actually, we did this last year as my post from August 22, 2012 Here's What Happened and Why, What to Expect and More Entomology! explains.  You see, one of the ways we assist bentgrass during the summer months and alleviate stress is by raising the mowing heights but we also change the rollers on the mowers from grooved to smooth.

Smooth Front Roller
Grooved Front Roller


Grooved rollers help to stand the turf more upright and allow for a closer, tighter cut (important when mowing at heights less than 130/1000ths of an inch) however they are extremely abrasive (especially on mounds and turns) during the hot, humid months of summer when the turf grows less vigorously and thus can be damaging.  Smooth rollers actually elongate the leaf blade slightly before the reel cuts and abrasion is greatly reduced on sensitive areas.  It is important to note the abrasion experienced with grooved rollers is tolerable to almost negligible during the fall and spring when bentgrass grows most vigorously.  After mowing with smooth rollers for the past 10 weeks (we typically switch rollers around the small aeration following Memorial Day) the turf is more prostrate in growth habit and thus verticutting helps to stand the turf back up and allow for closer mowing once again.
Verticutting Blades

Yes, you read that right...with closer mowing comes tighter surfaces and tighter surfaces leads to smoother, faster putting greens.  Anyway, today's weather prolonged the verticutting process and prohibited the topdressing mentioned in last year's post but we will topdress in the next day or two when Mother Nature cooperates.  We did manage to follow up today's verticutting with a mowing using the grooved rollers reinstalled on our walk mowers.  We removed lots of grass and organic debris allowing the turf more room to breathe and creating space for topdressing sand to migrate to once applied.  This whole process is just one more agronomic function we perform annually to create the best greens in Charlotte.

Sean Bigg Verticuts with "Johnny 5"
A Closer Look

Daniel Dygowski mowing #15
James Dennett mowing #7

What a Difference!

A little info about some of the folks mentioned above.  Sean Bigg used to work for Kris Spence many years ago at Greensboro Country Club.  Daniel Dygowski is a turf student at CPCC and was one of two summer interns this year along with Jeremy Smith.  James Dennett is an intern from England here through November.  Johnny 5 is what we affectionately call our oldest triplex mower...can you tell?

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Little Perspective, What it Means, What's Happening and Back on Track!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Friday, July 26th and Mother Nature continues to remind us we are at her mercy.  For those of you unfamiliar I have been a golf course superintendent for the past 11 years and have been working in this industry since 1988 and I don't recall a season like this, at least not in Charlotte!  The big talk this year has been the abundant rainfall but has anyone else noticed the absence of extreme high temperatures?  I'm sure most of us recall the past three summers and their sweltering temperatures so I looked up the total number of days the temperature reached 90 degrees or above for the months of May, June and July 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 and what I found may surprise you.  In 2010 we had experienced 47 total days of 90 degrees or more with several hitting triple digits and 2011 brought us 51 days also with several topping 100 degrees.  Last year at this time we only suffered through 36 days 90 degrees or above and so far this year we have a grand total of 8 (that's right, I said EIGHT) and nothing above 93 degrees.  With the high humidity levels typical of summer's dog days it is easy to assume it is always 90 degrees or more and the heat index has certainly exceeded 90 on numerous occasions this year but the reality is thus far 2013 is the year without a summer (I shouldn't have said that, now I have jinxed us and August will probably be brutal).

I won't bore you with rain totals and details but you know the old saying, "when it rains, it pours"?  Well, when dealing with turf, and your home lawn too when it rains weed pressure becomes excessive.  You see, grassy weeds such as crabgrass and goosegrass are prevented using herbicides that create a barrier in the soil.  The weed seed still germinates but the plant is unable to survive growing through the barrier.  These chemical compounds have a residual that keeps them in place for months and they typically provide season long control.  However, these compounds do break down over time and conditions such as heavier than normal rainfall erode this barrier quicker than usual and this leads to the emergence of undesirable weeds before the season ends.  I would be willing to wager if you look closely at the lawns on your street you will probably see more crabgrass than normal.  Wet years are weedy years and not only does the pre-emergent herbicides breakdown quicker but the wet conditions make treatments with post-emergent products difficult because the rain either washes the product away or just makes the area so wet you aren't able to get application equipment into certain areas.  Ok, enough lamenting but I just wanted you to understand the differences you see in turf caused by the prevalent weather conditions.  Wet years leads to lush, green turf but weeds and diseases are more prevalent.  Dry years leads to firmer, healthier turf with weeds and diseases less prevalent.

So, you're wondering what that big ugly scar running adjacent to the 9th hole is.  The Greens Committee and the Board of Governors decided to remove the last remaining overhead power lines on the property to enhance the club's entrance, etc.  This project was approved back in the winter and originally scheduled for March but you can imagine what working with public utilities can be like thus this past Monday crews from Pike Electric Company were on site to install a new transformer and bury new cables that will provide the club's new power service.

Pulling Cable
New Transformer

What Ditch?
The next step in this project is making all the connections necessary with the new cables and transferring the service from the old, overhead lines to the new underground lines.  Once this step is complete a separate crew will come in and remove the overhead lines and power poles.  When the poles are removed my staff and I will repair the area and establish grass.  I will keep you posted...

When I first started in this business I remember the feeling of satisfaction that would come over me on Friday afternoons as I would take in the overall appearance of the golf course and recognize how all the work we had completed that week had come together to produce a beautiful picture.  After well over 20 years in this business I still get that feeling... and after numerous weeks of being unable to mow the golf course as frequently as necessary it feels good today to look across Carolina and see the beautiful results of a great week of production by the staff...enjoy!

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent