Thursday, March 21, 2013

March Madness, Turf Nerd and Cinderella!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Thursday, March 21, 2013 so turn in your brackets and let the madness begin.  With the arrival of spring (the equinox occurred yesterday) and the NCAA basketball tournament that means we just wrapped up our first aeration of the putting greens for the year (traditionally the 3rd Monday in March) and the process was ... a process!  I arrived at the course this past Monday to discover potentially heavy rains were forecasted for later that day.  With the new seasonal staff on hand (more on these guys at a later date) the decision was made to focus only on the aeration and core removal tasks and get as much accomplished as possible (topdressing would be postponed till the following day). 
Cores Pushed Into Rows
Aerating the Last Surface!
The staff worked really hard in the cold, damp conditions and we were able to aerate all 22 bentgrass surfaces (1-18, practice green, chipping green, warm-up green and nursery green) and remove all cores on Monday. 
Removing the Cores
It started to rain pretty steady as we were wrapping up our last green about 5:30 pm and overall I felt pretty good about what we accomplished.
Day 2 started with discovering 0.75" rain in the gauge from the overnight line of storms along with foggy conditions.  In order to topdress with kiln dried sand the surface needs to be dry (this allows the sand to be worked into the holes) and thus we had to wait until the sun finally came out around 9:30 am and the breeze kicked up before conditions were satisfactory for topdressing.  Also, the bright, sunny skies were a welcome change to the cold, grey day before.  Once we were able to topdress the crew worked diligently all day hand brushing the topdressing.  This ancient method ensures all holes are filled completely.
Hand Brushing the 5th Green
Ensuring All Holes are Filled
We wrapped up the day around 7:00 pm and still had 14-18, the practice green, chipping green and nursery remaining.  Fortunately we were able to start right away yesterday morning with dry conditions (no morning dew) and completed 14-18 by lunch time and then completed the remaining surfaces before closing the book on this project.  All the greens were fertilized and heavily irrigated to help settle and compact the sand.  
Although the aeration took 3 days (mostly weather related) I am excited about the results it will yield with regards to the performance of our putting surfaces this coming season.  You see, as putting greens age there is a natural accumulation of organic matter in the upper one to three inches of the root zone (as depicted below by the darker region of the upper root zone).  This comes from the natural death and decay of older plant leaves and roots over time and this accumulation if left unchecked can lead to severe problems down the road (poor water infiltration, higher disease incidence, poor gas exchange in the root zone, etc.).  Our greens were established in the spring of 2008 (five years ago) and thus we can no longer treat them as if they are brand new. 
Organic Accumulation and Old Aerator Hole
The secret to great bentgrass putting greens in the humid, southeast is core aeration!  You may be able to get by with less core aeration in other parts of the country but multiple core aeration is imperative to the health and survivability of bentgrass in our region.  My goal was to have the greatest impact to the putting greens while simultaneously minimizing the total surface disruption.  The USGA Green Section recommends core aeration impact 20% of the total surface area annually.  I selected a tine that would impact as close to 10% of the surface area as possible (remember we repeat this process annually each September).  Add our pencil tine aeration in late May/early June and you get 20% thus we are on target.  The sand will smooth and firm the surface, dilute the thatch and organic matter and create channels in the aeration holes which will promote greater water infiltration and allow oxygen deeper into the root zone!  In other words, our aeration process will make our great greens even greater!
So far this has been one of the longest and coldest winters I can remember.  Okay, maybe not the coldest as far as extreme cold temperatures are concerned but coldest in the sense that temperatures have been below normal for many more days than not.  I blame Cinderella! 
Not This Cinderella
This Cinderella

March, 2012 saw 10 days of 80 degrees or more and the two days of greens aeration last year were 83 and 82 degrees respectively with morning lows of 55 and 59 degrees.  This year we have had zero days of 80 degrees or more thus far and the two scheduled days of aeration we experienced high temperatures of 46 and 66 degrees respectively with morning lows of 40 and 39 degrees.  This morning it was back down below freezing (I swear I believe Mother Nature has run off with Old Man Winter).  Anyway, this time last year the bermudagrass was greening up and the greens were growing rapidly which assisted in their recovery from aeration.  Although I am thrilled with the results of the putting green aeration I am disappointed the weather is unseasonable (according to WCNC's meteorologist Brad Panovich the temperatures will most likely remain well below normal until sometime after Easter which is still over one week away) and this will directly impact how quickly the greens grow and recover from the aeration.  As my good friend Charlie Brown would say...Good Grief!
Old Man Winter
Mother Nature
Another unfortunate aspect of this continuation of winter is the impact on the bermudagrass turf.  Although we have not reached 80 degrees yet this year last weekend did see high temperatures of 79 and 77 degrees respectively.  This warm weekend was enough to kick-start the bermudagrass wake-up period and many southern facing slopes on the course are starting to green-up.  This will be short lived with temperatures tonight expected to drop into the upper twenties.  Expect the bermudagrass to hit the snooze button!
Believe me when I tell you my staff and I are ready for warmer weather, green grass and more golfers.  It is time for the long cold winter to give way to spring blooms and robins nesting.  We are ready to trade cabin fever for spring fever so hopefully March Madness will usher in a glorious start to the 2013 golf season at Carolina! 
See you on the course,
Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

Friday, March 1, 2013

Education Month, It's Never Easy and Visiting Hours!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Friday, March 1, 2013...where does the time go?!  Many years ago my grandfather told me you can never have too much education!  Considering his only two daughters were both school teachers (Mom is now retired but my Aunt still teaches) I guess the desire to learn and instruct runs in the family.  The staff and I spent a good deal of time last month attending numerous continuing education seminars.  I started everything off when I attended the GCSAA Education Conference & Golf Industry Show in San Diego February 4-8.  In addition to the normal eduaction sessions available I attended two specialized seminars.  One was called Greens Aerification and Water Management by the Numbers and the other Management of Fine Fescues for "Native" Rough Areas of Golf Courses.  Both classes were very informative and I learned some things we can apply to Carolina to make our current putting green management even better and also improve the performance of our natural/native areas. 
On February 20th I sent one of my assistants to Golf Irrigation Service School sponsored by Toro and their local distributor Smith Turf & Irrigation.  The one day seminar instructs attendees on electrical and controller troubleshooting, wiring and grounding issues, radio communications, central control system overview and hands-on sprinkler repairs.  They also provide an open discussion for any specific repair and troubleshooting issues that you may be experiencing on your own course.  This one day course is a great refresher and at least one member of my management staff has attended this seminar the past four years.  On February 21st the North-South Turfgrass Association sponsored a Carolinas GCSA Regional Seminar at Myers Park C.C.  Both assistants attended the two half-day seminars.  In the morning Dr. Dara Park from Clemson University lectured about the different effects poor quality water can have on turf and the turf environment when used for irrigation in her seminar Irrigation Water Quality.  I do test our irrigation water periodically and we immediately collected a sample for testing the next day.  In the afternoon they heard Dr. Bert McCarty from Clemson University give his presentation Managing Bermudagrass Golf Courses and Greens.  I asked them to attend this session as an opportunity to gather information with regards to bermudagrass putting green management.  This does not mean Carolina is converting or thinking about converting.  However, with many courses in North Carolina converting their bentgrass putting greens to the newer hybrid ultradwarf bermudgrasses it is important to stay abreast of current industry trends.
Superintendents and assistants aren't the only people who get to have all the fun going to school.  Equipment Manager JR Bailey just wrapped up two days of classes and seminars sponsored by Toro
JR Bailey
and Smith Turf & Irrigation.  On February 27th he attended Hydraulic/Electric Troubleshooting where he received a comprehensive review and evaluation of hydraulic and electrical systems and components commonly found in outdoor power equipment.  They discussed and demonstrated effective techniques, component identification, evaluation and testing.  The next day was Greensmasters where the new Greensmaster 3300 series and Flex 2100 mowers were on display (we use the Flex 2100 mowers to walk mow greens at Carolina and the 3300 series to mow tees and approaches).  Attendees got dirty as they went through maintenance, adjustment and test procedures of both units as well as their dual point adjustment cutting units.  I truly appreciate the opportunity to continue education and training not only for myself but my staff.  Our industry is constantly adapting and evolving and it is important to take the time to learn in order to not fall behind.
If you skipped down to this paragraph thinking you were missing the weather update, sorry.  February wrapped up with 3.63 inches total rain and we have received 12.23 inches precipitation over the past three months (note, the first three weeks of December were very dry thus that three month total is really within the past 10 weeks).  All of this rain has led to elevated ground water levels and saturated soil conditions.  This means it takes only a small amount of rain to puddle on the surface and create unplayable conditions.  Especially during the winter months when dormant turf and dormant trees are not taking up water and lower temperatures, shorter days and low sun angles greatly reduce evaporation rates.  This makes for a very challenging situation as we are trying to treat the golf course with preemergent herbicide.  Every year at this time we treat the bermudgrass (tees, fairways and roughs) with Ronstar, a preemergent herbicide to prevent crabgrass and goosegrass from invading our playing surfaces during the spring and summer.  The product is sprayed onto the leaf surfaces and then either irrigation or natural rainfall washes the chemical compound off the turf canopy and moves the product down below the thatch into the upper portion of the soil.  Here the chemical compound adheres to the soil and forms a barrier that prevents crabgrass and goosegrass from successfully germinating and establishing.  Our challenge is both getting the course to dry out enough to tolerate the traffic from the sprayer and apply the herbicide accurately without it being washed away as opposed to watered in considering the current state of our saturated soils.  Fortunately the cold weather is keeping soil temperatures lower than normal for this time of year so we still have a few more weeks before we have to play beat the clock.
This morning I witnessed some deer hoof prints on the 13th fairway.  I saw some tracks on the 10th hole a few days ago so I guess we have some visitors wandering around at night.  I actually saw two
Deer Tracks!
deer near my shop one weekend morning last month but was unable to capture their picture.  It never ceases to amaze me what a diverse population of wildlife we have on the golf course considering our urban location.
See you on the course,
Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent