Friday, July 11, 2014

Addressing Your Concerns!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, July 11th and I want to talk with you about current golf course conditions and an issue associated with them.  Wednesday I met with the Greens Committee (our regularly scheduled meeting) and many nice things were said about the overall condition of the golf course.  We discussed the quality of our fairways and approaches, the appearance of our fine-fescue natural areas, and the overall condition of our bentgrass greens this time of year.  The committee also brought to my attention the fact they have been recently receiving questions and/or comments about the collars.  Questions like, "Why do they look the way they do?"   "What are we doing to them?"  "Why does it seem we always struggle with them?"   My goal here today is explain to you exactly what you are seeing and why.  I hope when I am done, not only will we all be on the same page, but everyone will have a greater understanding of the role WE all play in the overall condition of the golf course on a daily basis.  Then I hope everyone will make the effort to help us make Carolina Golf Club even better.  

My apologies for not sharing this information with you sooner.  Sometimes I write items for the Board of Governors and I fail to mention it here, or vice-versa, and I might forget sometimes I didn't cover everything with everybody.  By nature, the collar (the area approximately 26" wide immediately touching the edge of the putting surface) is a very unique portion of the golf course.  It is an interface between two different grasses (bentgrass greens, bermudagrass approaches and surrounds) and two different grass types (cool-season, warm-season).  Each grass has its own unique set of ideal requirements for growth and development (climate, water, fertility, etc.).  On top of this fact, the collar is a high volume traffic zone.  When mowing greens, mowers turn in this area.  When rolling greens, rollers stop and change direction in this area.  And, when golfers walk onto the greens, sometimes the design of the golf hole and its features (i.e., bunkers) funnel everybody to the same access point.

Think for a second about hole number 4.  When playing that hole you have nearly unlimited points of access to the putting green.  You may walk onto the green from the front, the entire right side, from the back, or even the back-left corner.  That being said we really do not encounter any foot traffic related issues on the collar of hole number 4, and there are others holes very similar (5,6,7,15, and 17 come to mind).  
Number 5 Shows No Wear
Number 5 Looking Opposite Direction

Now for a second picture hole number 10.  All cart golfers park on the path near the 11th tees and walk onto the green hugging the right bunker, thus stepping onto the front right corner.  All foot traffic is concentrated in a very small area, compacting the soil creating thin, unsightly turf.  We all know that anywhere in nature where large numbers of people walk in the exact same place over and over a worn path will develop.  
Access to Number 10
Front Right Corner Number 10

Number 10 Along Right Side
Number 10 Across Front

Another good analogy is to think about carpet.  If you have carpet in your home, what does that carpet look like in the high traffic zones of the room compared to the far corner behind a chair where nobody ever walks or stands?  Starting to realize the effect.  Turf is not much different, the high volume traffic areas will visibly show more wear and tear (thinner turf conditions, off color appearance, etc.) than compared to those areas less compromised.

Now I mentioned earlier how mowers and rollers can be contributing factors of compaction in these areas.  Last year we instituted measures to alleviate this issue by using something we call a "turning board".  A turning board is a thin, light weight material that the mowers and rollers take with them and place on the collar in order to distribute the weight of their machines over a wider area reducing their overall impact.
Turning Boards Protecting Collar
Another issue we face in a few areas is the use of push/pull carts.  Now you might be thinking how much damage can a small push/pull cart create.  Not much, when the traffic pattern is widely scattered and varied like on most holes.  However, certain holes naturally funnel all traffic to a narrow point such as the front left side of hole number 2 and nearly 1/5 of our membership stores a push/pull cart on property.
Number 2 Access Behind Green
Number 2 Between Green & Front Left Bunker


Now, not all our issues are strictly traffic related.  Certain holes have their own unique micro-climates, such as numbers 12 and 16.  Both of the putting greens are located in heavily shaded environments, and this shade compromises the overall health and vigor of the bermudagrass turf.
Number 12 Access From Cart Path
Number 16 Behind Green

Now that you understand the causes of turf stress in these areas let's take a look at what we have been doing and why.  We all know one reason I aerate turf is to alleviate compaction.  Last summer in an effort to strengthen the turf in the collar I performed additional aeration just to the collar and fertilized with an organic fertilizer.  This spring when bermudagrass finally started to wake up from that awfully long, cold winter I noticed the following effect.
Notice the Aerator Pattern
More Turf in the Treated Area

We had greener, denser turf in the aerated area than just outside the treated area.  This showed me the treatments we employed in the summer months of 2013 were beneficial, but it also showed to be completely effective I needed to aerate a wider swath.  I informed the Greens Committee and Board of Governors of this information in a report dated April 21st, and I explained my plan for this summer to aerate a wider swath around the greens, and to perform that treatment twice rather than just once.  We did the first aeration about three weeks ago and topdressed the entire area heavily in sand (the same sand we use for repairing divots on the driving range tee).  This is one reason why very recently the areas looked thinner and off-color than compared to the surrounding turf.  We will perform a second aeration very soon, but this time we will not remove any soil with hollow tines.  Instead we will use solid tines to make a smaller hole and apply the organic fertilizer.  Also, we will topdress with green sand.

One other thing important to understand fully with why the issues have persisted much longer this year than others.  We made the decision to resod the damaged turf this spring earlier than normal, and the sod we received from our turf supplier wasn't the strongest (the harsh winter this year affected sod farms too).  The areas that appear to be the most unsightly at this moment are actually the resodded areas.  They did not tolerate the aggressive aeration three weeks ago as well as the other turf, thus it is taking those areas a little longer to recover.

Yesterday we installed some new ropes and stakes to barricade and protect the weak areas.  Hopefully you will recognize this and take a slightly detoured path to the putting surface (please do not step across the ropes and walk on the recovering turf).  We placed a small dot of white paint under the stake, so if you find it necessary to move them while playing a shot (they are movable obstructions), you can easily find where to replace them afterwards.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation!

So, now the dissertation is over let's review the take-home message.  Collars are subjected to high traffic volumes which can pose problems for the turf's long term survival (think like carpet in a hallway vs. the corner of a room).  Shaded environments also make it difficult for bermudagrass to survive extreme winter conditions.  We are aerating, topdressing, and fertilizing collars independently of the surrounding low-cut turf to cultivate healthier bermudagrass so it can better tolerate the stresses associated with that area.  We are using turning boards to reduce stress imparted from mowers and rollers.  We can all help make the course better by taking our time to recognize the high traffic areas and avoiding them when possible (this is also true with regards to driving golf carts).

In the past four weeks we have core aerated putting greens, tees, and collars.  Tees and collars were topdressed (the collars heavily).  Fairways and approaches were aerated with solid tines and topdressed.  Green surrounds were verticut and topdressed.  All roughs and the entire driving range landing zone was aeravated.  I mentioned twice before HERE and HERE we were going to be performing these operations (cultural practices) from mid-June through mid-August in efforts to strengthen and grow healthy bermudagrass turf.  These treatments are what allows us to provide you the quality playing surfaces you have grown fond of during our busy tournament seasons.  Thank you for taking the time to read this post, sorry it was lengthy.  Enjoy the rest of your summer, come play, and hopefully I will...

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dog Days, The Reason Why, and Demonstration!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Thursday, July 3rd, the eve of Independence Day, but it is also the beginning of Dog Days (traditionally the hottest, most sultry time of summer).  For those of you unfamiliar here is a portion from one of my posts in 2012: Most everyone has heard the term "dog days of summer" and knows they occur during the hottest and muggiest part of the season.  In our latitude that period typically occurs for approximately 40 days beginning around July 3rd and wrapping up around August 11th.  The term comes from the ancient Romans who recognized the star Sirius, also known as the dog star because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (large dog).  In late July Sirius will rise and set in conjunction with the sun.

Canis Major
The Romans named the period for 20 days before and 20 days after this conjunction "dog days" after the dog star.  The Romans actually thought Sirius gave off heat due to the star's brightness and this heat, in addition to the sun, was the cause for the extremely hot weather associated with the dog days.  
If you have been out to enjoy the course the past couple of days you probably thought the dog days had started already.  Yesterday was our warmest day of 2014 as we topped out at 95 F, and we actually reached 90 F or above ten times during the month of June (reaching 93 F on two occasions).  The golf course hardly shows any lingering effects from a cold winter that is now a distant memory.  You probably also noticed a discernible decrease in putting green speed.  This is by design.  Not to say I intentionally slowed the greens, but we are managing our bentgrass greens for summer survival and slower green speed is the side effect.  Let me explain (warning, not a short explanation)

Our putting greens are a blend of A1 and A4 creeping bentgrasses.  These are cool-season grasses meaning they prefer a cooler, less humid climate for ideal growth (this is why our greens are so good from September through June).  Bermudagrass on the other hand is a warm-season grass meaning it prefers warm, humid conditions in order to thrive (this is why our tees, fairways, and roughs are always in peak condition this time of year).  When temperatures climb into the upper 80's and 90's F consistently, soil temperatures begin to rise.  During extremely hot summer months soil temperatures reach levels fatal to bentgrass roots.  In fact, creeping bentgrass can lose up to 75% of its total root mass during summer.  

In order to survive warm temperatures, bentgrass turf cools itself through a process called transpiration.  The plant takes up moisture through the roots, moves the moisture up through the plant tissue, then the moisture exits the plant through leaf openings called stomata where it evaporates.  To further understand this concept think about how we humans perspire to keep our body temperatures from overheating during hot weather.  Now also think about how well perspiration works on us humans when it is very humid outside (not comfortable). This is why fans are so critical to bentgrass putting green health in our climate.  When there is no air movement around a green, the moisture exiting the plant via transpiration cannot evaporate (kind of like sweat sticking to your skin). The air flow over the putting surface provided by the fan allows the natural process of transpiration to work more effectively.

Now, the fact plants can cool themselves via transpiration is great, but there is more.  It takes energy to run the plant's natural metabolic processes and that energy comes from carbohydrates.  We all know plants produce their own energy via photosynthesis, but did you know in extreme conditions turfgrass plants will close their stomates to prevent extreme moisture loss.  When this happens the plant enters into a process called photorespiration.  I think this is a good place to cease with the science and just get to the point...  

Not bad for July 1st!
The reason why bentgrass greens are slower in the summer is because we mow the greens at a higher height of cut this time of year.  We do this in order to assist the plant with its ability to photosynthesize.  Right now bentgrass consumes more energy than it produces.  This energy deficit leads to a "decline" in overall turf quality.  This decline can be characterized by a number of things including loss of vigor, thinning, and disease susceptibility, thus we must manage the greens right now with the utmost TLC.  We hand syringe greens during the day to help keep the canopy cool (please do NOT hit onto the putting greens when I or one of my staff members is syringing, unless we wave you through).  Also, we are treating greens weekly with foliar fertilizers and other plant protectants to bolster their immune systems and help them produce energy.  In order for the plant to produce energy via photosynthesis, the plant needs leaf tissue to capture the sun's energy.  The more leaf tissue, the more surface area with which to capture the sun's energy and convert it into sugar (carbohydrates).  

Now mowing height alone is not the sole determining factor of putting green speed throughout the year, but it is the dominant reason right now, and thus the greens putt more like those of a sea-side links than what we are accustomed to during the spring and fall.  In my opinion you can either choose to have a poor mental attitude and dislike the slower speeds this time of year, or think about it positively.  It is a nice (short-term) break from having to putt so defensively, so putt confidently and without fear of running the ball too far past the hole.

Finally, one more thing you may have noticed recently.  We have removed most of the stakes and ropes from the golf course.  Now, this removal is not an open invitation to drive anywhere on the course.  On the contrary, we have been asking you for about a month now to only operate your carts in the fairways (if you are only in the fairways, there shouldn't be a need to rope off areas in the rough).  Besides, stakes and ropes are unsightly and the golf course looks much more attractive without them, but I still see some of you having trouble grasping the "fairways only" concept.  Our very own General Manager, Roger Wolfe was "testing" the course conditions the other day and I managed to capture him demonstrating how to play a shot from the rough while maintaining his cart in the fairway.

Roger Wolfe, CCM
You see, it really is very simple.  Help spread the word (#FairwaysOnly, #NoRoughs) and together we can make Carolina even better.  Hope everyone enjoys a happy and safe 4th of July... and no three-putts!

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS