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

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