Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Summer Is Over, Did You Notice, What's Next, and Greens Aeration!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Tuesday, September 16th and although autumn doesn't officially begin for another week, yesterday was the unofficial, official end of summer at Carolina Golf Club.  What do I mean?  

That's right, yesterday we began removing the fans from around the putting greens.  We will not complete this task until next week when we are closed for putting green aeration, but there is definitely a sense of relief when they come down for the season.

To quickly recap, this past summer was similar to last year temperature wise.  It was also wet with 13.3 inches rain falling between June and August (over 7 inches in July).  Similarly, we received 16.4 inches rain over the same time span last year.  When you think back to the sluggish start bermudagrass had this season with the lingering effects of a harsh winter and a cool spring, summer really turned out to be a great bermudagrass growing season.  The tees, fairways, and rough have never looked better with regards to plant density and uniformity.  

Although not by choice, currently we are practically wall-to-wall green with the most recent rains (4.56 inches thus far in September).  Here's hoping for some typical fall weather (cooler and drier) soon and the return of firm and fast conditions in the fairways!

So, as we say goodbye to summer and hello to fall and winter you are probably wondering what's next with the golf course.  Before we go there I want to ask you, did you notice?  There were several things we did differently this season compared to previous ones to improve the overall condition of the golf course.  Did you notice this year we walk mowed all the tees?

Prior to 2013 all the tees were mowed with a riding triplex mower.  Last year I incorporated walk mowing on only the 1st, 9th, 10th, and 18th holes to help offset the added mowing we placed on the triplex mowers when we created short-cut "roll-off areas" that tied-in to the next teeing area around the 1st, 7th, and 15th greens.  The overall turf quality last year of the walk mowed tees compared to the triplex mowed tees was not only significantly better, but also there was less traffic injury in the rough immediately around the tees thus enhancing definition.

You know how in the middle of summer we raise the height of cut (HOC) on putting greens to help alleviate stress [more leaf material for more photosynthesis, etc. (PLEASE CLICK HERE IF YOU WOULD LIKE A REFRESHER)]?  Well, the same is true for bermudagrass, except the process takes place near the end of summer going into fall.  As summer winds down the bermudagrass plant begins preparations for the upcoming winter dormant season producing carbohydrates and storing them to use when next spring arrives.  By raising the HOC on bermudagrass as the days begin to noticeably shorten we are actually assisting the plant better prepare itself for the upcoming winter.  The overall changes are not major (we are only talking one to two-tenths of an inch depending on the area), but they do make a huge impact on turf survival.  In the meantime, you may have noticed those tight lies around the greens are not as imposing, and you are finding it easier to slide the club under the ball.  You're welcome!    

One other thing, the overall HOC in the primary rough this year was the lowest it has ever been during my tenure as golf course superintendent.  In fact, I received the fewest number of complaints this year (practically none) regarding lost balls in the rough than ever before.  How did I manage to pull this off?  This is a trick question so let me explain.  This all started way back in March as we began preparations for the 54th North Carolina Amateur Championship.  In my meetings with Andy Priest, the CGA's Director of Tournament and Internet Operations, he and I decided to eliminate the intermediate rough in an effort to maximize the differential between fairway and rough for the tournament.  Of course, the cool spring conditions on the heels of last winter severely limited our ability to provide a thick, challenging rough for the tournament played in early June, but one thing we did notice was the definition of our fairways was vastly improved without the border.  Once the tournament ended, we dropped the HOC on the primary rough and my experiment began.    

Hole 5, 2010

Hole 8, 2012
Prior to this year our HOC on primary rough was always two inches (with a max of 2.25 inches just prior to winter dormancy).  This was necessary to create any semblance of a difference between the intermediate and primary HOC's.  With the intermediate removed from the equation I was able to drop the HOC on the primary to 1.75 inches this summer.  We did raise the HOC to 1.875 inches August 1st, and are currently at a max HOC of two inches as we approach winter.  Thus at times this year the rough was anywhere from 0.25, to as much as 0.375 inches SHORTER than ever before.  The shorter HOC in conjunction with the removal of golf car traffic (something not all of you have mastered just yet) helped the rough to grow thicker and denser than ever before.   
During the NC Amateur, June 2014
Left Side Hole 13, Notice Cart in Fwy!

Close Up Hole 18
This year we achieved the greatest uniformity ever (something we have always struggled with prior to now) with shorter, more playable rough.  Did you notice?  (Sidebar: the first person to actually directly inquire with me about the "missing" intermediate cut did so during the last week of August prior to the Men's Club Championship). 

So what's next?  There are several things on the agenda for my department as we continue to both groom and maintain the golf course for your pleasure, and prepare it for the coming off-season.  We will be applying our last major fertility treatment to the golf course soon (feed the turf for winter).  We will also be applying pre-emergent herbicide in the next couple weeks to help keep our bermudgrass free of poa annua and other winter weeds this off-season.  We will be renovating a few select natural/native areas that struggled to meet expectations this season.  Also, there is some necessary tree removal to be completed, and selective tree trimming to allow sunlight to reach the turf canopy underneath.  We will also be applying a fungicide treatment to our closely mowed bermudagrass turf to combat Spring Dead Spot CLICK HERE FOR REFRESHER.

Well, only 6 more days till we aerate the putting greens.  This is a major agronomic event involving the removal of large cores, topdressing heavily with sand, and knowing when the greens heal they will once again be the best in town.  I can hardly wait!  Until then...

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS

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