Friday, February 20, 2015

Thoughts Behind An Unpopular Decision!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, February 20th and temperatures are still below freezing.  In fact we established a new record low this morning when the temperature bottomed out at 7 F officially in Charlotte.  Yesterday we established a new record (lowest recorded daytime high temperature) of 26 F as the previous record for February 19 was 32 F.  To put just how cold things currently are in perspective our averages this time of year are 57 F (high) and 34 F (low), and the temperature has now been below freezing in Charlotte approaching 48 hours.
Surface Temp of Nursery Green This AM in Shade
I know right now you're asking what all of this means.  For the first time in a long while we have soil frozen to depths greater than two or three inches, and although air temperatures are expected to finally climb back above the freezing mark tomorrow, soils do not thaw as rapidly.  Just think about how much time it takes to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey each year (several days in the refrigerator).  When soil freezes turf roots become encased in the frozen layer.  As the soil begins to thaw so do the roots, but unfortunately it takes time for soils frozen this deep to thaw completely.  This means there will be a period when thawing is taking place at or near the surface but the soil will remain frozen deeper below.  Thawed turf roots in the upper portion of the root zone are pliable but just an inch or more below the surface those same roots are trapped and encased in the frozen soil.  When this condition exists permanent turf injury can occur as traffic, whether from golf cars, maintenance equipment, maintenance workers, or even golfers suffering from cabin fever desperate to enjoy a few holes can cause irreparable harm as the turf roots become sheared off at the interface between the thawed and frozen layers of soil.  In other words, if we were to permit play during a delicate time like just described the foot traffic alone on the putting surfaces can shear off enough roots leaving our bentgrass weak and shallow rooted as spring approaches.
Surface Temp of Nursery Green This AM in Full Sun
Now, we actually opened the golf course today at noon for a few brave souls and you may be wondering how is that possible when it is so cold outside.  With the entire golf course frozen there is actually very little damage or harm that can occur so long as the exposed leaf tissue is pliable and not rigid.  We evaluate this by visual analysis and other means to determine if the leaf tissue can tolerate play while everything else remains frozen.  Contrary to popular ideas, golf course superintendents and professional turfgrass managers do not like making decisions which restrict or limit access to the golf course and hinder your enjoyment and experience.  However sometimes we are faced with conditions that force us to make unpopular decisions for the sake of the greater good (inconvenience some members trying to squeeze in some winter golf in order all members will have healthy, quality turf to enjoy later in the year).  In a typical North Carolina winter I do not face these types of decisions.  Usually if we get cold enough to freeze the rootzone, it isn't to current depths and thawing occurs without a frozen layer underneath.  Also, extreme freezing conditions such as these are not normally followed by drastic warm-ups as currently being forecast for tomorrow and Sunday.

Which bring us to my dilemma, the ingredients for the scenario I have just described are in place to occur this weekend, and I know many of you would like to play.  Yes, we are all tired of winter and more than ready for spring, but the next two days it may very well be necessary to refrain from using the golf course in order we may all enjoy healthier conditions when spring arrives.  My staff and I are closely monitoring the weather and trying our level best to assess and evaluate course conditions.  Stay tuned to the club for Twitter updates and feel free to contact the Golf Shop, as they will be my voice to you as we determine whether or not it is safe to use and enjoy the golf facilities this weekend in some capacity.  Please know I do not make such decisions in haste and without careful thought and consideration.  You have entrusted me to care for your golf course and to use my knowledge, skills, and practical experience to preserve, protect, and nurture your golf course for your year-round enjoyment.  If closing one or both days this weekend should become necessary I sincerely hope you know your patience and restraint will pay big dividends down the road.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation!

Stay tuned,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dealing With Winter, Project Updates, and Recognition!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, February 13th and Old Man Winter is making his presence felt in the Carolinas today.  In fact, it is actually going to get much colder the next several days before it gets better, and that will impact your access to the golf course.  Notice temperatures never get above freezing on Sunday!  

I will touch on that and update you on some things me and my staff have been working on lately.  You know some people might think today is unlucky, but after what happened to me earlier this morning I would have to disagree (stay tuned to find out why).

One thing every dedicated golfer encounters this time of year is frost delays.  I am not going to lecture here about why frost delays occur and why it is important for the long term health and safety of our golf course putting green turf to close the course until frost is no longer present.  For those of you seeking a refresher you can find that information HERE.  What I am going to tell you is this winter we have experienced some roller coaster weather with bitterly cold days and spring like temperatures.  Golf is an outdoor game and when the weather is exceptional (as experienced last weekend and over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday) people who like golf come out to play (294 rounds last weekend, 442 rounds over four-day MLK holiday).  

We have always prided ourselves at Carolina Golf Club in our ability to accommodate our members and provide them with more access to the golf course than our neighbors.  The recent frost delays experienced on several weekend mornings led to me meeting with our Head Golf Professional, Knox Martin and Greens Committee Chairman, Stephen Woodard with the purpose of evaluating what we typically do when we encounter frost and have to delay starting times.  Part of our discussion included examining the methods employed by several neighboring clubs and comparing to ours. In the end we concluded we (Carolina Golf Club) do take the greatest measures to get you on the golf course as soon as possible, but we also want to accommodate as many members and guests as possible on any given day.   

Historically when temperatures at Carolina fall below freezing and we encounter frost, the temperature does not rise above freezing until somewhere between 9:00 and 10:00 am.  With starting times beginning at 9:00 am a delay of one hour is not unexpected.  However there are times when the ground is frozen, the air temperature does not warm as rapidly, and the frost persists much longer than folks can tolerate.  Tomorrow has the making to be one of those mornings and thus we are having our first Saturday Winter Shotgun.  Tomorrow's 11:00 am shotgun is an effort to accommodate as many participants as possible during the warmest time of day rather than endure a potential frost delay of close to two hours.  Essentially we are accounting for the temporary course closure before the shotgun starts.  Hopefully things will go smoothly for all parties involved, but please provide us with your feedback with regards to this experience so we can better serve you and your guests.  Predicting and working around inclement weather while ensuring any inconvenience to your experience is minimized can be quite challenging this time of year.  Thank you for your patience!  

In other news, the staff has been keeping busy despite the peaks and valleys associated with this year's winter weather.  At this point the entire network of cart path has been edged, all tee markers have been refurbished and placed back on the course, all while continuously maintaining our greens and bunkers.  We also have been removing and hauling away leaves, pine needles and other debris from the natural/native areas.
Next we will be refurbishing all hazard stakes.  For those of you playing in tomorrow's shotgun you may notice all hazard stakes have been removed from the course.  Just remember a line is present and the line defines the margin of the hazard.  Stakes only serve to identify a hazard is present when lines are used to define the margins.

If you were to gaze across the golf course from just about any point on the property you should notice the golf course is what we golf course superintendents commonly call "clean".  This means the course is generally free of weeds and other unwanted plants.  We achieve this high level of "cleanliness" by virtue of our pre-emergent herbicide program.  We utilize both a spring and fall application regime to prevent the germination and establishment of annual grassy weeds.  Our spring application controls crabgrass and goosegrass and our fall application is used to combat annual bluegrass (AKA Poa annua).  The products we have selected for our program are highly effective but they do not come without any drawbacks.  Our fall pre-emergent herbicide, Specticle has been one of the most effective I have ever used in my career, but we cannot use it too close to the putting surfaces due to the risk we may injure our bentgrass putting green turf.  Therefore we are forced to use a different product close to the putting greens that is safe for our bentgrass.  What we gain in safety to our bentgrass we lose in overall effectiveness and thus we may only achieve 85-90 percent control in and around the putting greens.  
Poa Plants Exhibiting Herbicide Injury
More Herbicide Injury To Poa

Now 85-90 percent control sounds wonderful, but when compared to the near 98-99 percent control we achieve throughout the remainder of the golf course, these areas of breakthrough near the greens can drive guys like me crazy.  I know, I am starting to lose you here but there is good news.  We do have the ability to treat the Poa annua safely with post-emergent products this time of year when play is greatly reduced and the plants are small.  We just recently wrapped up these treatments and the product is already taking effect, as evidenced by the chlorosis (fancy word for "turning yellow") exhibited by the plants.  In other words, our treatments are working and you and me both can sleep easier knowing Poa annua is not able to establish itself on our golf course.
Finally, earlier this morning it was announced I am being recognized and the recipient of an award to be given out February 25th at the Golf Industry Show.  Golf Course Industry magazine and Aquatrols are once again sponsoring the SUPER SOCIAL MEDIA AWARDS at the upcoming GIS in San Antonio.  This is the fourth annual event for these awards and it truly is a thrill to be selected, but more importantly it is a higher honor just to be nominated.  For you see, the nominations came from my peers... golf course superintendents, assistant superintendents, turf industry professionals, professors, and etc.  To think this guy that still considers himself a nubie to this whole thing made an award winning impression on his peers is pretty humbling.  Maybe I will just tell folks I won "Rookie of the Year".  
The funny thing is I created this blog in 2011 to help me explain to you, the members what is happening on your golf course and why.  I joined Twitter two years later to help tell that same message and allow tweets to "bridge the gap" between blog posts.  I never knew this entire other world existed, a world of turf industry professionals from all around the globe posting and sharing information with one another in real time.  It was like having the curtain pulled back to reveal the world's largest association meeting in progress where turf nerds were hanging out talking turf!  Thanks to all of you that welcomed me from the very start and encouraged me to share, your posts have helped me and I have picked up useful tips I incorporated at my facility, and I hope somewhere along the way I helped some of you as well.  

See you in San Antonio,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS