Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chicken Little and Severe Drought!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Wednesday, August 12th and there was exactly 0.40 inch rain in our gauges this morning thanks to the final line of storms that passed through the Queen City last night between 9:00 and 10:00 pm.  This rain event was our single largest since receiving 0.45 inch on June 27th, exactly 45 days ago (Dog Days).  To say the Dog Days were hot and dry this year would be a huge understatement as we only managed to record 0.88" total rain with nothing substantial to soak the ground and definitely nothing to generate runoff into our irrigation lake.  We'll talk how the drought status and irrigation lake level are impacting current turf management practices and what it all means for course conditions as summer slowly winds to a close.

Tomorrow play begins in the 97th PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, a golf course Pete Dye designed on the Wisconsin banks of Lake Michigan to resemble an Irish links per the request of owner Herb Kohler.  Although unconfirmed, I personally think the Whistling Straits logo resembles Mr. Kohler too much to be coincidence.

This is the final major championship of the year, and here's hoping the action gives us another compelling and dramatic story to go along with what has already been a terrific year of major championship golf!  Of course I'm pulling for Jordan Spieth but I believe the Wanamaker Trophy will most likely go to one of the tour's bombers this week. Look for guys like Bubba, DJ, Henrik Stenson, and even Rory if he knocks the competitive rust off to be there come Sunday.  Also, don't be surprised if there is a playoff as both previous PGA Championships contested at Whistling Straits (2004 and 2010) required extra holes to determine a winner.

Carolina Golf Club is fortunate to have a full membership and waiting list.  Believe me, there aren't many clubs across the country that can boast such a statement at this time.  Sometimes I find it difficult to remember many of you (more than half) joined the club after we reopened following the 2007/08 restoration.  This explains why many of you have been asking me and my assistants lately about our irrigation water supply.  Questions like, "when are we going to run out of water", "have you ever seen the lake this low", and "how long will it take to fill up the lake" have become far too common.  Allow me to put this current drought into perspective and hopefully ease your concerns.

Prior to the restoration the golf course only contained the two upper ponds (flanking either side of number 18 cart path).  The pump house was located to the right of the cart path at the foot of the 10th tees (area now behind number 2 green).  The two upper most ponds are fairly shallow and as such it was not uncommon during prolonged periods of dry weather to purchase water from the city for irrigation.  The construction of the irrigation lake was for the purpose of eliminating that need.  

The dam was constructed creating an irrigation lake with 7.4 surface acres at full pond and storage of over 21.5 million gallons.  The riser and spillway is 20 feet, 6 inches in height and the pump intake is located five feet above the bottom providing us access to approximately 15 feet and a very generous amount of water with which to irrigate the golf course in times of need.  

Lake Level on Aug 7th
This year has seen two extremes as the golf course exited winter dormancy with damage and injury from cold temperatures.  When warm weather conducive for bermudagrass growth finally reached our region in May rain literally stopped falling (0.11 inch total rain in May).  As we were attempting to push bermudagrass to regrow and fill-in those areas affected by cold temperature injury we were forced to irrigate more than we would have liked.

June saw record heat in our region as the temperature reached 99 or 100 F numerous days with little rainfall.  We finally caught a break at the end of June when we received 0.95 inch on June 26 and 0.45 inch on June 27!  That was the first and last rainfall of significant impact prior to last night since April.  The rain from those two days did wonders for turf recovery as the blistering heat took its toll on the golf course, but the dry ground soaked up every drop and we did not gain any runoff into our reservoir.    

Lake Level at Spillway Aug 7th

July brought the arrival of the Dog Days of summer and as I stated above, they set in dry.  We only managed 0.64 inch rain the entire month (all of the "nickel and dime" variety).  This season has been taxing to say the least on our irrigation source.  As this abnormally dry weather coupled with abnormally high temperatures has continued to persist our drought status has slowly worsened.  Last week portions of Mecklenburg County, including Carolina Golf Club were finally upgraded to Severe Drought status. 

During this time we have made constant and numerous adjustments to our management of the golf course.  We have continued to irrigate as needed but run times have also been reduced in order to conserve.  Hand watering and the use of wetting agents on putting greens is common place, but this summer we have resorted to these tactics on tees to prevent turf loss.  Also, most people understand raising mowing heights on bentgrass greens in the summer to ensure plant health and survival, but did you know we raised our height of cuts on all bermudagrass areas for the same reasons.  Tees, fairways, approaches, and green surrounds all adjusted to provide the turf with a greater capacity for photosynthesis, all in effort to reduce the environmental stress on the plant.  Finally, lack of sufficient rainfall is an amazing plant growth regulator (how frequently have you been mowing your lawn this summer) and as a result we have scaled back our typical mowing frequency, again in effort to reduce stress on the plant.

Last night's rain brought about the first positive movement in our lake levels in three months.  We are back to approximately 8 feet below full pond meaning we still have another 6 feet plus at our disposal. There are exactly 325,851 gallons of water in one acre foot.  The current lake footprint is conservatively 4 acres (down from 7.4 at full pond) thus 4 x 325,851 = 1.3 million gallons.  Multiply that by the conservative depth of 6 feet (1.3 x 6 = 7.8) and you get approximately 7.8 million gallons of irrigation water remaining.  As the Dog Days come to an end and with football season right around the corner, there is lower demand for water to sustain plant health with shorter days and cooler average temperatures.  In other words our already curtailed water use will be curtailed even more prolonging and preserving our supply.  Not to mention a change in our weather pattern means we may finally see a greater likelihood of receiving rainfall less infrequently.

To answer your question, yes I have seen the lake lower than this... much lower.  The restoration grow-in during 2008 was very difficult as we were in the midst of the worst drought on record.  As for how long will it take to fill the lake back to capacity, that depends.  The watershed area for our lake is 129 acres.  If one inch rain ran off all 129 acres it would generate 3.5 million gallons.  Over the years I have seen small, severe thunderstorms raise the lake level several feet and I've seen large volume soaking rains do little.  The good news is every day I do not irrigate the level is rising as we have continuous flow from our two upper ponds spilling across into our reservoir.  Despite the somewhat shocking appearance I assure you the sky is not falling and I believe our lake has served us very well this difficult and challenging season.

One final note, despite all the factors mentioned above I believe we have managed to maintain and present a golf course for your enjoyment that exceeds expectations, especially when viewed in the context of this year's climate challenges.  The golf course has played extremely firm and fast, and quite frankly the putting greens have never been better this time of year.  I sincerely hope you have had the opportunity to get out and enjoy the course because who knows, this time next year we may all be crying about too much rain!  

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS