Saturday, March 12, 2016

El Nino, Waking Up, Greens Aeration, Event Lawn, and Groucho!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Saturday, March 12th and I can't believe it has been over a month since my last update.  My sincere apologies for losing track of time, seems like just yesterday we were still in the grips of winter and then BOOM, it's an early spring and things are happening fast.  In fact things are happening so fast our first official event of the 2016 season is taking place as I write this.. The Donald Ross!
Donald J. Ross
While 64 players representing teams Muirfield and St. Andrews battle it out today for the Donald Ross Challenge Cup, please permit me to briefly explain the impact of this winter's El Nino.  The effects of the El Nino (warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean waters) have been far reaching this year. In a typical El Nino winter, low pressure systems travel across the lower portion of the United States and bring us above average rainfall.  This started here at Carolina Golf Club in early fall and continued through the end of February.  On average the city of Charlotte receives about 40 inches rainfall per year.  At Carolina Golf Club we received 31.73 inches rain between October 1st and February 29th (leap year).  Now, think about that statistic for a second.  We had approximately 75% of one year's worth of precipitation on the golf course during a 5 month span when things are not quite actively growing!  I can understand if you thought you were being punished because golf cars were constantly restricted to the paths, but this truly was the wettest the golf course has ever been since the 2008 restoration.

Thankfully, the El Nino is weakening and in fact is predicted to transition to the opposite La Nina (cooling of the equatorial Pacific Ocean waters).  During a typical La Nina period our region experiences warmer and drier than average weather, so don't be surprised if we go from one extreme to the other (seems like that is the "new normal").  Currently spring like weather is early with above average temperatures and the dormant bermudagrass is beginning to show signs of new life.  When you think about the past two winters it is nice to see the bermudagrass responding positively to nature's cues.  At this point you are all wondering the same thing, "Matthew, did the collars survive the winter?" and I certainly don't blame anyone for asking.  I for one have nightmares about the "ring of death" at times, but I can say during my travels around and across the course thus far my inspections have all appeared promising.  

Front Left 6 Green
Back Left 16 Green

Back Right 16 Green
New Green Leaves Back Right 16 Green

There have seen signs of a healthy, dormant canopy throughout most of this past winter, and now early greening.  I believe we may have escaped the bulk of nature's wrath this year (we deserved a break after the past few years anyway).  Seeing new green leaves emerge in areas that were resodded the last couple years really does wonders for a golf course superintendent's spirit... just saying!  Granted we are not completely out of the woods as the majority of the turf is still yet to break dormancy and fully green up, but the early outlook is positive.

Well, if I'm talking about an early spring, bermudagrass breaking dormancy, etc. it must be time to aerate the putting greens.  Historically we have aerated the greens on the 3rd Monday of March but this year that is late (March 21st) so we moved it ahead one week to this coming Monday and Tuesday (March 14th and 15th).  After nearly 6 long months of close mowing, rolling, high traffic volume (have you seen the tee sheet on the weekends lately) and well above average rainfall, the turf is ready for a breather, pun intended.  ;) 

This coming Monday morning you will hear me exclaim "I love the smell of aerator cores in the morning!"  I know, the putting surfaces at Carolina are absolutely fabulous right now, but they need to be in order to tolerate the mechanical stress imposed by the aeration process.  Aeration is a mechanical cultural practice that creates more air space in the soil by decreasing bulk density.  It removes excess thatch, alleviates compaction and promotes deeper rooting helping the turf stay healthy.  In most cases it's done by removing small cores (approximately 1/2-inch diameter) and the space is filled with sand.  The topdressing helps the soil retain the precious air space making it easier for roots to grow.  

Like so many things, the quality of a good putting green is more than skin deep.  In fact, the quality of the putting surface has more to do with what your eyes cannot see.  In order to grow and maintain quality turf maintained at 0.110 inches or less you have to have deep, healthy roots.  Good roots demand oxygen and in good soil they get the oxygen from tiny pockets of air trapped between soil and sand particles.  Over time the traffic from golfers' feet (as well as mowing and rolling equipment) compacts the soil under the putting green.  When soil becomes compacted, the air pockets on which the roots depend are crushed and the roots are left gasping for air.  Without oxygen, the grass plants eventually wither and die.  The bottom line is aeration is a necessary practice and I sincerely hope you will think of it merely as a short-term disruption with the best long-term benefits.

Earlier this week we finally broke ground on an approved renovation project that El Nino delayed for months.  The Event Lawn is being reshaped by our good friends at Golf Course Services.  The project is remedying a drainage problem we had due to an improper elevation on the lawn in relation to the clubhouse patio.  When complete everyone will have a larger, smoother lawn space for outdoor seating, and the tenth hole will get its own true and proper championship tee incorporated into the toe of the slope near the bottom of the lawn.  My team worked hard to assist in removing the existing sod and we have plans to reuse in areas requiring attention after we wrap up greens aeration next week.

Golf Course Services, Inc.

Hardest Working Team in NC!

Grading Has Begun!

Digging Out for Championship Tee No. 10
Kris Spence was on site yesterday to check on the progress of this project and we should wrap things up before Easter Sunday.  It is very important to note although the lawn will be sodded when the project is complete, the new sod will not be ready for traffic and thus the entire lawn space will be off limits during Easter Sunday.  We apologize for the inconvenience, but we would hate for someone to potentially ruin their Sunday best!

Before I go I want to share with you a wonderful story about the cutest little Great Horned Owl you ever saw, Groucho!  It seems back on March 1st Groucho became separated from its family and was wondering around the golf course (you see Groucho is only about 4 weeks old and too young to fly right now).  Spotted by several members including Chris Hughes, attempts to locate and rescue Groucho were implemented.  Members of my staff contacted Marsha Gaspari and after spotting his beautiful yellow eyes she took Groucho to the Carolina Raptor Center (CRC) to be checked out.

Hiding to Avoid Predators!
What a Cute Face!

After receiving a clean bill of health, folks from the CRC returned Groucho to the golf course the next day in hopes to reunite Groucho with its parents.  Here is a link to the story posted by the good folks at the Carolina Raptor Center on their Facebook page. CLICK HERE 

Renested Near Hole No. 5

Considering our proximity to the city center, after all we are very much an urban golf course, it always does my heart good to see the variety of wild life that call Carolina Golf Club home.  Golf courses are typically viewed unfavorably by the general public when it comes to the environment, but the reality is we (golf course superintendents) are highly educated and well trained scientists that make every effort to preserve and protect the environment.  When animals such as owls, hawks, herons, ducks, turtles, rabbits, squirrels, deer, and even coyote all call Carolina home, I cannot help but feel we must be doing something right!  That's all for now.  If you would like more information or have any questions or comments about any of today's topics don't hesitate to send me an email or just ask next time you see me on the course.  

Until next time,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS