Saturday, September 15, 2018

Ready, Set, Florence!

Hello and welcome to The Greenkeeper!  There's an advertisement from a few years back centered on greenkeeping CLICK HERE that I simply love.  Two lines that resonate are, "You learn the weathers, the rough and the smooth,"  and "You can't control a golf course, but you can encourage it".   Today is Saturday, September 15th and we are currently experiencing rough weather as Florence has made her way into the Queen City.  The decision to close the golf course was made very early this morning as I assessed current course conditions (covered in small debris) married with what was quickly approaching.
One week from today the 2018 U.S. Mid-Am is scheduled to begin and here we are dealing with a major tropical storm.  Fortunately we've known about Florence's arrival for some time and a lot of work was accomplished this week to "encourage" the golf course to quickly recover once this tropical storm safely passes.  My team and I have applied plant growth regulator to all tees, fairways, approaches and surrounds twice this week (the forecast changed about midday Tuesday) in effort to limit growth since we don't know exactly when we will be able to mow those surfaces again.  We've applied wetting agent to the putting greens to promote rapid water infiltration and faster draining.  We even topdressed greens late Thursday evening with two tons of sand in advance of the approaching heavy rains to help keep the greens firm. 
This forecast is for more rain than we saw ten years ago when the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay dumped over 8 inches rain on Charlotte.  That was late August and we were trying to wrap up the grow-in of our restoration lead by Kris Spence.  We were nearly out of irrigation water as our reservoir was more than 12 feet below full pond, after Fay the reservoir was only about one foot below capacity.  Currently our irrigation reservoir is about 4 to 5 feet below full pond so I'm anticipating the lake to refill and lots of water to flow out through the spillway.
Earlier today I made the final course preparations as surface drain inlets were opened to promote the unimpeded flow of water and I removed all the flagsticks to prevent heaving and damage in high winds.  We've always said the course drains well and now we'll just leave her in God's hands and see how it goes.  I'll be back at the course in the morning to assess rainfall amounts and any potential changes in other conditions.  You can keep up with the regular updates on Twitter.  Here's hoping Florence decides to take it easy on the Queen City and I hope and pray each of you are safe and sound.

Stay safe,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

Monday, September 10, 2018

Dream Come True, FAQ's, and Florence!

Hello and welcome to The Greenkeeper!  Today is Monday, September 10th and we are now just seven days from the beginning of Championship Week!  Let me tell you a little story.  It's the spring of 1999 in Blacksburg, Virginia on the campus of Virginia Tech.  I'm on the 4th floor of Smyth Hall standing in the hallway outside the office of my adviser Dr. David Chalmers.  Dr. Mark Alley, one of my favorite professors who taught soil fertility walked up and asked what I was going to be doing after graduation.  I still remember the moment and my answer like it happened yesterday.  I said, "I don't know Dr. Alley, but I do know in ten years you are going to hear Johnny Miller tell the television audience that Matthew Wharton and his staff did an amazing job preparing this golf course for the U.S. Open!"  It's important to have dreams and mine was to host a major championship.  

Fast forward almost twenty years.  My life and career has traveled many places since those dream filled days.  I've been a superintendent at two different courses over the past 17 years and accomplished many great things including a major renovation and grow-in and hosted numerous events of varying magnitudes.  What takes place here next week may not be the U.S. Open and ironically Johnny Miller has announced he may finally retire from the booth after this year CLICK HERE, but the United States Golf Association will show up and there will be iconic white hole signs on every tee box, and in every cup will be a navy and white striped flag stick supporting red flags baring the letters USGA.
Capital City Club 2017 U.S. MidAm

Funny thing is we are not even the lead actor in this production as that role falls to our gracious neighbors Charlotte Country Club.  CCC has hosted multiple USGA Championships as it was the site of the 1972 U.S. Amateur won by Vinnie Giles, the 2000 U.S. Senior Amateur won by Bill Shean, Jr. and the 2010 U.S. Women's Amateur won by Danielle Kang.  I still remember the first time I heard Charlotte CC was inviting the USGA to contest the Mid Amateur and they wanted us to serve as the companion course.  We had just wrapped up hosting the 2014 North Carolina Amateur to rave reviews and I was thrilled to think we could participate in something even larger.

Carolina Golf Club is the Stroke Play Co-Host, but don't think for one second being a supporting actor diminishes the importance or magnitude of our role contesting a national championship on our Donald Ross designed golf course.  It's been very exciting for me and my team as we have counted down the days for the past year.  We strive every day to prepare and present Carolina Golf Club to you and your guests in the best possible condition, and hopefully we have met or exceeded your expectations in the process.  Each year and each growing season are different and we certainly have had our fair share of challenges this year, but hopefully you will get to see your golf course presented to the games best career and reinstated amateurs next week in a manner that will make you proud.  The 2018 US Mid Amateur is major!

The greens have survived a summer that was late starting and so far unending (ready for the humidity to get out of town), the rough is tall, thick and definitely penal if you don't drive the ball in the fairway, and I believe the golf course will provide the test the USGA is hoping for.  I do think some players that drive it well will be rewarded with great scoring opportunities and I expect to see some low scores, but I also know our course will wreck the hopes and dreams of those competitors that do not think their way around and properly execute the shots required.

I've been asked lots of questions as the tournament approaches, many revolving around changes we've made to mowing patterns and such the past two seasons.  Folks want to know what will happen to the golf course once the final putt drops and our participation in this national championship concludes.  I thought I would address some of those here for your convenience.
  1. When the tournament is over will the golf course revert back to exactly the way it was prior to implementing the changes suggested by the USGA?  I'm referring to the widening of certain closely mowed green surrounds, the elimination of other closely mowed green surrounds, and the altering of fairway widths.  I tell everyone the same thing, most of the feedback I've received has been positive and I believe many changes will be kept while possibly others will not.  If you feel strongly one way or the other I suggest you contact either your Greens and/or Golf Committees to share with them your opinions on the changes.
  2. If the golf course reverts back to pre-USGA mowing patterns, when will you make those changes?  All mowing patterns will remain as-is for the remainder of the 2018 season.  By the time the last putt drops it will be too late in the year to significantly alter the bermudagrass as the plant is already making preparations for the upcoming winter.  Thus any widening or narrowing of playing areas will not take place until spring 2019 at the earliest.
  3. Will you cut the rough lower once the tournament is over?  Similar to the answer above it could be potentially detrimental to the plant's ability to survive the upcoming winter if we lower the rough significantly this late in the year.  Also, we have the Men's Club Championship just two weeks following the Mid Am (October 5-7).
  4. Do you need gas money?  This is one of my favorites!  When first asked I wasn't entirely sure of the nature of the question, but seems the rough is so tall and difficult that folks thought we were out of gas and simply not mowing. LOL
  5. Will you aerate the greens after the tournament?  No, we performed two large, hollow tine aerations earlier this year.  You and your fellow members have made enough sacrifices and we want you to enjoy the golf course without disruption for the remainder of 2018. 
Before I go I want to talk a little about Florence.  When you're preparing a golf course for any event, let alone a USGA Championship you're always hopeful for cooperative weather.  
Knowing there is a major hurricane traveling towards the North Carolina coast stirs several emotions.  I was golf course superintendent of Swan Point Yacht & CC when Hurricane Isabel struck in September 2003.  I still remember that night and the constant "freight train" sound as the wind howled.  I remember making my way to the golf course later the next day to survey the damage as we lost numerous trees and encountered storm surge (SPYCC is located on the banks of the Potomac River near the Chesapeake Bay).  Luckily our damage was minor by comparison to what occurred in the Williamsburg and Virginia Beach areas as courses there lost trees by the hundreds.   
I'm hopeful and praying things do not get too bad in the Queen City.  I'm a big believer in preparing for the absolute worst while hoping for the best.  My heart goes out to everyone, not just superintendents that are in the path of what appears to be a potentially devastating storm.  My thoughts and prayers are many as I keep a close eye on Florence.

We've been preparing for our moment and as it nears we will continue to do what we do, make Carolina Golf Club the best it possibly can be.  It will be exciting to see how she holds up and the challenge she presents.  
My only wish is that we make you and your fellow members proud!  And one of our own goes on to win... I said it's important to have dreams ;)  Best of luck Stephen and Brett!

Brett Boner and Stephen Woodard 

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG