Thursday, 22 December 2011

Mower Efficiency Comparison

So here are some more numbers and graphs.  This week I have been analysing all of the data that I have collected this past year to try and make some meaningful sense out of it.  There are many ways to compare one course to another but by simply using a $ figure doesn't always work.  Some courses are simply more expensive to maintain, even with cost-cutting, sustainable practices.  Labour is usually the biggest part of any golf course maintenance budget so it makes sense to see how efficient you are for particular tasks.

I have put together some data that shows how efficient our course is to mow.  To measure how efficient a particular mower is you need to know how long it takes to mow a specific area and also how big that area is.  You could also add in the costs of maintaining the mower to get a real good set of statistics.  Sadly my records just aren't complete enough for that to happen this year. It is a real challenge keeping track of everything when the crew consists of 3 full time people including myself.

As can be seen the most efficient area to mow is our fairways at a little over 8000m2 per hour.  This is due to the large mower and relatively easy terrain that makes up the fairways.  Our fairways are clearly defined and for the most part are open and clear of trees and other obstacles.  This number changes widely and is actually quite inefficient when it comes to fairways.  Different mowing patterns and amount of golfers can quickly change this number.  At Pender Harbour we have narrow, bumpy fairways which limit our mowing speed to 6.5km/h.  Some courses can mow at double that speed effectively doubling the efficiency. I know for a fact that the course down the road can cut over 16000m2 per hour on their fairways and it all comes down to the shape, and smoothness at their course.
Steep slopes take longer to cut

Next in line is our rough at 5500m2/hr.  The rough mower is quite fast compared to our greens mower and cuts a lot of grass.  Cutting the rough requires less turns than the fairways but there are a lot of obstacles such as trees, benches, signs, steep slopes that must be avoided which takes up some time.  We cannot make use of the larger wider mowers as we don't have many areas that are open enough for those mowers to be efficient.

Really steep slopes are very expensive to mow, and are
often best left unmowed.
Next is our putting greens at 2200 m2/hr.  The greens mower is much slower, narrower and requires many turns.  By using a triplex mower we effectively double the efficiency of mowing our greens.  We can hand cut our greens in 3 hours or twice the time that it takes with the triplex.

The least efficient area of the course to mow is our tee boxes.  As can be seen on the above picture, our tees are surrounded with large walls and steep drop offs.  The tees require the mower operator to carefully turn and run at an even slower speed.  Cutting the tee boxes also requires the operator to get on and off the mower often to remove and set the tee markers.

Many tees at PHGC are surround by big rock walls.
By continually monitoring the time it takes to perform a particular task we can really see how changes we make effect our efficiency and bottom line.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Job and Cost Tracking

At the end of each season I like to tally the expenditures of the golf course operations and compare them against one another.  I break down costs of labour, fertilizer, pesticides, aggregates, as well as number of hours spent on each area of the course.  In this analysis I did not include unscheduled or equipment maintenance.

The following Chart illustrates where the budget at our course was divided amongst the different areas of the course.

We can clearly see that we are right on track with our spending when it comes to our priorities.  The putting greens get the most attention at Pender Harbour followed by the tees and fairways.  The fairway percentage is higher than tees only because they are about 15x the area of the tees.  This is also true for the rough.  Some courses spend a great deal on their traps trying to maintain them in as perfect a state as possible. In reality they are hazards and for the most part there is nothing wrong with the traps on our course.  They could be better but so could everything else.  If we wanted to increase the quality of our sand traps we would potentially see a drastic increase in our total budget.

The next chart shows the breakdown of where we spend most of our time maintaining.

As we can see the numbers closely resemble the cost breakdown of the first chart.  The only real difference is the time we spend on the rough versus the fairways.  Rough at Pender Harbour takes us a long time to cut.  We don't have many open expanses of rough that can be cut with the bigger mowers and we also have a great deal of extremely steep slopes.  For these reasons we use a smaller Toro 3500-D to cut all of our rough.

This next chart shows the breakdown of the expenses for the putting greens.

Most of the expenses associated with our operation are labor.  All of the cultural practices take time.  Mowing, rolling, grooming, fertilizing, spraying, changing holes, fixing ball marks are all very labor intensive and this is clearly illustrated on the above graph.

If we compare the greens to fairways we can see some significant differences.

On our fairways the fertilizer cost is a bigger portion of the total budget as the area is many times larger than the putting greens and with the larger mowers we get a better economy of scale.  We also perform significantly less cultural practices on our fairways.  We fertilize 2 times a year versus every week on putting greens and we don't use any pesticides on the fairways.

These numbers are pretty basic and not 100% accurate but next year I hope to more accurately track where our costs are being allocated on the course.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Temp "greens"

Today the golf course experienced the first day of sub-zero temperatures without frost.  Usually with the high humidity on the West Coast we get a lot of frost if isn't raining this time of year.  Sometimes we get low humidity combined with low temperatures and will not see any frost form on the turf.  Even though the turf looks ok to golf on it might not necessarily be ok.

No golf on days like this.
Frost damage comes from the physical shattering of the turfgrass leaves as well as the crown tissues (growing point).  When the frost melts the turf is usually safe to golf on. When we experience frost-less mornings with freezing temperatures the turf is usually ok to walk on as the leaf blades are flexible and won't shatter.  The greens, however, can be damaged from walking on if the ground is frozen.  Frozen soil does not provide the same cushioning effect that unfrozen soil or thatch does.  The fairways and rough have sufficient thatch that they are usually ok to walk on when the ground is frozen.  The greens have almost no thatch and therefore the crown tissue can be severely damaged from being squished against the hard, frozen soil.

Normally when we have frost on the course I will close the entire course to golfers.  When there is no frost but freezing temperatures I will open the course for play but the greens will all be on temps.

In the past we used to cut the temps to a lower height of cut than the fairways to make them better for putting on.  The problem at Pender is that our fairways are so bumpy that it often damaged the mower.  Furthermore, no one wants to wreck the nice putting stroke they have been working on all summer by putting on temp greens that roll 3' versus the 9-10' on the regular greens.

Painted temp greens
For these reasons I have elected not to cut the temps but to rather paint two circles around the temp pins.  If you land your approach shot inside the outer circle you can call it 2 putts.  If you land it on the inner circle you can call it 1 put.  The inner circle is about 8 feet in diameter which basically gives you a 4 foot put.  Believe me, this is generous, I see you putt every day.

This will still allow you to get out and golf and will save your putting stroke for the real deal.  It will also save the maintenance department a lot of time and money.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Nov Dec 2011 Course Update

Hole 9
Wow, what a spectacular fall we have had on the course. If you were lucky enough to stay in the Harbour this fall instead of going down south to the Palm Desert you would have experienced some of the best playing conditions on the course all year!

Hole 3
This fall has been exceptionally nice with below average rainfall and temperatures. This has left the course in excellent shape and course is dryer today than it was in October. The colder than normal temperatures have slowed the growth of the turf which has only required 2 cuts on the fairways since October 31. Some years we have had to cut 3 times a week just to keep up.
View from top of 4
Aside from the occasional frost delay the golfers have had more opportunity to golf this fall than any fall in recent memory.  I have elected to keep the course closed until the frost has lifted in order to reduce the damage cause from walking on frozen turf. 
Hole 2
In early December I undertook the now annual irrigation system blow out. I rented a large compressor that allowed me to blow out all of the moisture from the system so that nothing is damaged from freezing.  We started this procedure last winter and had really good results with almost no damage to the system over the winter.

 In my time at Pender Harbour Golf Club I have never seen the course go into winter in this good of shape.  As long as the weather cooperates this winter we should be looking at fantastic conditions come spring. 
Hole 1

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Another Look at Moss on Putting Greens

Ok so moss has been on my mind lately.  It all started with a trip to a nearby golf course to look at their chemical moss control results over a few beers (pilsner).  We noticed that it seemed like the Kocide (copper hydroxide) was working pretty good.  The moss was turning black which signified that it was dead.

The following picture started me thinking.  There was no moss where the tires of the triplex mower travelled on the clean up cut.  Why was this?  I posted in an earlier blog entry about possible reasons but I think I have figured it out.  Before we get into what I think I feel that it is important to go over some characteristics of moss and also what other are recommending for moss control.

Moss does not have roots.  It has rhizoids which serve solely as anchors.  They do not absorb nutrients or water.  Moss requires any moisture to be absorbed through their above ground surfaces.

Most papers that I have read on cultural moss control strategies say that to control moss you should increase drainage, raise cutting heights, and have properly adjusted irrigation.

While these are generally good recommendations for growing good turfgrass they have really nothing to do with moss and here is why.

Moss grows equally well on good and poor draining sites.  The following picture shows moss growing quite nicely on bedrock.  The peculation rates on this surface are zero!  Now take the above picture of moss growing on USGA spec sand putting greens.  It looks pretty happy too!

 Raising the cutting height is another recommendation that often comes up.  In my experience I have seen moss grow on turf cut at .090" and equally well at 2".  Greg Evans will attest that there is no reason why a low height of cut will do anything to encourage moss.

The last point about a properly adjusted irrigation system also is a farce!   Moss will survive sometimes up to a few years in the absence of moisture.  Do you think that the moss in the above picture gets irrigated in the summer months? No way Jose!  Most people seem to notice that moss often occurs in the ridges in their putting greens.  Have you ever measured the moisture levels in these high spots? I have and they are consistently drier than the low spots obviously due to gravity.  So as far as I'm concerned over watering has nothing to do with moss.

All of the recommendations that are given to prevent moss are useless if you want to prevent moss in my opinion.  They are, however, pretty good recommendations if you want to grow good dense grass.  Growing good dense turf is key to making it harder for the moss to invade.  If you can grow a dense stand of turf at 2mm or at 4mm, in shade or full sun or on a train or on a bus, it makes no difference.  If you turf is thin, there is the potential for moss to invade.

This next picture shows moss growing on a cart path.  Again this cart path has zero drainage, is in full sun and is not irrigated but there is moss growing the entire length of it.  Notice where the moss isn't.  There is no moss on the areas of the cart path that the golf cart tires pass over.  What does this tell us?  To me it says that moss cannot tolerate traffic stress.  From this picture and the first one I posted it is very clear that this statement is true.  Now if you look at the first picture notice that where there is an increased amount of traffic there seems to be pretty healthy dense turf.

Back to the previously mentioned statement about how many turf manager notice moss on raised areas or ridges and the edges on their putting greens.  Sure these areas might be cut a little closer than other areas due to the changing slope but is this really the cause?

Think about where most of the stress and traffic comes from on our putting greens.  Does it come from our mowers? It comes from golfers walking around on them.  Where do golfers usually walk to on the putting greens?  The flag stick.  Where do we not place the flag sticks usually? Right again! We rarely place the pins on steep slopes or near the edges of our putting greens.  It is quite clear to me that based on the pictures above and the fact that most of the traffic on our putting greens is where the moss isn't that if we want to prevent or control moss we should increase or better yet evenly apply the traffic to our putting surfaces.

Now if you were to increase the traffic to levels only seen in LA then you would probably have thin or dead turf that would be susceptible to moss invasion.  The key here is to manage the traffic in a controlled manner.  How do we do this??  Rollers.

For the past two years I have rolled daily from March through to October on my course and during this time I have seen a steady decline in the moss populations on my putting surfaces.  I didn't really know why until I saw the moss in the first picture above.  It is now very clear to me that if we can evenly manage the traffic on our putting surfaces to discourage moss as well as grow healthy dense turf then there is no reason why moss should be a problem.  We need a better understanding on moss wear tolerance so that we can more accurately manage it.

So forget all those recommendations about fertility, aeration, heights of cut, and chemicals.  Grow healthy dense turf and roll as much as you can.  Rolling also has other benefits that I have talked about quite extensively in other blog posts so I won't repeat them here.

Something that I would like to see is the difference between lightweight and heavyweight rollers as well as rolling frequency.  I plan on comparing the ground psi of the triplex mower wheels with the most popular rollers on the market as well as the frequency that the superintendent was cutting his putting green clean-up cuts.

I have rolled daily for two years and have only seen positive results.  Healthier better quality putting surfaces.  Less labour and wear and tear on my greens mower and less moss and dollar spot.

Don't take my word for it though.  Try it out and let me know how it worked out.


Sand Trap Work

Improperly edged traps allow the turf to creep into the sand.
You might have noticed that the crew (me) has started work on fixing up the sand traps.  Over the course of the season the edges get beat up and each year we re-edge the traps.

As can be seen from the picture to the right the sand has been improperly raked up to the edges of the trap.  This allows the golfer to putt out of the trap as well as allows the turf to creep into the sand.  When the traps have been properly edged they are easier to maintain and provide a greater hazard to the golfers.  

The turf is cut back to solid healthy turf.
The picture below shows how much the turf can creep into the trap in a season.  We (I) will cut back the turf to expose a clean edge.  As the turf doesn't grow this time of year the clean edge should  remain intact until next summer.

Training will be required for all returning staff to ensure that they maintain the existing edge.

The following pictures show the process of re-edging the traps and the final product.

Another view of the work in progress
Edged and un-edged
Finished Product

Cultural Control of Moss on Putting Greens

On a recent trip to a neighbouring golf course we were checking out their progress on moss eradication.  In Canada, Kocide 2000 has recently been registered for use to control silvery thread moss.  As can be seen from the picture, we like to drink pilsner AND the moss control is working.

Kocide 2000's active ingredient is copper hydroxide.  When sprayed in high volumes of water over numerous applications it has been very successful in controlling moss on putting greens.  Some people suggest that adding wetting agents and acidifying agents also help the efficacy of the Kocide.  Others add iron as well to reduce the effects that copper has on inducing an iron deficiency in the plants.  It is not uncommon for the turf to turn a bright orange colour after a Kocide application unless iron is also applied.

The real neat thing about the above picture is not how great the Kocide is working but the two linear tracks of turf that don't have any moss on them.  These tracks are where the tires from the triplex greens mower travel on the clean-up pass.  What about the tire marks allows for healthy Poa annua growth but no moss??

A couple plausible explanations that I have come up with are:

  1. Compaction: The repeated almost daily impact from the tires of the mower have increased the compaction in these areas resulting in less moss or a Poa annua plant that can out-compete the moss.  Some people have suggested that Poa annua prefers slightly compacted soils but in all reality it is more likely that it is more tolerant of compacted soils than other turf varieties.
  2. Mechanical Wear:  This differs from compaction in the sense that the soils might not be significantly more compacted than the surrounding soil but the physical act of repeated impact has inhibited the moss on these areas.
  3. Potential Bacterial Impacts:  A recent study done by Dr. Thom Nokolai from Michigan State University on the effects of rolling on dollar spot showed an increased bacteria and actinomycete population on plots that received regular rolling.  Could these same or other bacteria be affecting the moss??
  4. Less wet??:  Could the weight of the wheels be forcing the water out of the water-logged soil in these locations?  So many questions.
Now the main reason that the moss is so bad on these putting greens is drainage.  This course has notoriously bad drainage due to high clay soils.  The greens are USGA sand based greens but once the soil is saturated the only way out is through drain pipes.  Many courses out there, mine included, also continue to drain downward through the native soils under the sand rootzones.  At Pender Harbour we actually don't have any subsurface drainage on our putting greens and we rarely have any issues.

Many people claim that low cutting heights are to blame for moss infestation.  In this picture is would seem that this is true as the collar turf cut at 3/8" has no moss.  It could also be said that there is no moss on the collars because of all the traffic that they see from turning mowers.  I have also seen in my experience putting greens cut at very low heights of cut with no moss.  Greg Evans has talked about this in his blog.  The Pender Harbour Golf Club has very little moss and we have been cutting low (less than 0.100") for over a year now.

Other people see moss develop on ridges more than on the flat areas of the putting greens.  They blame the scalping of the mowers for their issues but I am starting to think otherwise.  On this course with bad moss, there was a lot of moss on the ridges and perimeters of the greens but much less on the flat areas of the greens and areas where traffic was concentrated. The areas on the putting greens that received the most golfer traffic saw the least moss.  The ridges and perimeters of the greens never see pins placed there and therefore there is very little golfer traffic on these areas.

Since I have started rolling my greens daily at the Pender Harbour Golf Club I have seen a steady decline in my moss population.  This fact also contributes to my theory that increased traffic will potentially reduce moss.

The real cool thing here is that this clearly shows that cultural control of moss is quite possible, even on poorly drained soils and low heights of cut.  All too often the first thing turf managers go to is chemical control and often totally neglect what else they could be doing to solve or prevent the problem in the first place.

I think this needs further study and I plan on going back to this course to take way more pictures.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Late Fall Greens Aeration

I seem to have caught a few of the members off guard this year with my late fall greens aeration.  This is something that I have done for the past 3 years on our putting greens.  It usually goes unnoticed as the weather is usually terrible in November.  This year I did it on November 14.

I punch the greens in the late fall and sometimes in the late winter with 3" long 3/8" diameter solid tines.  These tines don't take a core out like we do every spring and fall.

There are two reasons I aerate this time of year.  The first is to increase drainage on the greens to help keep them as dry as possible.  We often see large volumes of rain and puddling is a concern as well as ice if it gets cold out.  Last night the course received about 1" of rain and there wasn't a single puddle on any of our putting greens!  Ideally we would aerate deeper but our current equipment only allows us to punch holes 3" deep.

The second reason I aerate in the late fall is to help increase the soil-air gas exchange.  With all the rain in the winters our soils often become anaerobic and black-layer can become a problem.  The aeration helps open up the soil and allows the it to "breathe".  The disruption to play is usually minimal and the holes should be more or less covered by the end of the week.  The pay-off from this process is a healthier plant and better playing conditions in the spring!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Driving Range Pole Reinforcement

Don't worry, that yellow rope is just there to hold the channel iron in place while it
was bolted to the pole!!

This week George and his usual group of volunteers set out to reinforce the poles on the left side of the range.   These poles were some of the originals installed and were quite rotten right at ground level.  The rest of these poles were still in good shape.

George devised a plan to reinforce the poles to extend the life of them for a few more years.  He has all the materials and labor donated for the project except for the concrete so the cost to the club was almost nothing.

Thanks to George, Robbie, Gerry, Wayne, Terry, and Kirk for their help on this project!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Equipment Usage Database

Over the years I have seen a few different methods that golf clubs use to keep track of their equipment usage.  The first and most basic of these is writing it down on a piece of paper after each use.  The more advanced of these systems automatically check the hour meter reading each time the machine enters the shop area and automatically enters this info into your equipment management software.  While both of these systems do work they both have drawbacks.

The first pen and paper system is very labor-intensive.  It requires that after each use the operator must fill out the sheet.  Later on the Mechanic or designated individual needs to interpret this data to make sense of it.  This works good but takes a lot of time.

The automatic system is great but the cost of acquiring such a system is astronomical.  This system also requires that each machine has a hour meter that can communicate wirelessly with your computer.  Another drawback is that this system takes a great deal of time to set up and get running smoothly.

I have created a simply data input and filter using Google Docs that makes it easy to input info from any computer or device with internet access.  It inputs that data into a spreadsheet where you can filter the data for different operators, equipment, areas used as well as date.  The database can keep track of equipment hours, areas cut, circle/clean up cut directions, fuel consumption as well as amount of clippings harvested and whether or not the equipment needs servicing.

This info is then pulled from my equipment maintenance database and notifies me when I need to do scheduled maintenance.  I'll talk about this part of the system in another post.

The best part about this system is it's free and you can customize it however you want quite easily.

The backbone of this system is the spreadsheet which can be found below or here.
Use this template and change the name to whatever you want.

Here is the list of equipment at my course
The first step to using this database it to edit the form.  On the top of the screen select "form" then "edit form".  A window will pop up that will allow you to edit the data that is able to be input into the database. This form ensures that all of the data input into the system is formatted the same and eliminates issues with spelling and the like.

The first field has the equipment operator names.  Add all the names of the people on your crew here starting with the operators that use equipment the most.  As employees come and go you can go in here and add or remove them.

Next is the equipment name field.  Add all the designations for all your equipment that you use on the golf course here.  If you have multiple units of the same type you will need to assign each a different number.

The next is what area of the course the equipment was used on.  Again you can edit these to better suit the terminology that is used on your course.  I can use this information so sort out the total machine time per area at the end of the year.

The next input is the holes which the equipment was used.  I only have 9 holes on my course so I only have 9 options plus my practice areas.  I use this information mainly to let my employees know what was last done with each mower so they know what needs to be done next.  I embed this spreadsheet on my maintenance website so that everyone can see it.  The sheet titled "last use" is a collection of the last use of each machine.  As I only have 1 machine per area of the course this is easy.  You may need to sort this sheet differently.

The next data is the circle cut direction.  Some people call this the clean up cut.  Call it whatever you like but I use this to inform my employees of the direction the last circle cut was done in so that they can alternate the directions each time they cut.

Fuel consumption is here as well in case you want to monitor this.

I use the basket empties field to monitor the growth of the turf on my putting greens.  Read all about this here.

The next field is used to inform the mechanic if the machine needs maintenance.  For the purposes of the basic equipment log this is of no use.  If you want to tie this into a equipment maintenance database later on then keep this here.

The other two fields are for the mechanic to read and are optional.

Now that you have the form filled out and ready save it.  You are now ready to embed this form onto the web.

I created a maintenance website that I will briefly discuss here.  I will throw up a template later if I have the time.

Equipment use section of my Maintenance website
I have created a Google site that is only accessible to my employees. The following picture shows how I have set up the equipment use section of the site.  I have put the "last use" sheet up top so that everyone knows what was most recently done.  Followed is the form that we just made.  Under the "form" selection up top select the "embed form in a website" option.  Copy that link and paste it into your site in html format.  This is easily done on Google sites. (note: to make the form easily view-able on a mobile device edit the width for 100% and add about 50 pixels to the height)

Now whenever your crew comes in after completing a task on the course they just go to the shop computer and enter the info into the form. They can even access the form on their smartphone if you allow them access to you site.

Now that you are collecting data you can go to the "filterdata" page to filter the information however you like.  Under each section option at the top you can select the different data and it will filter it accordingly.  The dates can be changed to only show data for a specific period in time.  I have it set up to default from the beginning of 2012 to tomorrow's date.

The "uniquedata" sheet is there simply to formulate the drop down menus on the "filterdata" sheet.

The "greensgrowth" sheets are for monitoring the growth rates on your course.  Delete these if you don't want to do this.

The last sheet titled "3100-G" can be used as a permanent sheet for each machine.  Simply duplicate this sheet for every piece of equipment you want a permanent record for and rename it accordingly.  To get the equipment data into the sheet just change the name on the Sheet cell A2.

And that's about it.  This can be used to monitor a large number of things on your course.  The true potential of this system really comes out when you link this to an equipment maintenance database.  I have mine linked and it automatically alerts me when machines need scheduled maintenance.  A very cool feature which I will discuss in a later post.  For now see if you can set this up and let me know how it works.  I look forward to receiving feedback.

If you like my blog and want to support what I do you can support me on Patreon or paypal. Thanks!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Another Look at the Stunted Sod Farm Turf

The turf in the foreground is Poa annua grown from hollow tine aeration cores from our putting greens.
So earlier this year I made a post regarding an observation I made on our sod farm.  I noticed that the newly planted turf was growing at a much slower rate than the surrounding turf.  The grass was planted using cores from the hollow tine aeration of our putting greens.

The predominate species of grass on our putting greens is Poa annua.  Poa annua is a species of turf that is very adaptable.  It is capable of withstanding heights of cut as low or lower than 2mm!  Some scientists have also observed that at low heights of cut the turf actually doesn't even grow upwards!  It had been cut so low for so long that it had adapted to not growing!  Poa annua has the ability to adapt to almost any environment.  This is one reason why it is such a widespread turf species found on every continent other than the Antarctic.

The above picture was taken during May which is the time of year that we see a major seed head flush from the Poa annua.  The funny thing here was that the newly planted turf didn't produce any seed head!  At first I was completely stumped as to why this Poa annua wasn't bursting into a field of white but I finally clued in just now (I'm a little slow).

Mega seed head action !! It doesn't get much worse than this!!
The reason I think that it didn't produce any seed head this past season was that there was no stress from being cut.  The turf had already adapted to slow growth and frequent cutting so not being cut was like a day at the spa.  No stress = no need to reproduce.  Now I shouldn't say there was no seed head.  There was a little as can be seen in the picture but those who have managed Poa know that this is practically nothing.

So what this absolutely proves to me is that if I can reduce the stress that the plant is experiencing they I should also reduce the seed head in May.  Best case scenario I have no seed head on my greens next year or the year after that.  This makes a ton of sense but is easier said than done.  I have been doing a heap of research into fertility and disease prevention for Poa annua in an effort to maximize the health of my greens next season.

I have heard some say that as greenkeepers we can't forget why we are growing this turf in the first place.  "It is for the game of golf," they say.  "Turf health is secondary to playability!"  All I have to say to these people is the reason I am so concerned with the health of my turf is so that I can provide the best possible playing conditions period!

I cannot wait for next year!!!

Sand Trap Reno on 8

Sand Trap on 8 this past March
It has been a while now since we have completed the sand trap renovation on hole 8 but I only just now have the time to write about it.

Last winter we again saw a huge volume of groundwater coming out from beneath the wall behind 8 green.  The groundwater around 8 green has been crazy the past few years.  Incredibly high volumes of water have been popping up here and there as fast as we can install drainage pipe.

Anyways the water that was coming out from the wall was flowing out onto the green and into the large sand trap on the right of the green.  We have since installed a catch basin behind the green to prevent any surface run-off from flowing onto the green.  Either way the way the trap was designed cause all the sand to wash down to the front and into the rough.  The quality of the sand was also at a point where we were looking at a total sand replacement in this trap.

First day working with the backhoe
This trap has also been a safety hazard for the maintenance staff for years.  It was built only 2 feet from the edge of the green making it very difficult to turn our mowers without going into the trap.  It was also very difficult to maintain.  The slope of the trap caused all the sand to pile in the bottom and we were forced to shovel the sand back up the slope weekly!  So I asked myself "Do I really want to spend all this effort to fix up this hard to maintain and dangerous trap?" In case you're I didn't!

Fill has been added and the traps are starting to take shape!
I came up with a plan to move the traps further from the green to increase the room for turning equipment as well as level out the bottom of the trap.  I also decided that 2 traps would be better than 1 big trap.  It would make it easier to mow, reduce the amount of weed whacking and still catch errant shots before they went over the steep embankment.

In April we were working on a few subsurface drainage projects so I used the waste material from the ditches for fill on this project.  We also used some of the left over fill from the previous irrigation system upgrades that were done 2 years ago.

A view looking towards the tees from the back of the traps.
We decided to not line the traps as all of our existing traps aren't lined and I wanted to keep things consistent.  I have found that liners often cause more problems than they solve and we have very little issues with our liner-less traps.  I also decided not to install subsurface drainage in these traps as the ground here was very porous and already drained remarkable well.  So far to date we have had absolutely no puddling in these traps.

Once the traps were roughly shaped we sodded the ground so that we could bring this area into play as soon as possible.  As we had used up most of our good sod I was forced to use a less than ideal area from our nursery.  The sod we used was full of clover and weeds and I wasn't sure how it would turn out.  I used it anyway just to cover the ground to hold the soil together for the time being.  It turns out that after a season of good maintenance almost all of the clover and weeds have been choked out from the turf and as always we don't use any herbicides at Pender Harbour!

Bunker Board Installation
We had to purchase new sand for the traps as the old sand was completely contaminated with rock and debris.  We used the sand from the CAL gravel pit as it is the same sand that we use in all our other traps and I wanted to keep them looking and playing consistent.  The only trouble with this sand is that the spec has changed at the pit, and now it is full of the odd 3/4" rock!  We remove any rocks that we can find every time we rake it!  It really is too bad that even though we have the largest gravel and sand pit in North America, they can't seem to accommodate the golf courses!

We lined the trap edges with 4" strips of plywood to keep the edges intact and allow the sod to really knit in and stabilize.  I had a number of complaints over the season mostly from the visual impact and also from the fact that it might damage a club if it was struck.  For this reason I placed the traps as GUR.  I really wanted to start the edges off right to prevent future troubles.

We recently removed the bunker boards and gave the traps a finishing edge.  I think you will agree with me when I say that they look fantastic!
New traps on hole 8 in November

The crew has really enjoyed the increased area for turning and overall feel safer on this green.  The traps also save us a lot of time each week in maintenance.  The sod has knitted great, looks good and healthy and I also think that the overall appearance of the area has improved.  The only real cost for this project was a portion of a load of sand and a sheet of plywood.  Everything else was done with recycled materials on site.  I hope that this improvement will reduce maintenance cost and increase the safety of this area of the course. This is just another thing that we have done to try and increase the sustainability of our club!

Thank you everyone for your patience while we worked on this project.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Soft Spots on the Fairways

Right side of hole 8 fairway is in continual shade year-round

If you have golfed at Pender Harbour recently you would have noticed a few soft spots on our fairways.  In recent months I have had a number of members come to me wondering what the problem with these areas was.  They would often blame the soft conditions on over-irrigation and not enough drainage.  Some even blame the soft conditions on broken irrigation pipes!  At first glance it would be very easy to think that these were the cause of the soft conditions on our fairways.  These soft areas are in fact the result of an unhealthy thatch build up.  In order to understand why we have this thatch problem and what can be done to correct it we need to understand exactly what thatch is.

Thatch is an intermingled organic layer of dead and living shoots, stems, and roots of grasses that develops between the turf canopy of green vegetation and the soil surface (Beard, James B.). It is caused by the turfgrass growing faster than the clippings can decompose.  Increased turf growth and excessive moisture can lead to the production of thatch in turf.  Environmental conditions, turfgrass species as well as nitrogen fertility are a few factors that impact the rate at which turfgrass grows.  Excessive moisture is caused by over-irrigating, poor subsurface or surface drainage and shade.

Normally thatch is not a problem and is an important part of healthy turfgrass but when its depth exceeds 0.5" on fairways it starts to become a problem.  Thatch has very little structure and when it is wet it results in a very soft playing surface.  Thatch is like a sponge.  It absorbs water and can holds onto it tightly.  If it is dried out completely, it too is like a sponge in the fact that it will become very difficult to re-moisten.
2" thick thatch layer on hole 1 fairway. Note roots do not
penetrate into soil.

It is also interesting to note that turf roots growing in thick layers of thatch often don't even penetrate into the actual soil.  This can be easily seen in the following picture.  This become a problem as the roots are often shallow and if the thatch layers are very difficult to evenly irrigate in the dry summer months resulting in patchy brown spots on our fairways.  
Next we need to look at the physical characteristics of each of the problem areas.

Almost every soft spot on our fairways in on sloping ground.  This rules out surface drainage problems.  Any areas on our course with surface drainage problems have been dealt with using subsurface drainage and  surface catch basins.

Landing zone on hole 2 sees very little sun
Most of the soft areas are on soil that is highly compacted. Highly compacted soil has very little pore space available for water or air movement and makes it hard for water to move downward through the soil profile.  This is a result of high soil clay content, cart traffic and our inability to adequately aerate our fairways.  Our fairways contain more rock than soil in many areas and would completely destroy any aerator in minutes!  We have a tow-behind rotary aerator but it doesn't have the ability to penetrate the soil.

Bad spot on 2 fairways sees very little sunlight

All areas also see an excess of moisture especially when the turf is actively growing.  Many people often blame the maintenance department for over-irrigating but in fact this is not the case.  During the summer months we have to find the fine balance where we can keep just enough moisture in the thatch areas as to not let them completely dry up and die.  This is very difficult especially with our out-dated single row fairway irrigation system.  Over irrigation is also only possible when we are actually irrigating.  We normally only irrigate during the months of June, July, and August.  During these months the growth of our cool-season turfgrass slows to a crawl and therefore thatch accumulation during this time is less of an issue.  Keeping a healthy balance of moisture in the soil is important to encourage the microbial breakdown of the thatch during the warm summer months.

Times of the year when our turf is rapidly growing are in the spring and fall when we have absolutely no control over the amount of water.  These times of year see rapid growth and huge amounts of rain, the holy grail for thatch production.

Sometimes subsurface drainage is required as in this case
on hole 6 fairway
One common condition that all of these area do share is shade.  Every single soft area on our course is on the south edge of the tree-lined fairways.  These areas often see very little direct sunlight even in the summer.  The shade keeps these areas cool and prevents these spots from completely drying during the day.  This in turn reduces the rate of decomposition of the thatch.

So now that we have looked into what causes thatch on our course we can say that our two main issues are shade and compacted soil.  There are two things that we need to do to solve the thatch issue on our fairways.  Firstly we need to eliminate the causes of the thatch and  Secondly we need to correct the actual problem areas.

Shade issues are easy to solve and usually very inexpensive.  I like fix shade with a chainsaw!  Most people fail to realize that just like the turf on our course, the trees too are growing.  In our part of the country we can see trees grow upward of 10 feet a year!  This combined with the fact that the trees are already 200+ feet high!  If nothing is done to reduce the amount of shade on our fairways we can expect to eventually see very little sun anywhere on our course.

3.5' think thatch layer on hole 2
The problem with tree removal is that for some reason it is very emotional for some people.  We need to come up with an inventory of our trees and selectively "prune" (about 2 feet high) a select number each year to maintain a healthy amount of shade (if there is a healthy amount).

The next problem is reducing the soil compaction.  I have already explained how using an aerator would be very difficult so that is not an option.  What we can do is topdress the areas with excess thatch in an attempt to build some structure into the profile.  By topdressing sand into the thatch we can somewhat firm up the conditions and help air and water more freely move up and down through the profile.  Sand is expensive but the areas that it is needed are few and if we can correct the shade we will see much less thatch.  If you don't believe me just take a look at any North side of our fairways.  Not a single soft spot can be found to the north!

The final problem is helping the thatch layer decompose faster.  We can verticut these areas in the summer when they are drier and pull out a good amount of thatch.  We would then rake it up and dispose of it in our compost pile.  This process physically removes the thatch from the problem areas and hastens the firming effects of the sand topdressing.  It will also help the sand move through the thatch layer quicker.

With adequate shade reduction and occasional sand topdressing and verticutting we can solve our thatch issue on our fairways.  We just need to dedicate a small amount of funds for sand and come up with a plan for tree removal.


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

My Lousy Sand

Well there goes another fall aeration! I wish I could say that it went off without a hitch but that just wouldn't be aeration at Pender Harbour.  Last year we purchased a back up aerator and it's a good thing we did because the old one tried to die a few times and the newer one wasn't much better.  Our topdresser also finally died and we could only finish spreading the sand thanks to the guys at the Porpoise Bay Golf Club in Sechelt for lending us their spreader.

Despite having one of the largest gravel and sand pits in the world only minutes away we have a very hard time getting a high quality sand.  They even advertise on their web site about how good their sand is for golf courses.  In order to get this sand though, you need to order an entire golf course's worth!

This is what the sand looks like shortly after being spread.
Blowing off the rock in the wet weather.
This is what we are left with after blowing.  We then shovel
the rock into the rough.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

How Turfgrass Pests Can Be Your Most Powerful Pesticide

For years we as turfgrass managers have been taught to make preventative pesticide applications. The logic behind this was that if you could prevent the problem you would in turn have to use less chemicals to control the pest. In some cases this is true. There are some pests out there that you just don't want to get. In the case of cool season turfgrass fungal diseases during the summer I think that you can afford to skip the preventatives and here's why.

Dollar spot is a fungus that can wreak havoc
on poorly maintained putting greens.
When we get sick it is often for a reason. You get a cold because you forgot to wash your hands or touched something that was infected. You get heart problems because you smoked for 20 years and had a poor diet and ate deep fried everything for lunch. You get diabetes because you ate too much sugars when you were young. Out turf is exactly the same. When it gets sick there is often a reason why. There are many things that can kill our grass but where I'm from (West Coast of Canada) our main threat to the health of our turfgrass comes from fungi.

Each fungal disease has a very specific range of environmental conditions that it requires to thrive. These conditions often aren't conductive to the growth of healthy turf. Shade, moisture or drought stress, compaction, lack of air in the soil, excess or lack of fertility, and otherwise unhealthy turf lead to disease. In the summer we have almost total control over all of these conditions.

If we are making preventative fungicide applications we aren't seeing the active disease. The poor growing conditions are still there but we are covering up our poor management with fungicides. This active disease tells us a lot about what our turf is experiencing.

Yellow patch usually doesn't harm the turf
but it can tell you what could be done better!
At first sign of Dollar spot I know that my greens are probably dry and that I should irrigate in the middle of the night to knock off the dew. When I see Anthracnose I know that my greens are over-watered or under-fertilized. Who needs fancy dancy electronic tools when you have fungi?

We need to change the way we think about pests on turfgrass. I see the disease on my turf as my most valuable tool for maintaining healthy turfgrass. By spraying preventatives I am basically throwing away my most valuable tool as a turf manager.

When I use less chemicals on my greens I have less surprises. Covering up the poor conditions of your turfgrass with chemicals will only make the infection worse and more severe when the chemicals wear off. If you have no chemicals on your turf the initial infection will be less sever because the environmental conditions on your turf don't change that rapidly. Compaction slowly builds, drought doesn't happen overnight, irrigation systems don't over-water, trees don't decide to shade your turf on a whim, thatch doesn't appear in a week, layering in your soil happens over years, etc.

Early sign of Fusarium on putting greens. This
particular infection took a month to cause
significant damage that would warrant a
corrective fugicide application
Now sometimes you will be hit with a particular disease and the only option would be to spray some pesticides. This usually happens when we cannot control the environment especially during the winter months.

Here's my challenge to everyone. Let the disease and pests on your course tell you what's wrong. Don't kill them, use them to make your grass better!

Shade and Its Relation to Turf Health

A few weeks ago I came across a really cool App for my iPhone.  It is called Sunseeker   and it allows you to see the path of the sun for any day of the year compared to what your phone "sees" through its camera.  This is a very powerful tool for superintendents.  Shade is a very big problem for most turf managers as it is very difficult to grow healthy turf if there isn't enough direct sunlight.  This tool can help you determine how much light your turf will get for any time of the year and also showcase which trees need to be removed to increase the available light on your grass.

#5 Green looking South East.  This green has high disease
pressure due to shade. 

This week the Fusarium returned to my putting greens.  During the warmer drier summer Fusarium usually isn't a problem as I usually have full control over the environmental conditions surrounding my putting greens.  This time of year I have almost no control over the conditions.  I cannot increase the air or soil temperatures nor can I stop the rain!  This makes it almost impossible to use cultural control methods to fight Fusarium this time of year (September).  So sadly my fungicide free summer had come to an end.

#6 Green looking South.  This green sees almost no
disease even in the winter months.
Now the Fusarium wasn't on all my greens and it also wasn't evenly spread across the greens that it infected.  It seemed to me that it was only infecting the parts of my greens that were in the shade.  It might also be important to note that I hadn't applied any fungicides in over 2 months on my course and I had at least 4 different fungal diseases on my greens.  These other diseases were Dollar Spot, Anthracnose, and Yellow spot.  Because my greens were chemical free for so long I could see the actual most susceptible areas on my greens.  I feel that if preventative fungicide applications are applied that the results could be skewed due to the control they provide.

  So I wondered how much shade were they getting versus the areas with no disease?  If I could reduce the shade during this time of the year on those highly susceptible areas I could potentially push my first fall fungicide app back a few weeks, or even a month.  So I set out with my new-found App in search of disease.

#4 Green looking South.  This green sees no direct sunlight
in the fall and has a very high disease pressure.
I decided to use the path that the sun travels during the Equinox.  This seemed like a good time of year to maximize the sunlight on my putting surfaces because  his time also matched the growing season on the West Coast of Canada quite nicely.  As each course is different it would make sense to adjust this date to suit the growing season that you observe.

  I divided each green into quadrants and measured how much direct sunlight potential each area had during the Equinox.  I recorded this along with the disease pressure that I had observed during that time period.  I was really only concerned with the Fusarium that was present and not the other "summer" diseases that I noticed.  I complied the data into a spreadsheet and organized the data according to the severity of disease.  This gave me a clear idea of how much sunlight I needed to reduce the severity of Fusarium this time of year!

Areas on my greens that received less than 3.5 hours of sunlight during the Equinox had the highest disease pressure from Fusarium.  Areas with 3.5-5.5 hours of sunlight had medium disease pressures and areas with over 6 hours of sunlight a day had no disease.

Fusarium on the back of #4 green.
With this information I now have a benchmark number of hours of sunlight that I can work towards.  Using the Sunseeker app I will now be able to remove trees around my greens that will maximize sunlight.  I also know that I only need 6 hours of sunlight to make a difference and don't need to remove trees if I already get 6 hours of light.  I will be able to use this tool to remove only trees that are absolutely necessary and I now have the data to back up the decision.

I highly recommend this app and I'm sure that it will more than pay for itself ($5.99) this next season.  In total it took me longer to type this blog out than it did to collect the data so you should have no excuse not to do this for every putting green on your course!