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.