Monday, 30 April 2012

Inconsistent Green Speeds Last Week

Last week I had a number of people come up to me complaining about the inconsistency of the greens. Overall they were consistent with each other but from day to day the speed was changing drastically. This was due to the fact that the growth rate of the turf quadrupled on April 23. This was due to the warmer temperatures we have been experiencing especially the warmer overnight temperatures.

On the 23rd we applied a growth regulator (primo) to slow the vertical growth of the turf on the greens so that they will become more consistent day to day.

Something that we started last fall was to monitor the growth rate of the turf with each mowing of the greens. I have a blog post here that explains the process. This is a really cool tool for us because we can see how quickly the turf is growing and how it responds to our cultural practices. The above graph shows the growth rate over time. You can see on the 20th the growth rate takes a surge. Prior to this date we were only cutting our greens every 4-5 days with very consistent playing conditions. Ideally I would have applied the growth regulator before the surge in growth but this year we missed the mark by a week so it got away on us just a bit. You can see that a week after the growth regulators were applied the growth rate has now dropped to a reasonable rate again.

This is also a good reminder to use our practice putting greens before your round. They are always consistent with the greens on the course. Use them to prevent finding out the greens are slow on the first hole!

By cutting every other day and rolling daily we should now be able to keep the greens consistent day to day for the rest of the season.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

How Wall-toWall Irrigation is Killing Golf!

Here is one point of view regarding irrigation and minimalism. I don't necessarily agree with it 100% but it's an interesting concept either way.

When in-ground irrigation systems were first used on golf courses a single irrigation line running down the center of the fairways was the norm. This was due to the fact that the heads usually had to be manually connected and there just wasn't enough time or money to water everything. As technology progressed and budgets increased multi-row systems became the norm. Along with these multi-row or wall-to-wall systems came the ability to keep all of the fairways and rough green year-round. So naturally the design of courses changed to include thick dense rough all through the course. If we had the ability to do it then why not?

Single row systems keep it green down the middle
where it should be!
Courses that were originally designed with single row irrigation systems were often upgraded to multi-row systems so that lush green conditions could be achieved. The thought was that lush and green was good. It was what the new courses had and apparently what the golfers expected.

With a single row irrigation system only the very center of the fairways can be adequately irrigated. As you moved further away from the center line less and less water would be applied. This allowed for green consistent turf down the middle of the fairways and as you ventured further out the conditions would become drier, and less dense.

The problem here lies when the older courses that were originally designed with a single row system were upgraded to multi-row systems. And even bigger problems were created when only the fairways were irrigated and not all of the rough. The problem here is this:

  • If you hit a shot right up the middle you are presented with a good lie in short green grass.
  • If you hit a shot a little off line you land in the rough, which is dense, green and very hard to hit a shot out of. 
  • If you hit a really poor shot way off line into the non-irrigated areas you are presented with an easier shot out of less dense rough that is not irrigated.
So you can see that this really doesn't make much sense to the penal design of the rough. You are penalized more for a slightly poor shot and even less for a very poor shot.
Take Augusta for example. They are green, wall to wall but they really don't have any rough. This makes sense for a course that is lush and green almost everywhere. Sure their rough is a little tougher than the fairways but the dry pine straw is definitely tougher to hit out of than the rough. This makes sense as to the way the game of golf should be played.

I have talked about the recent "upgrades" to Pinehurst No.2 in a previous post "Keeping it Rough" which discusses how they have reverted back to the "old" way of doing things to make the course more fun and challenging to play.

Many courses have adopted the intermediate rough to combat this issue but all we really have here is another expense, another mower set at another height of cut that needs to go out more often. Furthermore, this typically wasn't the way the course was originally designed to be maintained. There were 3 heights of cut, Greens, fairways and tees, and rough! How many heights of cut do you have, how many different rough heights? How many mowers does that take to maintain? How many hours does it take to maintain each week? I'll tell you this, single row irrigation, One mower, one height, one day, no days in the summer! Zero fertilizer, zero water, zero pesticides.

So in our effort to have the latest and greatest in irrigation technology we have really been changing the way the game of golf is perceived and played. When a new technology comes along it is just human nature to jump on board. We often take these technologies to the extreme just because we can.

In the case of multi-row irrigation systems I think that technology has gone too far. Our ability to water everything all the time has changed the game in many ways. It has changed the way it is played. Players are unfairly penalized for slightly miss-hit shots. It has increased the cost of golf course maintenance. Green grass needs to be cut and acres upon acres of rough is very expensive to cut, fertilize, and maintain. Lets not forget the cost of water! With this irrigated turf comes problems with traffic and pests. If we have the ability to keep it green with irrigation then we must keep it green with fertilizer and pesticides.

My course was designed with a single row irrigation system and ever since graduating from turf college I have wanted to upgrade our fairways with a multi-row irrigation system. Why? Because this is what we were taught. This is what was considered to be the best and most efficient use of our precious water.

Typical summer conditions with a single row system. Green down the middle,
drier as you move out! This rough is free to maintain in the summer!
Tell me this. What uses more water? Wall to wall irrigation or a single row down the middle that is properly operated to irrigate only the middle strip of turf with everything else left to go dormant in the hot summer months?

So with this in mind I challenge you all to think about how you water your courses. Do you have a single row irrigation system? Water just enough to keep the center lines of the fairways green and don't worry about the rest. It will be better for the way the game is played and your budgets. For those of you who have systems that have been upgraded from the "old" single row, re-think the way you use this new technology on your old course. Was your course designed for thick dense rough or was it designed for dry, firm, and less dense brown rough. Maybe only the center lines need to have the water on them. Keep the rough close to the fairways sparse. And for those of you at modern golf courses with the now industry standard wall-to-wall irrigation systems, keep the water on, because sadly, that is what your course was designed for and sadly it is going to cost a lot more to maintain that rough. Modern courses were designed to thick rough, without it they are pointless. The only way out is to rethink the design of the course.

I see a change coming in our industry. We are right in the middle of it. With prosperity came excess, with times of trouble comes clarity. Just because we can do something doesn't mean that it is better. We are starting to see some of the top courses change back to the ways things used to be done. Golfers are becoming more aware of the true cost of thick dense rough and are becoming more tolerant of brown turf. For turf managers the switch to brown rough should be easy but we still have a ways to go before it will be.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Fairway Bumps

The fairways at Pender Harbour are notoriously bumpy. When the course was constructed the forest was cleared and buried or burned under the current fairways. Over the years the buried wood has decayed causing the soil to settle in these locations.

Since 2005 we have been working to smooth out the worst areas of the fairways. Our old process was to lift the sod on a large (300 m2) area and smooth the soil then re-lay the sod. This method of smoothing worked really well but is very time and labor intensive. With our old crew of 5, I estimated that it would take us 40 years to fix all the bumpy areas of our fairways.

Typical pothole in a fairway caused by decaying
wood and organic matter.

As we now have a crew of 3 we have changed our approach to the bumpy fairways. Firstly we have begun to embrace the bumps. The bumpy fairways have become a part of the character of the course. Locals know where the bad spots are and play to avoid these areas. It is also very apparent when inter-club matches are hosted at Pender Harbour that our members are very good at hitting shots from lies above and below their feet. These skills give our members an advantage over other golfers who are used to smooth fairways.
Finished Hole topdressed in sand.
We have also changed the way that we are going to tackle the bumps on the fairways. Instead of tackling large chunks we are going to tackle the worst of the worst bumps. These are the bumps that will throw you from your golf cart, swallow your golf ball, and damage our mowers. We have begun to lift just these small isolated "holes" and fill them with soil then re-lay the sod. A team of two people can easily fill the really bad "holes" on one fairway in a day. We will continually be working on the bumps whenever we have time. This allows us to not have to commit to huge projects and makes it easier for our small crew. The results will also be more apparent and widespread as we are able to cover more ground.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Weeds, Another Perspective.

What is a weed?

One definition I found was: A plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted, as in a garden.

On some golf courses weeds can be a constant battle. Turf managers often have to go out of their way to deal with the pesky plants. Often the weeds on a golf course are harmful to the turf and the environment. Invasive species for example are a major problem all over the world. In other instances it is the native species that are the culprits.

The past few years that I have worked at the Pender Harbour Golf Club have taught me a lot of things. One of those things is how to deal with weeds. At Pender Harbour we might look at "weeds" a little differently than most other golf courses.

Clover growing in the turf

Take White Clover (Trifolium repens) for example. Our rough, fairways and tees are full of clover. Clover is usually a sign of poor soil nutrition and drought. This is very true especially for the rough areas of our course. We do not water or fertilize our rough, never have, never will.

What the golfer sees
Now we could easily kill the clover by spraying some selective herbicides but what good would that do? The clover is there for a reason. It is there because it prefers those growing conditions where the turfgrass does not. If I was to kill off all the clover what would I be left with? I would more than likely be left with a patchy, ugly, poor playing surface for most of the year. Instead we leave the clover to do what it does best. Grow nice and green and fix nitrogen. The clippings from the clover are rich in nitrogen and this helps nurture the turf for most of the growing season. During the summer months the only green that can be seen in our rough areas is from the clover as the cool season turf has a very difficult time coping with the lack of water and high temperatures.

Closer look at from the above picture.
I hear of a lot of people who have begun to seed fine fescues to cope with the dry, low fertility conditions found on their fairways and rough areas of the course. Fine fescues are great but they still require a lot of work to produce a good playing surface compared to clover. To grow good clover carefully follow these instructions.
  1. Cut it every once in a while.
  2. Do not fertilize ever
  3. Water it, or don't
That's it, it is self fertilizing and really doesn't require anything else. Now there is nothing wrong with seeding fine fescues into your turf. They do however require some work to be a successful playing surface.

Yarrow naturally growing beside one of our sand traps
Another "weed" on our course is white yarrow (Achillea millefolium). White Yarrow is a native species to our area and tolerates dry sandy soils very well. I recently heard of another course in the area that deliberately seeded yarrow to their bunker surrounds. They found that it held up very well to the dry conditions and was also a great playing surface for golf. I thought that I would give it a try and will be seeding our bunker surrounds this spring with yarrow.

Another view shows the yarrow thriving in this sandy
It isn't easy to grow good turf in the harsh bunker surrounds
Today while out working on the sand traps I came across something really neat. I found a patch of yarrow that had naturally started to grow on one of my bunker surrounds. This really pushed the idea home that seeding the trap surrounds with yarrow will be better for the sustainability of the golf course in the long run. Why should I constantly struggle to keep the turf lush and green around my traps when there is another plant species that will be lush, green and dense with virtually no inputs. Here is my secret of the trade to green sand trap surrounds.
  1. Plant Yarrow
  2. Cut it every once in a while.
  3. Do not water ever

Now you are probably thinking (or have been thinking for a long time) that I have completely lost my mind. You are probably right. But let me take this one step further.


Yeah, moss.

Moss is a huge issue for so many people with their home lawns and some golf courses on their putting greens and rough areas.  I have discussed moss on putting greens at great length so I wont repeat those thoughts again. I will say this though.

What is wrong with the lie in the following picture?

Juicy moss grows where turf won't
 Maintaining this playing surface is easy if you follow these instructions.
  1. Cut the moss every once in a while.
  2. Do not fertilizer ever.
  3. Water a lot, or not at all, it doesn't matter.
There is no point in spraying the weeds here
as we lack the resources to grow good turf here.
I am constantly approached by people who are concerned about the moss in their lawns. The first thing I always ask them is if there are any trees that are shading their lawns? The answere is always yes. So I tell them to first cut down all their trees then if they still have a moss problem come and ask me again. You tell me if it is the moss or the turf that is the weed in this instance. The conditions are ideal for moss and terrible for turf. I tell you what, how about I come over and spray something to take care of that turf!

I guess the moral of the story here is to stop trying to maintain a plant species in a spot that it isn't suited to grow. Look into the other options that you have and plant something that will thrive and require the least amount of work. Ask yourself what the purpose and requirements are for that playing surface and plant to suite. A weed is only a weed if you make it one.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Keeping it Rough

A few years ago Pinehurst Resorts began a "restoration" of the No. 2 course. The aim of the restoration was to return the course back to the way it was originally meant to be played. Here is a great video showing what course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have done to the course during this restoration.

The neat thing about this restoration is that they are moving more to a style of golf that Pender Harbour offers. We have only ever had a single row irrigation system and therefore our rough always burns out in the summer months. The rough transitions from thick dense golf ball eating grass into a sparse bumpy arid mess. Although the dense green turf might be seen as the most desirable playing surface they both offer the same purpose to the game of golf. They are both surfaces that are less desirable than the fairways.

The dense rough that our course features in the winter months is not as easy to hit a golf ball out of as the fairways and is an appropriate penalty for a shot hit off-line. In the summer the inconsistent nature of the rough is also an equally challenging penalty with its uneven lies and inconsistent nature. The difference between these two surfaces as far as golf is concerned are minimal but the differences as far as maintenance is concerned is drastic.

The turf grown in Canada is a cool season type turf. This means that it thrives in our cooler climate and will go dormant at extremely low and high temperatures. When the air temperatures reach 25-30C the turf turns brown and goes dormant. Most people see dormancy as the turf dying but in reality it is just the turf's way of coping with the stressful growing conditions. The leaves die back but the crow and roots stay alive. All it takes is some cooler weather and a bit of water and the turf usually greens right back up.

The problem with dormant turf in the summer months is that it doesn't have the ability to recuperate from the wear from golfers and golf cart traffic. For these reasons we as turf managers water the turf to keep it green, growing, and able to withstand the traffic and remain a good consistent playing surface.

The question I have for you is why do we constantly strive to keep our rough nice and consistent? Isn't it supposed to be a penalty for mis-hit shots? Doesn't inconsistency make a surface more difficult to play off of?

In order for us to keep our rough consistent and green we need to water like crazy due to the single row irrigation system. This creates excessively wet and soft conditions down the center of the fairways. These soft conditions are often more penal than the uniform green rough.
Green lush conditions like this in the Summer result in soft
fairways and thick, high maintenance rough.
In years past we have always tried to keep our rough green and thick at the expense of our fairways. Years of over-watering have left our course with thick layers of thatch which do not allow for adequate drainage and keep the conditions soft all year.

We now water to keep the center lines of the fairways green and consistent yet firm. The further you venture from the center of the fairways the less consistent the conditions will be. Balls will roll more on the fairways the drier they are. The rough will not always look nice and green but it will always offer the same penal playing surface no matter what time of year you golf here. Sadly I have no pictures of our dry rough in the summer as in the past I had never thought it worth photographing and often thought of it as a failure. The following picture was the best I could muster up but hardly shows the extreme dry conditions our rough experiences in summer.
Typical summertime conditions on the fairways. Note the
patchy rough areas.
These dry conditions are not only better for golf conditions but will also save the course money. Dormant turf in the rough does not need to be cut or fertilized. We also have to spend less time irrigating. We are lucky to have an unlimited supply of free water but many courses could save tens of thousands of dollars simply by turning off the water to the rough areas of the course.

A lot of courses lately have transitioned unused areas of the golf course to "naturalized" areas in an effort to reduce water use and save on the cost of maintaining these areas. Why stop there? These courses still have lush green juicy consistent rough surrounding most of their fairways. Why not transition to less water in the rough, just enough to keep it "not dead" with only the fairways receiving water?

Perception needs to change though and simply turning off the water isn't necessarily the answer. Recent courses have been specifically designed for thick dense rough and many golfers may not yet tolerate the brown dry inconsistent rough. Through education and the work being done at Pinehurst the golfer's expectations might shift toward a more sustainable way of maintaining golf courses.

The restoration efforts at Pinehurst only fortifies our maintenance practices at Pender Harbour and hopefully will help everyone more appreciate the dry conditions the course experiences each summer. Pinehurst has made this change by choice, we have worked this way for years because we had no other choice.