Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Winter Member Volunteer Workday

On February 21, we hosted our second Member Volunteer Workday. With 22 total volunteers this time, the turnout was lower, but the work effort and passionate drive to improve the club couldn't have been stronger. In just three short hours, the members, working in conjunction with our maintenance staff, made many positive impacts on various areas around the course (as shown in the pictures below). After the exhausting work effort, everyone was treated to a hearty meal of Bob's Famous Chili and hamburgers. Everyone went home tired and happy, and we look forward to continuing what looks to be becoming a tradition here at Winchester! Thank you to all the volunteers, as well as Winchester staff, that volunteered their time (and sweat!) toward improving your club!

Removing the invasive and flammable weed, Scotch Broom, from #8

Trimming and thinning of clubhouse landscape

Removing overgrowth from in-play native areas

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Project: #10 Bridge

Though the initial intentions in building a stone walk bridge to the front of #10 green were good, the construction hasn't held up to the wrath of Mother Nature very well. Last winter, the bridge repeatedly got pounded by the rushing creek created by several rainstorms producing more than 1" of rain in less than 24 hours. As a result, our crew had to do our best to piece the stone bridge back together by hand on four different occasions. Being a safety concern as well, we knew we needed a better long term solution.

With input from the Greens & Grounds committee, we decided to build a wood bridge in similar fashion to the existing bridges on the hole. Built in-house, we believe this new bridge will be much safer and should provide ample room for the majority of rushing storm water to run underneath the bridge freely. A fairly simple project that will save us labor this winter, and improves the safety and aesthetics of this key hole here at Winchester.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Winter Project: Sprinkler Spacing - #17

As we all know by now, the biggest component of our success in having good summer playing conditions lies with the irrigation system. This property is challenging to start with: lots of elevation change, shade, rolls, hills, bumps, swales, clay soils, etc. And in the summer the number one thing grass needs to survive and be healthy is water. If our irrigation system doesn't put the water exactly where it's needed, in the most efficient manner possible, we have to make up for it by watering by hand. And let me tell you, 80 acres is alot of grass for two guys (our dedicated irrigators) to water by hand...daily. So we rely heavily on our irrigation system to do the bulk of the job for us during our nighttime irrigation cycles.

This past winter we focused on the functionality of the irrigation system: making sure it all works. We took inventory and fixed any leaks, or misadjustments in the arc of the sprinkler, a few nozzling and drive change outs, unburied sprinklers that were lost, raised and levelled many that had been knocked around. We made sure every sprinkler turned on, popped up, rotated properly, and turned off when we wanted it to. Everything now works and works properly.

While doing all this, we were also able to get the whole system GPS mapped, so we have an accurate record of where every component of the irrigation system is. The map also serves as a important tool in other ways: we can use a digital version of it to turn on sprinklers from a computer, iPhone or iPad and we use it during projects to make sure we don't trench through pipes or wires. Yet one critical example of the benefit of precise GPS mapping showed up right away: how poor our sprinkler spacing is in many areas.

Good sprinkler spacing should look like this:

This is triangular spacing (on another golf course) that is exactly like what is intended here at Winchester: every head makes a perfect equilateral triangle with 65 ft (plus or minus 2 ft) between each sprinkler. The sprinkler and nozzles are designed to irrigate best when installed in this fashion.

This is what just a small section of the spacing looks like here at Winchester (this is hole #14):

You can see triangles, but they are far more imperfect than those above. And the spacing between heads ranges from as low as 56 ft (ignore the edges...they're a different story) to 75 ft. It may not seem like much, but 10 ft in either direction means a 10 ft miss or a 10 ft overlap. So every triangle above that's not a perfect triangle helps explain summer wet and dry spots. Makes it a little easier to see why consistency in the fairways is difficult to achieve. And the longer we use sprinklers, instead of Mother Nature's perfectly uniform rain, to irrigate, the more pronounced the wet/dry spots become.

So one of our biggest focuses this winter is to try to correct the worst of the worst spots throughout the course. Correcting all the spacing would means hundreds of sprinklers: dig one up, remove it, patch the line, dig up it's proper location, cut the line, patch the sprinkler in, bury, and repeat. Very labor intensive and time consuming. But our focus is on the high playability areas and the areas we know we had a very difficult time keeping turf alive last summer.

 The picture above shows our crew moving a sprinkler near #17 approach. The dirt on the right is where the sprinkler was, the left is where it's being moved to. You can see how far off it was from it's properly spaced location. Making these spacing corrections in several areas throughout the rest of the course should make a significant impact on how well the irrigation system performs and improve turf health, playability and overall consistency this upcoming summer.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winter Project: #3 Bunker

Wow....over 2 months since the last update. No excuse for that. I have plenty of catching up to do. Instead of asking for forgiveness, let me just get right into the good stuff:

Winter is definitely upon us. Twelve straight days of frost delays were broke today by the first rain we've seen in 3 weeks. But we'd love to see more (I know you golfers don't!). We're over 12" behind last year's rainfall, and while that is no real indicator of how the rest of the winter will be, a light rainy season most always means headaches for the following summer in terms of grass health, water availability, etc. So let's hope we see some more....soon. The good news is dry, cold weather has allowed us to step back from maintaining grass so aggressively and finally tackle some projects we've had on our to-do lists for quite some time. We've been so busy I have a half dozen projects to update you on, but we'll start one by one:

The lower greenside bunker on #3 was brought to my attention because it seemed to have little to no sand in the front right lobe and players would hit the soil with their clubs. We already know this bunker is a problem when it rains, or even when we irrigate heavily, as the sand constantly washes down off this flashed up face and ends up in the bottom of the bunker, often contaminated with silt and soil. So it's no surprising that not enough of it got put back up on the face of the bunker. But as we began moving sand around, we noticed that the subsoil in the bunker was soft and squishy. It appears some natural drainage is occurring in this bunker. So we resolved to address all of the issues with the bunker at once.

First came the removal of the contaminated sand that caused compaction and poor drainage in the bunker. You can see the subsoil drainage issue in the foreground of the picture:

After the removal of the sand (which we will recycle and use to lightly topdress the soggy left portion of hole #14), we added an "upside-down smiley" drain to catch the problem water:

Next, we chose to install a bunker liner fabric. Many other courses use a similar liner, and they've been known to work very well for two purposes: to prevent sand and soil contamination which keeps the sand clean and pure, and to help hold the sand on the flashed up faces of the bunker to prevent against major washouts during rainstorms:

With over 60" of rain last year, you can imagine how much time our crew spends rebuilding washed out bunkers after a big storm. So this bunker will be a test...if the liner works well, it would make great sense to use it in other problem bunkers moving forward to save labor by lessening the impact of washouts and keep the bunkers in a more pure and better performing state.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Member Volunteer Workday

Last Tuesday, October 4th, the combined Winchester and ValleyCrest staff hosted the inaugural Member Volunteer Workday. The idea was generated in the Greens & Grounds committee and headed by committee member Craig Prim and superintendent Jeremy Payne. The support and volunteerism for the idea was overwhelming and nearly 40 members showed up to participate. Though the workday was only 3 hours, a large amount of work was accomplished, and everyone was able to retire to the club-hosted BBQ and happy hour afterwards tired, sweaty and with a great sense of accomplishment. The experience and response was so positive that we hope to have this be at least a bi-annual event moving forward. Below are some pictures of just a few of the jobs that were tackled, along with some hard-working members working hand-in-hand with our maintenance team:

Removing blackberries on #14 (also removed plants on #13 & 16)
Clearing and mulching walkpaths (completed #2, 3, 5/6 & 7)

Driving range ball retrieval (this is like a "Where's Waldo?" photo!)

Weeding and clean-up of annual flower beds at the clubhouse (also cleaned up all on-course planters)

Sanding & seeding tees (all tees were completed)

Sanding & seeding fairways (all fairways were completed)

Landscape clean-up at #6 restrooms (further clean-up and mulching to come)

Landscape clean-up at #12/16 restrooms (further clean-up and mulching to come)
All in all a very successful event and the staff of both Winchester and ValleyCrest wish to extend a huge thank you to all our members who participated in both this workday and for other various volunteer efforts around the course. We look forward to working with you all again soon!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Late Summer Aeration

It's been quite some time since I last found time to update our blog, but this week starts the end-of-season maintenance practices that will span the next few months and updates here I know will be much appreciated.

Over the last two days, we completed our late-summer aeration of the greens. We did things a little differently this time, trying to find the best balance between efficiency, speed of recovery, achieving desired agronomic goals and minimal disruption to golfers. In all these aspects I feel we were very successful.

Using two newer-technology ProCore aerators, we were able to complete the full aeration process to all greens in 10 hours. Our new method involved putting down the topdressing sand first, aerating with hollow tines over the sand, applying fertilizers and amendments, dragging all the dried material to fill the holes, blowing off the removed and unwanted thatch, and finally watering it all in. Using this method eliminated the laborious task of having to manually remove all the plugs before sanding, which not only added time and alot of extra traffic to the green, but generated alot of waste material that builds up in the green waste area over time. By dragging the plugs, we knocked off alot of the existing sand, rich with organic material and fertilizers already existing in the green, to be mixed back in with new sand, leaving only the dry, problematic thatch material at the surface to be easily blown off into the surrounds to later be chopped up by mowers.

Aerating with 3/8" hollow tines over topdressing sand

Dragging in sand and plugs
 We also used a smaller size tine (3/8" as opposed to 1/2") to aid in speed of recovery. The beauty of it is that even though we used a smaller tine, we condensed the spacing such that we were able to remove the same amount of thatch as the larger tines. As a superintendent mentor of mine once told me: "A million small holes heals just as fast a dozen small holes; it's not the quantity, it's the size of the area that needs to be grown back over that determines healing time."

It always helps to take a step back and really think about this idea, along with many others, to determine WHY to aerate and also HOW. Doing practices such as these "just because everyone does it" is unwise and often unnecessary. There should always be a stated and desired goal to intense maintenance practices. In this case, ours is multi-fold: relieve compaction from summer traffic, provide an opening to allow nutrients, air and water to move deeper into the soil profile and removal of thatch near the surface that inhibits water penetration, facilitates optimum disease conditions and softens the receptiveness of the surface. Note that the first two goals can be achieved with solid tines and very little disruption. The messiness of pulling a core coupled with alot of sand is for the removal and dilution of thatch, which we currently have a good amount of. The long term goal is to reduce thatch to manageable levels then implement practices that constantly dilute and breakdown thatch without major aeration to hopefully one day move away from major disruptions, like these types of aerations, in favor of more numerous and minor disruptions, like bi-weekly verticutting and light topdressing coupled with solid tine aerations.

In any case, our new methods and practices will lend to overall better conditions, both long term and short term, and the greens should be back in shape faster than ever. A sneak preview of the speed of recovery can be found by watching the driving range practice green, which was aerated last Thursday and will show recovery results five days ahead of the rest of the course. So as soon as you think the practice green is good, the course will be the same 5 days later.
Driving range practice green - 5 days into recovery

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Irrigation "Dance"

As we are officially in the middle of summer now and true heat has finally found us, an update on summer stress, certain eyesore areas and the role irrigation plays in both is due.

As much as we would love to say that all the work we've done over last fall and the winter to improve plant health, soil conditions and the irrigation system would guarantee nothing but green grass, the truth is that the road to recovery from the woes of last summer is a long-term process. We've definitely seen some major improvement, in particular on the holes that received extra attention and topdressing this spring, like #3, 4 and 12. But we still have areas that are giving us headaches, for a variety of reasons.

In addressing the irrigation issues discovered this winter, part of the process was to completely reprogram the irrigation system. Doing so essentially sets all sprinklers to a uniform base percentage of 100%. However, we all know that sprinklers in the shade probably don't need 100% irrigation. Likewise, areas on the tops of hills or on south-facing slopes may need more then 100%.

So in firing up the irrigation system for the summer, these are the areas we are slowing finding. Areas where there's either too much irrigation, or not enough. We have the ability to adjust every sprinkler out there, but finding the right combination of percentages for any given area can be a challenge. In trying to dry out a wet area, we can adjust down too much, and get too dry. And vice versa. So we "dance the dance" with the irrigation system. But, in time, we find that balance. Getting there sometimes doesn't look pretty, but once we're there, we're set. And once the affected grass recovers, we shouldn't have to worry about those spots again, and we move on to others. Over the long-term, we eventually get the entire course balanced out such that when we need to, for tournaments in particular, we can dry down everything equally, to make it firm and fast. Then we can rewet everything uniformally as well for a fast recovery. This is the end goal, and we are on our way there, albeit little by little.

Another "good news, bad news" fact to point out is: bad news = some grass is very dry, brown and some of it beyond recovery (which is currently being reseeded) and doesn't look very pretty; good news = the majority of the grass looking this way is Poa annua, the grass we least desire to see and maintain. So while we'd prefer not to see overly dried out areas, we are effectively separating the strong from the weak; the Poa from the ryegrass. And the picture below is a perfect example of that:

You can easily see both the survival/drought strength of the ryegrass, as that is pretty much the only green grass in the picture, as well as the benefits of the aeration we've been continuously performing, as those are the regularly spaced spots the ryegrass is happily growing in. So as we continue to aerate and continue to seed in ryegrass, these areas of strong, healthy turf will become more dense, with better coverage and eventually the majority of the Poa will be gone. Again, long term, but a nice end result to dream about. Our commitment to this goal is unwavering, and we again thank you for your commitment and support as well.