Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Winter Course Status Update

The golf course is once again visible following the recent warm temperatures and rainfall. As I have previously mentioned in earlier blog entries and newsletter articles, an insulating snow cover affords the golf course turf the best scenario for successfully surviving the winter. I have taken advantage of the recent mid-winter thaw to survey the golf course. Following I will list the primary areas of concern for winter damage along with the current status of NSCC:
  • Snowmold Fungi There are two types of snowmold fungi which can present problems in Wisconsin. "Pink Snowmold" prefers no snow cover and is active when the temperature is just above freezing. "Gray Snowmold" presents itself under a prolonged, dense snow cover. NSCC staff preventatively applies plant protectants each fall to discourage both types of fungi and the damage they are capable of inflicting. At this point of the winter, I not found any fungal activity on the course's greens, tees, and fairways.

  • Dessication This type of winter damage can most often be found on greens that are exposed to the cold, dry, winter winds. The extent of damage is dependent upon to location of the green and the length of exposure to the winter air. The most susceptible green to winter dessication is 7 White due to its elevated location. Thus far, I have not seen any areas on the course which look to have been damaged due to dessication.

  • Freeze-thaw Cycles These cycles are most damaging when they occur in the late winter months. Once the turfgrass plants begin to break dormancy, the tender new plants are highly susceptible to freezing. A sudden drop in temperatures following dormancy can actually rupture the plant's cell walls causing death. While we can't control the weather, the best we can do is manipulate the plant's nutrition. By timing fall fertilizer applications in a manner that allow the plants to harden off in fall, and by slowly bringing the plants out of dormancy in the spring, we can minimize the potential for damage. Since our recent thaw cycle has occurred in mid-winter, the turfgrass plants should have enough carbohydrate reserves remaining to remain viable.

  • Ice Cover Since even dormant turfgrass plants require both oxygen and the ability to release carbon dioxide, a prolonged, thick ice cover poses the greatest risk for winter turfgrass damage. The two predominate turfgrass species found on NSCC's greens, tees, and fairways, creeping bentgrass and annual bluegrass, are quite different in their ability to tolerate ice cover. Bentgrass can survive over 80 days of ice cover while Annual Bluegrass can be completely killed after only 40 days. It is important to note that not all ice is the same. For example if we received a couple of inches of rain on warm day, then the night time temperature dipped into the single digits, a hard, impermeable layer of ice would be formed. This type of ice presents the largest potential for turfgrass suffocation. The ice which can currently be found throughout NSCC has not been formed in this manner. Instead the ice has been formed by thawing snow, and has not been frozen by a quick freeze. Air bubbles are abundant throughout the ice, indicating that gas exchange is possible.

As you can see, the golf course is an active place in the winter, even though the plants are not actively growing. As the winter progresses, the golf course maintenance staff will continue to monitor turfgrass conditions. While all necessary preventative measures were put in place last fall, the NSCC golf course maintenance team will not hesitate to take the appropriate measures, such as physical ice removal from greens, should conditions warrant in the future.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What Do You Do In The Winter? Part 2

"So, what do you guys do in the winter?" This question, as was addressed in the previous blog entry, is common among golf course superintendents who manage turf in northern climates. While it is true that the size of the maintenance staff is drastically reduced over the winter months, key staff members remain in order to complete important work that is required to provide a well-conditioned golf course. One of the areas of golf course maintenance is in the execution of proper tree management.
Performing tree maintenance in the winter is best for both the trees and the bottom line. Pruning deciduous trees in the winter promotes fast regrowth in the spring. It is also easier to see the shape of deciduous plants in the winter since their foliage is gone. Additionally, winter pruning assists in correcting disease problems withing the tree as open wounds during the warm season can attract insects which may be carrying fungal spores. While the main goal of tree maintenance at NSCC is to remove any dead or hazardous branches, the maintenance staff also takes golf course playability into account. In most cases, tree canopies are raised to allow for golf cart passage and for golfers to play a golf shot below a tree.
Managing golf course turf is much like farming in that when the weather is good there are often not enough hours in the day to get everything done. By pruning trees in the winter, the NSCC maintenance staff is able to work uninterrupted, thereby increasing efficiency and maximizing its labor dollars due to the lack of golfers on the course. As long as the ground is frozen and covered by snow, all golf course equipment is able to access the course without causing damage to the underlying turf or soil. Following pruning, all branches are hauled back to the golf course maintenance facility where they will be chipped by staff. By chipping brush in-house, we are able to maximize our spending. Instead of contracting this service out, the golf course maintenance staff stays busy on frosty or wet days by chipping the brush at the maintenance facility. The mulch created from the brush pile can be used later on the course. By recycling this material on-site, we avoid refuse removal fees and contributing unnecessary organic waste in our landfills.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Do You Do In The Winter? Part 1

Many golfers view the golf season in Wisconsin as beginning just before Memorial Day and ending soon after Labor Day. A few hearty souls are willing to brave the cold and extend the season from April to November. Rarely are we able to play meaningful golf beyond these times. Due to the seasonal nature of golf in Wisconsin, many in the golf industry are often asked the question, "So, what do you do all winter?" This question has been answered many ways by many different people. Perhaps my favorite answer has been provided by a veteran superintendent, who after growing tired of the question, simply replies, "Nothing."

While it is true that the grass no longer needs mowing as winter approaches and staff is reduced to minimal levels, there is certainly much to get done. In fact, after most golfers have left the course, much work remains before frost enters the ground and heavy snows make the course impassible. If you haven't already, take some time to review some of the earlier blog entries which highlight some of the golf course staff's late fall projects which usually don't end until mid-December.
When winter finally arrives, a large portion of the staff's talents are utilized in the area of equipment maintenance. Equipment maintenance can be broken down into two main categories, machine maintenance and cutting unit maintenance.

Well-maintained machinery is cornerstone to maintaining a golf course in top condition. The golf maintenance operation is responsible for maintaining 27 holes in superb condition on daily basis. In order to ensure that each individual piece of equipment is functioning its best each time it leaves the shop, our equipment technician must thoroughly inspect and service each all equipment multiple times throughout the year. Winter affords us the greatest opportunity to make the most comprehensive inspection which includes troubleshooting any malfunctions, ordering the necessary parts, changing all the required fluids, and performing all the necessary lubrications. This is no small order as some pieces of equipment possess engines as sophisticated as a new car and far exceed a new car's purchasing price. This task increases in scope when one considers that the core of our equipment fleet consists of 6 tractors, 6 fairway mowers, 2 rough mowers, 15 walking green and tee mowers, 10 riding green mowers, 4 sprayers, 20 golf carts, 12 heavy-duty utility vehicles and many more smaller mowers and hand held equipment such as weed whackers. Even more daunting is the fact that the equipment varies in age from 35 years old to only a year old. It goes without saying that finding a replacement clutch for a 1986 club car golf cart that was discontinued in 1993 can quickly become a time consuming headache.
Equal in importance to machine maintenance is cutting unit maintenance. NSCC employs two types of mowers to groom the course's turf. Rotary mowers, the type of mower that most of us are familiar with from our home lawns, are found on NSCC's larger rough mowers and walk-behind mowers which are used to trim around bunkers and the clubhouse lawn. These mowers are relatively easy to maintain and sharpen. The second type of mower, a reel mower, is used to trim the tightly mowed greens, tees, and fairways. These mowers are found in single reel walk behind units such as our greens mowers, as well as riding units which are comprised of between 3 and 5 reels. These mowers provide the single greatest mechanical component to turfgrass health and quality and are much more compex in their maintenance. Reel mowers are infinitely adjustable in relation to mowing height of the turfgrass. Throughout the course of the season, the height of cut can be raised and lowered depending on environmental and green speed expectations. The mowing height of greens typically remains at between 1/8 to 1/10 of an inch during the peak golf season on bentgrass putting greens. In fact, it is not uncommon for our reel technician to adjust or "tweak" the mowing height only .05" to obtain the desired affect on ball roll speed. In order to better visualize the height of cut on a putting green one must picture the thickness of two pennies stacked on top of one another.
In addition to properly setting the height of cut, our reel technician must verify that each reel maintains a sharp cutting surface. When turfgrass is cut with a dull blade or reel, the grass blade is ripped instead of cleanly cut. Torn grass blades not only give the turf a brown tinge, but also open the turf to fungal infection. Over the course of the winter each of the 105 cutting units at NSCC is thoroughly inspected and sharpened. Our reel technician uses a computerized grinder to guarantee that each reel meets our rigid stantdards. When maintaining turf at these extremely low mowing heights, it is imperative that a highly qualified technician check both the height of cut and quality of cut on a daily basis to ensure the highest quality putting surface possible.