Friday, December 9, 2011

Time to Grind

If you walk past a golf course maintenance facility this time of year, you will most likely hear the sound of grinding wheels, air rachets, and other assorted power tools. Winter maintenance of golf course equipment is essential to keeping them sharp and operational. At Sugar Creek, we use two Neary grinders to spin-grind reels and grind bedknives back into cutting shape. These grinders are considered "classics" but they do their job well if you are careful and treat them nicely.  Throughout the season, we touch-up and adjust these reels twice a week but winter is when we re-grind and re-set all the cutting angles and surfaces.

Here are some pictures of Greens King IV reels being worked on:

Our equipment technician uses very precise gauges and calipers to ensure that the reels are not slightly cone-shaped or the bedknives tilted. He often uses this Interapid indicator to test within a 10,000th of an inch if everything is coming out straight and parallel. Here you can see the indicator being used on the bedknife grinder:

Winter is when golf course equipment technicians shine. In addition to sharpening and grinding reels and blades, they change bearings, grease joints, change oil, rebuild engines, service hydraulics, replace brake pads, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I won't list here. After finishing grinding and preventative maintenance on the machines, we will be replacing the reels on the fairway mower and refurbishing the groomers on our greens mower early next year.

In the above photo, you can see the groomer blades on the greens mower cutting units.  The bearings and adjustment hardware are worn out making it very difficult to set them precisely and have them stay there.  Grooming is tricky as it is without having the cutting depth change on you.  Ideally we like the little vertical blades to go into the "canopy" of the turf just slightly and lift up leaf blades that are getting too long or running sideways (about .030" below height of cut on greens).  Having groomers too deep could damage the green and would eventually break groomers -- for deep cutting we have verti-cutter units.  Going too shallow will have no effect at all.  Since accurate adjustment is so important, the bearings and hardware on these groomers needs to be replaced once in a while to produce a quality results.

Somebody once told me Superintendents swear by groomers; mechanics swear at them.  This will most likely be true in our shop sometime in mid to late January when we take them apart and start fixing them up. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Frost Delays

Reposted from April 2010:

Since we have a frost delay today, I thought I would post some information on frost and frost delays.  No one likes frost delays - maintenance workers especially - but they are necessary for the health of the course.  Golf course employees ask for your understanding during frost delays.  We don't like them either.

Here are some key points from the Golf Course Superintendent Association:
• Frost is basically frozen dew that has crystallized on the grass, making it hard and brittle. A grass blade is actually 90 percent water, therefore it also freezes.

• Walking on frost-covered greens causes the plant to break and cell walls to rupture, thereby losing its ability to function normally.

• When damaged, the putting surface weakens and becomes more susceptible to disease and weeds.

• One foursome can leave several hundred footprints on each green, causing extensive damage.

• A short delay while the frost melts can preserve the quality of the greens and prevent needless repairs.
You can find a more detailed article on frost formation and effects in this article - "The Big Chill"

The following is a video from the USGA:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October Pictures

Fall always makes for some great golf weather, and great pictures.  The weather lately has been perfect for misty mornings and sunny, clear afternoons.  Enjoy!  You can click on the pictures for a larger view.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Week after Aerification : Update

For the last few days, a low pressure system has been swirling over Chicagoland.  At Sugar Creek, we have had around 3 inches of rain in total.  Not all at once, though, but in six hour soakers spaced about 12 hours apart.  Wonderful!  Believe it or not, these are very busy weeks for a maintenance crew -- in a different way than usual.  We have not been able to mow fairways, but we have been able to mow everythings else very slowly.  Sand traps have been a constant battle.  In weather like this, we pump them just to give us a shot at drying them faster after it stops raining.  Since you never know when will be the last shower for the week, sometimes we pump them only to have them fill up again.  That's just the chance you take.

On a positive note, the greens have healed quickly from aerification last week.  After one week's time, they now look like this:
1 Week after Aerification
Close-up of #1 Green
They will be putting nicely once they get a chance to dry out a little.

Flooded bunkers have been common this week:

This is Gary's third time pumping traps this week.  You can also see him pulling weeds while he waits for the double sump pump arrangement to do its job.  Great job, Gary!
Gary's daily ritual : Pumping and weeding!
The last problem areas are filling in with slit seeding and aerification:
5 Tee slit seeding
The 5th tee has always been challenging to grow.  It is affected by morning shade, hard subsoil, and heavy use.  Being a short hole, divots are often very large and numerous.  We ask that players refrain from practicing, or taking multiple shots, on this tee for obvious reasons:
Divots on 5 tee
Divots taken during the course of regular play are necessary, but these divots were not between the tee blocks and are probably from just one golfer "practicing".  Ouch.

Looks like we may have one more sprinkle before a nice dry week!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Aerifying Day 2011

It's that time of year again!  The greens at Sugar Creek were aerified on September 21 with a deep tine machine that loosens up the ground up to 8 inches deep.  Aerifying is essential to the long term health of a green.  Here are a few pictures of the process.

We started spreading sand before the deep tine machine this year.  This helped it dry out before brushing.  Here is the deep tine machine on the first green:

Topdressing the greens:

In this photo, you can see the brush in action on the 5th green and the tractor aerifying the 7th green:

After brushing as much sand as possible into the holes, we used some custom built brush reels on the old greens mower.  These reels have a bedknife set to a little under our usual height of cut.  Brushes then come around to pick up extra sand and debris and collect it in the baskets.  These brush reels help to create a puttable surface:

After the first day, the greens look something like this area:

We try hard not to over-sand them even if all the holes aren't full to the top. It is easy to add more sand later but very difficult to get rid of too much.  After testing many spots, the holes almost never interfer with putting after we roll the greens out.  At least in my opinion, excessive sand is more difficult to putt on and can delay recovery. 

At the end of the process, we used a pull behind roller to smooth out any bumps.  One of the difficulties of dealing with recently aerified greens is dew in the morning.  The next two mornings were too dewy to mow or roll the greens without making them clumpy and unputtable.  Instead, we will be brushing and mowing them in the afternoon after they have dried out. 

They are putting smoothly and especially in the dry afternoon are almost too fast.  Some golfers even told me they loved putting them the afternoon after they were done.  Others said they liked the challenge of the different speed.  I hear a rumor that some golfers are not big fans of aerification, but I haven't run into them yet . . .  Well, maybe one or two!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Summer of 2011 : Seeding Fairways

Meteorological summer is over and it has definitely cooled off in the Chicago area -- just barely dipped under 50 last night in many areas.  The last month has been a busy one at many golf courses in the area struggling to recover from late July's rain and heat.  Luckily, August was not extreme: 1.1 degrees F over normal and about average rainfall.  This meant that it was possible to get seed to grow in fairway areas.

In the last 5 weeks, we experimented with several methods of seeding and aerification in the fairways.  We used a slicing knives several times in an attempt to break through the thatch into soil.  This worked in some spots.  We also used an Aera-vator with a seeder to spike seed and cultivate areas.  Other areas we used a Ryan Mataway slit seeder.  All three methods worked to one extent or another.  The trick is to get seed-to-soil contact without making the situation worse or delaying recovery. 

Seed growing in aeravator holes
Some of the plants you see are not new seed.  Most of these areas in our fairways are composed of annual bluegrass, or Poa annua, an annual grass with lots of seed in the ground.  It is very aggressive in spring and fall, but often dies in summer.  In some of these areas, our new seed may have gotten started early enough to establish before the annual fall resurgance of Poa annua.  In others, Poa will likely take back over. 

You can identify Poa annua by its bunch-type growth, yellow-green color, and "boat-shaped" tip:

Annual blugrass boat shaped tip
Annual bluegrass is not exactly what we want to see because it is the species that died in the first place, but it is turf and you can play golf on it!  There isn't any way to stop it without stopping our new seed also, so superintendents have to constantly manage it. 

About three weeks ago, we slit-seeded the first fairway and it is starting to fill in:
First Fairway slit seeding

It is easier to see the fuzzy new grass with dew on it
Finally, an area on 7 fairway that suffered from water damage needed more aggressive tactics.  Using an Aeravator, rake, and roller, we essentially cultivated and seeded the area around this drain:

 The seed germinated very quickly and is doing well.  If you click on the image, you can see them more easily:

Seedlings on 7 Fairway
Many other areas have already recovered from early August and the rest are filling in quickly.  September has really been a nice month!

6th Hole

1st Green

Update September 22, 2011:  Seedlings are really filling in on our fairways.  The renovated area on the 7th fairway now looks like this:
7 fairway
Overall, we have had a lot of success this year replacing pesky Poa annua with bentgrass and bluegrass.  Hopefully these seedlings will toughen up before winter and make great turf next year!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

July Weather Since 1990

One of the interesting parts of working in the golf world is dealing with weather.  It is important to understand weather variations over time when planning future projects and evaluating the success of past projects.  The last two summers have been hot and stormy, so I was curious: How "normal" is this weather?  When was the last summer with high heat and lots of rain?  The chart below summarizes July weather in Chicagoland since 1990.

(Click chart for full size view)

There are lots of ways to measure heat and precipitation, but I looked at the National Weather Service's departure from average figures for July. Out of curiousity, I also added in the number of days with rains over .5" -- big rains, in other words. 

The pattern confirms what I have heard from other Superintendents in the area.  Besides 2010, the last July we saw this extreme combination of high heat and heavy rain was . . . 1995.  Many people remember 1995 for its 100 degree days, but July also saw a lot of storms in this area.  We have had other unpleasant months over the years, but 1995, 2010, and 2011 really stick out for their combination of hot and wet -- one of the toughest situations for golf courses.

Notes on the chart:  Clicking on the chart will open a larger version.  Most of the data came from the National Weather Service.  I made a couple adjustments based on local measurements.  For instance, O'Hare measured over 11 inches July 2011 but we luckily missed a few of those inches.  It is important to note that this chart is only meant to summarize weather in July, not the entire summer.  There are many other factors in turfgrass health and golf playability, but July weather is very significant in our area.  I will take a look at August and its effects later this year.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Interview with a Fairway

A lot of golf course fairways have been hurting since it started raining this summer.  I decided to go straight to the source and ask our fairways some tough questions.  The following is a transcript of our interview:

So, fairway, it looks like you’ve been having a rough time in the past weeks?

Tell me about it!  I was doing great up until it started raining again.  I appreciate a nice shower.  Even a short bath I can tolerate, but I can’t sit in water for a week.  I can’t breathe.  Especially when the sun is out – that water gets hot!  Try holding your breath underwater in a hot tub.  That’s what it’s been like.

How did you cope with the extreme heat?  Was that a problem?

That string of really hot days wasn’t a walk in the park, but I survived.  The maintenance crew tried to give me just the right amount of water.  Too much water would have cooked me and too little would have permanently wilted me.  I made it through those hot days by breathing at night and holding my breath during mid-day.  That way I didn’t wilt to death during the middle of the day.  I’m not saying it was pleasant, but I can handle that for a while as long as the maintenance crew is helping me out. 

If you didn’t mind the extreme heat, when did the trouble start?

Well.  I started getting wet.  The first downpour was alright.  I soaked it up and it was cloudy and not too hot out.  The second one on July 23rd was way too much for me to handle, my roots were saturated and I couldn’t breathe.  Luckily it wasn’t too hot and sunny so you couldn’t really tell how much I was hurting. 

It seemed like you suddenly got sick right after that.  What happened next?

Just when I was starting to dry out and feel good again, I got a combined 2.5 inches of rain on the 28th and 29th.   Those two days were cloudy and not too hot so I just held on partially underwater.  Some of my low spots were starting to get smothered, but I was mostly ok.  And then it happened . . . Saturday and Sunday were the worst!

Did you get a horrible disease or something?

Not really.  The maintenance crew had just helped me out with some protectants that prevented most of the diseases.  I may have had a spot or two of Pythium Blight and Brown Patch, but that wasn’t really a big deal.  It was just the conditions out here on the 30th and 31st.  Remember, I’m plants, I can’t run away from lethal heat like you can -- hiding in your nice air conditioning all day and night!  I have to just sit here and take it.

I remember it was miserable out there in the middle of the day.  Why couldn’t you use the water to cool off?

My roots were still soaked and it was very humid so I couldn’t transpire.  Kind of like humans and your sweat, I need to evaporate some water to cool myself off.

Didn't the maintenance crew just add some drain lines on the first hole to help you out?

Yes they did, and I appreciate the effort.  They put a new line under the cart path and some other lines.  I'm sorry, but the way I'm built, it's going to take a lot more than that to dry me out when it rains this much! 

New drain and sodded area on #1.  Sod didn't make it.
OK.  So what happened?

 I wasn’t dry yet and the sun came out.  July 30th was the sunniest day in a long time and the temperatures hit the low 90’s.  The sun heated up the surface of the water that was partly covering my blades to over 110 degrees and it cooked their insides.  In a four hour span on Saturday afternoon, a lot of my cells turned to useless soup.  Sunday afternoon hurt again with the exact same conditions. 

Can we do anything to help right now?

Well.  The maintenance crew tried to help by aerating some holes for me.  Unfortunately, it has continued to rain so I still haven’t been able to breathe much.  Just rained another 1.5 inches in the last 24 hours.  At least the temperatures have cooled off so I’m not losing any more plants.  I know the maintenance crew is going to aerate and overseed this week once I dry out a little.  I’ve been in this situation before and I always come back with a little help.  Please be patient while I grow some new shoots and roots. 

Why are other areas of the course growing so well and you’re not? 

There are lots of reasons, but most of them go back many years.  If you notice, I’m low and the greens and tees are high – for the most part.  They were built with soil and sand custom made for greens and tees.  I’m all clay, rock, asphalt, and brick.  You might not know this, but I was a rock dump before I was a golf course fairway.  The greens and tees got the benefit of topsoil and there wasn’t much left for me.  I have a rougher life than those pampered greens.  They don't even get driven on by carts!  The tees are less spoiled – at least they have to deal with divots.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to grow some roots now.

One more question -- When do you think you'll be back to "normal"?

If past years are any guide, I will probably have one more rough patch in August that will prevent a big recovery.  At the end of August, I will recover and grow new shoots with the help of the maintenance crew.  By October 1, you may not be able to tell that it was another hot, wet summer.

Early October 2010
That was the end of our interview.  You may want to see these post for more information:

Scald and annual bluegrass (Poa annua) problems:

Pythium Blight:

Drainage project on 1st hole:

2010 -- a similar year for us -- in review:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Venting Fairways and Tees

The past couple weeks have not been kind to most Chicago-area golf courses.  First we had extreme heat and then lots of rain.  While some turf wilted in the heat and the rough went dormant in many areas, we could cope with dry and hot.  The wet period that started on July 22nd was a different matter.  The end of last week (July 27-29) saw significant rain 3 days in a row with warm temperatures.  This created a situation we know well in a wet late summer -- a toxic soup of wet wilt, scald, and pythium.  The high temps this weekend cooked saturated, low-lying fairway areas but the rough is looking fabulous!  Quite a few golfers have commented on how green it is on the course and they are right:  The greens, higher areas, and rough are healthy and growing fast.  It is those lower areas that are the problem.
Scalded low area near the creek on #1.
At the moment, there is only one thing we can do to improve the situation and speed up turf recovery -- Vent!  Not the verbal kind of venting, although that can help, but the mechanical kind.  Venting refers to solid tine aeration done mostly for the purpose of improving gas exchange in the soil.  We have been using a machine called the Planet Air on the fairways that shatters soil while leaving only a slit in the turf and a minimum of mess.  Tees are being treated with solid tines on a conventional aerifier.  So far, I have no plans to needle tine the greens as they are still performing well. 
Aerator uses a slicing motion to vent turf

Slicing Tines on Planet Air
I've noticed a lot of superintendents are doing the same thing and dealing with a lot of the same problems.  Check here for more recent superintendent blog posts (Link).  I especially like this blog post as they seem to be in a similar situation (Link).

In his Scouting Report for July 29, 2011, Dr. Settle writes: "Then there's why overly wet rootzones are our worst enemy. Midsummer is never a good time for cool-season turfgrass because any additional downward spiral of turfgrass health can be difficult to reverse until cooler weather returns. Root biomass/length are at their lowest levels and what's left root-wise has impaired function because of high soil temperature. Turf plants in physiological decline display abnormal photosynthesis and respiration, yet concentrated wear continues on a daily basis (the life of a golf green). Often the only recourse is a well-timed cultural method such as needle-tine aeration. If it sounds as if I'm exaggerating or blaming the weather too much, guess again."

Thanks for telling it how it is!  Wet + Hot + Stress = Unhappy Turf.  These scouting reports a great resource for everyone involved in golf.  You can check them out at Chicago District Golf Association Turfgrass.
Classic water damage in a drainage swail.
Saturated conditions lasted for longer than the turf could tolerate.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Course Update: July 23, 2011

The rainstorms last night dumped a lot of water on us.  We're not exactly sure of the amount because our rain gauge was knocked over.  My best guess is over 2 inches but way less than the over 6 inches falling at O'hare.  Most of the water drained off as of 7:30am.  The course has remained open so far and many groups have played.  More rain appears to be on the way, so please check with the clubhouse to be sure of the course's status (Phone #: 630-834-3325). 

Last week was very hot and humid, but the course made it through in good shape.  You will hear many superintendents say that they prefer to have it not rain when it is hot.  Too much water combined with heat leads to more severe problems than drought stress (see posts from 2010!).  Last week was a good example of why rain is not always welcome for a golf course.  Through moderate irrigation and spot watering by hand with hoses we were able to get through the week without major problems.  This amount of rain a couple days ago would have lead to severe scald, wet wilt, and probably diseases.  Hopefully it will stay cloudy today and not get too hot until it dries up a little.  It looks like we have a little cool down coming Sunday night through Tuesday which will be a welcome relief for both people and plants.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Junior Golf League Featured on WGN

Sugar Creek's Junior Golf League was featured on WGN's Instant Replay with Dan Roan last night.  You can tell from the video that our golf professionals and educational staff are doing a great job getting hundreds of kids into the game.  The course is looking good on camera, too.  At Sugar Creek, we also strive to teach course etiquette, safety, and an intro to course maintenance with our juniors.  It is a unique program and one of the reasons Sugar Creek was awarded the Top 100 Facility distinction by Play Golf America


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tree Inventory Online

View Larger Map

Above is a Google maps version of the Sugar Creek tree inventory.  I have already found that it can be extremely slow on some connections but fine on others.  Hopefully it will work on yours . . .

It is easiest to use by clicking on "View Larger Map."  You can click on each tree for its species.  Eventually, I would like to import more data like diameter and age and perhaps color code the icons.  I think I will schedule that for a winter project!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bug Spray Harms Turf

I have received a few questions about the mysterious patches of light tan turf that appeared over the weekend.  This is one turf problem that has a simple explanation:  Whenever the weather is muggy and buggy, we experience an outbreak of "bug spray disease."  Most golfers do not know that their insect repellent will harm turf, especially when directed at legs and ankles.  The overspray usually leaves a pattern of a green footprint or footprints surrounded by straw-colored injured turf. 

The solution to this problem is to spray legs and ankles on a cart path or other non-turf surface where the overspray will not contact grass.  Depending on conditions and the amount of spray on the grass, these spots usually recover in 1-4 weeks.  In extreme cases, though, they can result in the death of the patch of turf. 
Bug spray injury on a tee with a footprint in the center

Bug spray injury on a green collar

Can you see the footprint?

 Hopefully these pictures will help us all remember to use bug spray on the cart path.  I know it has slipped my mind in the middle of a mosquito attack.  Next time you golf on a buggy day, please help us educate others about the cause of the mysterious green footprint disease.

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