Monday, October 22, 2012

Memorial Tree for Bill O'Keefe

Yesterday, we planted a memorial tree for William (Bill) O'Keefe.  Bill was a regular golfer and a member of the Sugar Creek Administrative Board for 16 years. 

The plaque and tree were donated by Elmhurst Park District in recognition of his many years of service.  The plaque reads:
William R. (Bill) O'Keefe
Sugar Creek Golf Course Board Member
16 Years
Elmhurst Park District
Having known Bill personally for many years, it was a pleasure to plant this tree for him just where he wanted it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September News 2012

We have had a lot of great days for golf this September and I hope we have a lot more coming up!

8th Hole on a beautiful day

7th Green

The Grounds Crew has been busy with a couple projects.  Tees are being aerified, topdressed, and seeded one-by-one.  On a few tees you may see the strips between the blue and white tees have been mowed down like this:  

These dividing strips were grown out at different times between 2004 and 2006.  Some of them work, but others -- like this one on the 4th hole -- have caused problems.  First of all, this strip eliminates at least 6 prime tee placement locations.  With the amount of rounds that are played at Sugar Creek, we need all the tee space we can get!  Secondly, this strip gave a little too much space to the blue tees and not enough to the whites.  We will continue to place the tees in the same locations but adding this real estate to the tee will allow us to spread out wear more evenly.
Grubs and the associated skunk damage have been bad this year.  Every day, we flip over a lot of sod in areas like this:  

Skunks digging for grubs
Skunks looking for grubs caused this damage

At Sugar Creek, we treat the fairways and tees preventatively for grubs but not the rough.  The damage is usually minor enough that there is no permanent damage.  Some areas this year will require a grub treatement and some restoration work.
We are finding more and more trees with Emerald Ash Borer symptoms.  The count is up to 64 at the moment.  For more on our tree population, see this post.
Tree with Emerald Ash Borer
Tree with Emerald Ash Borer symptoms
 Come out and enjoy the great weather at Sugar Creek: 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Boy Scouts Help With Buckthorn Removal

On August 15, a group of Boy Scouts lead by Kyle Stevens completed a service project at Sugar Creek.  In order to attain the rank of Eagle, scouts must complete a service project in the community.  Many projects involve clean-up of natural areas or buckthorn removal.  Kyle and crew worked on the buckthorn around the driving range.

Buckthorn stacking brush
Scouts cut and stacked buckthorn around the driving range
They also collected 100's of golf balls!
We now have lots of piles like this of dead buckthorn
Buckthorn removal Kyle
Good work, Kyle.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Good Luck, Keith!

For most of the last two years, our course set-up man has been Keith.  If you have played Sugar Creek recently, you have him to thank (or blame) for the pin placements.

Keith changing cups - June 23rd

Keith graduated from Elmhurst College and is moving to North Carolina to continue his studies.  We will miss his level plugs and relentless fixing of ball marks.  Good luck, Keith!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Turf Notes: Poa trivialis

Above is a look at roughstalk bluegrass (Poa trivialis) which makes up a large portion of our fairways and tees at Sugar Creek.  It is considered a weed and was not planted intentionally.  The "trivialis" in the plant's Latin name indicates that it is very common, not trivial.  This member of the bluegrass genus is an invasive species from Europe that can be found growing wild in most areas of North America.  It spreads aggressively by seed and stolons (stems that run along the ground) during the spring and fall.  It does not, however, like our summers.
In many previous posts, I have discussed the difficulties of dealing with Poa annua, or annual bluegrass, on golf course turf.  I occasionally mentioned Poa trivialis (or roughstalk bluegrass) along with its annual, bunch-type cousin.  Because Poa annua affects putting greens it often gets more press than P. trivialis.  You may hear superintendents just say "Poa" as shorthand for both weeds, but there are major differences in the their life cycle and growth habit.  After working with both for quite some time, I am finding that P. trivialis is a far greater problem for our fairways and tees than annual bluegrass.
The problem with Poa
 Poa trivialis is commonly called roughstalk bluegrass -- but not due to any roughness of its shoot tissues.  The rough "stalks" are the stolons that creep along the ground sending tender shoots upward and tiny roots downward.  Roughstalk bluegrass actually has soft, fine blades that are tightly spaced when mowed regularly.  It can easily be mistaken for creeping bentgrass without close inspection.  Below is the 4th tee looking good in June.  It is mostly Poa trivialis.
Golf Course poa trivialis tee in June
4th tee - Mostly Poa trivialis
Poa trivialis looks good and plays well most of the year.  It would make a decent turfgrass -- except for one BIG problem.  It completely shuts down during hot weather.  The grounds crew successfully kept it going through very dry conditions by handwatering and syringing through the day, but the heat wave in early July with 3 consecutive 100 degree days caused large areas of Poa trivialis to decline from heat stress.
July 5th and 6th -- the 2nd and 3rd 100 degree days -- were brutal on cool-season turfgrass.  Simply put, grass species in our area are not adapted for optimal growth during the summer.  They are adapted for the cooler seasons of spring and fall.  Kentucky bluegrass, creeping bentgrass, and ryegrass can often take one extremely hot day under the right conditions, but several in a row is a different story.  Turf managers attempt to coax an often unwilling plant through the rough patch of summer when stress and play are at their highest.  It doesn't always work. 
In the photo below taken the morning of July 6th you can see patches of turf in the process of going dormant due to heat stress.  You can also see some cart tire tracks turning purplish-brown.  That afternoon was the breaking point for a lot of Poa trivialis and Poa annua:
Golf Course poa trivialis fairway going dormant
7th fairway morning of July 6th - Patches going dormant
Why is it here? 
Poa trivialis is everywhere.  Small amounts can come with regular Kentucky bluegrass and ryegrass seed -- especially in the past.  It is possible that it was in the original seed used on the course, but it is just as likely that seed and stolons were already here before the golf course.  These areas have been seeded and sodded many times over the years just to be over-taken by Poa species.
We have the perfect conditions for Poa.  Poa trivialis thrives during spring and fall in compacted and poorly drained soils.  Many of our fairways are made up of clay mixed with rock, asphalt, brick, and concrete from the old rock dump on the site.  Here is a soil profile from a random spot on this fairway:
Clay mixed with bits of asphalt, brick, and gravel
This picture was taken 12 hours after a heavy rain.  The soil problems are compounded by poor drainage.  Unfortunately, the design of the course routes a large amount of water through the middle of the fairway.  Some drains have been added over the years in these wet spots but they are not adequate to move lots of water quickly.  The result is that puddles stay in the fairway for days after a thunderstorm.  The 7th fairway is especially bad.
Poa trivialis fairway poor drainage
7 fairway after heavy rain
The puddles perfectly line up with the areas of dormant Poa trivialis because the poor drainage encouraged this grass in the first place and discouraged desirable species of bentgrass or bluegrass.  Under the right conditions these puddles also heat up and scald the turf.
The turf in these areas is not technically dead.  It is just dormant.  When it dries out, you can peal up the turf and see new shoots forming on the stolons and some seedling germinating.
Poa trivialis dormant stolons
These seedlings may be Poa annua or trivialis, but they are seedlings and not connected to stolons:
So far, we have used slicing tines on the fairways and tees to encourage some gas exchange.  We will also be slit seeding and aerifying during August to speed recovery and try to establish hardier species of grass.
Can you get rid of it
Poa trivialis is almost diabolically difficult to control because it can lay dormant for long periods.  In 2010 and 2011, we slit seeded these areas with bentgrass.  The seed germinated in August and began establishing only to be overwhelmed by Poa annua and Poa trivialis in September and October.  Without removing the existing turf and starting fresh, it is difficult to impossible to permanently establish a desirable turfgrass. 
There are two ways to get rid of it: Multiple applications of non-selective herbicide (Round Up) or physical removal (total renovation).  There is research on a selective herbicide (Velocity) that can weaken it in a mixed stand but would not be effective in this situation.  The underlying cause of Poa also needs to be dealt with: poor drainage and poor soil.  
Because it is not possible to eradicate without a total renovation, we try to keep as much alive as possible during the summer months.  In years like 2009, it was possible to keep it all alive.  The past two summers it has not been possible due to extremes in heat and moisture
How can we speed up recovery?
We do several things to speed up recovery and limit further damage:
  • Maintain adequate moisture when it does not rain
  • Limit cart traffic to affected areas
  • Use lighter mowers or walk mowers on affected areas
  • Aerify multiple times
  • Topdress affected areas
  • Slit seed
  • Sod worst areas if necessary
  • Maintain proper fertility
In 2011, August was fairly mild with only 3 days over 90.  An August like that would be ideal for recovery.  Here is some slit seeding from 2011:
bentgrass slit seeding golf course fairway
Slit seeding on #1 fairway in 2011
Most of these seedlings were overwhelmed by Poa the following spring, but the slit seeding did significantly speed up recovery last fall.  We are going to keep experimenting with techniques to establish more desirable turfgrasses in the middle of Poa trivialis this year.  Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Week of July 4th Brings Wind Storm and Heat Wave

The week of July 4th, 2012, is not one we are going to forget any time soon.  It started with 1.5 inches of rain and a violent wind storm on Sunday afternoon.  Power was knocked out in the area for at least a day -- many days for some residents.  To add insult to injury, a heat wave set in making the work of clean-up crews uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.  At Sugar Creek, the crew quickly went from storm clean-up on Monday and Tuesday to trying to cool extremely hot turf the rest of the week.
The wind storm on July 1st left the course covered in debris.  Most of the greens looked like this: 
Sugar Creek wind storm 5 Green with debris
5 Green - July 1, 2012
The storm brought down many large limbs that had to be cut up and chipped.  4 fairway in particular was covered in limbs from the large Cottonwoods on that hole. 
Golf Course fairway with cottonwood limbs down after wind storm
4 Fairway - July 1, 2012
On the 9th tee, the wind knocked over a Norway Spruce.  Spruce are shallow rooted in clay soil and can be pushed over in heavy winds.  We were successful in standing this tree back up, but it may still decline from the loss of roots on one side. 
Norway Spruce on 9th tee
This poor Bald Cypress had its top taken off.  It has a vertical branch that looks like it will turn into a new leader.  It will have a "unique" shape but will survive. 
Bald Cypress on 6th fairway
The rain came down so hard that it washed out all of the sandtraps.  Events like these are why our sand has become mixed with debris and clay from the top edge of the trap.  I was just reading an article that stated: "Principle one is that no surface water should enter the trap.  Of all principles in sand trap construction, this one is paramount" (Daniel, Golf Superintendent).  The designers and builders of our sand traps must not have read that article.  To be fair, I'm sure they were aware of the surface water issue but sometimes visual impact, construction cost, and placement of the hazard are put before playability, maintenance cost, life span, and reality. 
Golf Course sand trap bunker washed out after thunderstorm
July 1, 2012
The grounds crew had the course playable by Monday morning at 6:30 am using a combination of mowers, blowers, chainsaws, tractors, rakes, and pitchforks.  Tree work continued into Tuesday, but then it was time to turn our attention to the extreme heat on July 4th, 5th, and 6th.  Around 3pm each day, I measured 2 inch soil temperatures over 100 degrees in our historically weakest areas.  The underlying soil in these areas was still moist from the 1.5 inches of rain on Sunday so lack of water was not the issue.  Cool season grass roots simply cease to function at these temperatures.  All we could do is syringe these areas carefully to cool them down.  Syringing lowered the canopy temperatures in these areas to 94 degrees temporarily.  Not great, but an improvement over 100. 
You know the turf is under extreme stress when your footprints stick in previously very healthy turf: 
Golf course turf footprints stick in grass during extreme heat
Stressed turf - July 6, 2012
 Below Gary is syringing, or misting, stressed portions of fairway.  Last week, we were hand watering dry soil and drought stressed turf with high flow nozzles meant to re-wet dry soil.  This week, we are using misting nozzles to cool the turf through evaporation and perhaps get the plant to take in small amounts of water during this cooler period.  The cooling effect lasts only a short period of time.  Significant effects are gone after 15 minutes but this can be enough to get some turf through the stress period. 
Gary syringing #1 fairway
This picture was taken on July 6th at 1pm in the shade!  I would expect this temperature when solar radiation was added to the mix, but I was surprised to see temperatures over 100 degrees in healthy turf with some shade during mid-day. 

One thing is for sure: Next week will be just as busy at Sugar Creek.  With cooler weather, we can take steps to speed up the recovery process on tees and fairways through cautious solid tine aerification and irrigation practices.  We have to be careful not to do more harm than good in our attempts to help the turf recover. 
We are definitely thankful for this forecast.  Especially the night time lows in the 60's.  Looks like a beautiful week for golf -- and turf recovery:

Friday, July 6, 2012

Extreme Heat and Golf Carts

Many area courses are restricting cart traffic during extreme heat.  A few photos from this morning show why.  On days of extreme heat, grass plants are so stressed that simply driving over them causes death.  This type of damage usually occurs during the middle of the day when conditions are the most uncomfortable for people and plants. 
If your local golf course is restricting cart use, please understand they are trying to save the course for the rest of the year.  Tire tracks like this take a long time to heal:
Riding carts and extreme heat causes turf damage on golf course fairway
July 6

Tire tracks from riding carts and extreme heat causes turf damage on golf course fairway
July 6
In these areas, I measured soil temperatures at a 2 inch depth close to 100 degrees on July 4 and 5.  Healthier areas of fairway were 94 degrees.  Soil composition and characteristics very widely on our fairways so it is impossible to tell without a probe where the hot spots are.
In most areas, the course is holding up to the heat but areas are starting to run out of energy reserves and root mass.  100 degree soil temperatures literally cooks the cells of cool season grass plants.  Our fairways are the most sensitive due to how they were built and the soil they were built on.  They also contain a fairly high percentage of Poa annua or annual bluegrass.  In most areas the soil is heavy clay mixed with pulverised concrete and asphalt.  As you can imagine, they tend to heat up fast.

Sugar Creek Golf Course #8 Fairway
July 6
The grounds crew is very busy trying to keep as much turf alive as possible through this period of record high temperatures.  You may also see hand watering or irrigation heads running to cool the turf.  The purpose of this "syringing" is to cool the plants through evaporation -- not to wet the soil.  This practice works only in certain circumstances and must be employed carefully.  During these hot periods, too much water is just as bad as too little. 
See more posts about heat stress and turf.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Drought Fire Safety

This picture is from my house -- not from the golf course.  I'm sharing it as a reminder to use caution during dry periods like the one we are experiencing, check your fire extinguishers, and be prepared.  Living in Illinois, we don't often think about outdoor fire dangers like they do in western states but it is a concern during drought periods.

After I got home from work yesterday, the electrical box in the bushes in front of my house sparked and set off a small fire.  Luckily, a neighbor saw the smoke immediately and rang my doorbell.  (Thanks, Jeff!)  It travelled this far in the less than 30 seconds it took us to grab our fire extinguishers. 

Grass fire spreads quickly

I don't know of any official bans in our area, but many counties and cities in Illinois have recently issued bans on fireworks, recreational fires, or charcoal grills.  After experiencing how fast a fire like this can spread and how hot they are, I can see why. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dry Weather, Great Golf

Northern Illinois has been very dry for the entire first half of the year.  Here at Sugar Creek Golf Course, we have had only a 1/2 inch of rain in June so far.  Combined with days of very low humidity and high wind, the soil is as dry as we've ever seen it.  It has kept us busy in the maintenance department trying to relieve the stress on the turf through hand-watering and targeted irrigation.  For us this is good news after the last 3 years of excessive rainfall.
In the following shot you can see some dormant rough on the high side of the hill:

Dry rough!  It's beautiful!  Why do I say that?  I have not seen this area dry out since 2007, but I also haven't seen the fairways as firm and consistently playable either.  Areas of rough that are out of play and at the margins of the irrigation system should be dormant in a drought.  It is only natural and indicates that playing conditions are probably outstanding where it counts.
The course is weathering the drought thanks to some great root growth this spring.  We are glad this drought didn't come after the cool, wet, rootless springs of 2010 and 2011.  We could certainly use some rain soon, but the course is holding up well to the dry conditions.

The 7th fairway in the shot above is healthier than it has been in a long time after the many projects and aerifications we have given it in the past two years.
The new sand trap in front of #8 is functioning well so far.  Thankfully it has yet to be tested by too many thunderstorms.  It did handle a rain event over an inch in May with zero puddles. 

The 6th fairway is also looking good and enjoying the dry weather:

It looks like this dry period is going to get a little worse before it gets better, but we are looking at the bright side of things.  Too dry is much better than too wet!

Tree Plantings and Drainage

Just like turf, trees appreciate good drainage.  The pictures below show the effect of even a small difference in drainage.  The two trees were planted 50 feet apart.  The tree on the left was planted in rocky clay soil.  Not very good soil, but it was dry.  That tree is thriving.  When we dug the hole for the tree on the right, I remember a trickle of water coming up from the bottom.  After the tree was planted, we ran a drain line near it that I was hoping would help.  This dry year might actually do it some good.  The tree on the right might still make it, but the tree on the left is clearly more healthy.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Great May Golf Days

After a streak of rainy days early this month, the course has dried out and is in great shape for the weekend. Take out that 30% chance of showers tomorrow and next week's forecast looks great. Second to October, I think May is often the best and most comfortable month to play golf. Sunny and highs in the 70's! My favorite.  A favorite of turfgrass, also.  Coincidence?  Probably not!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tale of the Trap -- Part 2

Work is complete on the sand trap in front of the green on the 8th hole.  Many golfers have commented that the new trap and surrounding area will be easier to play from in some ways and more difficult in others.  Of course, the idea is to avoid it altogether! 
Here are some pictures of the construction process:
Moving soil and compacting
The new trap takes shape
The new banks are sodded
The sand has arrived!
Once the sod has fully rooted, this trap will be open for business.  Currently, it is still marked Ground Under Repair so golfers can take a free drop if they enter the area. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Tale of a Trap

Today, we began work on the sand bunker in front of the 8th green.  This area is currently "Ground Under Repair," meaning any golfer who 'accidentally' hits a ball into the trap may drop a ball no closer to the hole with no penalty.  If you would like to learn more about the history of this bunker, read on. . .

The bunkers at Sugar Creek were built in 2004 as part of the course improvements.  The trap in front of the 8th green is a vital element of the hole's design as a short but challenging par 4.  Without the bunker, golfers could "go for the green" with a driver without much risk -- if hit straight of course!  The bunker creates a nice "risk versus reward" situation for the long drive hitter and doesn't penalize the short drive hitter.  The placement of this bunker makes good sense for the hole.  It has, however, been difficult to maintain since it was built.

Here is the bunker at its best last year:

Unfortunately, the crew can only get the bunker in this condition with Mother Nature's help.  This picture was taken during a dry spell with no rain for 2 weeks.  The trap is playable under those circumstances, but any rain puts this in jeopardy.

This bunker has several problems:  
  1. The top lip is dug into the sub-surface of the green so it is always crumbing
  2. An old drainline from the green oozes water into the trap
  3. The trap has been "over-edged." Every time the top lip crumbled, it was edged back a foot or two. From digging around, I can tell the original shape of the trap was a full 10 feet smaller! This edging has only made the situation worse.
  4. During a heavy thunderstorm, water flows off the green straight into the trap.  This fills it with water and mixes soil with the sand stopping drainage.
 In short, this happened too many times:

Every time the bunker "washes out," the sand becomes mixed with soil and loses more and more of its ability to dry out. 

The Fix

To solve these problems, we are going to . . .
  1. Restore the bunker to its original shape
  2. Build a soil barrier between the green's sub-soil and the bunker
  3. Clean sand and soil from drain lines and add clean-out ports so we can keep the lines clean
  4. Shape the top lip to route as much water as possible away from the trap
  5. Sod the top lip with bluegrass to slow sheet flow during a storm
  6. Replace the contaminated sand and pea gravel with clean materials
With these modifications, the bunker should drain and function better than ever.  Stay posted for "Before and After" pictures!


A golfer just asked me not to fix this trap.  He said he enjoyed the "Combo hazard" -- you never knew if it was going to be water or sand!  Unfortunately we are too far along to stop now.
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