The Turf Department is excited to open the golf course early again in 2017. It’s a nice trend we could all get used to.
The best news: we came out of winter in almost perfect condition. That’s always the biggest question, and we never know until all of the snow is gone, temperatures warm up slightly and greens get uncovered. It can take up to several weeks to know how things survived, because turf often comes out of winter very discolored and bleached, making it difficult to determine if there is any loss. To be honest, I was expecting several fairway areas, and a few greens to succumb to winter kill – based on the rainfall on Christmas Day, ice accumulation for more than 40 days, so many freeze/thaw cycles that I lost count, and the Poa Annua breaking dormancy and being exposed to very cold temperatures with extremely drying winds.
I beat the “manage towards Bentgrass” drum often. I have no regrets – nor will I stop! It’s important to educate everyone that Poa is a liability for many reasons, as it needs twice as many inputs as Bentgrass. Winter survivability is the largest liability Poa poses, and we are at the complete mercy of Mother Nature, with no control. After Labor Day, we start to think about setting the course up for winter survival, getting the turf as agronomically healthy as possible, heading into late fall, and encouraging everything to go as dormant as possible before “freeze-up.” There are steps we take to increase our chances of winter survival – I will discuss some of those in this post, as they will still be noticeable during your first rounds of the year.
Some local golf courses were not as lucky as we were; there is talk of dead Poa around town. We cannot, and should not, compare one course’s winter kill with another’s. Every course has many microclimates; not every course experienced the same weather, winter rainfall amounts, freeze/thaw cycles, wind exposure, surface drainage, etc.
The courses that experienced winter kill all have one thing in common: Poa. Fortunately, our Greens Committee and Board of Directors have taken positive steps to increase our chances of obtaining more Bentgrass, at the expense of Poa; Deep-tine aerifications, tree removals, drainage improvements, small sodding renovations to the fronts of greens that allow water to drain off quickly, as well as giving us time at the end of the year to properly prepare the course for winter. All of these efforts plus our fertility and water management techniques, compounded over the years, have increased Bentgrass populations and increased winter survivability. We should never think that we cannot experience winter kill, as no matter what we do, we are still at the mercy of the weather. I feel lucky that we came out of winter in great shape, but I don’t forget that we’ve been the victim of Mother Nature in the past, and likely, will be again in the future.
Here are a few things you’ll see and experience for the first few weeks:
Depending on the greens cover we used, there will be differences in color and “lushness.” Playability of each green will be affected depending on the cover used. These differences will all come into equilibrium after soil temperatures warm up and we mow greens a few times. We use different covers depending on the microclimate of each green, and the ability of each green to shed surface water.
You’ll also notice small pieces of wood fiber on greens. One style of our covers is made of wood, and the fibers break off as the covers are put down in the fall and rolled up in the spring. They are extremely hard to blow off the surface, as they stick to the turf. They will slowly disappear as we start to mow greens regularly.
Damaged Poa will look spotty, bleached almost white in color, and needs time to recover. The front of no. 4 green is a good example of where water shed off the green surface, froze on the approach, and damaged the Poa. This area is predominantly Poa, because 95 percent of players walk up to the green from this concentrated area, creating compacted soils, that don’t drain well. Please avoid walking on these damaged areas; we would prefer not to rope them off. If this area does not recover, we will sod it out or aerify it, and oversees it. It would then be roped off until a full recovery. The same goes for the ever-damaging golf cart. This is the perfect time of year to see traffic patterns from carts, as the damage they do promotes Poa from the compaction. Avoid these areas, if possible with your cart, which will speed recovery and green-up.
Below you can see an area on the third green where water pooled and froze into ice during January. The Poa is intermixed with the Bentgrass, under the same harsh conditions, but the outcome was different.
After the course closed, we deep-tined the greens, tees and a few fairways where water tends to pool. This practice encourages winter snow melt or rain to shed off the surface and into the ground before it forms ice. Once the ground is frozen, the effect is not as efficient, but I believe deep-tining also breaks up the surface of the green, preventing the formation of a smooth layer of ice, which would block gas exchange and suffocate the turf. Deep-tining also helps us in the spring, as it allows the warmer air temperatures to warm the soils quicker, promoting turf growth and recovery from foot and mower traffic. After a few mowings and rolling, these holes will disappear.
With the lack of consistent snow cover for much of the winter, voles burrowed on many green surrounds, bunker faces, and approaches. We will repair areas where the voles removed soil over the next few weeks. Other areas will essentially grow out of the damage when soil temps rise.
Bunker Blow Outs and Soft Sand:
This hasn’t happened in my time at Midland, but in the month of March, we experienced 40 mph winds with little or no snow cover. Much of the sand blew out of several bunkers, and ended up in the rough, as far as 30 feet away. Almost every bunker complex has sand that blew up onto the grass face. We need to get that sand off, as it will change the shape and dynamic of the bunker, preventing balls from rolling off the face, and into the sand. This process will take us several weeks to remedy, as it needs to be done with no dew or ground moisture.
You can also expect the bunker sand to be somewhat wavy. The ground beneath the sand is still settling from the frost, especially where the drain tile runs. The sand will smooth out in time. Also: we also don’t have the irrigation system on yet, so we cannot wet the sand. We have the lowest-performing bunker sand available; it’s essentially mason sand. One of the biggest downfalls of that sand is that it does not pack tightly. It has the same consistency as marbles. Imagine trying to pack a handful of marbles in your hand! With it’s consistent size and round shape, the sand particles just “roll” over each other, with nothing to fill the voids. Watering the bunker sand fills those voids between the “marbles” with water, creating a false packing effect. Unless it rains, expect the bunker sand to be very loose, and expect fried-egg lies to occur.
Our Tree Management Plan continued this winter. There will be ground stumps marked with a green stake. Please avoid these general areas with your golf carts, and please pay attention, as driving a cart into a hole would not be an enjoyable experience.
We will be grinding stumps throughout the next few weeks, now that it is firm enough. Please note that we will not stop the machine if you are in the area. If your ball comes to rest near one of my staff operating the stump grinder, please pick up and take a drop. We will be focused on operating the machine and will not look up to see oncoming play. Safety is always priority A; priority B is getting this task completed as quickly as possible. Thank you in advance for your cooperation!
As soon as road restrictions have been lifted in the City of Roseville, we will have soil delivered to fill the stump holes. This could take another two weeks. Once we fill the holes, they will be seeded and covered with a seed blanket, and the green stakes will remain to alert you to avoid them with your carts. A local rule will go into effect with stump holes until they are completely healed in. Please ask the golf shop staff for any ruling questions you may have.
There are a lot of sticks all over the golf course – created by our tree removals and tree trimming, and spread by the high winds last month. We raked up as much as we could during the winter, but raking sticks in snow isn’t 100% effective. We first blew off all tees and fairway and got the sticks in the roughs. We then had the Roseville High School golf teams out to help rake the property. They can’t complete every square inch, so we’ll pick up where they left off.
In the fall, after the soil temperatures drop below 50 degrees, we no longer get recovery from divot sand/seed mix, so we filled thousands of divots that didn’t grow. During the winter rains and several freeze/thaw cycles, most of the divots were washed out on tees and fairways. I always recommend replacing your divot instead of using sand/seed, especially on tee boxes. Unless there’s nothing left of your divot, the sand/seed should be merely the second choice. Divots usually survive better than divot mix – and replaced divots stay in place during bad weather. Our staff will start to refill divots on tee boxes first before moving onto fairways. This will take us considerable time to complete. To help us, please replace your turf divots instead of using your sand/seed, as it will be another 3-4 weeks before it’s even warm enough to germinate the seed. Don’t forget about replacing them on the tee boxes as well!
Driving Range Hitting Mats:
One of the best investments we’ve made in the last decade was installing hitting mats for the driving range tee. Our tee box is not large for the use it receives. Without the mats, if you can remember, the range tee was mostly dirt by July. Expect to be hitting off the mats until the soil temperatures rise, and we can germinate seed. This will be dictated by the weather. No one prefers hitting off the mats; that’s no secret. However, it’s better to have turf to hit off during the core of the season, so it’s a small sacrifice.
We are very excited, and fortunate, to implement some new equipment purchased late last fall. During the Ryder Cup, Hazeltine needed to more than double the size of its equipment fleet to complete maintenance for the event. The Toro Company supplied them with new equipment as their “support fleet.” After the event was over, the equipment was sold at used pricing, with less than 50 hours of use. We were able to work with Toro to configure some of the equipment used for the Ryder Cup to fit our needs. This process was two years in the making and ended up saving us a lot of money. With the Board of Directors approving this new capital expenditure, we were able to upgrade our 10-year-old equipment to mow fairways, approaches and greens, which is almost all of the short-grass playing surfaces. We also replaced a heavy duty vehicle, now with 4-wheel drive, to help us on the course during summer and winter months, along with a new turbine blower to clear the fairways of debris. The technological gains of the past 10 years are vast, and we’re confident you’ll notice better playing conditions. It will take us some time to figure out how to best utilize the units on our property, relying on our mechanics to configure them to perform at the highest level. It will also take time for our staff to master the operation of the units. This will be an exciting and prideful upgrade we’re confident will make a positive impact on your round of golf.
Erratic Weather, Frost Delays and New Staff:
It’s early April in Minnesota, so let’s not fool ourselves. It’s not uncommon for us to still get snow! The average lows at night are still in the mid-30’s, so frost delays will be common. The weather will also slow our productivity down, as several days there will be frost that might not affect the first round of the day, but will prevent us from starting maintenance until right before play starts. It’s often overlooked that we need sufficient time to complete maintenance ahead of play. We cannot be efficient or safe, working in the dark, and days are still relatively short, which doesn’t give us much time to prep ahead of play. On weekends, when there’s an extended frost delay, maintenance often isn’t completed at all, so as to get you on the golf course ASAP. In general, thanks for being patient with maintenance, as we won’t be fully staffed until colleges are let out, which is another 8 weeks away.
As with every year, we will have new employees learning the ropes our golf course maintenance program. They will be expected to complete highly detailed tasks at a fast pace, which can be overwhelming at first. It takes time for them to be fully aware of their surroundings, looking up often, watching for approaching golf. Never hit balls directly into staff while they are focused on their tasks. This should be a given, but happens all too often. No quick round of golf is more important than our staff’s well-being. Know that part of their on-going training is mastering their tasks, as well as being aware of oncoming play.
We hope you make it out, knock off the rust, and enjoy an early start to the 2017 golf season!
See you out there,