As of the writing of this article today we just endured yet another substantial rain event-seems to be the main theme this year. Just when the course begins to firm up and offer optimal conditions, we get rain. This has been the story really everywhere in the upper Midwest. That being said, I feel that it is apt to discuss everyone’s favorite topic-water movement in soils.
Drainage consists of two types of drainage-surface drainage and internal drainage. Surface drainage is the movement of water on the top of the turf into drainage basins while internal drainage is how water behaves once it penetrates into the soils. Surface drainage of the Wilderness is quite good-water moves quite readily into drainage basins within a few hours of even the heaviest rain events. Internal drainage is a little different story and requires further explanation.
As a brief overview, the Wilderness Golf Course was built in what was originally forest land consisting of wetlands, ledge rock, and clayey soils. This underlying sub grade either drains very slowly (in the case of clay) or not at all (in the case of ledge rock). This presented its own set of challenges during construction in that all topsoil used for construction had to be imported from a pit about four miles from the property. This material is very fine sand mixed with silt and in itself is not a terrible growing medium. The material drains moderately well and is spread out over the entire golf course to a depth of about 6-8 inches. Total quantity used was approximately 180,000 cubic yards (about 9000 semi-loads). This part of the project was one of the most costly parts of construction and while making the layer thicker would indeed help us out in wetter years (though this year the difference would not be that great), the additional cost would have made the project cost prohibitive. The project would have cost millions of dollars more.
The behavior of water-particularly in a wet year-is as follows. Excessive snowfall melting in the spring saturates this top layer of soil to begin the year. This water, once it hits the underlying sub grade of clay and rock, has nowhere to go but either up (evaporation) or in the case of ledge rock the water moves over the surface of the rock as it follows the path of least resistance. These are called springs and we see many of them this year-especially on hole number eight. This is then followed by consistent rainfall in subsequent weeks with too few days in between these rain events to dry these soils. That is why we have had the cart path rulings on so many occasions this year. We cannot control the laws of physics.
Discussion of this topic brings to mind an old instructional soils video I remember seeing in college about 25 years ago. That film was old when we watched it (we had watched it on an old school film projector that some of you may remember from high school-the one that the nerds in class operated) and it is as action packed as I remember it. Anyway, I managed to find the same film on You-Tube and have attached a link to it below. Watch the entire thing if you have trouble sleeping at night but seriously if you can spare a few minutes of your time watch 6:15 through 7:40. This short excerpt illustrates the behavior of water on our soils and should assist in your understanding of why some of you may have experienced wetter playing conditions.
Have a great day and see you on the golf course.
Vincent Dodge CGCS