Between the Trees Blog

June 16, 2020

April turned to May and the Governor said, let there be golf...Gjallarhorns were sounded and the green flag waived, and it was on!!  Golfers turned out in full force in May, some even braving 20 degree mornings, but they were excited no less...and so were we.  We were excited to show off our product...then 20 turned into 80 degrees, and we lost an irrigation satellite for a couple of weeks, then sadly the eighth hole looked more like August in the Desert than May in Minnesota.  I learned a long time ago in dealing with grass, nothing good happens fast...and so, we continue to baby the eighth green along waiting for it to fill in.  The good thing is that most of the issue is cosmetic and we are able to keep the green rolling smooth as ever.  

Speaking of a little brown hue...I’ve learned a new term since starting, “the lake is low”...which I’ve figured out means we need rain.  It sure has been a dry spring, but that has allowed me to really dance that fine line of keeping the fairways firm and fast, while sacrificing a little in the cosmetic look.  At least the skyball hitters and the worm burner drivers will love it.  
May brought on a couple interesting things...a stuck irrigation head and a 20 degree night...

Cool spring mornings after warm spring days...

Created a dew whip to give that clean and dry fairway feel...also, probably more importantly, knocking off dew is incredibly useful in disease prevention.

We had our first Monday Evening Maintenance Party...Ole leading the way on the verticutter.

While the greens started off a bit on the slower side.  Coming out of winter, you always want to be cautious in how hard you push them.  Verticutting is the first step in getting up to that peak season speed. 

As we move into June, be on the lookout for the amazing flower arrangements, and be sure to give a shoutout to Marilyn for the amazing job she does arranging them well as Bryan, Anita, Billie Jean and the rest for their tireless effort in getting them all planted.

This month’s amazing worker is Anita Milbridge...Anita is one of the crew's OG.  Born and raised in northern Minnesota, in 2004 Anita needed a job, so she signed on with Wadsworth Construction crew that was contracted to build The Wilderness.  Anita quickly showed her keen eye and ability to set grade, and was tasked in setting irrigation heads.  After travelling with Wadsworth for a couple of years, Anita returned to Tower, and has been a staple on the crew ever since.  Asked what brings her back every season, she says, “she’s fallen in love with the crew, they are like family.”, literally...she met her husband on the crew!!!   If you see Anita, say thanks, not only for what she has done, but for what she still does.   

Well duty calls, and I’ll have to keep this month’s letter a little shorter and months past.  I want to give a shoutout to my guy, Louie...thanks for the feedback and the respectful, single first off.  Look forward to seeing you next year.  I hope you have enjoyed, and maybe learned something new.  If you enjoy this type of thing...feel free to follow along in our summer journey to provide the best this course has to offer.  We have a new twitter page @WildernessGCM and our Blog ‘Between the Trees’.  

I want to leave you with this, 2020 has been a crazy year so far, and while we were running around trying to finish up Maintenance Monday before dark, I couldn’t help but stop and admire the view...

Because too many times, we just forget to look.  
As always, we look forward to seeing you on the 1st tee and keep it between the trees. 


MAY 1, 2020

Here we go, guys and gals!!! Flip those calendar pages to May, trade in your winter sweatpants and hoodie for khakis and polos...a little side stretch to the left then the right, and LET’S’s golf season.  May 8th, The Wilderness GC will be open for business, and while it’s been a busy few weeks here on the grounds crew, we couldn’t be more excited to have you out.  Now let’s take a second and talk course, Corona, and Crew.
    Now rumor has it, there was quite a bit of snow this winter...fortunately for us, that snow cover acted like a nice winter quilt and with all the fall precautions taken care of, the course came out of winter very well.  While the tees and greens look absolutely great, we had some varmint damage on the fairways.  We put out sand and seed to cover those areas. 

Other than that, it has been a very productive couple of weeks.  We pulled covers on the 16th…

Hole #10 Green above - Hole #17 Green below

and got our first mowing of the greens on April 23rd...fairways a few days after.

Hole #11 Green above - Hole #18 below (Lasers!!)

My grandfather used to tell me, “you make hay while the sun shines” with the beautiful weather we had, the crew got after it. First...

Hole #12 Tee

then we aerify...

Hole #11 Green

While we aren’t at mid-season form just yet...we are certainly on our way.  Here is to a beautiful May.   

While there is no one more excited to have golfers back than we are, don’t for a second think that Covid-19 isn’t on the forefront of our thoughts in setting up the golf course. Provisions will be made to minimize any contact, and we need your help to make it all work out.  The biggest thing you will notice is that there won’t be a single bunker rake on the entire course.  So it will be up to the golfers to pay-it-forward and give a little shoe rake of your stance and divot (assuming you hit behind the ball,  :)  There will be no ball washers on the course...make sure you put a little water on your towel before you get to the first tee.  There will be no trash cans on the please, please keep your trash with you until you return to the clubhouse.  We will have foam in the cups to keep the ball from going to the bottom and the cup cutter will disinfect the flag every morning.  

Some good news, in talking to a few doctors, they assure me, that there is no chance of spreading Covid-19 while fixing ball marks on the greens.  (haha...a little ground crew, but really...ball marks, fair game) All joking aside, you can rest assured, that we are doing everything we can to make your visit a SAFE and enjoyable one.  

As I wrap up my monthly newsletters, I want to take a moment and recognize many of the workers that I have the distinct fortune of working with...this month is Howard Ankrum.

Howard has spent his whole life in Minnesota, married with three children, this retired building inspector started here in 2008.  Growing up on a farm, the big golf course equipment came easy to him.  Well, except for the time he tried to mow the rough with a fairway mower.  Asked what keeps him coming back, he said the crew.  He enjoys the friendships that he’s developed during the season, and loves meeting a few new faces year in and year out.  Howard is a volunteer firefighter and an avid hunter and fisherman (but isn’t everyone Up North).  If you see Howard, say thanks, not only for what he has done, but for what he still does.   

This brings us to the end of the page...I hope you have enjoyed, and maybe learned something new.  If you enjoy this type of thing...feel free to follow along in our summer journey to provide the best this course has to offer.  We have a new twitter page @WildernessGCM and our Blog ‘Between the Trees’.  As always, we look forward to seeing you on the 1st tee and keep it between the trees.  

Ryan VerNess

April 2020

Hello…to all the golfers out there, my name is Ryan VerNess, new Golf Course Superintendent here at The Wilderness.  Periodically, I will be writing to you from our little slice of heaven, the Golf Maintenance Shop, to the right of 18, and discussing and explaining a few things that are going on here at the course.  For my first segment, I wanted to introduce myself and talk to you about maintenance staff and the hard work they do.  

First, I’d like to say how fortunate I am to be here and excited I am to be a part of this organization.  After 16 years in California, I finally found my way back home.  Growing up in southern Minnesota (Stewartville) I’ve been around golf my most of my life.  Started gripping clubs at the golf store my father worked when I was 12 and by 16 I advanced to grounds crew at Meadow Lakes GC.  I can still remember my first day of pumping standing water out of the fairways.   I went onto college at UW-River Falls, where I was introduced to sports turf and the Kansas City Chiefs.  I spent 3 summers working at their training camp, then upon graduation, I went to work for the Chiefs in Kansas City.  After a year in KC, I was offered a job with the Pebble Beach Company (Spyglass Hill).  Ascending to assistant superintendent, led me up the road to Bayonet & Black Horse Golf Course, where I spent 3 years as construction superintendent.  In 2014, I took over as Director of Golf Course Maintenance, then in 2017 I returned to sports turf with the San Francisco 49ers.  After 6 years, Super Bowl 50, College Football Championship, and numerous other major events, it was time for this Minnesota kid to come home.  I am extremely excited to be here.

As I said earlier, “new” Golf Course Superintendent, I was very fortunate to start this March, taking over for the only superintendent The Wilderness had ever had, Vince Dodge.  Vince spent 17 years here, from dirt to glory and poured his heart and soul into this golf course.  I would be remiss not to take a moment and acknowledge all the greatness Vince did here.  Hopefully, I can carry on the torch that he not only lit, but maintained for all those years, and wish Vince best in his new adventure.  

Vince Dodge 2019

The Dodge Family on Hole #2 - 2003

I want to take a moment to point out the real backbone of the Wilderness GC, the maintenance crew.  Many have been here for the better part of 10 years. They start their day at 5:00 in the morning, so that they can be done with our basic everyday activities (mowing greens, tees, and fairways, raking bunkers, cutting cups, and setting tees) before you start your round. While our intentions are to provide each and every one of you the best golfing experience possible without noticing we are here, sometimes we are forced to work amongst the golfers.  We use little tricks of the trade to minimize the impact of maintenance on your round, such as working 18 back to 1 so that you only see them once or pulling off to the side while you are playing. So I hope that you can understand that my staff and I have your best intention in mind while still trying to produce the best product that we can.   

Grounds Crew 2019

It’s hard for me to really express how excited I am to get going and it seems like Mother Nature is an early fan of me too.  Looks like we will have greens cleared in the very near future. Now let's just hope that we can all do our part to kick this virus and get back to playing golf.  

Hole #18 - April 6, 2020

Well, I hope you have found this helpful and I look forward to seeing you on the tee soon, remember to keep it between the trees.  For any other questions or comments, feel free to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Ryan VerNess

October 2019

Winter preparations are well underway on the golf course.  In addition to the usual tasks of bringing in accessories, installing snow fence, edging, cleaning up leaves, giving the golf course its final mowing of the year, and applying fungicides for winter diseases, we have been especially busy on giving putting greens a thorough treatment before buttoning them up for the winter.
After final mowing and cleanup, we over seeded putting greens using an implement called a Maredo Over seeder.  The unit, which is something we just acquired this past year, does an excellent job in efficiently spiking and metering bentgrass seed.

18 Green 10-18-2019

Note the small spiker holes around the keys.  These holes provide the perfect seedbed for the application of bentgrass seed and the unit uniformly meters the bentgrass seed-which can be difficult to work with due to it being as fine as dust.  This is what is called a dormant seeding-this seed will not germinate this fall due to cold temperatures but will instead overwinter and be in position to germinate in the spring.  This is a new practice that we will be implementing as part of our winter preparations in the future.  This practice is mostly an insurance policy in the event that we have winter turf loss but introducing bentgrass seed into the putting surface is never a bad thing and will assist some of the weaker areas on greens next year.  After the overseeding, we applied what are commonly referred to in the industry as winter chemicals with a spray rig.  This mix consists of fungicides for the control of snow mold diseases and a calcium supplement to add to the turf’s winter hardiness.  Winter chemicals are applied to greens, tees, and fairways.  Once we allow this application to set up for a day, we then move on to topdressing greens with a layer of sand.

17 Green 10-18-2019

Sand topdressing as part of winter preparations is an age old practice that offers many benefits including protecting the turf from winter exposure and smoothing out any old ballmarks or any other imperfections in the putting surface.  Adding topdressing sand to a turf surface also allows us to continue to dilute the thatch (old stems and roots) layer so that greens can remain firm and drain well.  A relentless topdressing program also allows us to get away from core aerifying which is, frankly, a labor intensive mess that, while necessary at times, is best minimized.  We do, however, aerify using solid tines.

Olaf Walkky 5 Green 10-18-2019

We aerify immediately after topdressing putting greens.  Aerifying after topdressing allows us to avoid creating ruts from running a heavy topdressing on top of a soft, freshly aerified putting surface.  The vibration created by the aerifier also helps to work the sand into the putting surface. 

5 Green 10-18-2019

This year we used our Toro 648 aerifier with 5” long 3/8” wide solid tines with 2” by 2” spacing.  We are very pleased with the result as these tines did a great job in alleviating compaction in the top end of the soil profile with minimal disruption.  An added benefit to this process is that in the event we get excessive rains (which we will), these holes should provide an abundance of channels for water to leave the putting surface before freezing.  We are doing what we can to avoid the accumulation of ice on putting surfaces. 

Solid tines-Pre and Post Aerifying 10-21-2019

The wear that these tines exhibit is pretty cool after we made an estimated 6,272,640 holes on putting greens (I did the calculation).  Note the new tine compared to the tine that just participated in the making of 261,360 holes.  In retrospect, we probably should have replaced that tines after the first 9 greens or so but the old tines were still penetrating to 3.5” on the last few greens which was adequate for what we are trying to do.  Something to keep in mind for next year. 
Having open holes going into winter can be a little scary since we do have the potential of subjecting greens to desiccation (drying out) in the event we have a dry winter with no snow cover.  We mitigate this risk, however, by covering greens as the final step in our winterizing process.  And, honestly, we rarely if ever have a winter without snow cover.  My experience, after 17 years on this site, is that ice damage is a greater likelihood than winter desiccation-and is more damaging.
The final step before covering greens is a thorough rolling of putting greens.  This helps to smooth out, firm up, and work the topdressing sand into the turf surface.

Kevin Lynch 3 Green 10-18-2019

All in all, a pretty thorough process that should help to ensure good putting surfaces for the 2020 golf season.

Vincent Dodge

September 2019

September is, in many ways, my favorite month of the year in regards to the golf course.  Temperatures are considerably cooler and we rarely have to worry about turf stressing out due to higher temperatures and/or droughty conditions.  I honestly cannot remember the last time that we had to irrigate anything and would not be surprised if we do not use our irrigation system for the rest of the year-other than maybe to water in materials that require it or mist a putting surface so that mowers and rollers can see where they are going.  September does, however offer other kinds of challenges for the crew.

The main challenge is the result of the exodus of the very solid group of summer help we had this past season.  High school and college students, with the proper direction, have been an outstanding help to us this season.  The only downside to this help is that it leaves for school at the end of the summer and we are forced to lean on our existing core staff members to work more to get us through the end of the year.  I feel blessed to have a good group of folks that are more than willing to volunteer to work more to allow us to continue to present a good test of golf and an enjoyable experience.  Without the work being done there would be no golf course.  Next time you see someone on the golf course, feel free to let them know that you appreciate everything it is that they do.  I know that I sure do.

One extra chore that we have started on is the deep tine aerifying of fairways.  The implement that does this work is called a Wiedenmann Aerifier and it is powered by a turf tractor.  This machine does an excellent job of relieving soil compaction and just as importantly the machine does it with minimal disruption to the playing surface.  With a unit such as this, we have been able to pretty much eliminate core aerifying on fairways-which is needlessly messy and frankly unnecessary.  

15 Fairway
Turf Intern Peter Johnston making holes 9-9-2019

View from back

Final Product with 7/8” tines going down 5”

Later on in the season, we will then target certain fairways for thatch removal using a different unit to be discussed in the next newsletter.  This two-step process is a proven winner for us and hopefully the weather will cooperate later in the season.  If not, we can go after those fairways next spring.

Thank all of you for your patronage at the golf course.  We are very pleased with the product presented this year and hope that you are as well.

Vincent Dodge

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