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
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.
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.
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.
The golf course is back to the level of conditioning that we are accustomed to after much effort that spanned over a period of 14 months (5 winter months, 6 cool and wet months-great for annual bluegrass, bad for bentgrass-and 3 wonderfully warm and dry growing months). Just walked off of the 18th green with a Stimpmeter and clocked greens at well over 9.5’ on the Stimpmeter. Right where we want to be. The picture below makes me happy in that it shows a severely stunted clump of Poa annua (annual bluegrass) surrounded by a less stunted bentgrass. This is intentional as we are taking advantage of the warmer weather to level the playing field in favor of the more abundant bentgrass on the golf course. Much like an oncologist might use chemotherapy to control cancer in a patient, we use a selection of plant growth regulators combined with fertility management to do the same thing to our tees, greens, and fairways-though each prescription is tailor made for each respective area. While most area golf courses have pretty much punted and gone with the strategy of growing the best annual bluegrass that they can, we are not ready to give up the fight as bentgrass is, frankly, a much better playing surface with a better likelihood of surviving all sorts of stress-both from the winter and the summer.
Annual Bluegrass 7 Green 8-4-2019
16 Green 8-4-2019
The only downside of this program is that areas with extensive Poa annua contamination, like the collar on the right side of 16 green, can look a little gnarly with the weakened annual bluegrass that we are trying to control. I am okay with this and I hope that you are too. Everything we do to manage this site is done with an eye towards long-term health of the property-even if it means having some areas that might not look as healthy as the rest of the golf course. This is a fight that will be ongoing for the next few years as we continue the conversion process. Playability is in no way affected by this process-indeed it is enhanced as the PGRs (plant growth regulators) have the added benefit of creating a surface which is more tightly knit and faster. Thank you for your interest in the golf course and the technical nature of our work-I would now like to move on to something a little less complicated.
During this past week we have seen three player behaviors that I wish would never occur. These actions do not really affect us as a golf course maintenance crew as our job is to solve problems and repairing these issues is not a huge deal. What is concerning is that these negative actions affect your fellow player and show a lack of concern for the other players around you. Golf is all about etiquette and courtesy-or at least it should be. The examples are as follows:
The Foot Grinder:
Putting Green 8-1-2019
In this example, a player has camped out on one part of the putting green and ground their feet into the green. I am all for practicing-that is what a putting green is for. All I ask is that players refrain from grinding their feet into the same area repeatedly while they practice. We have a 13,000 square foot putting green so feel free to use the entire area.
The Short Putt Missed Tantrum:
7 Green 8-4-2019
This has happened twice in the past week but has become a fairly regular occurrence over the years. Usually within 2-5 feet of the cup. Not difficult to see what happened here. Somebody missed a short putt and took it out on the green. I have never been around a player that did this sort of thing but if I was, I certainly would not be happy, as a player, to see this and would definitely let that person know that this is not cool. I hope that the other folks in the group at least said something to this person to discourage this. Again, the repair is easy enough but what about the rest of the players for the day coming behind this player?
The Sunflower Seed Guy
13 Green 8-4-2019
This is a relatively new phenomena but is now a regular occurrence on the golf course. I like seeds as much as the next guy but blowing the shells onto a putting surface is kind of an inconsiderate move to your fellow player. Blow them all you like anywhere on the golf course you like other than a putting green if you care for the others trying to enjoy the golf course. These pictures came courtesy of our golf course maintenance crew who show a genuine concern for the property.
I feel lucky to be part of the group that is the Crew of 2019. We had some changes this year-subtractions and additions-but all-in-all this has been a very positive experience in crew building. I have always enjoyed the crew teamwork aspect of my profession more than anything else. We work every day starting at 5 am to do the best that we can for our customers-next time you see them feel free to share a kind word. We are the offensive lineman of the golf course operation. When things go well, no one notices and acknowledgement of a job well done is rare. When things go wrong, however, we are the first to take the heat. Just the nature of the business.
Thank you for your patronage and we hope to see you on the golf course.