Between the Trees Blog

December 2015

First of all, I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 2015 was another successful year for the golf course and we look forward to continuing this trend in 2016. That being said, there are a number of challenges brewing for the golf course industry-with a substantial one being the potential restrictions that could be levied on golf courses in times of water shortages and/or drought.

This story is nothing new as the Minnesota DNR has, in the past, sent out the dreaded “stop using surface waters” letter in the past and golf courses have managed to keep the wheels on their respective operations during these times since the droughty conditions usually did not endure for very long. What appears to be different now is that long-term patterns in regards to the relationship between surface waters (lakes, rivers), groundwater, and rainfall are beginning to be understood with greater accuracy and reliability.

What is being found is that wells can and do have a significant impact on the water levels of both our ground water and surface waters. What is a real eye opener is the deliberate (slow) way in which groundwater recharges from rainfall. In many instances, rainfall does not simply find its way into the ground water supplies after falling from the sky but rather most rainfall does indeed runoff and ultimately ends up in Hudson Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. Groundwater takes time to recharge and in many cases, particularly in urban areas, the recharge rate is not fast enough to prevent the resultant drop in groundwater and ultimately surface water levels. In many situations, we are depleting water tables much faster than they can be re-charged (i.e. California). These problems have been developing over a period of decades and will need decades of proper management to recover. Part of the recovery process is through water conservation.

I have made a point of mentioning over the years how the Wilderness Golf Course has been fighting the good fight in regards to water conservation. Our water consumption has been decreasing over the years and I plan to continue this trend. Part of doing this entails taking areas of the golf course off of our irrigation system and into a non-irrigated state. Areas like the no mow fescue areas behind the 16th green and 3rd tee. Equally important is the need to educate players to accept that a golf course does not have to be lush green to be good. This is a tough myth to dispel with many people who have a hard time accepting golf courses like St. Andrews in Scotland, the “new” Pinehurst #2, and most recently Chambers Bay in Washington. Golf’s governing bodies, including the Royal and Ancient and the USGA, understand our environmental challenges more than anybody and so are leading the way to sustainability as an industry. We, as both players and facility operators, need to do the same and indeed most golf course operators are as the following article illustrates:

For your reading enjoyment, I have also included a series of articles from the Star Tribune that help to explain the water related challenges posed in the Twin Cities area.

Enjoy your reading and have a great holiday season. See you all in 2016.

Vincent Dodge CGCS

November 2015

I hope that all of you are enjoying the unseasonably warm weather leading up into deer season and I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to visit our golf course and enjoy what we have to offer. We take pride in what we have developed on this site since work began in 2001 and the improvements continue, as they always do, in the time period from after we close until conditions make working outside productively prohibitive. The most important fall project we have worked on over the years is drainage and this year was no exception.   This year, with nice weather and better equipment, we have installed close to twice the amount of drainage than in previous years and while this chore is truly never done, I feel very good about the impact that these projects will have on the course for years to come.

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Retired “49er” Roger Makela cutting in drainage trenches using rented mini excavator.

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Nick Mathews, Jack Vraa, and Anita Lynn preparing drainage trench on 1 for 6” drain tile and pea rock.

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Note how line is routed in order to intercept water “bleeding” out of the hillside on the south side of 1. This drainage technique of utilizing “interceptor” or “curtain” drains has worked with great success on the golf course-notably on 2, 8, 9, and 11.

Another problematic area has been the 10th fairway though for a different reason-with 10 we are constantly dealing with underground springs that continue to flow even when conditions are not excessively wet. This is a common phenomenon on fairways such as 1 and 10 that were blasted out of existing ledge rock during construction. The tricky thing about this type of drainage is that these springs can move around underground, changing location depending on how freezing water within rock fissures over the winter cracks new avenues for water to follow underground. With this type of drainage, we create a “herring bone” pattern that covers a larger area in the hope that even if the spring moves there will be a line nearby to collect the water underground.

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10 fairway drainage intended to correct problematic springs.

Drainage work is not the most fun work in the world but it is highly satisfying seeing the improvements a dedicated program leads to over time. It is a chore that never ends-especially on this site which was built on woodland growing on a mixture of solid rock, boulders, and impervious clay/muck. Indeed, the soils used to actually grow turf on this site were hauled in from a pit located about 5 miles from the golf course since there was nothing suitable on the actual course itself.

While these improvements will not miraculously make the course firm after an extended period of wet weather or an extreme rain event (both of which are common in this area), they will speed up the drying time on the worst areas of the golf course, allowing us to lift cart path only restrictions much quicker than in the past. Drainage work like this, combined with the deep tine aerification program we began in 2015, will lead to improved playing conditions in the future.

Thank you all for your patronage and we hope to see you again in 2016.

Vincent Dodge


September 2015

Fall is the time of the year when the golf course is typically at its best. Any turf stressed out by summertime conditions is now recovered and from an aesthetic standpoint the golf course is at its best. This is especially true this year since we have not really had a frost yet to kill off the annual plantings-very rarely will we see Marigolds looking as good as they are now at this time of the year. From a playability standpoint the golf course is-other than excessive divots and unrepaired ballmarks-at its best. Putting greens are true and the rest of the golf course is firm and fast. Not only is this is a great time of the year to play golf but also this is the time to perform necessary cultural practices to ensure that we can offer great playing conditions into the future.

The two main cultural practices we are performing throughout this fall are tee core aerification and heavy topdressing as well as fairway and approach dethatching. Note that we are not performing aerification on greens until after we close for the season. The procedure for tees is as follows:

  • Core aerify all tees with 5/8” tines at a spacing of 1.5” to 2”. The purpose of this is to remove organic material i.e. thatch and to change the soil profile on tees to one that has a higher percentage of sand. This aids in keeping the tee surfaces firmer in all conditions and thus better playability. As we continue this process year after year we will, in effect, change the soils on tees to a more beneficial sandy medium.

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Tee Aerification Cores - September 2015

  • Remove cores from tee surface-extensive hand labor
  • Apply heavy layer of topdressing sand to tee surface (about .25”). We used approximately 8 semi loads (176 cubic yards) of sand for the process this year at a total cost of about $9600.
  • Drag in with cocoa mat. This also aids in smoothing out depressions left by old divots.

For fairways the procedure is different:

  • Deep verticut with an Australian implement called a Graden. This machine was developed originally to condition grass bowling lanes but found its way to use on golf courses around the world. This machine cuts a deep line anywhere from ¾” to an inch deep and removes much more thatch than traditional aerifying with less surface disruption-at least on fairways.

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1 fairway right after Graden – September 2015

  • Clean all thatch off of fairway using blowers and sweepers.

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1 fairway after cleanup – September 2015

  • Mow fairway to smooth out imperfections in the playing surface.      

The process on fairways is highly mechanized and is less labor and material than the process we perform on tees. Combined with the solid tine aerification we perform on fairways twice a year, I feel very good about the steps we are taking to keep fairways optimal while staying within our financial means.

Performing this process helps to keep the fairways as firm as possible and thus improve their playability over time. In a perfect world, we would perform the same process on fairways that we perform on tees but the cost to perform the same chore on fairways in both labor and materials is simply too high to warrant. These fairways are simply too big-though we do treat par 3 approaches much the same as tees and hope to add a few thatchy approaches like 4 and 6 to the more intensive maintenance procedure employed on tees in the future.

Busy times on the golf course and we hope that performing these tasks does not interfere too much with your golfing experience. Understand that these processes are necessary for the future health of the golf course.

Thank you all for your attention and hope to see you on the golf course.                               

Vincent Dodge CGCS

August 2015

As I write this article, it is 45 degrees and windy with a light rain falling. Looks like summer is over and we can look forward to the fall season. With this change in the seasons comes the departure of much of our summer help and a greater burden being placed on the staff members who remain. Now more than ever it is important for all of us to be willing to help one another in order to continue to provide the service levels that our customers have come to expect. We all must strive to develop an awareness for the goings on not just within our own departments but also in other areas. If you see something that needs to be done to enhance the customer experience, handle it or at least let those who can handle it know. Good communication between departments is always important-and with staff being tight this is more important than ever. Speaking of tight, this year’s golf course maintenance golf competition at the Quarry was as close as it could get.

The team of Lyn Ellingson, Jori Hughes, David Pike, and Dylan Scherer with their score of 67 narrowly edged out the team of Vincent Dodge, Brandon Richards, and Trevor Rintala with a 68. I guess I am destined to come in second place every time we play in this competition. Congratulations to the winners* and to everyone that participated in the event for what was a great day of golf.

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From Left to Right

David Pike, Jori Hughes, Lyn Ellingson, Dylan Scherer

As always, I am thankful to work with such a fantastic group of people and look forward to a productive fall season on the golf course.

See you on the course,

Vincent Dodge CGCS

August 2015

If you have talked to other superintendents or watched the most recent US Open, I am sure that some of you have become a little familiar with annual bluegrass, poa, or Poa annua as it is often called. The plant is widely regarded as a weed in highly maintained turfgrass surfaces though in some cases it can be maintained as the prime turf type on some golf courses. Golf courses like Oakmont in Pittsburgh have putting greens that are almost entirely annual bluegrass and have been regarded as some of the best in the world. I have personally managed golf courses in Illinois with annual bluegrass as the primary grass for putting surfaces and while that posed challenges in the heat of summer when the plants starting stressing out, for the most part they functioned as an acceptable putting surface (when the seed heads are not too prevalent). Poa annua can be an outstanding putting surface in many parts of the country. Annual bluegrass can be a nice putting surface in Minnesota as well if the winter is not especially harsh. Indeed, with our cool, temperate climate poa is often a well adapted species that out competes bentgrass for parts of the year.   The problem arises with the wrong kind of winter.

Last winter is a pretty good example of what annual bluegrass can look like in the spring after a winter in which ice forms underneath the layer of snow. The picture below is a pretty good example:

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7 Green Spring 2015

Note the yellow stressed (but sadly not quite dead) annual bluegrass surrounded by healthy creeping bentgrass. I say sadly because we are at the point with our putting greens where the bentgrass population is still high enough to take over the voids left over by dead annual bluegrass-but overall poa is starting to increase in its prevalence. The seeds get tracked in on golfers’ shoes and often invade by germinating in old ball marks. I cannot stress the importance of cleaning your shoes enough. Infestations are the worst on the putting green, 1, 2, 7, and 14 greens. This is a common phenomenon as a golf course ages. If we do nothing, the annual bluegrass population will gradually increase since it can out compete bentgrass in the cooler times of the year. Four out of five years this is not such a bad thing-it is that 5th year when we come out of the winter with dead greens that worries me.

Throughout this past year we have been experimenting, in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, with a new product not yet available commercially but may be available next year for purchase. The Wilderness is one of a handful of golf courses in the nation participating in these trials. The compound was developed in South Korea and the claim is that it removes poa without harming bentgrass. We used it on the 7th green and results so far have been positive. Initially, the green looked worse as the annual bluegrass faded and left behind voids with little or no grass in them. The surrounding bentgrass needs time to fill in the voids-sometimes greens, like a person undergoing chemotherapy, need to look worse before they can look better again. After a month or so, the green on 7 is looking better and better. The goal is a surface which is 100% bentgrass and with this program it may be possible. Our goal, if the product is available, is to add other greens to this program to ensure a better, more consistent playing surface and most importantly putting surfaces which are alive in the spring after the worst possible winter.

Hope to see you all for some great fall golf.

Vincent Dodge CGCS

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