Between the Trees Blog

July 2013

I have chosen to build on the major golf tournament theme for this month’s newsletter and what better topic to discuss is there than the British Open just held at Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland-the oldest tournament in golf.

Vince 44

Muirfield Golf Club, Scotland

I really admire how the British take care of their golf courses. In effect, these golf courses are the Augusta National antithesis. While Augusta spends millions to maintain every square foot of the property to deep green perfection, Muirfield (as well as other British Open venues) allow the golf course the blend in with the natural state of the site. Resources are not wasted trying to impress television cameras. If there happens to be a drought or heat wave-so be it. Golfers adjust their game to the conditions and at Muirfield it was definitely not a dart game. I was impressed with Phil Mickelson at the end and how he was able to make the shots that were needed to win-many of which are not really required on many typical American golf courses. All one has to do is look at the photo below to realize just how dry Muirfield was for the tournament and in the end it made for a great test of golf. A course does not need to be green to be great.

Vince 45

Ernie Els-Muirfield

I think what we are seeing in the British Open will be the future of many golf courses in the United States. Not next year and maybe not in ten years but in the more distant future who knows? Economic restrictions will make this a surety as will scarcity of water and more stringent environmental protection.

As an industry, we have done a great job of providing our players with constantly improving conditions over the past 40 years. If you look at young Jack Nicklaus putting in the 1970s, it looks like he is putting on one of our tees. This has been due to technological advances in mechanical and chemical engineering as well as a much increased level of education and professionalism in the golf course maintenance business. We take great pride in what we do and are constantly looking for ways to improve.

The problem is that I wonder if this kind of conditioning is sustainable for the future. Do we need to adjust our maintenance programs to continue into the future? The answer is yes and it is happening already. We have decreased our use of fertilizer at the Wilderness by over 35% over the past ten years and the trend will likely continue. We tolerate the presence of potentially harmful disease and insects on the golf course more than we did 15-20 years ago. The trick is that presently we do this in areas that players will not notice as much such as rough, fairways, and tees. As economic and legislative pressure increases, I just do not know if this can continue without players beginning to notice-which leads to the point of this month’s newsletter.

To survive in the future, professionals in the golf industry as well as players need to accept that not every golf course has the resources to look like Augusta National in April. In fact, we may all need to accept the fact that maybe conditions such as those at Muirfield this past weekend will become more common and that we need to embrace this change as one that is both sustainable and healthy for the industry-and adjust our expectations accordingly.

Thank you all for your patronage and we hope to see you here soon.

Vincent Dodge CGCS

June 2013

Thought I would take a break from the humdrum “why we aerify” and “golf course etiquette” theme and write about something golf related yet different.

I hope that many of you had the opportunity to watch the US Open this past week and the way in which a classic old golf course-Merion in Ardmore, Pennsylvania-protected par the way a tournament golf course was meant to. The US Open is the truest test of golf with some of the most difficult, specifically prescribed conditions. What very few people know is that preparations for a major tournament often start years ahead of the tournament date. USGA officials have a huge say in construction and maintenance in the days, weeks, months, and even years before the event. The preparations are meticulous but as seems to be the case when a golf course protects par, complaints from players abound.

Funny how early in the week players were bragging about firing up 62’s on a golf course that is relatively short-many were plainly not prepared for US Open conditions. Instead of acknowledging the difficulty of the golf course and recognizing that everyone plays on the same track, a few players choose to take the easier and more contemporary route of complaining about golf course conditions and setup. The same thing happens after British Opens if players are not under par. In all reality, a very sad way of trying to justify the fact that they just are not playing well enough to win. I think that this type of thinking has made its way into the mainstream golfer over the past 20 years or so. Some players have trouble acknowledging that they are simply not as good as they think they are-so they complain.

I often see this out here when players sometimes complain about pin placements. As many of you know, we have many multi-tiered greens on the Wilderness. The simple fact of the matter is that, on some greens, if you are on the incorrect tier on an approach shot you will almost certainly three putt (or worse). This is not unfair-this is simply difficult. I hope that everyone can understand the difference between unfair and difficult. Unfair is a pin placement on a slope that will not hold from any angle-it is impossible to stop the ball close to the cup without the ball going in the hole. There is nothing wrong with the cup being close to a slope as long as it is not on the slope. While tucking a pin placement close to a slope is difficult if you are on the wrong part of the green, it is not unfair. Next time, get the ball on the proper tier (and keep it there) and the chance will be there for par or better. Not every pin placement can be an easy one-especially on these greens. This becomes particularly true later in the year when greens are showing signs of excessive wear and we try to utilize as much surface area as possible on the green to distribute wear from players.

I you remember anything about this article it should be this: there is no shame in taking a beating from a golf course. I know that I have taken my share over the years and, in the end, have nobody to blame but myself.

Thanks and hope to see you out there,

Vincent Dodge CGCS

May 2013

The golf course finally opened on May 17-just in time for our first rainy period of the year. The course came through the long winter season very well with minimal damage which is something to be very thankful for. The challenge with a late opening-such as we are having this year-is the reduced amount of time to get the course ready for play. Normally we can start working on the golf course a solid month before we open. This year we had sixteen days. Thankfully, we have a very experienced and dependable crew that handled this challenge with relative ease. The golf course would be nothing without them and all of us owe them a huge debt of gratitude for a job well done.

Conditions being what they are, we have decided to not perform aeration on putting greens this spring. While this is not something that should be done with any regularity, we can afford to skip spring aerification once every four of five years thanks to our decent control of fertility, regular topdressing program, and our normal practice of deep tine aerification in the fall after we close. That being said, avoiding spring aerification is not something that we want to make a habit of and so please do not expect this every year.

As we move into the golfing season, we would be remiss not to mention the need to respect both the golf course and your fellow player. On Saturday the 18, we noted that virtually no divots were repaired/seeded on the golf course-particularly the Par 3 tees. It seems as though the prevailing attitude among many of today’s golfers is that doing these tasks is “not my job” and that it is the golf course worker’s job. The fact of the matter is that both should take responsibility for these tasks. Back when golf started, there was very little done in regards to golf course maintenance. What few golf course workers on site were busy just keeping the golf course mowed and playable. Divots, ballmarks, and raking bunkers after playing in them were solely the players’ responsibility and knowing this, golfers took it upon themselves to build the tradition of repairing their own damage-to leave the course better than when they arrived. This meant a better course for everyone. Gradually over the decades, this tradition of respect has eroded to what it appears to be today. In the days when golf was booming in the 80’s and 90’s, this was not as noticeable as golf course maintenance had the money and manpower to compensate for this lack of care. Superintendents would simply assign staff to cover for these lapses. Different story these days as budgets are tighter and staff is not as plentiful. Maintaining a golf course costs a lot of money both in supplies and labor and revenues have not grown at the same pace to support these costs. All this being said, we are asking for help from all of you to revive the tradition of respecting the golf course-not just at the Wilderness but at any facility you may play at. Golf, after all, is a game of tradition and by embracing traditions we richen the experience not just for ourselves but for other players around us as well.

Thank you for your patronage and hope to see you soon.

Vincent Dodge CGCS

March 2013

This winter is shaping up as more of a “usual” winter for the area with continuing cold temperatures going into March and substantial snowfall still on the ground. I think we can safely say that we will not be setting any early opening records for the golf course. Just how the golf course will come through this winter is a bit of an unknown at the moment. I get the feeling that we will have substantial winter disease pressure-particularly on low lying areas of golf course fairways. I am confident that our preventative applications from October will help to keep the damage to manageable levels and that we will be able to present the conditioning levels that our players have come to expect.

For our article this week, I have decided to write something unrelated to the technical aspects to golf course management and focus more on the overall state of the industry. The following chart shows data presented by the National Golf Foundation for 2012:

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What we see from this chart is a continuing market correction in golf course supply which began in 2006 and since then golf course closures have outnumbered new openings by about 500 18-hole facilities(out of a total of roughly 16,000 facilities). The industry is in a state of contraction as the market forces of supply and demand play themselves out. This trend will likely continue for the foreseeable future until a supply and demand equilibrium is met-something which is very difficult to predict. Of note is that while we are seeing this sort of contraction in the United States, new golf development overseas continues to grow at a healthy pace. The question is: why is this contraction happening in the United States?

Looking at this from a historical perspective, golf saw a rapid growth in new courses in the 1920’s followed by a similar contraction during the 1930’s and the Great Depression. Economic distress is definitely a contributor as is the collapse in real estate values in some parts of the country-which in turn affected new course construction in projects that were tied in with new housing development. Economic factors are definitely a part of the reason but another reason I see is related to social factors.

In today’s fast paced world of technology, I sometimes think that people are having a harder time breaking away for six hours or more to play a round of golf. There are so many other things that potential customers-particularly younger people who embrace technology-can do for recreational purposes at less cost. Maybe nine-hole facilities are the answer since they take less time to play. Maybe we need to build low cost golf courses that are more affordable for people to play and are more comfortable for beginners to learn on and develop their appreciation for the game of golf. Any way you look at it, golf-like many other industries at this time-is going through a difficult period and will make adjustments to return to being a growth industry. History shows us that it will likely take years. Meanwhile, we can all help by doing our best to educate and encourage new people to play the game and make them comfortable as they learn.

Hope to see you on the course in 2013.


Vincent Dodge CGCS

The Wilderness Golf Course

January 2013

Last week saw some weather conditions that might cause winterkill issues for some golf courses in the area. A mid-winter thaw and substantial rainfall followed by a rapid freeze has resulted in the formation of ice sheets in lower lying parts of golf courses with poor drainage. This could be a problem for golf courses with very high annual bluegrass (Poa annua) populations. Fortunately we are, for the most part, creeping bentgrass at the Wilderness and we feel good about our chances of getting through this winter with minimal damage. That being said, we are very happy that we addressed many of the more poorly drained parts of the golf course this past fall. Please feel free to read the following article from Michigan State University in regards to winter turf injury.

Winterkill of Turfgrass  •  E0019TURF

K. W. Frank

“Winterkill” is a general term that is used to define turf loss during the winter. Winterkill can be caused by a combination of factors including crown hydration, desiccation, low temperatures, ice sheets and snow mold. Because of the unpredictability of environmental factors and differences in other factors such as surface drainage, the occurrence of winterkill on golf courses is variable and can vary greatly between golf courses and even across the same course.

Crown hydration

In general, annual bluegrass (Poa annua) greens and fairways are the most susceptible to crown hydration injury. During the warm days of late winter, annual bluegrass plants start to take up water (hydrate). Potential for injury exists when a day or two of warm daytime temperatures in late winter is followed by a rapid freeze. The most common time for winterkill associated with crown hydration and refreezing to occur is during the late winter and early spring when there is snowmelt or rainfall and then refreezing of the water that has not drained away. Crown hydration is a problem during these events because ice crystal can form in the crown of the plant, rupture the plant cells and ultimately cause the plant to die.

Annual bluegrass is more susceptible to crown hydration injury than creeping bentgrass because it emerges from dormancy and begins taking up water. Creeping bentgrass remains dormant longer and, therefore, does not take up water and is not as susceptible to crown hydration injury during the late winter.


Winter desiccation is the death of leaves or plants by drying during winter when the plant is either dormant or semidormant. Desiccation injury is usually greatest on exposed or elevated sites and areas where surface runoff is great (Beard, 1973). Winter desiccation injury to turfgrass in Michigan is normally rare, though sites similar to those described above can be prone to desiccation injury on a regular basis.

Low-temperature Kill

Low-temperature kill is caused by ice crystal formation at temperatures below 32 degrees F. Factors that affect low-temperature kill include hardiness level, freezing rate, thawing rate, number of times frozen and postthawing treatment (Beard, 1973). Soil temperature is more critical than air temperature for low-temperature kill because the crown of the plant is in the soil. It is difficult to provide absolute killing temperatures because of the numerous factors involved. Beard (1973) provided a general ranking of low-temperature hardiness for turfgrass species that were autumn-hardened.

Low-temperature hardiness Turfgrass species
Excellent Rough bluegrass
  Creeping bentgrass
Good Kentucky bluegrass
  Colonial bentgrass
Medium Annual bluegrass
  Tall fescue
  Red fescue
Poor Perennial ryegrass

Ice sheets

Ice sheets are often blamed for killing turf when, in fact, it is crown hydration and subsequent refreezing that has resulted in the kill. The reason for the confusion is that, as snow melts and refreezes, creating ice sheets, the ice sheets are often in poorly drained areas where crown hydration can occur because of the standing water. As the ice sheet melts away, the area damaged closely mirrors where the ice occurred, and therefore, the conclusion is that ice sheets caused the kill. Beard conducted research on ice sheets on three turfgrass species: Kentucky bluegrass, creeping bentgrass and annual bluegrass. Kentucky bluegrass and creeping bentgrass survived 150 days of ice cover without significant injury; annual bluegrass was killed somewhere between 75 and 90 days of ice cover (Beard, 1998). The author concluded that cause of death for the annual bluegrass was most likely from toxic gas accumulation under the ice sheet.

Snow mold

The two diseases commonly called snow mold are Typhula blight (gray snow mold) and Microdochium patch (pink snow mold). Gray snow mold requires extended periods of snow cover; pink snow mold can occur either with or without snow cover. If snow mold injury is a recurring problem, preventive fungicide applications are the best control option.

Literature Cited

Beard, J.B. 1973. Turfgrass: Science and Culture. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Beard, J.B. 1998. Winter ice cover problems? TURFAX. 9(1):1-2,5.

On another note, we have now sold all of our old golf course tee signs. I was very surprised by the interest in these signs by our patrons and hope that those of you that have them are pleased with your piece of the Wilderness Golf Course.

Another item that I would like to discuss is our greens aerification dates for 2013. We plan on closing the golf course at 1 pm on Monday May 13th to begin aerifiying greens. We will then keep the course closed all day on Tuesday May 14th and open on Wednesday May 15th. Greens will be slower than usual for a few weeks after aerifying and my hope is that people will be patient with this as the greens recover from this necessary evil.

That is about all I have to say on a very cold Tuesday morning. I wish all of you a very happy new year and hope to see you this spring on the golf course.

Vincent Dodge CGCS

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