This has been an interesting year to put it mildly. A brutal winter followed by a non-existent spring followed by a summer with violent storms and heavy rains and concluding with early snow that caused an early closing of the golf course for the year. I will be very happy to put this year behind us and move on to 2019.
The first snow that stuck was on October 5th. This caused the course to close for most of the day and while the snow did melt promptly, it was followed by consistent rains that ensured that the golf course would be waterlogged for the next few weeks if not the remainder of the year.
Hole 9 October 5, 2018
The next batch of snow arrived on October 11th. This time it was 3” of snow accompanied by high winds that caused drifting on many holes. Some of the drifts, like in the picture below, were well over a foot high.
Hole 13 October 11, 2018
This weather event was, pretty much, the nail in the coffin for 2018 and caused the early closing of the golf course. The crew, sadly, was given an involuntary week off while we waited for this snow to melt. On the subject of the crew, I cannot express enough how happy I am with this group and the way in which they have rolled with the punches in this challenging year. It is in times like these when you find out who your good soldiers are.
At a time when finding good help is more challenging than ever, I have been extremely lucky to retain a crew that continues to perform dependably in the most demanding of conditions. A few of these All Stars are pictured below:
Left to right: David Pike (14 years), Howard Ankrum (9 years), Willie Larouque (1st year), Rolf Anderson (14 years) fixing yet another bunker washout on 9
September 28, 2018
Closing the golf course is an exciting time for golf course work in that it allows us to perform the disruptive, messy work that makes a difference. One such chore is the installation of drainage on problematic parts of the golf course. We have acquired a mini excavator and drainage materials to install over 1000’ of golf course drainage. The focus this year will be on holes 1, 16, and if materials remain on 11. Pictured below is the honorable Roger Makela excavating drain lines to correct a drainage problem on the 1st hole.
October 19, 2018
This is dirty work but works wonders in improving the long-term condition of the golf course. I find this kind of work to be among the most rewarding type of project.
On a final note, we are currently installing greens covers in this the final week of work for most of the crew. While it is a little breezy for this kind of job, I am always impressed with the efficiency of this group. They know that as soon as this chore is finished, the sooner they may enjoy their time off from what has been a very trying season.
Greenscover Installation 18 Green
October 22, 2018
I would like to say thank you to all of our loyal customers who make the work that we do possible. We enjoy what we do-working outside is something that everyone on the crew enjoys. If they did not, they would not endure working in the challenging conditions with which we contend. We only hope that the winter does not last a full six months like it did last year so that we may be better able to provide the conditions that we are all accustomed to.
What a wonderful month August was for us on the golf course. We received only an inch of rain throughout the entire month-most of it in the early part of the month. Ask most superintendents what they prefer and they will say too little rain over too much. It felt good to use the irrigation system to its full potential for the first time in about two years-and it is good to know that for the most part the system remains solid and dependable.
I have no fancy pictures for the article this month but I can say that the difference in conditions from last month to this month is really quite dramatic. I know that it is a good sign when the complaints go from dead grass to slow greens. Slow greens means that you have a putting surface with grass on it-something that we have been working hard to achieve. We are now at the point, finally, where we can now switch our focus from recovery to optimal playability. These two turfgrass maintenance objectives are really not conducive to one another. When pushing recovery, the growth that results, while pretty, results in a playing surface that is softer and slower that a fine playing golf course should be. Now that we are pretty much recovered from the damage, we can now focus more on trying to firm things up and try to achieve the “firm and fast” that everyone is always talking about. Sad to say it is now September when we hit this point, but given the circumstances, I am not surprised. As I have said before, these things take time-especially in a shortened season like this one has turned out to be.
As I reflect on how this whole process panned out, I can think of a few things that I may have liked to have done differently if we ever have to do this again:
- Keep course closed until June 1st. This would have saved much wear on surfaces that simply were not growing yet (soil temperatures too cold) and made a recovery faster. That being said, May’s weather was fantastic and play was up.
- Temporary greens on 7 and 14. This would have helped immensely to minimize traffic on these two most punished greens. They would likely be fully recovered by now if we had done this. However, I think that the complaints from being on temporary greens for a few months would have been just as bad, if not worse, than with keeping them open to play. In addition, where exactly can you put a temporary green on 7?
- I think that we could have been more aggressive going after the 7th Green. Looking back, I think that we could have been much more aggressive deep verticutting/aerifying that green. The resulting mess would have led to more complaints early but I think that the recovery would have ultimately been faster. Like most things on this list, there are pros and cons either way.
- Invest in a non-disruptive seeding attachment and overseed areas with more frequency with less labor. While there were areas on fairways and greens that we seeded 3-4 times throughout the season, I think that we would have done this even more often if we had the proper equipment to do so. I am going to make it my mission to have something like this on the shelf for these kinds of occasions. Indeed, I already have something in mind. We used the overseeding tines that I had purchased in March on many occasions this year and they worked well, but there are other techniques that we could add to increase the efficacy of this process.
As I talk to players about the golf course, most are extremely supportive of what we do and show interest in what is going on. I enjoy these conversations and get valuable information from them. For that, I thank you for the support.
See you on the golf course.
As we all know, this season has been one of challenges-not just for us but for many facilities in this part of the state that experienced the same long, screwy winter we had. Sad to say that here we are in August and we still are discussing damage from months ago but it is, simply, what it is. I have a few photos to share to show a technique we use and how well it works.
The technique is called hex plugging. We remove hex shaped lugs from our nursery and install them on the damaged part of a putting green to assist in recovery. The practice is time consuming and requires a great deal of patience to do properly. Most of this work was and continues to be performed by Danny Hilmas, who has be invaluable in his performance of this chore. Other crew members have assisted as well. The results to date are shown in the photos below:
16 Green June 26, 2018
16 Green July 31, 2018
To date, we have installed hundreds of these plugs throughout the golf course and will continue to add more as we can around the heavy play we have been receiving of late and when labor permits. This process has been ongoing and will continue over the next few weeks.
Seeding on damaged fairways has taken hold and continues to establish, like the picture below shows:
18 Fairway August 3, 2018
Most fairways are showing a similar kind of recovery and should continue to improve on a daily basis. We had two waves of fairway seeding throughout May and June. Lots of work. The seed catch on most was good though there were a few instances, like on 6 fairway, where heavy rains after we seeded washed some of the seed away and slowed establishment. A little rain is good, heavy rain events not so much.
As a comparison, we intentionally left the driving range fairway alone to function as a control to show the comparison with what this area would look like if we did nothing. We will seed these weak areas of the fairway later on this season when conditions are optimal for establishment.
Untreated Driving Range Fairway August 3, 2018
The difference in the areas is striking and shows that what we are doing is working. There is no overnight solution to this kind of recovery. Just hard work and patience.
I had alluded to some heavy rain events earlier. The later part of June and early part of July were abnormally wet with rain forest like conditions. On July 11th and 12th we received close to 4” of rain (the usual monthly amount for July). The result was the following on the 1st fairway:
1 Fairway July 12, 2018
This was truly a mess and took all day to cleanup with a group of people including the pictured Assistant Superintendent Trevor Rintala. A result of this rain event was also the thorough washing out of bunkers that took a crew of 8 two entire days to repair. Not fun. I find the picture below useful in showing just how heavy these rains were:
2 Fairway Bunker July 11, 2018
The drainage system underneath this lake (about 4’ deep) was simply overwhelmed by the volume. The rain fell in a short period of time. The water was gone within a few hours but the damage to the bunker took some doing to make right again. A tough stretch of time for the crew but in their usual manner, they soldiered on. I love this group.
On a related note, our crew recently sustained a substantial loss when my assistant Trevor Rintala-the before pictured silt cleanup guy on the washout picture-found a position working at a golf course in Hawaii. Trevor had been contemplating a change for well over a year, as these winters were taking a psychological toll on him (as they do to many that live here). I am sure that smoked turf and raking silt off a bentgrass fairway helped him in making a decision to move over 3900 miles away. We will all miss him greatly.
I hired Trevor over 15 years ago as a seasonal golf course maintenance employee who had never worked on a golf course before in his life. He had hair then. Blessed with an inherent competence, intelligence, sense of humor, and ability to work with anyone, Trevor moved up through the ranks, went to turf school in New Jersey, and functioned as my right hand man for over a decade. Best assistant I have ever had the honor to work with(there have been many over the years) and while the entire group will miss him, I cannot help but feel immensely proud that he was able to put himself in a position to make such an exciting change in his life. Vaya con Dios Amigo.
Trevor and Vin 8-1-2018
As I reflect on the 34 years of golf course maintenance experience on the golf course, I can think of three years where I truly was relieved when they were over. The first was the summer of 1988 in Aurora, Illinois (I was a crew member then) dealing with a hot and extremely dry summer where we simply could not get enough water on the golf course. I remember hand watering fairways for days on end. Tough year. The next year I remember was the summer of 1995 in Itasca, Illinois (my first Superintendent position). That summer was hot with extremely high humidity. Too much rain. Many lost greens-or came close to doing so-at the height of that summer. A tougher year. The final year that makes this list as the toughest year is 2018 in Tower, Minnesota-and not due to a stressful summer but rather a halacious, long winter followed by a brief, cold spring which was immediately followed by a storm producing early summer that washes out bunkers, knocks down trees, scatters debris everywhere, and makes it too wet for us to do much of anything on the golf course. You do this job long enough, this kind of stuff is going to happen. All whining aside, I have, in a sick kind of way, enjoyed the challenge of driving a recovery. This has been a nice break from the humdrum routine of golf course maintenance and while sometimes it gets old dealing with the complaints, I also know that we are almost out of the woods and will be able to put most of this mess behind us in the next few weeks. Moving on to specifics:
7 Green June 7, 2018
7 Green July 6, 2018
While still not quite there yet, 7 green is, believe it or not, in much better shape now than it was a month ago. Note how much more grass there is on the playing surface (do not let the green pigments fool you in previous photo). Believe me when I say that this is not easy to do when we are open for play on an undersized green-as the picture below shows:
July 6, 2018
The area where the flagstick is installed for the first time this year was completely and thoroughly dead 6-7 weeks ago. The upper tier in the foreground was looking good initially but the inability to distribute the wear on the green to multiple locations has made recovery tough-you can see where we seeded but there is just too much foot traffic to have as good a recovery as we have had on the other greens. In addition, the design of seven is such that all traffic is funneled to the same side of the green over and over again. The plan is to use a combination of sod and hex plugs on the weaker areas of this green over the next week to move it along. Number 7 is and always has been our problematic golf hole.
Most golf courses have one of these. It could be a green with too much shade. It could be an area with terrible drainage or poor soils. In the case of 7, it is an undersized green with a sub-optimal traffic distribution design. My intention here is not to complain about the design-when building a new course it is often not possible to foresee all problems that may develop over time. Construction deadlines and budget limitations sometimes make it difficult to do everything perfectly. What is important is to try to make improvements for the future. For this reason, in 2014 I asked our original architect-Jeff Brauer-to put together a set of plans to improve this hole’s performance and he came up with this plan:
Making this change would turn a weakness on the golf course into a strength. The setup options for this hole would be exciting with a great deal of variety. The ability to distribute wear on a green three times the size of the current one would be very helpful. While I do not see this happening anytime in the near future, I do think that this is certainly something that deserves some serious consideration.
During this entire golf season, I have made great efforts to be completely honest about our condition. I have made a point to show the most troubled parts of the course and explain the causes and remedial actions. Rest assured, most of the golf course is moving rapidly toward tip top conditioning. I can say with confidence that our condition has improved with the passing of every day. We are in the process of bringing down our cutting heights to their normal height while improving putting surfaces with sand topdressing. Already, the trueness and speed on greens is improving and will continue to do so as we move away from growing out of damage and into techniques that improve playability. As I have mentioned before, this is a process that takes time and requires patience.
The entire crew appreciates the patience you have shown for this recovery. This season has caused an increased workload for everyone. We are just as happy as you are to be moving away from this chapter in the golf course’s history and into a time of routine maintenance.
See you on the golf course,