Sunday, April 14, 2019

All Geared Up

Winter Went
At the moment it seems like winter has loosened its grip on Central New York. The smaller lakes have lost their ice and the last of the northern courses are coming to grips with what may prove to be a hard spring.  At Tuscarora, we've been fortunate with our turf and climate. Nothing out of the ordinary presented itself over the colder months, and for the most part, we were able to keep busy with our winter projects. 
PG temporarily under ice. 
Between Two Trees (ferns)
The most noticeable change players will see this season is more room beneath, and between the trees. It was short of clear cutting, but the sheer amount of lumber to hit the ground sometimes made us wonder. The results for the golfer are a more open feel to the course and more options when playing a shot from out of the rough. The results for the turf are better air flow, more resilient turf and more consistent conditions. 
A small pile of hardwood limbs waiting for a home

Green Stuff
Nice pic highlighting the many varieties of grasses within our greens. 

The course is beginning its spring growth surge that happens every year.  As greens, in particular, go from dormant and fast, to lush and slow, it's good to remember that it's a physiological response to warmth and day length that we have little control over. We try to mitigate this change with growth regulators and controlling fertility but for May and early June most places are happy to just keep up with mowing.  The trick has always been balancing enough growth to keep up with daily wear from golfers and mowing equipment without sacrificing reasonable ball roll.  Every course has unique needs and conditions and some are easier to bring through this time than others.  As the grass evens out with the onset of hotter weather, greens get more predictable and manageable.

Brain Drain

New drain pipe going in across 11 fairway to alleviate a plugged line that was creating the sogginess in the landing area. We'll also be installing drainage into the fairway bunkers on 11 later this fall as a part II to this project. Thanks for your patience as we dry this area up.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Wrapped Up and Reviewed

2018 Review
As 2019 begins and winter projects are under way, I wanted to take a quick look back at 2018 to review the season and happenings.

Old Friend
Bittersweet loss of our long-lived 'course dog' this summer. The board generously allowed her onto the property when she was 8 weeks old in 2003. The understanding was she'd keep the geese on the run and anything else she could catch and lived up to her end of the bargain until she couldn't make it in anymore. A great companion and gentle sweetheart that adored the members and was never happier than when in the middle of the action at Tuscarora.  She'll be missed. Her passing was oddly welcome as she rapidly declined over a few weeks in June before the hot weather hit.
Gracie: 2003-2018

New Green Surrounds

The beginning of the season saw two projects completed in 13 greenside bunker and 16 collar collection area resulting in better drainage, aesthetics, and shot options. 

1st tee and Driving Range changes

The arborvitae hedge behind 1 tee has been removed in favor of a small wall and perennial plantings that will tie in with the look of the clubhouse landcscape. A similar treatment is going on  between the 18th tee and the driving range tee with the idea to create more space for the grass range tee while replacing a outgrown hedge that the deer were destroying. The retaining wall at the range is complete and we're waiting for better conditions to start the 1st tee wall.

Before shot of 1 tee
After removal
We'll likely use our natural locally-sourced limestone boulders at the range tee and 1 tee. It's the most cost-effective and aesthetically attractive solution.

Range tee wall under way

The Battle of Unrepaired Ballmarks

The fight goes on. Noticeable progress was made this year thanks to a concerted effort by (almost) all the membership to be diligent and care for their greens.  Everyone looks forward to the day a ball mark left on the green is treated with the same outrage as seeing steel spiked shoes on a green. 
Until then, keep up the good work and remember  what Smokey says: 

Summer Summary
There were long stretches of heat and humidity and a heavy snow event in the early spring.  Other than these, it was a year where there was a lot of golf played which is always indicative of pretty decent weather. Very few days were lost to poor course conditions and it was a good year for any cost-per-round concerns - people got their money's worth. Some rain notwithstanding, carts were out daily more than they were in.  Spring and early summer were as expected with greens snapping into summer mode around Memorial day as the poa seeds wained and the effect of  topdressing and rolling started to accumulate. We experimented with some new growth regulator combinations on greens and fairways and although we had no issues, we'll continue looking for that perfect combination for green speed, growth reduction, and wear recovery that's so elusive on our mixed poa-bent greens.  More to come on that front for 2019.  
Bunkers were requested to be raked more deeply and we complied.  This softened them and lessened complaints. Drainage is still a concern in many, however, and we'll be addressing that problem this winter.  

Winter Work
New 8 tee roughed in and ready for top mix and sod

New 8 tee looking to the green

Dropping the last of the big rocks for the driving range wall

Range hedge before

Driving range wall under way

Wet 7 bunker

7 Bunker dug to bedrock, water disappeared in 30 minutes

Flattening/enlarging 7 tee

Course-wide 'limbing-up' and raising of lower canopy

Snow came early this November curtailing leaf clean-up.  We got  back to the worst areas while we had a reprieve between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Besides the range and 1st tee, projects through the winter are a flattening/enlarging #7 tee, building an additional tee on #8, and tree pruning. The goal is to remove the lower canopy/branches of all trees that need it.  This opens up the holes visually and allows better shot options.  A major side effect is more air flow, more sunlight, faster drying, better grass, and of course, happier golfers!  See you in April.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Summer's Cauldron

What's Happening, Hot Stuff? 

We're gonna need a bigger rain

A quick rain went through a few days ago (after weeks of drought and heat) so, there's a second to sit down, look back, and take stock of where we are and what's happened since the last update. I'll quickly touch on each of these items. 

  • Drought
  • Heatwave
  • Fairway overseeding
  • Tournament conditions
  • High rounds and excessive cart traffic

27% water content. 95.9 degrees.

The last real rain was over 3 weeks ago. We've been able to steer the turf through the lack of water with some diligence and a great crew.  The tendency to overwater during a drought is common.  Our new soil monitoring device came in handy and with it, we actually watered much less than expected and the course responded well and continues to move in the right direction.


Careful watering and hand mowing clean-up passes pays dividends 
Of  the variables under our control on a golf course, heat is never one of them.  The challenge of this property is due to thin soil overlaying a massive continuous layer of bedrock.  As the bedrock heats up through the summer it acts as a heatsink.  Rock temperatures get into the 90's and stay there until day length begins to shorten or days get cloudy and cool.  The net effect is similar to putting the turf on a hot iron skillet, it can literally cook to death. Watering to cool it, past what's needed for survival, makes things worse as the day gets hotter. Heated saturated soil can act like a  "par boil" to plants and is one of the reasons Superintendents would rather have a hot dry summer than a hot wet one.  The best defense is to have the right grasses in the ground.  Anywhere you see loss on fairways or tees is an indicator that the wrong grass was there. In some ways, the culling of weak species due to heat stress is a natural and helpful process and it makes a stronger overall turf. When plants that aren't suited to the conditions are encouraged, we run into long-term problems.  

Fairway overseeding
16 tee. A pure stand of Perennial Ryegrass. Drought and heat tolerant.
To address weaker species, courses (like Corning CC) have decided to eradicate (kill off) their problem fairways and convert them to a more desirable grass. A few holes are completed every year and the results have been outstanding.  They're a reciprocal, so take notice  next time you play there and judge for yourself.  The next best alternative is to 'interseed' areas with desirable species and we'll start that process here in August.  It's slower than a full conversion and the look is never as clean, but by utilizing growth regulators to stress undesirable species out, we can make gains on fairway quality and heat resilience.

Tournament conditions

A positive aspect to the dryness for courses is playing conditions are favorably affected and controllable.  Drives go further, green surfaces are true, and speeds are easily manipulated to players tastes (and expect the opposite when it's a wet year). 
There are consequences to these conditions, however,  that aren't immediately apparent.  It's easy to forget that fast greens cause pin positions to become limited -- we like to say "greens shrink".  Easy/moderate pin positions become few and far between when green speeds go above 11' at Tuscarora.  We have severe enough contouring on a handful of greens that become hard to handle for the average player.  Rounds take longer to play, par 3's back up, and frustration levels rise when greens get overly slick (11+).  
A common refrain is "just put it in the middle", and I agree, that would be nice. And if we didn't have such heavy play that requires pin changes 4-5 times a week due to tiny greens (or everyday in the case of the multi-day tournaments), this would be a fantastic solution.   
In general, the complaints we hear on the course are very few and if we do get one, they're fair.  
Complaints about hard pin positions, however, are just bad form, especially considering the size of our greens.  Here's a link to an article from the USGA regarding pin positions and the guidelines when placing a pin.  Notice there's no such thing as an "illegal pin".

We intend to place 6 easy pins, 6 medium, and 6 hard in a round of golf. It's a guideline only.  Ultimately, it's a subjective call by the days cup setter and is influenced by turf condition or incoming weather.  The only true requirement is the ball must be able to come to rest above or below the hole on a well struck putt.  Although we're successful at this, it doesn't mean that tough pins don't happen - they do. They may even happen on the day you want to play a nice relaxing round with a guest.  

Our best advice:  If it looks like a sucker pin near the edge, it likely is. Don't take the bait. Aim for the middle of the green and take you're 20 footer for birdy. 
Or, if you have to take that shot, go for it! But take your medicine if you hit a poor shot that leaves you in worse shape with limited choices.  The course punishes sloppy shots as it should. 

High rounds and excessive cart traffic

Tuscarora is a heavily played course and although we love what that means, it can be a double-edged sword. Worn turf is common due to the size of the property.  Since we don't have good alternatives to spread it out or GPS control over where carts drive (someday!), much of our work is focused around repair and regrowth of areas that can't withstand traffic (both foot and cart).  As we near overseeding the fairways, we'll be roping off the highest trafficked areas near the greens.  This includes most every approach.  Excessive heat and drought, like we've experienced, makes turf highly susceptible to damage from cart traffic. We can see this on almost all of our entrances and exits on the fairways.    
direct kill from high heat and cart tires
Through the use of ropes and barriers, these areas will get a break from carts. 
For those that are used to driving very close to greens, or into places that we traditionally don't allow carts, this will be a change for you. Drive around to the backs, or from the sides where the grass is longer and less trafficked. 
As recovery and grow-in complete, we'll take the ropes down. 
Directional stakes were down for a day and this damage was the reward
I took this picture this morning and it's poorly lit, but its a great example of what driving carts on a sensitive area can do in one day.  This is damage near the clock by the 9th green and was courtesy our own members, not an outing. It's unfortunate, but avoidable with a little self-policing and forethought on how we drive carts.   

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Summer Stride

Full Speed Ahead

The season of bottomless rough has left us and warm nights and hot days are arriving. You'll see rough drying and thinning, fairway turf tightening up, and greens becoming firmer and faster. 
We're using a new tool to monitor soil temperature, moisture, and salinity.  With this data we're better able to target our watering to keep greens rolling evenly.  There is also potential savings to be realized when we're able to avoid watering areas that don't need it.  

Defensive Greens Management - Heatwave Edition

"Slow grass is better than no grass" is an old adage that was used  by Stanley Zontek, a well-regarded USGA agronomist for the mid-Atlantic region in the 80's and 90's. Zontek served many top-tier courses in hot and sticky weather conditions and aided in the recovery of many dead greens due being pushed too hard through hot weather. 
The coming heat,  though short-lived, should tell Superintendents to prepare a few things so greens stress is kept to a minimum.
Here's a few strategies I've found helpful during hot spells.

  • Roll more; mow less. The most stressful thing you can do to any plant during high heat is cut part of it off.  As we can't stop mowing completely, a good compromise is to alternate days we cut, with days we roll. Effect: Possible speed change later in the day on non-mow days and day to day speed variations depending on which practice is used. 
  • Fans: If you're new to Tuscarora, expect to see a turbine blower sitting alongside the second green when we're in the high 80's and 90's.  Due to it's physical location at the bottom of a hollow and surrounded with trees on the windward side of the green, our number 2 heats up fast. The grass will 'cook' if left on it's own. The only relief we can give it is to run a blower during the hottest parts of the day to cool the surface. Effect: None. Enjoy the breeze!
  • Hand Watering: You'll see the crew dragging hose to the greens to water small areas that require it.  Every green has inconsistencies that cause different responses to water.  Hand watering allows uniform watering and cooling of those  areas.  Our automatic system is s. very good, but can't account for mounds, sandier areas, or low spots. Effect: Faster greens
  • Spiking/venting: With all the rolling and foot traffic, greens tend to 'seal off'.  This hurts the plants ability to respire and cool itself. Holes, obviously, allow gas exchange and water infiltration and break through that seal.  Although we can't do big holes this time of year, we do have a machine that puts a small slit/vent in that helps greens 'breathe'.  Effect: None 

 Almost all golfers understand that repeatedly pushing greens for speed in hot weather leads to eventual turf loss.  This is why 'tournament conditions' are fleeting and generally last as long as the tournament does. All greens can withstand some abuse for short periods before intervention is needed. A more secure course is to prepare ahead and try to feather the pedal through tough weather before we stomp on the gas again.  
So, through prolonged heat remember what Stanley Zontek liked to say:  "Slow grass is better than no grass".

Thursday, May 31, 2018

It's Rough Out There

Spring into summer

Seasonal transitions are interesting times for plants, and grasses are no exception. It's been cool and wet (as always) and everything is bursting at the seams to either put on new growth, flower, or otherwise reproduce.  Although we don't think of grasses as "flowering" plants, they absolutely are and we're in the middle of that process as I write this.  The biggest flower producer we see in our own lawns as well as on older courses is our old friend Poa annua, or Annual Bluegrass (or, as Johnny Miller likes to incorrectly pronounce it, "PO"), and it's widely regarded as a weed.  
Our finest PO is on the greens and after flowering and subsequent seed producing is over, the greens settle down and become less variable.  Without changing anything mechanically (height of cut or rolling), ball roll gets magically smoother and creates the illusion of greens being "faster". This is only due to the absence of seed and the physical change in the plant as it moves into summer survival mode.  In other words - it's seasonal.

We try to shorten this seeding period by applying growth retardants not only to greens, but to fairways as well (which gives them a yellowish hue). We try to delay the inevitable, but the seeds eventually come.  
Poa usually wins over time.  
The seeding will soon be over, and greens will roll more predictably. Then, we can tackle the mystery of how to get more ballmarks fixed.

Don't panic and carry a towel

A tale of two grasses

Below is a quick visual comparison of the kinds of grass that are available for northern greens.  Both putt beautifully at different times of the year and both have their issues.  For this time of year, bentgrass has the edge and courses (usually newer, or wetter) that have a lot of bentgrass are going to play and look much different.
Blessing and curse. Poa annua.
Latest of the super-bentgrasses - "007"

Wanted to include a brief update on some challenges we've been working through over the last several weeks so everyone has the most accurate information available to them.
  • Tractor troubles have been restricting our rough mowing production. When our current equipment is at full strength, rough is cut completely every two days. Although all machines were serviced over winter and operated fine through spring, we've had a couple of intermittent mechanical surprises that we're working through. Rough is now being completed every four days as a result.  As we wait for parts for some of our older tractors and ask more of our very old machines, you may see areas in the second and third cut of rough become more challenging to play from.  We expect to be back to our original compliment of rough units and mowing frequency soon. 
  • Training new employees on a delicate job like mowing greens takes some time. The most difficult part to learn is the clean-up cut.  This is the pass around the outside that trims all the misses from pick ups and set downs of the mower blades.  With practice our new operators will improve.  Until then, your patience is appreciated if you see a mowline out of place or something that looks a little different.  

New work to watch for

As the summer kids return, so will some of the back breaking work we like to do.  Breaking rocks builds character.

  • Rock removal will begin in a handful of  green-side bunkers.  There are large blocks of ledge rock near the surface that stop us from getting our rakes in deeply. Adding more sand isn't the answer for a few cases.  We'll be extracting the ledge rock by hand with a jack hammer and we hope to begin and complete each operation in one day.  First on the list are left 5 green and left 6 green bunkers.  
  • New clearing down on 8 tee is growing in and will be hand picked of the loose debris as bodies are available. We'll be letting that mature into a grassy meadow until a final plan is decided on.  Please keep your carts away from the new seedlings
  • Seeded areas on 14, 15, 5 tee  are getting thicker. We'll be going in again to touch up any bare areas left over or that are lagging. We'll apply covers where we can to speed germination. 
  • 5 tee will be cleaned up and widened slightly and we'll be adding some new irrigation heads to replace the ones that had to be removed during tree removal.  
  • 16 black tee has a new look to the surrounding bank.  We'll be judging the aesthetics of this through the summer and see if it's something we can use elsewhere to enhance the course as well as save on labor. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018


The sun was warm but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April day.

Robert Frost

First Steps
Course clean-up has commenced and the crew is putting a good dent in it.  The weather conditions will dictate how much and where we can work on the course. Primary tasks to complete by Mother's Day are as follows.

13 Green
As the sod farms are open we'll be sodding the banks here and closing the project.  In the mean time, bunker sand will be installed, compacted, and raked into position.

5 Tee
The arborvitae's that were shading the tee were removed. Erected in their place is a small privacy berm to separate the cartpath on 14 from 5 tee. This will be raised 2 feet and planted to meadow fescues and ornamental grasses. The effect will be similar to the new berms right of 9 green.  Any un-level areas will be corrected and irrigation heads relocated to better positions.

14 and 15 rough
The intense shading of the rough along 14 and 15 created no grass cover in these areas. These areas will be kept ground under repair until they're re-grown and grass is thick enough to support carts.  
Obey the ropes.

Water Study
Since last fall Tuscarora has been part of study by a team of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry seniors.
The partnership looks at how water behaves entering and leaving our property and how to best utilize it as a resource.  We're hoping to get a recommendation on use issues such as irrigation, pond quality, and flood control.  We'll have more news as their project comes to a close.   

Spring Pruning
(white) Oak
We're embarking on a project to "limb-up" the trees that line the fairways and greens.  Tuscarora has trees numbering in the thousands. It gives that 'park-style' feel to the property and that handsome look we like. When these trees were small, they went relatively unpruned as it likely made them seem bigger. Today many are excessively low and wide and impeding golf swings and our own mowers.  We'll be removing select branches, here and there, to open up the lower canopy and make room underneath for (of all things) golf. 
The effect will be a more open 'taller' look to the trees.  It's a long process and you may see a branch or two down on the holes we're working on.  We hope to have the entire course completed by MG.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Spring 2018

Easy Winter
This past winter was the kind we hope for in the grounds department.  Frozen ground, not much rain, thaws that melt all the snow away slowly, and a good snow cover. 
We had very little incidence of snow mold disease, and no ice damage or rehydration on the greens.  So, knock on wood, not every winter can be like this (as I remember 2014) but we appreciate them when we get one.
Mid Winter clock repair
We chipped ice and shoveled drain paths to
help water off a few greens over the winter. The evidence
is seen here as bleached looking grass from being exposed

Late season ice formation

Application of black sunflower seeds to melt ice
Winter projects

Parking lot expansion -Before

Parking lot expansion - After

Clearing an opening for air circulation near 8 tee
Thinning overcrowded trees along 15 fairway

If it wasn't diseased, damaged, or infested with Emerald Ash Borer, it was sold
New look for 5 tee after arborvitae removal. Finished look
will be similar to the new mounds right of 9 green
13 greenside bunker drained and re-built to give
players a better choice of shots around the green

So many options!

In Like a Lion, Apparently?

March is upon us and at the writing of this report we're waiting on a significant snow event.  Temperatures look as if the snow will be  around for the first half of the month.  If the old saying is correct and we get the "Out like a lamb" part, we're looking at early April, as is our usual, for opening the course.  After we do melt, we won't wait around to get aerifying over with. As soon as greens are dry enough work on, look for us to be out there getting it done so greens will be healed up by the time the nice weather arrives in May.  We'll give the Pro Shop a fair warning before this.  Keep checking in with Scott or Jason for news.  
I look forward to seeing everyone back on the course.  

As always, if you have any questions or want to know why we do a certain thing a certain way, feel free to call, text, or email anytime. I'm happy to talk with you about what we do.

Steve Kurta