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

Friday, August 11, 2017

So Far, So Good
Not the most predictable weather year for golf, but it's been idyllic for growing grass.  Cool nights for most of the summer and regular rains do wonders for lawns, trees, and golf courses.  June and July were uncharacteristically cool and wet.  Casualties of the regular rains are distance off the tee for everyone, thicker rough, and wet bunkers.  Unfortunately none of these has an immediate remedy. As August rolls in, we're seeing the fairways dry out and get tighter, and greens remain as true and healthy as ever.  
2017 Men's MG - nice weather for ducks

Fairway program

This year, for the first time in the club's history, we've been treating all fairways with regular preventative fungicide and insecticides. What we see is improved vigor and an ability to get a better, shorter cut.  To make the fungicides last longer on the plant, a growth regulator is added to stunt the plants. We're experimenting with what rate is the right rate for our situation and grass species and after some trial and error this spring, we've hit on the right mix.
Spring growth regulator injury
Recovery 3 weeks late

Bunker Conditioning
The biggest loser from flooding rains are the bunkers.  Between sand washing off higher slopes, or silt and mud migrating upward from the bunker floor to contaminate the bunker sand, the bunkers are difficult to keep in consistent condition.  Often they get so hard from being over-wet and compacted, they're mistakenly thought to not have enough sand in them.  We're trying a longer "ripper" tine on the trap rake machine to see if we can fluff the bunkers up.  So far the reports are positive and it's helping the consistency.

Gold Tees  
The newest course feature the club is trying out is an addition of a forward set of tees we're calling the Gold tees.  This was in response to numerous requests for the course to play more fairly for the higher handicapper. Tuscarora can be brutal to play for the player that doesn't hit a long drive. The tees will be rated when their positions are finalized.  Feedback, so far, has been positive.
TBA:  what tee sets will remain and what color they'll be.
16 gold tee

Home Lawns

It's the time of year to start thinking about home lawn care if you live in an area with grub problems or if you have a tenacious weed you want to rid yourself of -- we're at the beginning of the time to treat for them 
If your lawn doesn't have a history of grubs or an especially bad weed problem, leave it alone.  Most lawns can tolerate high populations of grubs without showing any signs of damage. A good indicator of whether you should apply is if you've had skunks or raccoons digging last year.  
Skunk damage from looking for grubs

Weeds, especially biennials like dandelions, are already getting ready for next year but are nearly invisible to the eye.  Between now and Halloween is an ideal time to treat for them if you've had problems in the past.  

Your local favorite hardware store will best be able to supply you with what you need in product and equipment to get the job done.
Feel free to contact me if you have specific lawn or shrub issues. I'm happy to help find solutions to your landscape problems.

Fall Projects
Fall/winter projects haven't been finalized, but what's been discussed are new rain shelters for the 4/7 tee area and 13/14/15 area, and improving drainage on the 16th green, and 11 and 12 fairway.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Snow in May!

Back At It!

For new members at Tuscarora, welcome.  We hope the golf course brings you the enjoyment and relaxation you're looking for.  With your membership comes a monthly blog, by the Green Superintendent and Green Chairman, that addresses the latest happenings and news on the course.  This month we'll address course set-up questions, schedules, and give reports on upcoming, or ongoing projects. 

Development around the clubhouse and 9 green is coming to a close and has added improved aesthetics, play-ability and use-ability.



More flowers will be added along the west side of the club next week.  Traffic bollards were installed today to help remind cart drivers that the walk behind 9 green is for foot traffic only.

Tuscarora Time
A beautiful clock tower was added between 9 green and 1 tee. The clock installer has been servicing these clocks for 17 years and of the golf ball impacts he's witnessed, he's never seen a clock damaged by a direct hit. Then again, we are an exceptional club.


New Traffic Pattern Around Club
9 Fairway - carts go to the right > > >

With the removal of the exit drive behind 9 green and the new walk path to clubhouse finished, there is exactly one direction we'd like all riding golf carts to travel - to the right! It puts you the closest to the bar/restaurant and bathrooms after the front 9.  To the right of the green -- this is where we want you.  Walkers and pull carts can continue doing what they've always done.

As you drive your cart to 10 tee, please come to a full stop before you cross the entrance driveway.  
Cars and trucks are coming in, usually too fast, and it's the golf cart drivers responsibility to yield to them.

Talk with the pro shop if you need to get your cart into non-cart areas on the course.  Blue cart flags are used to communicate to the grounds staff and pro shop that a cart is supposed to be in a restricted area or right up next to a green or tee where we normally don't see them.  We're happy to work with golfers who have a chronic condition or legitimate need to get their carts where they need to be. 

Finally, Thanks for your help in keeping this new area from getting beat up by carts.  it's a small cozy part of the property that will be a nice site for future gatherings and fun.  It's gone from a thoroughfare for automobiles to a beautiful front lawn and we can keep it that way by keeping carts where we need them to be.  Thanks!

Course News
5 tee
The rotting shed behind 5 tee was removed and a new rain shelter is in the planning stage and will reside in the wooded area to the left of 14 tee. The tee itself will remain unchanged for the season but the bare area where the shed resided will be seeded and grown in to rough. The tee suffers from being heavily shaded and too small for the amount of play.  The final placement of the tee, or addition of tee space, will address the shade problem and increase the surface area. It will also consider the landing areas down range to accommodate the new positions players will find themselves in.   This is slated for a fall project as of this writing. It's currently in the talking stage, so, opinions are still appreciated.

7 Green
 The work on 7 green was to remove a sand dam that had built up over years of topdressing (16 green has a similar problem). This slowed water from leaving the green and made for weak turf. Besides being the smallest green in Onondaga county, it didn't need the added stress.
Sod removal and sand buildup removal
 The green will drain properly now and have a new "false front" similar to 5 green that lets mowers turn easily.
Reclaiming lost green edges
Finishing up the project, we did a quick greens edge reclamation and gained some lost green space that shrinks over the years due to mowing and grass competition.

Marked trees
Trees along the left rough on 14/15 have been marked by the Superintendent and Green Chairman for removal last winter.  Criteria for removal was health of tree, overcrowding, and lack of grass due to shading.  The goal of removal is to let more sunlight into the area so we can get grass to grow. Currently the area is mud due to shade.  Removal will take place over the course of the next year as time and money allow. One of Tuscarora's strengths are it's mature trees, their management and protection is ongoing. 

Areas left bare due to winter construction, irrigation improvements, and tree removal around the course will be seeded over the coming weeks.  Weather is just about warm enough to germinate grass (unaided by turf blankets).  Over the next few weeks these areas will be fine raked and seeded and strawed.  Thanks for your patience

Maintenance Schedule
If you're someone who's interested in when we do things, here's an outline of our weekly practices. 
Some operations can only be completed in the rain while others need dry conditions.  It's changeable, obviously. 
Ultimately weather and daily events dictate what we do that day. Nothing in stone, but here's the program we use to plan our week.
  • Saturdays, Sundays
  1. Mow/roll greens
  2. Change cups & tee service
  3. Rake Bunkers
  • Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays
  1. Mow/Verticut greens(topdress Mondays only), roll
  2. Chemical applications
  3. Mow rough
  4. Mow fairways
  • Tuesdays, Thursdays
  1. Mow greens
  2. Cut Cups
  3. Mow tees
  4. Mow rough
  5. Chemical applications