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

Monday, October 3, 2016

Summer Postmortem

What is Poa annua and Why Should I Care?
Weak but pervasive
About a week after Labor Day weekend we had a final bout of extremely hot temperatures. Greens and tees were safe with plant protectants and a handful of our weakest fairways were also covered.  What we saw happen on untreated fairway turf was a failure of a species of grass called annual bluegrass.  Known as Poa annua, annual bluegrass, or as Johnny Miller likes to mispronounce it, "po" it's a cool season grass that does poorly in hot, dry climates yet is known as one of the worlds most widely distributed plants.
Poa (light green) in a tee
Why is it here?
Annual Bluegrass is an annual and a major component of golf course greens tees and fairways of older courses in cool/temperate, moist climates like those in the northeast and pacific northwest.  It makes excellent golf turf when conditions are suitable for it to thrive.  Many professional golf tournaments are played on it and hundreds of older famously manicured golf courses tolerate it as a component of their closely mowed areas. Tuscarora boasts it's high quality Annual Bluegrass greens as some of the finest examples of Poa in upstate New York.  
Heat intolerant
So what's the problem?
The downside to Annual Bluegrass is that it's an annual and will usually die in extreme prolonged heat. Technically, and literally, it has evolved to weaken or die in high heat and drought.  This is normal. It's evolved to deal with this, by seeding prolifically in the spring and early summer so the voids it leaves when dead will have been "pre-seeded" by itself.  It's so good at this that golf courses in the northeast apply seedhead retardant to keep turf playable.   In the northeast we don't see prolonged heat and drought. Poa, for this reason, often lives as a perennial.  The fact that it's supposed to die in the heat of the summer is easily forgotten in the northeast as our temperatures are rarely too hot for too long, and we get regular rainfall through the summer. It's forgotten until we have a summer like we had in 2016.  Possibly, if the global warming trend continues for the next 10-20 years (whatever the cause), Poa annua will be expressing it's true annual nature in summers to come.
Poa's fate in many hot climates
So why are just some spots affected?
Two bio-types of Poa annua naturally predominate on golf courses. There's a  true annual or "wild-type" that normally dies in the summer if temperatures weaken it to that point, or weaken to a point that disease can overtake it. This is the type we commonly see in our fairways and to a lesser extent in our approaches and tees. It's the type we saw fail after labor day as the heat continued into its third month. 
The other bio-type is one called 'reptans' which is known as a true  perennial type. This is the type we see in our greens and tees.  It's less prone to heavy seeding, and can be maintained at very short cutting heights.  'Reptans' is a great putting surface, but it is extremely sensitive to drought, over-wetness, and heat as we witness every year on our second green or on any green that has slow draining areas.  
In cooler climates poa makes a striking contrast and putts well
What's the best defense?
The dilemma with Poa is that it's a great grass on a typical year.  You don't want to do anything to harm it.  It's a great performer when all of it's requirements are met. So, if there's patience and understanding, when you have the off year when it doesn't perform, it isn't that big of a deal - it'll grow back.  But most golfers aren't that understanding or patient.  Golf season is short in the northeast and there's little time for growing turf back.  For this reason there are scores of clubs and greens committees over the decades that have tried to eradicate Poa from their golf courses after experiencing a few bad years. Locally, Oak Hill tried to convert their greens in the 1990's, Bellevue tried to convert their fairways in the late 1980's, and this year Corning CC is attempting to convert two of their fairways from Poa to bentgrass due to major losses. All attempts were only partly successful.  They did make gains in adding bentgrass, but ultimately, they end up living with the Poa and getting on a pesticide program that keeps the plant as protected as possible during stress periods. There are chemical eradication programs to keep Poa out of 100% bentgrass seeded/sodded courses, but that requires having mostly bentgrass to begin with (see Lakeshore or Turning Stone).
The USGA has a few good pieces on what super heated summers do to Poa annua playing surfaces.  It's failure is well documented.

Healthy ryegrass surrounding dead Poa annua in our fairways
The programs in place on our greens and tees are successful practices that I've seen keep grass healthy through tough weather conditions.  They're also the methods I use on our most at-risk fairways (10, 11, 12).  They're proven and work well keeping healthy turf on those areas.  Historically, there hasn't been a widespread preventative fungicide program for Tuscarora fairways.  To put a finer point on it, consider this from the USGA on greens care - the same philosophy applies to fairways: 
Maintain a solid fungicide program: With heat, humidity and thunderstorms, fungicides do not last as long and disease pressure is greater. There is no better money spent than in protecting the grass from disease. If the fungicide budget is being depleted, pull back in other areas. However, when conditions are this difficult, fungicides often cannot completely overcome disease incidence. It may well be a case of reducing disease injury rather than eliminating it altogether. 
That all said, there is no silver bullet.  As a secondary measure we've purchased our own large-area slit seeding machine and will be returning to interseeding a tougher plant into the fairways. It's an altogether different genus that's resistant to drought, heat, shade, and many diseases. This will help improve our fairways by making them more resilient and diverse.  It's the same grass we use in our divot mix on tees and fairways and performs well there. It's a fine turf that's hard to kill.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Post Plug

Aerification Update

Greens aerification was completed Monday and Tuesday and they're on the mend.
good density
The greens have been fertilized and topdressed and the plan is to let them grow a bit before we start cutting them back down. This recuperation is necessary to battle the sins of the summer that we create as we chase green speed and perfect rolls.
low spots tend to drain slow and thin out
Two weeks is the normal span of time it takes for the greens to get back in shape. After a summer like this one, it's a needed rest. Enjoy the beautiful lush slowness of healthy greens!
beautiful and healthy

Fairway Mayhem
If you're at all conscious, you'll have noticed that something ugly is afoot on a few fairways. Two weeks ago we had a spike in heat and humidity that was the coupe de grĂ¢ce for a handful of susceptible fairways that were just barely hanging on through a punishing season.
diseases move fast
When we see risky weather conditions heading our way our standard operating procedure is to apply a protective fungicide ahead of that weather.  We do this to areas that have shown weakness before as they're a good indicator of disease pressure, and we did that. Those treated fairways went unscathed. What we didn't expect was to see an outbreak of strong diseases in fairways, 1,3,8, and 15. These are  healthy fairways that see low incidence of infection.  This time, it would be different.
The the weakest grass species (poa) was severely injured. Similar damage was seen by many in our region that don't (or can't afford to) treat all their fairways and tees.  In fact, we fared better than most from reports we're getting in on how courses made it during that last hot spell.  It was a tipping point for many.   Courses that choose to apply on all fairways at regular intervals saw little to no problems.

The damage was done in just 3 days and the diseases responsible were Pythium and Anthracnose. The species of grass that was most affected was Annual Bluegrass or "poa" that makes up about 40% of the fairways.. Fairways at Tuscarora are composed of a mixture of ryegrass and "poa". Poa tends to be susceptible to every disease as well as heat stress, but is especially damaged by Anthracnose outbreaks.
outbreaks were random - 9 fairway: not a mark
Things are already improving and we have germination where we've aerified, and slit seeded.   Affected areas were fertilized and curatively sprayed with fungicide. Unfortunately the damage is done and what we have now is a "grow-in" situation where we're starting from scratch in the barest of areas. On a positive note, it's a good opportunity to introduce the tougher ryegrass species.

Going forward, we're looking at how to upgrade our fungicide program so that it treats all of our fairways equally to guard against future outbreaks. It's something that's due.  This season's extreme weather has shed a new light on the risk of not being covered versus trying to get by with the bare minimum.  What we'll see going forward with a comprehensive spray program is a marked increase in overall quality of the fairways through the entire summer.

More next week when we discuss upcoming fall projects.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Equinox Approaches

September 12th will be the start of fall greens aerification. This will be our third of four aerifications for the year. Following the greens will be tee and a few fairway aerifications.  Course will be closed to play on September 13th to complete this work and will re-open on the 14th.

Readying the fleet

The Rest of The Story
While the course conditions for the Labor Day Classic were near perfect, 7 green was going through a challenge due to a mainline break just days before the tournament. This created a water deficit on the green in spite of our watering by hand.  The fix won't be quick or simple as the line broke directly underneath a mature Sycamore tree near the green. It will call for abandoning the line.
Over the day, the heat and dryness won out and the green became unreceptive to even the greatest of our Tuscarora players.
Worst spot for a break
  The irrigation line will have to be re-routed as we weigh future course plans in the area.  We regret the hardness that was experienced there, it wasn't on purpose and we did know about it. The green is in fine condition in spite of it.  
On the whole, the condition of the course was great.  It was a good challenge and nobody lost a limb in the end. As scores indicated, as they always do, the best shotmakers who adapted to conditions won the day. 

Of the many nice things about Tuscarora is how well it drains. It's a boon for the property in rainy times, though, this summer showed how much of a bane it can be as well. The grasses in the fairways are a selection of coarse species. We have a little bit of everything that I call a "Heinz 57" mix.  In comparison, courses like Bellevue, Turning Stone, or Lakeshore have a smoother mix composed of creeping bentgrass. We consider bentgrass a weed at Tuscarora by virtue of having nearly none of it in the fairways. It sticks out and looks like it doesn't belong.  
Within our Heinz 57 mix are several types of weaker grass that succumb to disease pressure, as we saw over the last two weeks on parts of 3 fairway and 8 fairway. These worn out areas will be overseeded in the coming week. 
untreated 3 Fairway on the mend
untreated 17 fairway not a scratch 

We do treat our wettest fairways with fungicides based on their history of disease susceptibility, but never have budgeted a complete program that covers all fairways as the majority are tough enough to make it through our summer without a problem. 
This is changing. 
We're seeing a higher incidence of disease outbreaks over the last 10 years. We'll be revisiting establishing a fairway fungicide program to address future warming weather trends.  This keeps the course moving forward and help the fairways stay in top condition all year.  This will also help protect against mounting stresses from increased rounds and cart traffic.  Beyond that, it will increase overall quality and aesthetics of our fairways which compliments  the condition of the rest of the course.  We're also be looking at reinstituting our annual overseeding program that was such a success from years ago. We're pricing seeders and will have a better idea what direction we'll head on that by 2017.

Out of Range
The USGA recommends a range tee size of 1 acre (43,560 square feet) for an average 18 hole golf club in the Northeast. Tees smaller than this need to reduce usage by using mats.
Cartpaths are for other people

Our range tee is 8,000 square feet - that's small for what's being asked of it.  We hit off grass 4 days of the week and overseed the worn areas twice a week.  We'll be looking at how to improve the speed of recovery this fall.   It may come to resodding the whole tee to a more resilient species like we see with the success of the new 18th tee.  That tee was sodded to a very hardy dwarf Kentucky Bluegrass that seems to recover very quickly. Two other clubs currently do this now - Lakeshore and Calvary. It's expensive, but it's a solution.  
Here's a blurb on tees from the USGA. Nothing we don't know, but good info on everything except how to acquire cheap land near the club.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Olympic Drought

Dog Days (no offense to dogs)

As of the week of August 6th, Onondaga county was categorized as being in a moderate to severe drought (depending on where in the county you reside).  What started as a promising spring allowing early golf and projects to be finished up, has continued into a bit of a nightmare with regard to the complete lack of meaningful rainfall and sustained hot temperatures from June through August. This isn't a new experience. Tuscarora sits at the top of a rocky dome of ground that has little water nearby and almost none underground. The natural water we do have is by way of creeks and springs until they dry up. 

Water sources into our pond stopped weeks ago dropping the depth to 1.5 feet -- too low to run the pond fountain.  The recent storms over last weekend haven't been enough to get the farm creek running into the pond. Any rise in the pond was from the run-off from our parking lot and driving range.   

Saving fuel with the rough mowers

Luckily, we're hooked into a municipal water source for irrigation. We've recently upgraded our irrigation controller with the latest in software and controls work flawlessly. We've worked around other short-comings through many hours of hand watering and keeping the grass as healthy as we can by adjusting mowing heights and fertility. Aside from the actual lack of sprinkler heads where we need them (on the rockiest parts of the property), on the whole, we survived the drought and I'm satisfied with how we came through it. 

A Review

We had a project (or four) extend themselves this spring that made  normal rollout more challenging.  We're lucky to have had no  mower maintenance to complete as the new equipment package required no service. We were happy to be of assistance where we could be.
Laying base for kitchen compound

All stones sourced from our own property

Excavating patio paver base

Working out final grades

Slate Hill Constructors killing it

Maintenance road bridge

Final stages of pole barn

Flag pole service

Sod arrives for clubhouse

Upgrading undersized tees was the project taken on last fall.  We endeavor to get the course up and playing as soon as possible for the majority of golfers. No major construction between Memorial Day and Labor Day is our mission..We minimize disruption and affect as few people as possible. With this in mind, our priority for tees was to get main shared tees finished first, and target the forward and back tees second.  By choosing to do work in this order, we affected less players. Unfortunately, the weather was abnormally dry and seed took longer than usual to germinate. Seedlings took the brunt of the damage all over the property.  
We had abysmal germination rates and huge mortality within new seedlings due to the extreme dryness and heat.  The only places we had luck growing grass from seed was in shade or under thick straw, and even that was no guarantee.  Cooler and moist weather will bring better growing conditions and we'll be re-seeding the spots that didn't respond.  
Weak germination even under irrigation

This includes the driving range tee that suffered the same plight of other seeded areas.  We've applied over 200 pounds of seed to the range tee with little to show for it. This was a common phenomena at local courses around Syracuse. Some clubs resorted to resodding their tee every 2 weeks.  The conventional wisdom among local superintendents was soil temperature average was too high to support new seedlings.  The plants were cooking if they did come up without shade or straw to protect them.  

I'm a big fan

As long as anyone's been playing at Tuscarora, the 2nd green has rarely had a great summer.  The reasons are known and have been confirmed by more than one USGA agronomist over many years, as well as by boards, and green chairmans. 

Of the challenges the green has, the one we've yet to address is air movement.  To give you a better understanding of what's at work here, follow the link below to read about the importance of air flow.  Fans are a common tool employed on courses in hotter climates that try to grow bentgrass and poa on greens, but are more widely used across N. America in areas that are closed in by trees that reduce air movement.

And a video showing the effect on a green wrt cooling/drying:  

To naturally improve the site would mean clearing out acres of trees to the greens west and south so prevailing winds could enter that area. Other feasible alternatives are raising green heights to a site-appropriate height, or, artificially create wind with a fan which is what I recommend.

The mechanism of grass loss is a result of the surface never drying out. It's similar comparing a wet towel that's hung on a line to dry to one that's left in a heap in the corner.  You soon have a moldy mess with the towel left in a heap.  Same thing is going on with #2.  Air flow is key.  

There is no other green on the course that has had more attempts made at fixing underlying problems than our #2. Multiple Superintendents and green committees have done battle with it. It's been rebuilt, drained multiple times, and has had many trees cleared from around it. And although all of the improvements have improved the green in some way, there's not been a good effort to improve the problem of air flow.  There's nothing that will change the fact that the green shouldn't be there - it's a poor site for a green and will be forever a victim of its surroundings. But there is hope. There's relief.

We're looking at the fan with the best track record made by Turfbreeze.

The price of a fixed unit running off a quiet electric motor is just under $8000.  Getting the electric service to the site will be another matter and one we'll confer with the resident electrical pros and get a consensus on the best course of action.  There are gas engine models available at a higher cost, but the noise they generate might be an issue. more on this as it develops.

March 15th. New fleet arrives

May 20th. Not a good day, depending on point of view..
Golf ball-1  Superintendent-0
 Could've been all kinds of worse. Lucky to still have the eye.

June 2nd 18th hole planted with 11 Eastern Redbud trees
Look forward to white and pink flowers greeting you as you drive into the club in the spring and maybe, and hopefully (probably not) a backstop for your horrible tee shots. 

July 15th.  So, this was a first..

Still don't know the cause of the accident. The 11th green was undamaged and nobody was injured, thankfully. 

August 10th. Finally curbs!
Always better than rope
Curbs are a project the crew likes to do because it lets everyone work together and they come out looking great (if we can keep carts from running them over before they dry - twice this has happened).  But mostly they allow for the removal of rope and stakes which we hate more than the golfer does. 

Fall Ahead
It felt very busy this season and I probably could've done a couple more blog updates to keep everyone abreast of the many happenings.  I'll look to complete two entries before Christmas. If you have any questions at all about why something is a certain way on the property, don't hesitate a text or call for a quick answer. I'm more than happy to answer your questions about your course if I have one.
Until next time then.