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

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.