Welcome to the superintendents blog about Wild Horse. As was the case last year I hope to keep you up to date on course happenings here. Aeration schedules, daily tasks, course issues, and my own observations will be the fodder here at Superintendent News.
June 8--Great weather today and the recent rainfall really has the Horse looking good! Have updated my email address listed at the bottom of the page here if you want to ask questions about the course or even your home lawn. I appreciate hearing about your interest in this blog and hope you find it informative. Don't hesitate to ask questions- it helps me opine on topics you find important on the course other than what might be on my mind. Good golfing!
June 1--As mentioned in the previous post, the course really did improve in the past couple of weeks. The overseeded winterkill collars have filled in well, fairways have thickened up and greens are starting to roll better. Still have some spots that could be a bit better but overall the course looks pretty good. We have received some nice rains that have helped the rough recover. There are areas in the "wooga" that have quite a few weeds, but we have started to spray those to keep the kochia, russian thistle, and ragweed down. That said though, there is much more opportunity for weeds this year due to the reduced competition from the native grasses so expect more sandburrs and such this summer. We try to keep these pests to a minimum but this year will be extra tough. The good part about less grass in the rough is it allows some of the native forbs to thrive much like the weeds are doing. Some of these plants are flowering now and others soon will be so the rough will have more color to it this year. I hope to have some pictures coming later this summer on the evolution of the native grass roughs and how the drought affected it.
May 13--Weather has changed for the better and finally some progress is being made. The course is OK right now but will really improve over the next couple of weeks as growth takes off. Greens aeration went well and the sand has worked into the holes and turf nicely and you can hardly tell we did it. We really start to get serious about managing greens for playability this week as we will drop the height of cut and start rolling more often so you should see ball roll improve soon.
We have sodded many areas around the greens that were winterkilled and have overseeded any other thin spots that weren't sodded. Those seedlings are emerging now and will take some time to mature but surrounds also should show much improvement in the coming days.
The rough is showing some signs of life again. There will be some bare ground areas in the primary rough and first cut of rough where drought took its toll. We are not going to do much to those areas and let the native grasses return on their own. If there are still some open areas by year's end we will reseed native grass where needed, but we think mother nature will find a way to reestablish most of the native fauna that was injured last year. For sure it will be an interesting case study on the ecology of prairie rangeland and its adaptability to drought.
May 1--Finally finished up fairway aeration last week and then moved onto greens surrounds. Many of you get tired of us poking holes "all the time" but it really is the cornerstone to turf health. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see what aeration does for grass.
Greens aeration is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. Topdressing is Wednesday so greens should be pretty good by the weekend. We will be using small needle tines so disruption is minimal and healing time is pretty quick.
Speaking of greens, they look good this spring considering the weather. About half of the surrounds have some rough looking spots, but it is only isolated areas. Some of the areas that sustained winterkill are right next to greens that look perfectly fine so that shows how winter survival is always a guessing game. Microclimates, grass species, previous management, and weather patterns all play a role in how well turf comes out of winter. We overseeded (slits you see in the turf) those thin areas and also broadcast ryegrass into the aeration holes to bolster our population. You should start seeing those seedlings by late next week. Yesterday was our first mowing on fairways; most years that occurs about April 10 so I guess patience really is a virtue this spring. Fairways will get a shot of fertilizer next week which should wake them up.
Lots of applications are scribbled on my calendar for the next couple of weeks: Greens aeration, topdressing, fairway, surrounds, and tee fertilization, pre-emergent weed control throughout the course, fairy ring prevention, wetting agent and growth regulator on greens. This is an exciting time for us as the turf really starts to grow and we can begin managing it more for playability.
April 18--Many of you that know me realize I am pretty quiet and easygoing and now I know the reason. I am hooked on grass clippings! An Australian neuroscientist has discovered that chemicals and odors released by cutting or crushing plants affects how the brain manages stress. Thus, theoretically a person mowing feels more relaxed and happy. I believe this is accurate as many of my employees tell me how "peaceful" it is mowing in the mornings. You can probably relate that mowing your yard brings a "good feeling" once it is done. Thank goodness the chemicals of cut grass make us less stressful or the game itself would certainly drive us bonkers!!
Here is a before and after makeover picture of the back of nine green. This part of the green stressed often last summer and didn't look very good last fall and succumbed to desiccation over the winter. So we cut it out this spring and replaced it with good sod cut from our turf nursery that is located just east of the driving range. Luckily this was really the only damage we had on greens this winter and should look pretty good once the sod knits down.
Even though we have had some recent rains there are spots on the course that will feel the effects of last years drought for a long while. That is seen in the collar behind the sodded green above. Edges and knobs were stressed all last summer and some of those areas didn't fare well over the winter. As soon as the weather straightens out we will overseed those thin turf areas. The lingering effects of last year's drought is also still very noticeable in the "wooga". Much of that grass will be thinner for awhile and the composition of species will be forever altered by 2012's record setting drought. So now hopefully we have changed our precipitation chances, last year's weather may affect the overall look of Wild Horse for a couple of years.
April 17--Still cold; no progress with grass growing and actually the course has regressed with the recent cold weather. Last week and this week's weather has limited any sort of growth. That is not unusual in the spring to have a week where progress stops due to the weather but this year has been so extreme that we have gone backwards with the course looking like the first week of March. The picture below shows a low drainage area where the water sat from the last rain and snow. You can see the round green circle where the grass was "protected" by the water from the cold air temperatures. That green circle of grass is what all of the turf should look like.
We have talked extensively about the battle with Poa annua over the past couple of years. So you might be wondering why go to all the trouble to get rid of it? Poa is the scourge of many superintendents for a variety of reasons. First, it is an unsightly grass because it is a unattractive (at least to me) yellow-green color and is continually putting up a white seedhead. So while I am not usually too concerned with color, if you have patches of yellow within an sward of deep green it just doesn't look too good. The seedhead issue is a problem on greens because it can cause bumpiness and inconsistency on greens. Secondly, poa is susceptible to disease and sometimes edaphic conditions like heat or ice damage. Maybe you are thinking well then it should be easy to kill it and get rid of it. The problem is that when it dies it readily comes back from a huge seedbank in the soil. Now if you have a small percentage of poa and kill it, the remaining good grass can fill those voids before the poa does. The real issue is when the poa dominates the stand and dies due to heat, stress, whatever; then there is no competition and the poa quickly reestablishes when conditions permit. Then you are stuck in a vicious cycle of death and then reestablishment of poa before good grasses can gain a foothold. On some older courses where poa is the predominant grass it is better to just live with it and try to manage as best as possible. In our case our poa population is minimal (probably 5% or less) due to years of diligence on our part trying to control it. Since that is the case we want to continue to limit it as much as possible. As poa populations increase the seedheads get tracked onto greens more often and that can really cause the worst case scenario of poa infested greens. Right now we have about .1% poa on our greens which is pretty good for 15 year old greens. We want to keep that consistency of all bentgrass greens so we will do as much as possible to reduce the population of poa on our surrounds and fairways to limit the exposure our greens get from this invasive species. We use a variety of techniques to battle poa including chemical control discussed below but aeration and irrigation play a role also. Poa thrives in compacted, wet soils (which is why you can often find more near the white traffic lines) so reducing compaction with aeration and maintaining a drier soil profile helps the good grasses in the ongoing competition against poa. We will even pick individual plants out of greens which you may have seen the pockmarks from such activity earlier this spring (especially #1 green). Hopefully now you understand why we devote a lot of energy to keeping Wild Horse relatively poa free. It is a big picture task that may not be immediately or obviously noticeable to you but helps maintain a more beautiful and playable golf course in the long run.
April 11---Couple of quick updates on future maintenance events. The greens surrounds aeration has been moved back two weeks to April 29-30 because next week's weather looks too cold and rainy. We are still waiting to get back out on the course and finish fairway aeration sometime next week when conditions permit. For those of you looking forward to our prescribed burn, you will be disappointed to hear that we will not be setting fire this spring. With last years drought we are concerned about the overall health of the rough so will forgo burning this year. In many places there is not enough fuel to carry a fire anyway. If conditions improve this summer we will probably try to burn a larger swath next spring.
Obviously with the weather the course remains behind schedule in its greenup and overall condition so please be patient as conditions will improve with better weather.
April 9-- Got a great rain last night but now we are stuck with some sleet and snow and cold but we will take any moisture we can get. As mentioned in the previous post, some interesting things can be observed in the early spring. Here's a few pictures that illustrate some differences in grass types and why some parts of the course look pretty tough coming out of winter.
These two pictures show the effects of a chemical application of Prograss made last fall that we use to try to control annual bluegrass. The first picture is taken by the white line on 12 fairway and it shows the desired result of dead Poa annua (annual bluegrass). As you see there were small patches of this undesired grass that bit the dust over the winter. By controlling this species before we get too much of it, bare ground can be minimized. The good grasses around those spots should quickly fill in the voids and we will have desirable turf once again. The second picture shows 14 fairway which also received Prograss last fall. The mottled look is caused by the difference in tolerance of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass to the chemical. The bluegrass is always slower to green up in the spring but Prograss makes it even slower as evidenced above. The ryegrass is the green splotches seen in the picture. As you can see in this particular area we have about a 50/50 mix of each. What you can't see from this distance is some white (dead) half-dollar size clumps of annual bluegrass. The effectiveness of prograss varies from year to year but the harsher the winter (dry) the better the result. This year was particularly good.
Hopefully you can see the slightly browner rectangular patch in this photo of #5 fairway. This also shows the effect of Prograss on a fairway but what is interesting about this is the whole fairway was sprayed not just the rectangle. So why does it look differently? Well if you remember last summer there was an area on 5 fairway that we experimented with another chemical to control poa. It is pretty hard on ryegrass and ultimately killed some of it, so what you see now in that rectangle is predominately bluegrass which as mentioned is slow to greenup. So you can see that the relative abundance of each species can be manipulated by what we do. So why is this important or is it? I will show a couple pictures below that illustrate why it can be important. Bluegrass and ryegrass have been used together for many years in seed blends and there is good reason for that. Ryegrass is more vigorous and withstands traffic better, but doesn't overwinter as well as bluegrass which tends to be more drought and heat/cold tolerant. In short, attributes of one type match well with the shortcomings of the other, so having a proper blend of each can be important in the overall long term health of your turf stand. Each type tends to do better in certain microclimates on our course. The ryegrass usually does better in the lower wetter areas i.e. #1 and 17 fairways and the bluegrass thrives on the hills of 14 and 6 fairways. But here is a picture that goes against that notion.
This is in the low spot in front of the bunker on #5. As you can see the bottom is pretty much all bluegrass (slow to green up) where normally it would be the moisture loving ryegrass. So why is that? Well one shortcoming of ryegrass is its susceptibility to ice damage. So in one of the past few winters that we received moisture, snow sat in this spot and killed the ryegrass off leaving mostly blue. Thus another good reason for a blend. If one type dies the other can fill the void without much notice.
This picture also shows the benefit of a blend. This happens to be the north side of 5 green which has always struggled during the winter due to its south facing slope. We had started to get a pretty good stand of ryegrass going in this area with our overseeding we have talked about in other posts. But as you can see much of the ryegrass got too dry and didn't make it this winter and what is left is blugrass with some scattered ryegrass. So while this doesn't look too good now, without a mix of grasses this area could have been totally bare. So you can see why we are always trying to protect a good mix of ryegrass and bluegrass and keep unwanted poa out of the stand.
After that last pic I need to leave you with a "better" look of a nice uniform green!
April 6--Just a quick update on course conditions and activities. We have finished aerating back nine fairways and will be working on the front this week. Also we have mowed greens a couple of times and will start to mow them more regularly now. They look pretty good for the most part with only one small area that sustained some winterkill. The rest of the course is greening up slowly but surely. Some areas are responding faster than others and now is the time when you can see quite a bit of variation between grass types as each kind responds differently this early in the season. I like this time of year as subtle differences can be seen in the turf that can't always be seen once growth really starts. I can see what types of grass are present and their relative abundance in relation to each other, discern compaction issues by noting slower greenup, and better judge irrigation distribution by studying the way the grass behaves in the spring. I will try to show some pictures of some of these subtleties next time.
March 25--It is still below freezing in the middle of the afternoon as I type this. What a difference a year makes! We had mowed greens 3 or 4 times by now last year which was exceptional (earliest ever) but it appears our first mowing will take place in the month of April (which would be the latest ever). Not much new to report as the weather has really hindered much of our normal work. Startup of the irrigation system has gone well with no major problems encountered. We have been working through each hole and addressing any minor sprinkler issues and have encountered relatively few problems. We did irrigate a couple of times just to "test" the system but the grass has not really greened up enough to use much water so despite the lack of rain we have not needed to irrigate regularly yet.
We will be adding some irrigation heads on #1, 7, and 12 fairways this week to get better coverage on some edges and help establish seed in those areas this spring. Last year really brought to light any irrigation deficiencies we have, and although we have tweaked our system over the past 10 years there are always areas that can be improved. That will be an area of focus this year as we move some sprinklers around and also adjust run times to match precipitation rates more accurately with turf water needs.
Here is a picture of an addition on #7. You can see the replaced sod in the foreground and the struggling turf toward the top. This is in the bottom left of #7 fairway where any excess rainwater would run off to, but last year's drought exposed this area as underirrigated. Hopefully, with this new sprinkler we can get some seedlings going and return this edge of fairway to good turf by June.
As mentioned above we are still a week away from mowing on greens and probably 2 weeks on fairways. We will start aerating fairways next week which usually stimulates some growth so maybe we can start seeing some green! It has been a slow March and we look forward to really getting moving in April!
March 11--Wild Horse missed most of the snow (and rain unfortunately) so the course should be ready to play by Wednesday this week. The end of the week looks great so you should be able to get out for your first round of the year.
What a difference a year makes as we mowed greens on the 15th of March last year. This year there are no signs of green yet, but it won't be long.
We will charge up the irrigation system this week. That is always a good sign that golf season is here. There are always a few problems to address with irrigation startup but it is good to get water in the system so we can do our annual irrigation audit. That includes checking each head for properly functioning drives, adjusting arcs, and any other minor fixups that might help irrigation distribution. There are 650 irrigation heads on the course so it takes a good week to assess and fix the problems. Winterizing is very hard on the sprinkler and can cause some issues in the spring. We average about 3-7% of the heads each year that are affected. Some are easy fixes but others will require a new sprinkler or drive assembly just due to wear and tear of several years of winterization.
As far as the piping is concerned, we have had only one true freeze break in 15 years so that is good (knock on wood)! There will always be a couple of glue joints come apart during startup but those are not due to actual water freezing in the joint but more likely just a function of several surges through the years that finally compromise the joint.
February 12--Golf season is just around the corner and I am sure many of you are anxious to get back out to the Horse. We too are excited about the upcoming season.
I just returned from the Golf Industry Show in San Diego sponsored by the Golf Course Superintedents of America Association. This conference and trade show always sparks my motivation and interest in the upcoming golf season. I attended a couple of seminars pertaining to rolling and growth regulator use on greens and how it can affect ball roll. Needless to say my philosophy on greens management was challenged by these presentations and I will probably tweak my greens program this coming year to take advantage of this new research. I am an "old dog" now but can still be taught a new trick or two! I hope to expound on these subjects later in the year but want to see how some minor adjustments affect our greens this year and compare to what others have been reporting.
I also strolled through the trade show floor which is about 4 football fields in size. Lots of "superintendent toys" to check out! My main interest was in the irrigation controllers that we will be installing sometime this year. It was nice to see them firsthand and explore the software for the first time. I am excited to get that project going and completed, but it will probably take awhile to become really good at utilizing the entire package. During the transition I hope not to get any of you wet by mistaking the commands as I punch them up on my handheld radio! Fifteen years of station numbers are etched my head and many will be new to me now, so I apologize in advance for dousing you accidentally!!
January 30-I just read an article in a trade magazine that compared the superintendent's role as "grass grower" vs. "playing condition provider". Intuitively most of you think a superintendent's job is to grow grass but I contend that there is a more difficult task of providing great surfaces on which to play the game. Obviously growing grass is part of that equation but just growing grass for yield is not the goal as it would be in a corn farming situation. Overwatering and excessive fertilizing can give you a vigorous, very green turf that on the surface looks pretty good but there are problems associated with such management. Grass that grows too fast can be difficult to mow cleanly, reduces green speeds and ball roll on fairways, and can lead to disease problems during times of stressful weather. That is why it is important to manage the growth of turf through proper fertility, effficient irrigation, and use of growth regulators to maintain consistent conditions from day to day. Also, growing grass for yield is not very sustainable due to limited resources (water) and/or financial constraints (cost of fertilizers). So it is a superintendent's duty to give the turf enough inputs to recover from traffic and recover from damage, but not too much that it will impede playing the game. So while my job is to "grow grass" it is done in a refined way that hopefully leads to a better game for the golfer.
The winter continues to be very dry and we have watered the greens in the past couple of weeks. There has been no snow cover and very little moisture all winter and that has the turf looking pretty poor right now. But February is always the make or break month in determining the health of the turf this spring so we are hoping for the best. Greenup will likely be slow as the leaves are dried back all the way to the crown of the plant so it will take some time to regenerate new growth this spring.
September 10--Dryness continues!! Earlier in the year I talked about ET rates which are basically the amount of water a plant potentially could use. Just did a check and from May 1 until now we have had 44.63 inches ET and 3.21 inches of rainfall. WOW! The cooler temperatures have helped the turf and it now handles the drought stress better, but hopefully this fall will bring us some moisture!
This is my favorite time at Wild Horse as the turf is great and the rough is usually beautiful. This years drought has lessened the brilliance of the rough this but Wild Horse is still at its best in the month of September!
August 24--The 1st picture below shows our attempt to take out some rough bluegrasss on 14 fairway. It is the rusty colored turf in the picture. This looks like we are going to get a pretty good kill but rough bluegrass has extensive rhizomes that it can regenerate from so we will see what happens in the next few weeks. We just did our last application about a week ago so the yellowing of the bluegrass will dissipate quickly and it should start recovering shortly. The 2nd picture shows the low area on 14 that we sprayed in July to remove Poa annua. As you recall I said that application could be pretty hard on ryegrass and you can see that we did kill some of it along with the poa. But when trying to tilt your turf population to desirable species it is usually "no pain no gain" so while we did hurt some of our ryegrass turf we hope establish it again before the Poa takes over. We will be overseeding these areas this week.
Something else you might have noticed if you have been out in the last week is the whitening of the practice area. It is quite apparent and although I don't have pictures, you will see some of the grass is relatively unaffected (that is the ryegrass or bluegrass). The majority of the area is bentgrass that is susceptible to the chemical. This is another test we are doing to see if we can stunt the bentgrass enough to allow rye/bluegrass seedlings a competitive advantage. We are trying to determine how much damage to the bent is tolerable and yet still give our seedlings a better chance for survival. These are the kinds of things grass guys like myself are really interested in as we are always looking for ways to give our turf an advantage. Hopefully you find these "experiments" interesting also even though they can be somewhat "ugly". But it is all in the name of better turf for Wild Horse.
Speaking of better turf, Wild Horse greens have been tremendous all year with very few blemishes other than the plethora of ball marks. Sometimes we take for granted that our greens really are some of the best around-we hope you agree with that statement!
Usually this is the time of year I mention how beautiful the rough (native grasses) are as they seed out. Unfortunately, this year's drought has ldiminished the rough to a dull yellow-gray. The contrast between that and the fairways is striking but not near as beautiful as years past. But the next month and a half is when Wild Horse is at her best so we hope you can enjoy it!
Here you see a couple of pictures illustrating the benefits of overseeding the greens surrounds with ryegrass and bluegrass. You might say benefits, huh? Looks like the grass is pretty thin there. You would be correct. The voids are where the bentgrass and what little remaining fescue was, but we really stressed our collars this year in an attempt to eliminate those species. The hot and dry weather allowed us to nuke alot of bentgrass in certain areas of poorer irrigation coverage. If we were 5 years into the overseeding program the overall look of the turf would be much more consistent due to a larger population of rye and blue, but as you can see we are still trying to establish those grasses. You can see in the 2nd pic the thick bentgrass that gets water from the sprinkler head as it runs down the slope. The top half of that picture (despite being close to a sprinkler head) gets less water and you can see the clumpiness of the ryegrass and bluegrass there. So it may look like we are going backwards but in actuality we are acheiving what we want by ridding ourselves of the bentgrass and increasing the population of rye and blue slowly but surely. Some areas (like that by the sprinkler) will get ample water and will always be bentgrass dominated but our goal is to have a more drought tolerant and firmer stand of blue/ryegrass as time goes on. Each year the blue/rye mix will take over more ground thereby eliminating any voids in the turf stand. You can read more about our attempt to transition to blue/rye on surrounds at the bottom of this page.
July 16--We worked hard to present the course as good as possible this past weekend for a great event. Greens were rolling true and fast as expected, but the "tournament pins" threw some off their game. You can see the quotes around "tournament pins" because there really is no such thing. Despite what you might be thinking, I do not lie awake at night devising a devious pin sheet! Truth be told we set tournament pins nearly the same as every other day- meaning there will be about 6 difficult, 6 easy and 6 average pins per round. But it never fails that complaints arise about the difficulty of the hole locations. In fact I graded each pin's difficulty on Sunday (retrospectively after hearing complaints) and came up with a slightly less than average difficulty overall. I know it will be hard for some to believe but that is the case. Tournament pins are harder because there are no gimmees , money is on the line, and pressure is detrimental to everyone's stroke regardless of the hole location. Admittedly we will usually ramp up the difficulty for 4- man scrambles but rarely to the degree that we are accused. Hopefully I have laid to rest the notion of "tournament pins". The only reason they are such is because we happen to be having a tournament that day!
May 12-- Superintendents are always defending their aerification practices by extolling their benefits to golfers who think we are just out to make a mess. Many times the benefits derived from aerification are unnoticed, but I have some pictures that clearly illustrate the virtue of poking holes. In the first pictures you can see some broken darker green lines which is where the holes are. That grass is obviously healthier and happier! The bottom two pictures illustrate that the holes punched by the aerator definitely improve water infiltration. The dry brownish squares you see are where the aerator was picked up to miss the sprinkler. Proof that we are accomplishing something when aerating and not just "making a mess".
September 1--Here's the long story on our greens surrounds management and how it has evolved from day 1 and the goal of our overseeding program. Our surrounds were originally planted to fine fescues after much consternation. The goal was to provide a nearly green-like surface that allowed putting and bump and run from off the green. Unfortunately, bentgrass seed from the greens contaminated the approaches and over several years has become the predominant grass on the collars. Bentgrass naturally plays softer than fescue or even bluegrass/ryegrass (fairways). So in order to make the bent play well, it really needs to be dry, and lean on fertility. This sometimes can cause the collars to look a bit haggard and not as "pretty" as the fairways. Some people care about playability; some more for looks so in order to please everyone including myself we are overseeding with ryegrasss and bluegrass (same as our fairways). Most people love our fairways and in hindsight we should have probably planted that around the greens, but at that time I was not convinced that the bluegrass could be managed to play firm and fast enough. It would not have eliminated the bentgrass contamination but we would be closer to our goal. The overseeding program is a long term conversion to a stand of more favorable turf (blue/rye). In order for this to be most effective, it is necessary to abuse the bentgrass in order to give the blue/rye a competitive advantage. So that means dryness to the point of losing some grass (as seen on #1 and 17 approaches) and constant growth regulation which can give an off color to the greens surrounds (especially during heat spells) Pictured below is a bentgrass patch that is succumbing to drought, but you can see the sprigs of ryegrass that are surviving and thriving. The conversion process may take several years but each year we hope to get more and more blue/ryegrass in the surrounds. Once this happens, we can become more aggressive chemically in removing the bentgrass. So what does all this mean to you? Most days you will not notice anything, but there will be times that the collars will be off color or even a bit thin, but as the years go by we will get more of the grass we want there and gradually they will look and play better.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 308-537-4430 with questions/comments.
Certified Golf Course Superintendent