Wednesday, December 10, 2014

All Green, All Season

At this time every year I reflect on and evaluate the past season.  Some years I'm thrilled to be done with the past season and in some I'm thankful it was a good one with good weather and lots of productivity.  This year presented a mixed bag of emotions.  On one hand, everything was green all season.  On the other hand, everything was green all season.  This all green, all season has its obvious upside but also has a down side.   

The obvious upside was a fully green golf course that looked and played great throughout the entire season.  The non-irrigated rough didn't go into dormancy as it normally does in mid summer as temperature increases and rainfall decreases.  In fact, we had so much rain that we only ran our irrigation system twice, and one of those was a short test run to make sure it was still working properly.  From a superintendent's standpoint, it was nice not to have to fret over whether or not to run an irrigation cycle or if a little hand watering was the best course of action.  Ma Nature took care of that for me.  Thank you!

The obvious downside was the affect all this rain had on the playability of a few holes.  #14 and 16 on the Lake Course to name a couple.  The not so obvious downside was the impact it had on our budget and, at times, the morale of my staff.  With all season green comes all season turf growth which leads to increased mowing, which, in turn, leads to increased labor, fuel, equipment maintenance/repair costs, and time not spent on projects.  Crew morale had nothing to do with the green grass, but rather the constant process of moving sand back to the bunker edges after each and every rainfall.  It wears on a person after a while.

What will 2015 bring?  A hot dry summer as in 2011 and 2012?  Another washout like 2014?  Or, perhaps, one of the rare years of perfect weather?  Only time will tell.

I sincerely wish everyone a safe and Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Frequent and untimely rain has been the norm this spring, even more so than normal.  Not only does it keep you away from the course, but delays the maintenance staff's scheduled maintenance and projects as well.

The most obvious to the golfer at this point is the lack of topdressing on our newly aerated greens.  Mother Nature was kind enough to give us a window for getting greens on both courses cored, but not kind enough to provide enough time for getting our topdressing down.  What does this mean for the greens?  Its not the end of the world.  The aeration still accomplishes the goal of alleviating compaction and diluting the thatch layer, and we will still be performing routine topdressings.

What does this mean for recovery of the greens to their normal state?  Not much here either.  As I said, we will still be topdressing even though not much of it will find its way into the holes.  The larger issue concerning recovery time will be the cold ground temperature which is limiting turf growth. We need a stretch of warmer days to get things popping.  Once this happens, the holes will close up quickly and our smooth greens will be back.

Monday, March 31, 2014

So Close........

yet so far away.

The beginning of the 2014 season felt so close late last week I was watching the long range forecast.  We were beginning a warming trend with several days forecast in the 50's, a few warm rains, and 2 days of 60* to start this week. Then it all changed in a heartbeat.  6" of new wet snow and most forecast days in the low to mid 40's. Welcome to Chautauqua, NY.

Today's sunny 45* and tomorrow's 63* should help get rid of this weekend's snow, but we were definitely set back a few days.  Our average first mowing of the greens is April 7th and, while it is quite possible the thaw will happen quicker than expected, the best case scenario would be to have the greens mowed by next Friday April 11.  The snow will be gone by then, and maybe even the frost from the ground, but we will still need a day or two to get the debris cleaned off and get them rolled before they can be mowed.

In reality, April 11th isn't that far away and is only 4 days behind normal, but after a winter like this it seems so far away.  THINK GREEN!!!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Thinking and Hoping Green

Despite this morning's chilly 5*F, I find myself thinking green, and not because it's St Patty's Day.  Hoping for green is a more accurate statement.  After a winter of severe cold dappled with a few incomplete, ice layer making thaws, my concerns are on the survival of our fine turf areas, particularly greens.  Will they green up as soil temperatures warm up?  Or will they stay brown and develop the smell of turfgrass death?

With the snow beginning to slowly recede, I hope to get a peak at some greens this week.  The few bare areas on tees and fairways look really good so far, but these aren't the typical spots I need to be concerned with.  Theses spots are normally raised, windswept areas that melt off first during a thaw and don't collect standing water.  Greens and low lying fairways do collect this water, which turns to ice as cold weather returns. Ice is a wonderful form of water when chilling a nice single malt, but to fine turf it can mean a slow tortuous death if it remains for an extended period of time.  And this has certainly been the case in 2014.

Some of our greens and fairways have potentially been under some kind of ice cover for about a month and a half, or more.  Poa annua, the predominant species on our greens, can only handle about 50 days of ice cover before it starts to suffocate. We have never had any ice damage here at Chautauqua that I know of, but if there was ever a year, this will be it.

A good question to ask would be "What can be done to prevent ice damage?"  Our best course of action is to continue to improve drainage in our greens and fairways.  This is done through aerification and topdressing on our greens, and aerification and adding drainage to the fairways to allow the water from thaws to drain through the profile rather than accumulate at the surface.  Some of my peers at other courses remove the snow at certain periods of the winter to facilitate ice melt in hopes of preventing such damage.  This works for most, but it's my opinion that, for several reasons, this would not be the best solution for us.  For starters, we have neither the staff nor the budget to be able to quickly and effectively clear our 44 greens when weather allows.  These windows are often small and time is of the essence.  Secondly, clearing greens of snow subjects them to other potential turf killing conditions (low temp kill, chilling stress, crown hydration, and desiccation to name a few) that may be more hazardous to our greens than taking a chance with ice.  Remember, although there is a first for everything, we have never had ice damage at Chautauqua Golf Club.  We have had damage from crown hydration as recent as 2011 and desiccation on the edge of #14 Lake green as recent as 2009.  Our annual snowfall of just under 200" has always been a nice protective blanket for our course and I see no reason to unnecessarily subject it to conditions that would be abnormal.  This is not to say that my fellow superintendents who remove their snow on a regular basis are wrong in doing so.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Every course has its own set of micro-climates that it has to deal with and if in their situation I would likely do the same as them.  But here at Chautauqua it is a risk and I will happily play the percentages that favor our turf's survival through any ice problems.

Happy St Patty's Day!  And here's to a green and happy spring.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Every year brings changes and improvements to Chautauqua Golf Club. Some, like the newly paved entrance road or new tee signs and amenities, are immediately obvious and some go largely unnoticed. Things like mowing patterns, newly painted rain shelters, trimmed trees, or new stone on cart paths make the course more enjoyable to play and golfers notice that the course is nicer, but can't quite put their finger on why.

Two such changes this season will be new carpet and paint in the pro shop and new pin flags at the greens.

The carpet is being replaced for the first time in over a dozen years and should give a new and fresher look to Troy's pro shop. Troy will decide on the carpet and paint to be used and will be done by the end of February.

The pin flags have been updated to include the 100th anniversary logo and a new subtle argyle background. I like them and think they'll be a nice change.

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Baby, It's Cold Outside!!!!

The weather is a little different than it was at the time of my last post. The NJCAA Div III National Championship had just concluded and we were about to head into summer. Now it's 9*F with a windchill of -9*F (much warmer than a day ago) and the snow is cold and crunchy. Some are already south, some are staying, and some are just now heading south.

I head down to the GCSAA conference in Orlando this weekend for a week of education, trade show, and networking. If asked which of those three aspects I found most beneficial, I would have a hard time choosing between the education and the networking. Probably because I consider them to be strongly linked with of all the ideas that get passed along from these conversations, whether it's in a class, on the trade show floor, or over a beer at night.

While I'm gone, Bill and Dan will continue with our annual winter equipment maintenance to ensure our day to day operations and maintenance practices run flawlessly throughout the summer. This isn't always easy as some of our equipment is getting a little long in the tooth. As a 36 hole facility we have a fair amount of equipment and keeping up with replacements is a little tough when times are tight. They work hard at it and deserve a thank you when you see them in the summer.

Too date they have completed all 160 carts, maintenance vehicles, rough mowers and fairway mowers.

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