Tuesday, September 9, 2014
I don't seem to update this blog nearly regularly enough. I would encourage you to follow me on twitter at https://twitter.com/JerStack for updates on the golf course, golf indistry related information, plus a few of my personal interests (basketball, snowmobiling, my wife, my dog etc.)
Friday, September 5, 2014
Shift switch: Golf course superintendent
I traded places (well, kind of) with Brown Deer Golf Course superintendent and Milwaukee native Tim Wegner last week to get a better feel for what exactly he does on the course and I found out how hard it really is.
Your work day nearly begins when the clock does in the summer, with Wegner rallying his team in the maintenance building when most others are sleeping.
On my way to the golf course located at 7625 N. Range Line Rd., I saw only two oddly motivated (or cross-wired) runners and an annoyed man with a dog, along with two cars.
This is what the outside of the office looked like upon arrival:
Now, in the late summer, Wegner's crew is a little smaller – it's at nine people now that school has started, down from 14. In the near darkness, we hit the course in a cart make a quick check of the property – making sure nothing unexpected or severe happened overnight – while picking up loose debris.
"Kinda the nice part of the morning," Wegner says.
We also take a look for disease that may be growing on the fairway grass – its light coloring makes it easy to spot in the near-darkness. That helps Wegner determine how much chemical to use, and where to disperse it.
The light comes fast, and the crew is already hard at work mowing the greens. With a smaller crew, the tasks of changing the cups (the flag placements) on the greens and mowing the putting surfaces require immediate attention.
This is where he put me to work.
Job 1: Changing the cups
To change all 18 holes is a process that takes about three hours, and it's not just as simple dropping a cutter in the grass to make a hole. It requires a lot of thought and a little bit of luck. First, you need to examine the area of the green in which you are going to put the new cup – is it suitable? Was an old cup in the same area? Is it on an unfair bit of mounding or angle? What does the approach shot look like coming in from the fairway? If it's going to be a 85-degree day, will this placement be fair for players later when the green gets faster?
"A cup that's OK at 6 a.m. may not be at 2 p.m. on a hot, sunny day," Wegner told me after I put the cup on a ridge on the second hold. "It may not hold that shot."
As a player, I really stressed over this decision. Was I being fair? How would I feel about these placements? Wegner even told me to speed up after I continued to hem and haw on the third green.
Once I decided on my cup placements, I used the HIO "heavy" hole cutter to create them, which requires you to slam down on the handle to push the cutter into the turf. It requires a good bit of force to do this, but you can't Hulk out on it – you can only go to a certain depth (which is marked on the cutter by orange paint). You then need to twist it to break roots and dirt underground apart, which also required more effort than I imagined.
You also need to make sure the cup is level. Then, you take that removed piece of earth and fill the old cup with it. This is an important step – it has to fit nearly perfectly so it's level to the surface around that not just for putting, but so it's not scalped bare by the mowers. To do this, I used a modified fork and a PVC pipe with its edges smoothed so as to not to scar the greens – tricks Wegner learned from PGA Tour agronomists when the course hosted tournaments.
After changing three cups, I got it right on the fourth hole, the par 5. I placed the cup just over the right hand bunker, requiring a precise shot to the stick or a safer play that would result in a longer putt.
"I'm proud of that one," I said.
Wegner got out of his cart. "That's ideal. And the cup was pretty straight."
He then drove me over to meet Steve on the par 3 11th hole.
"We'll trust you with our most treasured asset," Wegner said.
Job 2: Mowing the greens
Drenched in sweat, Steve was happy to see me – I was about to give him a hand with the 250-pound hand mower.
The green cutters at Brown Deer walk five to seven miles pushing those things (and it's a nearly three-hour job), and while the machines are motorized, a newbie like myself definitely felt all of that weight. These machines provide an eighth of an inch cut, so they are checked every day to ensure they are working properly. It also requires the mower to make sure no stray pebbles or sticks are on the surface. Such fine blades can be damaged by even the smallest debris.
I'll be honest – this scared me to death because of how important the greens are for any golf course, especially one with the status of Brown Deer. I had to raise the mower at the precise right moment near the collar so as not to shave down that taller grass around the green. I then also had to set it down at the exact right moment coming back.
I also had to make sure to keep the blades on the ground, which sounds ridiculous, but that machine is heavy, and I had the "death grip" on it, as Wegner said. When that happens, the mower can sort of lean back on the handle, which could leave miniscule "mohawks" of tall grass. And on a green, that's a huge no-no.
You also have to mow in a certain pattern, which is predetermined on a chart in the maintenance building. That day's cut was right-to-left and honestly, I just assumed I was going in the right direction because no one yelled at me otherwise.
This was not fun for me – I was totally paranoid that I was going to leave a huge scar across the putting surface. But, I definitely gained a greater respect for the care and skill of those who do this daily. As Wegner said, it looks a lot easier from afar than it really is.
But that's not all the attention the greens get, leading me to ...
Job 3: Rolling the greens
I met up with Andy to jump on this roller which is as fun as it looks. It takes some getting used to as you drive sideways and use both feet to run the machine, and you have to have some forearm strength to steer, but it's pretty fun to zoom around on this thing.
Now, I wasn't "zooming" necessarily – I saw Andy on a green earlier and that dude can move – but you can't really hurt anything with the roller because it just flattens the grass, which adds about a foot and a half of speed to the surface. The one thing that an operator needs to know is that you can get stuck on some of the undulations, so if you get on the wrong side of a hill, you'll need to get off and push it back onto a flatter area.
Job 4: Fairway mowing
Wegner said they'd ideally like to mow fairways later in the afternoon with drier grass, just so that the clippings disperse naturally. But, in the mornings or on wetter days, workers with blowers will trail the mowers to blow the clippings away.
The mowers only go four miles an hour make sure all the grass is cut, and as Wegner said, it's important to do it right because it's the showpiece of the hole as a player looks out from the tee box. The driver also needs to know where the blades on the mower line up, so as not to accidentally scar up the rough or the edge of the fairway, like I did here in the practice area (yes, practice area):
Yeah, that wasn't a good one – which is why I just worked on that area of the property as opposed to the one golfers play on.
There is another, larger mower, that is 16-feet wide and is pulled behind a tractor that mows the rough.
On a good day, that machine can mow around 80 acres.
This is also a huge time commitment, especially because a fairway mower will be out there during play. If they see a player on a hole, they need to pick up the blades and move into the trees – and perhaps even cut the engine depending on how close they are to the player. Two people out on the course cutting fairways takes around four hours.
These are the most time consuming and important jobs Wegner does – and he does do them.
"He's out there," head pro Scott Evans said. "He gets his hands dirty every day."
But, that's not all that's done. Wegner and his crew also makes sure to trim the grass around the yardage markers in the fairways, re-paint them and the ball washers, change out the garbage, move the tee markers, not to mention the daily maintenance and cleaning of the equipment.
"It's the little things," Wegner said. "Would most people notice? No. But if it adds up, you do."
I've been around the game of golf for over a decade, covering it from – what I thought – all angles. Jumping into Wegner's shoes for the day was eye-opening. As an avid player, I've always appreciated what a superintendent and his crew does to make a course playable, but I now have gained a deeper respect for their work, and how hard it really is to make the game enjoyable.
"You're welcome back anytime," Wegner said on my way out the door.
After my day there, it was probably the greatest compliment I could have received.
Oh, and for comparison's sake, this is what the office looked like when I left:
Monday, July 28, 2014
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Many courses are still in the process of opening their greens for play following last winter’s catastrophic injury. One positive for courses that sustained winter injury is that many now have considerably more bentgrass in their greens than they did in the past. However, cutting heights are still elevated at many courses that suffered significant winter injury; therefore, playability will not reach the levels attained in recent, past seasons. Keeping cutting heights elevated for the season will help immature, new bentgrass survive. For courses that have significantly higher bentgrass populations, management programs should now be adjusted to promote and sustain healthy bentgrass through the summer.
If your course falls into this category, consider the following:
If your course falls into this category, consider the following:
- Tree work will be needed around many of the greens that now have higher bentgrass populations. The environment that sustained a bent/poa turf may not have enough light for bentgrass to be competitive. Bentgrass has a high light requirement and light penetration must be maximized at all times of year for it to have a fighting chance against annual bluegrass.
- Rethink your cultivation program. Remember that annual bluegrass is a winter annual and aerating or performing surface cultivation during the window of germination will promote annual bluegrass at the expense of newly established bentgrass.
- Creeping bentgrass got its name for a reason, it “creeps.” Using solid rollers, even at lower cutting heights, helps promote lateral growth. Periodic verticutting in the spring and early summer months also can promote more gains in bentgrass, but avoid frequent, aggressive treatments that cause constant wear injury. Constant wear injury tends to favor annual bluegrass.
- Keep wear injury in mind, particularly in lower light environments. Annual bluegrass is more wear-tolerant than bentgrass, and a high-wear program (e.g., frequent double cutting combined with frequent rolling) will likely do more harm to bentgrass than annual bluegrass.
- At many courses annual bluegrass remains the primary turf species on putting greens. This is largely a result of our ability to keep the weaker grass alive. Greens that are predominantly annual bluegrass require lots of inputs. If the specie composition of your turf has changed dramatically as a result of winter injury, rethink your management strategies. Many of our fungicide applications are targeted at diseases of annual bluegrass such as summer patch and anthracnose. If bentgrass populations are high enough, these diseases can control the grass you want to get rid of.
- Depending on how much new bentgrass you now have in your greens, other options to consider include annual bluegrass-suppressing growth regulator treatments this year and possibly forgoing seedhead suppression treatments next spring. Suppressing seed heads is good for playability, but it also makes annual bluegrass stronger which may not be in your best interest going forward.
In what really seems like a weekly event for us, we received another 1.75" of hard rain last night. Several cart path and bunker washouts are the result. We are repairing those this morning. We will be letting carts out, but just be careful in the traditional wet areas.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Monday, June 30, 2014
Are Your Soft Spikes Best For Golf Or Soccer?By Adam Moeller, agronomist, Northeast Region
June 25, 2014
|Surface smoothness no longer exists near this hole location thanks to aggressive soft spikes and a lack of player etiquette.|
Aggressive, soft spike golf shoes have also been a hot topic in recent weeks. Aggressive soft spikes can be very damaging to surface smoothness, especially when golfers drag their feet or twist while standing on putting greens. Damage from aggressive soft spikes has been particularly severe on young creeping bentgrass turf at golf courses recovering from winter injury. In some cases turf has actually been ripped out of the soil by golfers wearing soft spike golf shoes. Many superintendents are suggesting that modern shoes with aggressive soft spikes are more damaging than the old metal spikes that were commonplace 20-30 years ago. Golfer etiquette certainly plays a role in this discussion, but the aggressiveness of some soft spikes is overkill on certain shoes.
The cool weather coupled with ample rainfall this spring has made the rough challenging for mid- and high-handicap golfers at many courses. Increased mowing frequency and even plant growth regulators have been used to combat the rapid growth of rough. Lowering the mowing height may offer some relief, but this adjustment will also increase the turf’s susceptibility to drought stress so caution is advised.
Annual bluegrass weevil and anthracnose disease damage has been observed recently at courses throughout the region. Careful scouting for annual bluegrass weevils is very important to ensure insecticide applications are made when and where necessary. Golf course superintendents battling anthracnose disease should review the Golf Course Management article Best Management Practices for Anthracnose on Annual Bluegrass Greens and make adjustments to their management program as necessary. Increasing the mowing height, applying 0.1–0.125 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet every seven days, and light, frequent sand topdressing combined with regular fungicide applications are often the most impactful changes to combat an anthracnose outbreak.