Monday, October 20, 2014

Below are two articles about winter prep for a golf course. One is from the USGA the other is from Michigan State. I have highlighted in blue text that discusses mowing heights going into winter. For us one of the key factors is when to stop mowing the turf in the fall. For us, right now is that time. My goal is to have the turf put all its energy into preparing itself for winter storing carbs and producing roots rather than preparing itself to withstand mowing. We are at a good place right now with our height and I feel comfortable with it. Things may get a bit shaggy out there, but the long term approach we are taking over- rides any short term playability right now.

Winter Preparation In Full Force

By Adam Moeller, agronomist, Northeast Region
October 1, 2014

Not only is creeping bentgrass a stronger species when tough winter weather occurs, it is a much stronger species during the summer. A deeper root system is one of the main benefits of creeping bentgrass compared to annual bluegrass.
As golfers enjoy the nice fall weather, golf course maintenance staffs throughout the Northeast Region are well underway with winter preparations. Severe winter injury occurred last year and many golf courses are doing as much as they can now to prevent similar damage. The Green Section Record article Winter Damage by USGA agronomist Keith Happ is an excellent reference for information on why putting greens experience injury and how to best limit future problems. Several common factors contributed to winter injury at golf courses this past year including:
  1. Damage was almost completely on cold-susceptible annual bluegrass (i.e. Poa annua). Minimal damage occurred on creeping bentgrass.
  2. Putting greens with limited surface drainage and/or areas where surrounding slopes funnel water onto putting greens were the most heavily damaged.
  3. Damage was the most severe in drainage paths.
  4. Shaded putting greens experienced the most turf loss from winter injury.
  5. Putting greens maintained at low cutting heights in the fall and late fall were more commonly and severely injured.
Given the common factors involved in the damage, many courses are trying to focus on the controllable variables listed above. For instance, many courses have already begun gradually raising their cutting heights on putting greens. There are many factors that impact ball roll and green speed, and cutting height is certainly a major factor. However, the turf grows slower in the fall so this should offset most changes in green speed. Many courses learned the hard way last year that ultra-fast green speed throughout the fall does have serious consequences when harsh winter weather develops.
Tree removal to increase sun exposure is always beneficial to the turf, especially where significant shade exists. Tree removals are often controversial, so many courses wait until late fall to cut trees down to minimize the controversy. Unfortunately, removing trees in November will not help the turf prepare for this winter so immediate action may be necessary. Trees can make for nice features on golf courses, but when they create shade on putting greens they should be removed. This is particularly true for creeping bentgrass greens.
A few courses have even decided to rebuild or resurface their putting greens to avoid a repeat of the severe damage observed this year. While better surface drainage and a completeconversion to creeping bentgrass does not completely eliminate the potential for winter injury, these steps constitute the best insurance policy possible.

Preparing golf course turf for winter

Now is the time to prepare golf course turfgrass for surviving the upcoming winter.

In some cases, winterkill mirrors shade patterns. Photo credit: Kevin Frank, MSU
In some cases, winterkill mirrors shade patterns. Photo credit: Kevin Frank, MSU
The winter of 2013-2014 shattered weather records and Poa annua putting greens. Ice cover that endured from early January through mid-March was a significant factor in causing winterkill, but there were certainly situations where crown hydration freeze injury or even desiccation injury on exposed sites also caused damage. With winter on the horizon, there is plenty of discussion on what to do now and what to do during winter to minimize the risk of winterkill.


Following last winter, it was clear that any turf that was weak or simply not as healthy was exposed and killed. In many instances, the winterkill patterns mirrored shade patterns on greens. Turfgrass growing in the shade is simply not as healthy as turfgrass growing in full sunlight. To compound the problem, trying to reestablish damaged greens in the shade resulted in longer recovery time than greens recovering in full sunlight. Improving sunlight penetration to greens by removing or thinning tree canopies will improve turfgrass health and ultimately may improve the odds of turfgrass surviving winterkill events.


Covers are not widely used throughout Michigan, especially southeast Michigan. There are probably several reasons including cost, storage, lifespan and unpredictable winter weather. Last winter was extreme with ice, snow and cold temperatures. The winter of 2012, if it’s remembered at all, is remembered for the mild temperatures that resulted in golf being played almost all winter long.
Keep in mind that all covers are not the same. The permeable covers that were purchased by many golf courses this spring provided a tremendous advantage in reestablishment, but will not provide absolute protection in the winter from thick ice cover. Permeable covers will certainly provide some buffer or protection from low temperatures and desiccation and should be used if available, but if this winter delivers another dose of lengthy ice cover, permeable covers can’t be counted on to prevent damage.
Impermeable covers will protect the turf from ice cover damage, but are not necessarily a panacea for all your winter worries. Impermeable covers need to be “tucked down” tightly to the surface to prevent any water from getting under the cover. Impermeable covers will prevent gas exchange with the atmosphere, so in that respect they actually mirror thick ice sheets. Venting (exchanging air under the cover) impermeable covers throughout winter reduces the risk of anoxia developing under the cover.
To use or not use covers, especially impermeable covers, can be a hotly debated topic. Ultimately, the golf course superintendent is the person that should make the decision. After all, no person knows the golf course, the environment and the turf better.
Turf covers
Covers can be used for winter protection and reestablishment. Photo credit: Kevin Frank, MSU

Snow mold and covers

It is important to remember that greens covers act similar to snow cover when it comes to snow mold activity. The covers provide the same environmental conditions for the development of snow mold as the snow does. So if greens covers are placed on the greens in November and not removed until March, they will create the same environmental conditions for the development snow mold as golf courses in northern Michigan experience where snow covers the turf for three or more months.
It is important that adequate levels of snow mold fungicides be applied to protect the turf for three or more months if covers will be used for this length of time. This usually means applying three-way fungicide combinations at full label rates.
Microdochium patch will occur throughout the fall. It is most active when the temperatures are in the 60s and combined with wet weather. Therefore, it is important to make fungicide applications throughout the fall to prevent Microdochium patch from developing. If Microdochium patch is active at the time the covers are placed on the greens, it will continue to develop under the covers in spite of any fungicide applications.

Winter snow and ice removal: To remove or not to remove?

This question might make the cover debate seem tame. Should you remove snow and ice and if so, when should you start? Last year was an anomaly with thick ice sheets that were in place for 90 days or greater in many areas. Although some courses have been successful with removing snow throughout the winter, this may not be feasible for some courses due to either lack of personnel or snow moving equipment.
Instead of being concerned with removing snow from the first event to the last, consider developing a removal strategy that targets ice duration and snowmelt that could lead to crown hydration freeze injury. For example, if ice forms and is in place for greater than 30 days, I would definitely make attempts to remove. For crown hydration freeze injury, Michigan State University Extension recommends to consider removing snow in late February/early March prior to anticipated snowmelt.
Snow removal
Removing snow from a putting green. Photo credit: Eric Davey

Surface drainage

The key to preventing or reducing the incidence of crown hydration freeze injury is good drainage. For putting greens that lack adequate surface drainage, consideration may even be given to recontouring greens that are annual victims of crown hydration injury. Less dramatic measures include cutting cup cutter-sized holes in poorly draining areas and filling the cores with gravel or sand to try and move the water away from the surface. Another more common tactic is to cut sod strips from greens to facilitate water movement off the greens once snowmelt begins.
Stripping sod
Help the melt by stripping sod to hasten surface drainage. Photo credit: Adam Garr

Cultural practices – let it grow!

Fall is prime time for cultural practices to improve turfgrass health. In addition to core aeration and fall fertilization, consideration should be given to raise mowing heights as fall progresses. Higher mowing heights won’t save the turf alone if winterkill is again an issue, but it could certainly be a factor in producing a healthier plant and if you think back, how many putting greens had winterkill, but the collar had no damage? Granted, the greens aren’t going to look like collars going into winter, but maybe even a slight increase in height might help.
Dr. Frank’s work is funded in part by MSU’s AgBioResearch.

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 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

A golf course is a living thing, with insects, weather, grasses and trees all affecting how it plays on a given day. All of those things, and a host of others, must be managed daily by that course's superintendent to make it playable – and aesthetically pleasing – for the golfer. To work it requires a long day, with a lot of duties.
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:

Tags: shift switch, golf course, superintendent, brown deer golf course, scott evans, tim wegner, lake park golf course,

Monday, July 28, 2014


Golf Course Superintendent
Wahconah CC

Thursday, July 24, 2014

From the USGA: Bentgrass establishment

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:
  • 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.
The winter injury many courses sustained has been painful, but it also provided many with an opportunity to establish bentgrass in greens that formerly had very little. However, getting the bentgrass established is only step number one. Now management programs need to be adjusted to favor bentgrass, which could mean not working as hard to keep annual bluegrass alive or perhaps actively trying to suppress it.


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

Storm damage

One small piece of storm damage from last nights wind. This is the right side of 15 at about 125 yards. 

Golf Course Superintendent
Wahconah CC