18 February 2015

The Curious Case of #11 Green

When 2014 began, removing a tree near #11 green wasn't even on our radar.  It was born out of necessity, after the newly established bentgrass began suffering from the rigors of daily mowing and play.

Here are some facts about #11 Green:
  • Prior to July 2014, it was our most densely shaded green.
  • Only received approximately 4 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Our shallowest rooted green prior to reestablishment.
  • Worst green for ball mark recovery.
  • One of our smallest greens.  Foot traffic on and off the green is concentrated in two locations.
  • Toughest green to keep alive in the summer.
Our theory is that pre-Polar Vortex, the original green had adapted to its shaded environment.  #11 green has always been one of our poorest performers in terms of turf quality.  Root depth has always been shallow, and the green was nearly 100% poa annua.  Handwatering every couple hours in the heat of the summer to replenish the upper soil moisture level was a necessity in keeping the green alive.  Despite all these limitations, the turf on #11 survived.  It just never thrived.  Surviving 70 days under ice was out of the question, though.  #11 succumbed to the Polar Vortex in 2014.

After re-establishing the green, one thing was almost immediately obvious: the new bentgrass was not responding well to our cultural practices.  Higher mowing heights on #11 green were the norm because it would not tolerate being cut at the same height as the other greens, resulting in inconsistencies in ball roll distance.  The wear seemed to directly follow the hole locations, and along the edges of the green where our equipment turning is concentrated.

Wear pattern around the hole on #11 green on July 8, 2014.  Just two weeks after the green re-opened.

Bentgrass requires sunlight to do well on putting surfaces.  For a green to perform to our standards, it needs to receive 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.  #11 green was getting about half of that.  The oak tree growing directly east of #11 green was shading the green until noon in the middle of the summer.  The bentgrass wasn't receiving enough sunlight during the day, resulting in decreased energy production and a lesser ability to recover from daily mowing and play.

#11 green at 11:15am in the early part of July.  The detriments of turf grown in shade are many.

It became evident that unless the tree was removed, we would have a problem keeping healthy bentgrass on #11 green maintained to the level our membership expects.  Thankfully, the Greens Committee and Board were understanding of the difficult situation we were in, and they voted to have the tree removed per our recommendations.

Since the tree was removed, the improvement in the quality of turf on #11 green has been (pardon the pun) like night and day.  The turf began growing more vigorously, was much more tolerant of our cultural practices such as mowing, rolling, and topdressing, and was better withstanding foot traffic from regular play.  We saw improvements in density, color, and vigor.  We even saw an improvement in ball mark recovery.

Differences in sunlight before and after oak tree removal.  Both photos taken at 10:30AM three days apart.

We never expected to have to deal with a problem like this when the year began, but then again, 2014 was no ordinary year for us.

A view of the ice smothering #11 green in February 2014.  Winter shade was a contributor to our inability to melt the ice.  Extreme low temperatures also played a major role.

Shade slowed our recovery efforts too.  Grass needs light to grow!

If you still have a thirst for knowledge, here are a couple links for some independent reading, if you are so inclined:

In his book "Management of Turfgrass Diseases," Dr. Joseph Vargas makes mention that without receiving morning sun, bentgrass will not survive.  Go to page 218.

This research article in Golf Course Management magazine comes to many of the same conclusions as Dr. Vargas, and also recommends that trees excessively shading bentgrass greens be removed to improve the quality of the turf: Click here and select "Go to link":

The information is out there and it is plentiful!

11 February 2015

Our Blog's Story

Two years ago, I was wandering the expansive trade show floor at the Golf Industry Show in San Diego when I stumbled upon a congregation of people packed into the Aquatrols booth, listening to what looked like CBS Sports analyst Bill Cowher shouting into a bullhorn.  

As I approached, I realized a couple of things.  First, this was a "Tweet Up," a gathering of social media butterflies all meeting together in the real world instead of hiding anonymously behind their tablets and monitors.  Secondly, that guy shouting into the bullhorn wasn't Bill Cowher, but it was his doppelganger: Pat Jones, Publisher and Editorial Director of Golf Course Industry Magazine.  Pat was handing out awards to these people, who were being recognized as being some of the best in our industry at using various forms of social media to communicate.

It's fair to say, leaving the Golf Industry Show that year I was motivated to go home and take this blog to the "next level."  Like many in the turfgrass industry, I initially patterned my blog after Steve Cook's of Oakland Hills Country Club (  Over time, my blog developed its own personality, grew legs, and kind of took off in its own direction.  But make no mistake, guys like Steve Cook showed guys like me "the way".  A new way to communicate golf course conditions to the membership.  Having the right information in one place for all the members to see was a brilliant way to help educate and also quell the rumor mill in the locker room.  As a wise man once told me, "If the information isn't available, members will fill in the blanks for you."
Every blog begins with a single post...
But what was "next level" blogging?  I didn't quite know the answer, but in May 2013 the answer found me.  While volunteering at The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass, I saw Sam Bauer  from the University of Minnesota attaching a miniature camera to a rotary mower.  I had questions.  Turns out the camera was something called a "GoPro" and it took high resolution pictures and videos.  The camera was extremely versatile, could be mounted almost anywhere, and came enclosed in a waterproof housing.  

As soon as I returned home, I bought a GoPro and immediately set to work at Plum Hollow.  My initial videos were more or less test videos, and my team were my lab rats, but I realized the potential of the GoPro as a means to communicate to our membership "what it takes to get the job done."  Over time, the videos grew a pretty good following, brought people to our blog, and got people all over the world talking about Plum Hollow and the work we're doing here.  Today, there's a lot of superintendents making videos for their members in part because of what they've seen here on this blog and YouTube channel.

Early video production beginnings.

The outpouring of support from the turf industry was something I never expected, and it was extremely flattering.  In February 2014, I was notified that I would be receiving a Social Media Award from Golf Course Industry in the category of Multimedia.  Being recognized by your peers is a truly humbling experience, and one that I didn't take lightly.  It inspired me as much as some people have said that I inspire them.  I feel like the quality of my videos got better in 2014, and as our YouTube following grows, I feel a responsibility to keep producing a high quality product for the world to enjoy.  If there's one thing I've learned this past year, it's that passion is infectious, and there are a lot of extremely talented and passionate people in this industry.  We truly drive each other.

Thank you, GCI and Aquatrols!
And to everyone who nominated me!
Yesterday, I received notice that our blog is being recognized for "Best Blog" at the Golf Course Industry Tweetup 2015.  As someone who aspired from a young age to grow up to be a writer, this news really means a lot, and it is difficult to put into words.  Call it writer's block. Or maybe I'm trying not to get choked up.

In the past year, I have really worked to balance my blog in the same way I have tried to balance my life.  I have always wanted it to be more than, "here's what we're doing at Plum Hollow today."  My vision has always been to have the blog be a reflection of me, and of my team.  To humanize the people who work so tirelessly and so hard to please the membership from sunrise to sunset, every day of the year.  I have never shied away from the "taboo" subjects like tree removals or golfer etiquette.  I have written about life balance for the superintendent, because it's a subject that I hold near and dear to my heart, and I have learned the hard way that there is more to life than a golf course.  I have always been the type to wear my heart on my sleeve, and I think that emotion comes out in my writing, and might help explain how in the last four years this blog has received more than 120,000 page views.

So a big round of "thanks" is in order.  Thank you to Steve Cook, who led the way for guys like me.  Thank you to Sam Bauer, who showed me new ways to communicate that I never thought were possible before.  Thank you to Golf Course Industry and Aquatrols, for your recognition and for promoting our work.  A big thanks to Pat Jones in particular, who from the very beginning saw the value in what I'm trying to do here with this blog, and has helped guide me both professionally and personally in the past year.  Thank you to my membership, who regularly follow my blog and give me feedback, both positive and negative.  This feedback has made me a better superintendent, and more importantly, a better communicator over the years.  I have a lot of pride in Plum Hollow and the work we do for you, and I hope it shows.

But my biggest thanks is reserved for you, the person reading this right now.  Some of you are new here.  Others have been here from the beginning.  But all of you have been a source of my inspiration and strength over the years.  YOU inspire ME.

03 February 2015

Snow Covered -- And Staying That Way!

We just lived through the third biggest snowstorm in Metro Detroit history.  Detroit saw 16.7" of snow in a 24-hour period.  How is the course doing?  It's under there somewhere!

We have a good 14" of fresh powder on our greens.  Which isn't a concern for us, because we made sure we got all the ice off when we had the chance before this snow came.  The threat of ice encasement--which caused damage to our greens last year--is becoming slimmer the further we get into February.

It is very likely we won't see our greens again until March.  We will remain "hands off" on the greens unless the forecast forces us to reevaluate things.  The next seven days look cold.  Very cold.  So the snow stays on.

It was definitely one for the record books!

All that snow had to go somewhere.  The parking lot took 2 days to fully plow.

Had to bring out the "big guns" for this push!

Drifting snow near #10 green.  Up to 36" in spots.

The golf course tour was a quick one today.  No shoe shoes meant it was a struggle!

28 January 2015

Poa Patrol

Winter is a busy time for us.  The greens require constant monitoring since the type of grass we have, poa annua, is very susceptible to fluctuating temperatures and ice cover.  We have had a little bit of ice this year, but thankfully due to our efforts we are clear now.

Why do we snowblow?
* Is there ice on the greens?  If yes, then we will remove snow and make every effort to remove the ice.
* Is there a warmup expected?  If yes, we will clear snow to reduce chance of ice forming from the melt.
* Is there more snow expected in forecast?  We may snowblow if more snow is expected, to reduce the overall amount of snow on the greens.  Too much snow and our equipment will not be able to move it.
If there is no ice, and no immediate warmup expected, then we are completely "hands off."

How do we remove ice?
Ice can kill our greens if present for more than 30 days.
* If we have ice on the greens, we will blow the snow off to allow sunlight to get to the ice.
* We can speed the melting process by applying black sand or an organic black fertilizer to the ice.
* In the past, we have used aerators to remove ice mechanically as seen below:

What are the 3 S's of Winter?
* Snowblower, shovel, squeegee.  These three tools are our best friends in the winter.  Preventing ice from forming is our most important job.  Clearing snow to reduce meltwater, popping ice with shovels, and squeegeeing water from the surface reduce the chances of damage to our poa annua greens in the spring.

26 January 2015

Anything Goes in Wintertime

We are no strangers to pulling out all the stops when it comes to removing ice on our greens.  On sunny days in the winter, it is common for some melting to occur.  A few of our greens have low areas that will collect water in the winter because the ground is frozen and won't allow the water to drain through.  In January, this water will freeze and turn into ice that can hang around for a while, putting us at risk of ice encasement (suffocation) injury.  In late winter, these areas are likely to freeze and thaw repeatedly and the turf can be damaged via crown hydration.

We go to great lengths to prevent standing water on our greens in the wintertime.  Reliable surface drainage is critical to avoid melting snow and rain from freezing on the greens surface overnight.  Despite our efforts to improve surface drainage, there are times when even that is not enough.  

We've been using a standard shop vac powered by a generator to remove water from the low areas of our greens for several years, and this setup works better than any squeegee we've ever used.  Squeegees are faster and work great to push off large amounts of water, but they don't get everything, and what gets left behind almost always ends up back in the low areas and refreezes.  But with our shop vac setup, we are able to get virtually all the water off the greens surface and avoid ice altogether.  It even works over the top of the covers.

Anything goes in the wintertime.  And we are willing to try anything if it means saving our greens from injury.