31 July 2014

The Invite

The biggest week of the year is here!  And so far, our team is meeting the challenge with focused determination. The week began with a severe thunderstorm on Sunday that resulted in every bunker being severely washed out. By Tuesday, very little evidence remained that anything had ever happened. A lot of work went into the greens this week, and they are rolling incredibly. As a superintendent, I am extremely proud of my team and the effort they've shown this week. It's great to see a plan come together!  Everyone is taking that little extra step to make our club really shine this week.

25 July 2014

Invite Ready

A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to get Plum Hollow into shape for the Men's Invitational, our biggest tournament of the year. Our team sacrifices sleep and sanity to push the greens and the golf course to the limit, all to provide the players with the absolute best playing conditions possible. In the past, the bulk of the detailing work came the week of the tournament. In these economic times, working with a tighter budget and shorter staff, we have to work smarter--and harder.  Our Invitational prep now begins two or three weeks ahead of the tournament, getting all the tiny details into place.  Hats off to our hard working, dedicated staff who largely remains in the shadows this whole week.

15 July 2014

Lest We Forget

It's easy to forget about the winter of 2014 now that summer is in full swing.

Not so for your team at the PHCC Greens Department.

We would like to take this moment to remind you of how far we've truly come.  It took a lot of hard work and sacrifice by a lot of good people to get Plum Hollow looking, feeling, and most importantly, playing like a golf course again.

Sure, it looks great now...

Entire Greens were lost.

Over 5 acres of fairways needed to be reestablished.

The cold spring did not aid in recovery.

Even the rough took a beating this winter.

The recovery took time and a dedicated team.
Never forget the Winter of 2014!

12 July 2014


I want to borrow Broadway Joe's pronunciation of the word "struggling" during an awkward interview he had with ESPN a few years ago, because that is exactly what is happening to #11 Green right now.  No matter how you say it, this green is struggling in every sense of the word.  Every time I walk this green, I find Joe Namath's drunken voice ringing in my head.  It's really the only word that best describes the condition this green is in.  "Sta-rug-al-ing."

Here are some quick facts about #11 Green:

*Faces north, away from direct sunlight
*One of our smallest greens, with few pin locations
*Generally the most ball marks of any green
*Driest soil structure, so a challenge to maintain moisture in the summer
*Our most shaded green; absolutely no morning sunlight
*Snow was removed all winter but due to lack of sun, we could not melt the ice
*Green was over 90% dead from winterkill
*Very little poa annua has returned following the winterkill event
*First green seeded in April; last green to re-open in June.  Toughest green to recover.
*Our weakest of all the recovering greens

We seeded #11 green to bentgrass in early April.  Almost immediately, we realized this green's recovery was lagging behind the rest of the greens.  And now, despite every agronomic weapon in our arsenal, we are having a difficult time keeping this green healthy.

Why is this?  The answer is simple: SUNLIGHT.  #11 green receives very little sun, and almost zero morning sun, which is when the plants are harvesting the sun's rays to complete vital metabolic processes.  Morning sun is extremely important to our greens.  The lack of sunlight results in a weaker plant.  A weaker plant cannot withstand as much traffic, will not tolerate our daily maintenance activities (mowing and rolling), and becomes much more susceptible to diseases that will kill it.

Bentgrass needs sun to flourish.  And seeing that #11 green is mostly bentgrass now, we need to get more sun on this green's surface, and soon.

Already, our attempts to make #11 roll consistent to the other greens have proven detrimental to this green's health.  Last week, following a busy weekend and the U.S. Amateur Qualifier, the green began showing signs of decline.  We switched away from a triplex mower back to a walk mower to alleviate some of the mechanical stress put on the green.  This did little to improve the situation.  Beginning today, we stopped all maintenance activities to this green to give it every chance to heal.  It has been heavily fertilized and we want it to grow.  And grow.  And grow.  The last thing we want to do is close it and cut another temporary green in the fairway.  So with that being said, this green will be much slower than the rest of the greens.  We simply can't do what we want to with it right now.

Still, this does little to solve the lingering problem: shade.  I have been busy lobbying since the winter to remove some of the large trees around our greens that are detrimental to the health of our greens.  One such tree is the large oak approximately 30 feet east of #11 Green.  This single tree shades the entirety of this green until 11:30 in the morning, every day.  The removal of this tree will dramatically improve the health of the green, without question.  The tree is beautiful, but it is overgrown and planted in the wrong place.  It needs to come out.

In the coming weeks we have a lot of events scheduled including our Member-Member tournament and our Men's Invitational.  Until those events, we will be "baby-ing" #11 Green, by alternating mowing and rolling, increasing fertilizer inputs, interseeding with new bentgrass, and reducing maintenance activities that will injure the existing bentgrass.

As I said in an earlier blog post, this is truly a "recovery year" after such a record-breaking winter.  The scars of that winter are still evident on #11 Green, and will continue to be there for quite some time.

Record snowfall this past winter.  #11 was a challenge to clear off!
This is what we found underneath all that snow.  Over 2" thick ice.  Never enough warmth or sun to melt the ice on #11 Green.  You could have literally ice skated on it.
This is #11 Green in April.  Not much to work with.  The ice almost took everything.

Here's a close-up of the green after verticutting.  Not much life there!
Recovery was slow.  But considering our starting point and the terrible spring weather, nothing short of impressive!

When the green opened in mid-June, we were impressed with the rooting depth and felt good it could withstand daily play and routine maintenance practices.

After a busy weekend and two tournaments this week, #11 Green started on a downward spiral.  This is not disease.  This is wear from all the play, and mowing and rolling daily.  The lack of sunlight affects the green's ability to recover from all this.
Our focus is now 100% on maintaining healthy turf, not green speed or consistency.  Had to get creative with pin placements, too, as the green is so small and the healthiest grass is on the ridge.

The oak nearest #11 green is the culprit.  This tree all by itself shades #11 green until 11:30AM.  It needs to go!

21 June 2014

The Reason Why

A lot of our members might not understand the "Course Closed" sign when they show up, clubs in hand, when the sun is shining at 4PM.  It's the Plum Hollow version of "Murphy's Law."  A horrible storm in the morning is almost always followed by beautiful, perfect golf weather in the afternoon.  I have personally heard all the statements in the opening of this video.  Our course does drain, but it usually requires 24 hours to be safe for carts again.

This past week, we received so much rain that the only way to access the back of the golf course was across #5 bridge--everything else was flooded out.

Our old push-up greens were built to hold water, and as the video above illustrates, there's always a lot of water puddling on the surface after a heavy rain.  Deep tine aeration will help with drainage and correct soil laying issues, but it will not solve the problem 100%.  The only way to fix the problem would be installing new drainage into the greens. 

I made this video to help show you what we're dealing with, and to make you appreciate the scope of the cleanup effort necessary afterwards.