Thursday, March 1, 2018

Course Notes, 3/1/18

Happy March to everyone!  With the bright sunshine and warmer temperatures we have experienced in the last week, the greener sights of turf have brought the beginning to the golf season much closer.  Over the last few days, all of the 15" of snow cover disappeared and 5.25" of rain fell on top of it.  That created almost 7 inches of water that had no where to go given our partially frozen soils in the area, thus creating many of the flooding problems experienced here in Elkhart County.  All 4 of the ponds on course over spilled their banks into their respective fairway.  The course had 3 main areas of flooding that took about a week to subside, pictured below.  Also, the rain garden overflowed attempting to handle all the runoff from the east side of the course, creating a temporary stream from our maintenance facility that flowed all across the course into 3 pond!  The soils in these areas are still quite moist. 
Snow melt/rain from rain garden
The valley on #8 2/22/18
12 fairway, 2/22/18

Many of you ask each year when the golf course will be available for play, and I thought I would discuss the two main variables that go into answering that question.

  1. The ground must be completely thawed out.  This is for two reasons.  One, there is no path for melting snow to drain down if the ground is frozen.  The water either stands on the surface (or percolates down really slow) or runs off of slopes to any low area.  Two, excess machine and foot traffic on frozen ground can lead to root shearing on turf plants, which leads to poor turf quality and a longer window for the turf to green up.  Currently there is not any frost in the ground, which is a good thing for the beginning of the season and our course clean up efforts.
  2. The soils are mostly to completely dry and firmed up.  This is self explanatory.  Wet soils lead to damage from machine traffic and compaction.  Playing surfaces also need a period of time to allow proper drainage so we can begin to work them into the firm surfaces you are accustomed to.  This is the position the golf course is waiting on right now.  
While soils are firming up, the staff and I have begun course clean up efforts.  All of the tree debris is being collected, and on drier days, leaf litter will be blown and collected.  Playing surfaces will be mowed or rolled on an as needed basis, given the slower growing conditions and our current staffing levels.  The USGA has published a couple great articles further explaining the factors in opening for early play, which you can read here and here.  

The staff and I have focused our attention on other projects while we waited for conditions to improve outside.  The US 20 sign has been refurbished, complete with a new color scheme that adds a new pop to all those who drive by it each day.  A special thanks to Greg Stump for his artistic efforts on this sign.  We also have about 30 stumps to grind, mainly along the clubdrive.  Depending on the location, these areas will be either be sodded or seeded after clean up is finished and topsoil is added to the hole. 
The new sign along US 20

Another large focus of our department this spring will be where the old pool locker rooms were located.  This area will be transformed into a beautiful landscaped area that will add pop to your experience at the Elcona pool.  Currently we have been filling the area with sub soil in preparation for the first retaining wall to be installed.  I will have more frequent updates on this project as it moves along. 
New concrete retaining wall poured January 2018

Soil is off loaded from our truck, and pushed down the hill

Rough grade for the first retaining wall being dug
Rough grade established
Spring is near, and with that golf is near too.  We will keep you abreast on the latest course conditions, and open as soon as the conditions allow.  If you have any questions, please email me at  Have a great week!


Friday, January 12, 2018

Course Notes, 1/12/18

5 green up close
5 green on January 11
Happy New Year to everyone reading the blog!  2018 has started out quite cold with exception to yesterday's quick thaw.  Although reality has sat back in today with a quick hitting ice and snow event, yesterday gave me a chance to evaluate the golf course and grounds.  Except for an active mole near the practice facility, I am happy to report no issues on the course.  The Poa on the greens looks great, and there is still quite a bit of protective sand around the crown of the plant.  Bowser has even enjoyed our course inspections the last few days. 

Winter work on our department consists of four main areas:  Snow removal, equipment maintenance, course marker maintenance, and tree work.  Since you probably are aware how much it has snowed at Elcona so far this year, let me update you on what the staff and I have been up to these last few weeks in regards to the latter three areas:

Much of our equipment maintenance happens in the months of January and February.  All of our mower reels and rotary blades are sharpened for the upcoming season, and routine maintenance like oil and fluid flushes are performed as well.  The second picture shows our Equipment Manager, Steve Ott, using a torch to heat and remove a failing bearing and cup from one of the rollers on a fairway unit. 

On an important side note, the 2018 season marks the beginning of Steve's 39th year of service at Elcona.  His dedication, knowledge, and ingenuity to the club and our department is utterly invaluable and I am quite thankful to work along side him each day here and call him a teammate.  In the spring, if you see him out and about on the golf course, please stop and thank him. 

The staff also does a wonderful job refurbishing all of the various markers and supplies you may utilize out in your round of golf.  The brass fairway markers are taped, and 2 coats of black paint are applied, followed by tape removal and 2 coats of clear coat to give it a glossy shine.  The tee markers in the background are sanded down, re-stained, and given a coat of spar urethane to prevent the elements from damaging them.  All other course supplies, like ball washers and litter baskets are touched up as well to provide a great look for the upcoming season. 

Finally, our tree work is coming along quite nicely.  The list is much smaller this year compared to previous years, with an continued emphasis on turf health and aesthetic improvement.  Our staff is also concentrating on trimming several oak trees on select holes after tree removals have been completed. 

15 Colorado blue spruces were removed from the south side of the club drive last week.  These very large trees were removed due infection from Phomposis blight, a canker disease that has become more prevalent in the Midwest in the last few years.  The aesthetics of these trees had created a poorer aesthetic for members and guests entering the club.    In the spring, irrigation will be installed and the bare areas will be repaired with sod.  Michigan State has a great extension article on reasons on Spruce tree decline, which you can read more about here

This removal also is another demonstration of the planning that goes into the tree program.  Many years ago, a plan was developed to replace these trees with a group of Norway Spruce to better screen US 20.  As the Norway spruce behind them matured and further screened US 20, the Blue Spruces could be removed and not hinder the club with a view of US 20. 
Blue Spruces along the club drive
Tree service hauling them to flat ground for clean up.  Note the thinning lower branches.

Our staff dragging a spruce to flat ground for safer clean up.
The final look!


On Hole 15, the red maple closest to the cart path and Zimm's Creek was removed.  The turf in this area the last few years has become thinner and less playable for approach shots that land here.  The resulting removal will allow for drier, more playable shot attempts from that area. 
15 landing area before
15 landing area after

If you have any questions, please email me at  Please stay warm this month and I will have further updates on our activities on what is shaping to be another busy year for our department.  Have a great weekend! 


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Course Notes, 11/21/17

Our 2017 course winterization is now in full stride.  The pesky leaves are finally falling at a faster clip and each day brings us one day closer to having that time consuming process finished for the year. 

The irrigation system was successfully blown out and put to bed last week.  This process utilizes an industrial sized air compressor that fill the pipes with a high volume air flow at a lower pressure to flush out as much water from all piping and rotors as possible.  This process takes us about 2.5 days to complete and is one that I am happy to finish with no major issues!

Plant protectants have been applied to greens, tees, and the practice facility to help guard against snow mold infection.  Fairways and green surrounds will receive their application later this week or early next week, depending on the weather conditions. 

Finally, this coming Monday we will be applying our final topdressing to the putting surfaces.  This last application is a much heavier application than normal, and is not normally broomed in.  This is to maximize the protection and insulation the sand provides the Poa annua that is predominant on the greens at Elcona.  The above picture of 1 green shows what last year's application looked like after a rain event washed the sand further into the canopy.  The close up view with a microscope shows how the sand tightly protects the crowns of the plant from winter desiccation and cold temperatures. 

In our industry, we liken this final heavy application to putting a blanket on the greens and "tucking them in for the winter".  Bob Vavrek of the USGA has written a great article further explaining this application that you can access here

I hope that everyone has a very Happy Thanksgiving, as we all have so much to be thankful for.  Be safe in your holiday travels, and I hope to see you out at Elcona soon! 


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Course Notes, 10/29/17

October is almost over, and the leaves are starting to display their usual spectacular colors thanks in part to a warm, wet month.  The warmth also allowed us to have a successful aerification season and heal in all signs of it quite quickly.  There are still some great days in the forecast for you to enjoy your golf course, and we hope to see you out as we begin to tackle mulching all those beautiful leaves when they fall off of the trees.

As the lead picture of 18 green showed, we had our first frost last Thursday morning, or about 3 weeks later than normal.  The arrival of frosty mornings serves as a good reminder why we delay tee times when there is frost.

Frost is essentially frozen dew.  It can form when the temperature approaches near freezing.  The ice crystals that form on the outside of the plant can also harden or freeze the cellular structure of the plant.  When frost is present, the normally resilient plant cells become brittle and can be easily crushed internally or pierced like a knife from the outside ice crystals.  When these cell membranes are damaged, the plant loses its ability to function normally.  Think of this like cracking an egg: once the shell is broken, it cannot be put back together.

Average footprinting of a foursome on a green
Although damage will not be immediate, the proof will emerge within 48-72 hours as leaves turn brown and die.  As the picture left shows the typical foot traffic of a normal foursome on a green, damage could be extensive if played or mowed during frosty conditions.  Recovery from frost damage can take several weeks depending on weather.  For more information on frost delays, here is a link to a great USGA video explaining them. 

Drainage install on 17

The staff also installed a catch basin and drain tile along 17 fairway last week.  Through the year, this area opposite the fairway bunker had developed poor drainage conditions.  This catch basin will capture much of the water that collects and divert it into the rough.  We will also have our contractor deep tine this area to improve the water percolation of the soil November 6th.

Severe example of what winter can bring!
We also have begun the winterization of the golf course and turf.  On November 6th, we will begin to winterize the irrigation system, a process that takes about 3 days. We also will begin applications that will maximize turf health and protection from the severe winters that can visit our area.  For the greens, that entails the following:

Raising mower heights.   Throughout the next 3 weeks, I will raise the height of cut on greens from the normal height of .120" to .135" slowly.  Raising height of cut allows more leaf surface for the turf to maximize their photosynthetic capabilities and carbohydrate storage.  Raising height will also lessen stress to the plant and create a deeper root system going into winter.  While raising heights may not create the speeds that summer brings, it is best for the long term health of the greens going into winter.

Deep tine aerification
Aerification.  On November 6th, we have a contractor coming in to perform solid tine aerification to a depth of 10" on all greens.  These extra holes create three advantages:  additional channels for spring root growth, aid in relieving any deeper compaction within the rootzone soil profile, and extra drainage capabilities for ice/snow melt to prevent ice formation on the plant surfaces.  The greens are rolled immediately after being aerified, and these holes do remain open throughout the winter for the above mentioned reasons. 

Fertility and Plant Protectants.  While we limit nutrients on finely maintained turf during the season to provide great playing conditions, the fall is the best time to feed the turf to maximize carbohydrate storage going into winter.  The more carbs the plant stores, the quicker it will break dormancy when temperatures warm up in the spring.  Winter can also bring the threat of snow mold to all varieties of turf on the golf course, and our sprayers will be out applying plant protectants to help prevent infection from those fungal diseases.

1 green after heavy topdressing
Topdressing.  When growth has ceased for the year, we will apply a thick coating of sand topdressing to bury the crowns and as much leaf tissue as possible.  This sand helps protect and insulate the crown of the plant from any extreme cold temperatures.  This practice is very effective in protecting the turf from any potential ice damage and helps maintain a smooth surface when the course opens next year. 

If you have any questions, please email me at  Have a great week and I hope to see you out on the golf course!