Thursday, March 26, 2009

Drainage Headache

In an ideal world, we would swiftly move from one priority to the next, completing all of our golf course duties in an timely, routine fashion. This, of course, is how we strive to operate, but the myriad of changing factors and variables have a way of challenging us on a daily basis. This week... is no exception.

The golf course is home to miles and miles of underground drain lines of all shapes and sizes. This is because of our "convenient" location next to the East Diversion Ditch, which eventually empties just south of the Skokie Lagoons. This drainage network is essential for removing excess water from the Village of Glencoe and the golf course. Unfortunately, much of this drainage consists of decades-old clay tiles, which are beginning to show their age with cracks, deterioration, and collapses.

An example of a cracked and partially collapsed 24" clay tile line we repaired during the #17 cart path project in October 2007.

These lines can fail at anytime of the year, and when they do, soil falls into the pipe through breaks or openings and washes away, creating a "sink hole" effect. You may recall a couple of these sunken areas on #18, #7, and #6 fairways over the past couple of years.

Repair on a 4 foot-deep tile on #7 fairway from summer 2007

Repair on these lines is indeed a necessary task, but one that takes away from other priorities and renders little progress on the golf course. The job generally takes 2 guys roughly 1.5-2 days to complete, and involves digging a rather deep hole, replacing the broken pipe (or sealing gaps as shown below), backfilling, and stitching the sod back in place.

This is the second repair this week on a 12" line on #6. Fortunately, there was no break, only a leaky bell fitting which was fixed with a foam sealer.

We expect and are prepared for more breaks to occur as time goes on. They tend to appear following rainfalls and may be show up smaller than a football in size, or as a gaping sink hole. Either way, rest assured we will fix them as soon as we possibly can.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tree Management Part I - Pruning

The calendar shows that its spring, but we still have a little winter work to complete, namely winter tree pruning. Actually, we’re very near completion of this annual work and we thought it would be an appropriate time to pass along some information about this very important activity. The majority of the actual pruning work is done by a professional arborist service (Nels Johnson Tree Care) who’s well qualified and experienced climbers have been pruning our trees at Skokie for a very long time. The Grounds Staff effort with this activity involves gathering the dropped branches and then loading and hauling to an area where we then assist with chipping.

Below: Nels Johnson climbers pruning a silver maple behind #3 green.

Above: Pruning limbs and debris clean up between #14 and #17.

Before we get into the benefits of pruning, we would like to discuss some background and dendrology.

We do most of our primary pruning activities in the dormant season for a these key reasons:
  • Viewing and evaluation of structural condition and signs of damage or disease, to determine pruning needs, are much easier when trees are leafless.
  • Climbing and actual pruning process is much easier and safer when trees are leafless.
  • Vascular fluid is inactive or motionless in dormant trees so the unsightly and insect and disease attracting “sap bleeding” is eliminated.
  • Volume of chipped branches is less and quality (for re-use potential) is best without leaves.
If you have ever seen arborists or climbers in trees with ropes and chainsaws, you may not have realized that there is a real "science" to their work. Just like most of the other procedures and practices that we carry out day to day, our tree management and winter pruning procedures, are based on the most current research.

Trees are active living organisms. Every living branch of a tree serves a purpose in maintaining the overall health of the tree. Branches serve a vital role by extending foliage out to the edge of the canopy where the leaves can photosynthesize. Energy that is captured by
the leaves, and converted into food sources, is then transported through the branch to other parts of the tree. When a live limb is removed a source of energy and food production is also lost. In turn, when a branch no longer provides energy in excess of its needs, the tree will isolate the branch and allocate its energy stores to other areas of the tree. This is why internal branches decline once they become shaded. A tree only survives by increasing or maintaining a positive energy production. Removing declining or dead limbs, does very little to disrupt the overall health of a tree, but can help a tree respond and recover better.

When a limb dies or starts to decline, a tree will attempt to create a blockade zone to prevent any infection from gaining entry to living tissue. This process is termed "compartmentalization". If an infection gets through this prevention zone the tree will be susceptible to decay organisms and potentially life threatening insects and diseases.

While the impact of decay may be minimal with a tree in the middle of the forest, it can create a hazardous situation when the tree is near valuable structures, or where people (golfers) are present. The potential for decay from a wound or pruning cut is significantly higher in fast growing trees like cottonwoods, willows, boxelders and silver maples. With these trees it is imperative that a pruning cut be made "correctly" to protect the zone of compartmentalization. Otherwise, the decline of the structural integrity of the tree will be rapid. While slower growing trees like oaks and hickory are more resistant to decay, correct pruning cuts can delay and even prevent the initiation and spread of infecting fungi.

Unlike a cut or wound on the human body, trees cannot create scabs over pruning cuts or
natural wounds. New tissue will eventually be created from where the live tissue remains, and in time this new tissue will “heal” the wound. But, unlike a scab, it will not heal the damage or infection. It will just grow over the damaged tissue, creating a weak point within the tree structure. The key to successful branch removal is to know where the zone of protection occurs and to keep it intact. This zone is termed the branch collar and contains active cells that will quickly grow over pruning cuts.

Years ago it was thought essential to apply pruning paint on, pruning cuts to deter insect and fungal activity, but research has shown little if any value in this regard. It can be useful if large branches need to be removed to improve visual appearance.

All of these concerns are taken into consideration by our pruning service. They are well trained, continue to obtain the latest in arboriculture research and they are like skilled surgeons, knowing how and where to amputate limbs with the least impact on the health of the tree and its integrity.

The benefits of our annual pruning program are considerable:
  • Removes potentially hazardous dead, damaged, diseased, or split branches. *We do leave a few dead branches as well as a few dead trees (in out of play areas), for bird nesting and other wildlife. (Another blog topic in itself coming soon– The Life of a Dead Tree!)
  • Corrects structural defects such as crossed or rubbing branches, and weak, tight-angled crotches.
  • Improves health and vigor by promoting new more disease and insect resistant growth.
  • Selective thinning opens center of trees to improve air circulation and light penetration for not only the tree but for the turf areas below. Improves aesthetic quality of tree.
  • Lower growing limbs are pruned to prevent damage to mowing equipment, improve turf quality, open vistas, and allow for reasonable shot making.
  • General shaping improves aesthetics and contains growth where necessary to prevent shot blocking issues.
A properly pruned tree - American Elm #5

Nearly all trees benefit from light pruning and with our frequent windy storms it becomes necessary for us to get around the entire course regularly. It is expensive however and so we have the course divided into sections. It is about a 7-8 year process to complete the whole course at which time we start again.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Prairie Fire!

Temperatures warming, grass greening, birds singing, all rites of spring. Another one, for us, is native grass / naturalized grass area burning. The difference between native grass and naturalized grass is a topic in itself (...for a future blog), but for now the focus of this blog is the burning process and its benefits. I’ll refer to both grass areas as “tall grass”. Burning can be done in late fall or spring, but I believe spring is the best time, as the dried grasses are very attractive throughout winter and provide valuable habitat for wildlife.

Every year at about this same time the climatic conditions and tall rough grass conditions align to provide an ideal opportunity to burn. The plants need to be dry, the humidity needs to be low, the wind needs to be light, and our IL Dept. of Agriculture permit needs to be current!

Burning the native grasses (Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, & others) on #12 berm.

Yesterday and today these conditions were nearly perfect, and so we did conduct our controlled burning process. The above video shows the simple process of lighting the grasses with a large propane burner and then getting out of the path of the flames. It’s not always that easy, because we often need to rake up, or “fluff”, the grasses that have become compacted and occasionally beat out a runaway fire path. Also, it’s not always as fun as it looks, because a fair amount of smoke is inhaled, and by the end of the day, your face can feel a bit flame broiled! I must admit though, it is impressive how quickly the pure native grasses burn and how intense the heat is. The lightning-ignited tall grass prairies that once covered much of Illinois, must have been an amazing event.

The aftermath - well-done roughage (mounding between 4 & 11)

There are several benefits of Controlled Burning:
• Reduces the mass of dried plant material.
• Clears the plant canopy so new grasses can grow without competition.
• Improves the quality of the re-emerging plant species and aids new plant seed germination.
• Reduces tree seedlings, annual grasses, and weed encroachment.
• Prevents the accidental ignition by a discarded cigarette / cigar.
• Burned ash returns plant nutrients and organic matter to the soil aiding new growth.
• Burned black ash absorbs the suns energy and warms the soil speeding re-growth. (The root systems are unaffected by the flame or heat and underground shoots re-emerge when the soil warms)
• Devoid areas provide habitat for wildlife such as the nesting Killdeer birds.

By the time most of you hit the course, Mother Nature's rains and warmer weather should have washed away the blackened ash and helped the new grass swards emerge.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Leibold Irrigation Resumes Installation

The week's warm, dry weather has allowed the Leibold team to move forward with the irrigation installation on the golf course. They have roughly 90% of last year's staff on hand and have been busy pulling pipe and wire, as well as installing heads around several tees (2,3,8,11) and #2 fairway.

Work on #3 tee - notice the perched Red Tail Hawk checking out the action.

Ground conditions have firmed up just enough to allow the large equipment to operate with no significant damage or tracking. Plywood is laid out for the Flex Track pipe/wire puller (right) and the mini excavator (above) to avoid excess wear on the turf. The video below shows the Flex Track machine in action on #11 tee. Its vibratory plow creates a small trench, followed by the pulling-in of the PVC pipe and signal wiring.

No sod or soil is removed during the process, only where sprinkler heads or valves are placed. This makes for a near seamless recovery. The photo below was taken minutes after the Flex Track pulled-in pipe and wire in front of #11 tee. The soil piles indicate sprinkler head locations.

ComEd wired in the transformer box by the pump station yesterday, and we expect the system to be partially operable by the end of next week. As of today, there are a total of 9 fairways and 6 tee complexes yet to be completed. We're keeping our fingers crossed for cooperative weather so we can continue to move forward as scheduled.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Luck of the Irish - a 70 degree day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It is great to be outside and back in action on the golf course. Yesterday we pulled the green covers off for hopefully the last time this spring. Today we are rolling the greens to smooth out any bumpy, uneven surfaces created from winter frost heaving and freeze/thaw cycles, with plans to put a first mow on them tomorrow, weather permitting. We are also cleaning leaves out of bunkers, picking up debris piles, and performing other clean-up related duties.

As you can see above, the greens have nice color and the turf appears to be in great condition. The exception to this is our 11th and 3rd greens. They have experienced some slight winter injury from a combination of conditions called Crown Hydration and Desiccation. The USGA defines the terms as the following.

Crown Hydration - "A form of winter injury in which intracellular water within the plant freezes and causes physical injury to the cell membrane and wall, resulting in dehydration."

Desiccation - "Drying. A type of winter injury sustained on exposed turf areas when subjected to high winds."

We believe the Crown Hydration injury occurred around the second week of February when unseasonably warm temperatures combined with significant snow melting; which was immediately followed by a drop in temperatures to below the freezing mark. To compound the problem, the next few days brought high, drying winds that further dehydrated the turf. (Unbeknown to us, the high winds ripped and lifted portions of the green covers on 11 and 3, which contributed to the desiccation.)

These following photos show the injured portions on 11 green.

The picture above shows an area where the cover was lifted and folded on itself. This caused water to collect and run off - where it then froze and injured the turf.

Despite the damage, we are optimistic the green will have a great recovery. The picture below shows a close up of a Poa Annua plant that is regenerating a new, green tiller. This indicates that the most critical part of the plant (the crown) is alive, which should result in further green up and growth. We will be monitoring these injured areas on a daily basis and take necessary measures to aid the recovery process (ie. shallow aerating, reseeding, watering, etc.).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pump House Status Update

Despite the winter weather, both Leibold Irrigation and Ridgeview Builders have made good progress on the installation of the pump station and construction of the pump house. As of today, the pump house infrastructure is complete including the foundation (original wet well and footing was retained), wall and floor construction, and the cedar-shingled roof. The pump station itself is also installed with the pumps, control panel, valves, and fill line connected.

Below: Early stages of pump house construction

After the concrete flooring in the pump house cured, the pump station components where delivered on an 18-wheeler. A large crane was then used to "drop in" the pad, control panel, and pumps as seen below.

Timing the installation of the station with the roof construction was critical to ensure the new hardware remained protected from the winter elements. The new roof is shingled with cedar planks which should age nicely over time. This will help give the pump house an antiquated look - our goal is to have a quiet, unobtrusive building opposed to one that stands out.

Leibold was able tie in the pump house outtake line to the irrigation system last week during the warm weather. This is perhaps the most important leg of the pipeline, as it serves as the main artery to the entire irrigation system. As water exits the pump house, it goes through the schedule-40 steel "Z pipe" into the 14" mainline. This particular mainline requires a 6' deep x 60' long trench, as shown below.

Our plan is to use a combination of cultured stone and a darker, sand-colored stucco to finish the building exterior. Interior work remaining includes some electrical wiring, insulating, painting, and other details.

We will keep you updated as we finish things up, so visit the blog frequently.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Weekend Recap

Our new weather station came in quite handy this weekend with all the beautiful, sunny, warm weather... or not so much. This new station, that is located left of the 3rd tee and lower practice green, is able to monitor, record, and graph various weather information. On a daily basis we can see real-time statistics such as temperature, humidity, wind speed/direction, degree day data, and much more.

We wanted to show an example of the information that is at our fingertips in the pictures below. The top picture shows the temperature fluctuations over the past several days, which was very useful for determining when to remove and replace our green covers. The next picture is a graph that illustrates rainfall data from this past weekend.

The 2.47" of rain that the graph indicates, has resulted in some minor flooding on the course - as you can see below. However, this should not have a negative impact on the turf, as the plants are still their winter dormancy.

#13 Fairway - Nothing We Haven't Seen Before

Today we are recovering the greens, as this week's forecast is calling for below freezing temperatures (as noted on temperature graph above).

#10 Green

The weather station will undoubtedly be a great asset for years to come. It will provide site-specific information that will allow us to more accurately monitor and record conditions. The blog will also help us relay important weather-related data to you as soon as it happens.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Green Cover Shuffle

And they’re off…

I suppose I could have started by, “And we’re off”, since this is just our 2nd post in the launch of our new blog, but what I’m referring to are the green covers. Yes, the covers are off, but don’t get too excited just yet, as unfortunately the cold is not quite gone for good. But, with the temperatures finally warming yesterday, and with the next few days looking to remain rather mild, the time is right to pull them off for now.

At this point in the early spring we begin the “cover shuffle”. It’s the term I’ve affectionately given to the task of repeatedly pulling the green covers off when it’s mild, and putting them back on when the temperatures again drop below freezing. You may ask, “Why not just wait until it stays above freezing and then pull them off just once”? Oh, I wish it were that easy!

The covers serve several functions such as:

· Protection against desiccation due to cold, brisk winter winds during periods of no or very little snow cover
· Minimize deer, geese, and other mammal damage
· Protection against foot traffic frost damage by uninformed players, dog walkers, etc
· Allow us to shift our aeration later in the fall - covers provide enhanced growth; therefore, improving recovery time and closure of the holes
· Enhancing early spring root growth and most notable, spring green-up.

Below are examples of the issues minimized by the use of our green covers.

It’s rather striking when we first pull the covers off (as shown below), and many of you may not have seen this before. Fortunately, the new blog makes it possible for us to post photos of this, and many other things, as soon as we see them.

As I stated, the green covers enhance spring growth and green-up. They do this rather well as temperatures, sunshine, and day length increase, and because of this, we must carefully manage their use. Left on too long the covers will lead to excessive growth of a weak, spindly, off- colored, and disease prone conditions. Removed too early, and frost and freezing weather will quickly negate the many benefits gained. So, until the temperatures moderate and the low temperatures remain above freezing we’re in “cover shuffle” mode.

This year we have an added challenge of trying to slow growth slightly more than in the past, as we plan to engage our full labor resources later than usual. We’re hoping for periods of mild days, where we can pull the covers for several days at a time, letting the greens acclimate slowly and gradually green-up and grow, opposed to periods of widely fluctuating temperatures.

Hopefully, this post gives you more insight about the benefits and management our greens covering practice. This is the 19th winter season I’ve used covers (they last about 8 -9 years), and I must say, they have proven very beneficial.

The winter is not over, but the greens should be off to a great start, as they look very healthy, with no disease or damage. Our late fall, deep tine aeration holes/channels are still visible at this point, but the cover will go back on early next week with additional recovery to follow.

We’ll keep you posted, so check back often! Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Welcome to the new Skokie Grounds & Greens Blog!

Hello everyone!

The Grounds and Greens Department would like to welcome you to the inaugural posting on our new blog - "Skokie Country Club Golf Course Management".

As you all know, today's technology is progressing at a neck-breaking speed in the area of communication services and tools. Because of this and the large amount of work we do on the golf course from year-to-year, we feel it is time to progress our own level of communication to you. Our intention with this new website/blog is to provide the who, what, where, how, and when of our operations on the golf course.

This golf course management 'information hub' idea has been evolving for a while now. However, it is just recently that we've turned thoughts to action due to the recent challenges we have experienced with posting the 2008 Year in Review presentation. Unfortunately, the Skokie CC website is unable to accommodate this presentation, and we experienced additional complications with 3rd party websites as well. (The presentation is shown at the bottom of this post.)

We anticipate this new blog site will be a spring board for future slideshows, photos, videos, articles, and updates regarding the golf course activities we do on a regular basis. It is a very flexible and diverse service, so we are optimistic that it will function as our information platform for years to come.

For us, and perhaps for you as well, there will be a learning curve involved, so we encourage comments and questions using the 'comments' link below each post. If you wish to contact us privately, simply use conventional phone #'s and email addresses you may already have. We also encourage you to forward posts of interest to others using the email envelope icon below the post.

We look forward to this new adventure.


Don, Scott, and the entire Grounds and Greens department

*Press play below to view the presentation. To view the full screen, high resolution version, click this link:
High Quality / Enlarged Version

**NOTE** To navitgate manually through the slideshow, click the pause button on the lower left as soon as the 'High Quality' page loads. Then use the forward and reverse arrow buttons at the top center area. To play automatically, simply click the play (pause) button in the lower left again. You can also click help in the upper right for more info.

***If you are a first time visitor to this blog and would like to view our Welcome Message, which includes the 2008 Year in Review slide show, click HERE.