Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Annual SCC Bird Walk

I think it was about 1996, or thereabout, when we had the first Bird Walk. At the time, I had been monitoring several nest boxes throughout the course that I had installed in earlier years in attempt to attract Eastern Bluebirds. My attempts proved very successful and the result was well beyond my expectations.

Our favorite red, white, and blue bird... the Eastern Bluebird.

The year before the first bird walk (1995) we had 9 nesting pair of bluebirds and a fledgling count of 52! (Incidentally, since first placing the nest boxes we’ve had a total of nearly 250 bluebird fledglings!) This success excited me and many members as well, but one member in particular was especially thrilled. He unfortunately is no long with us, but his passion for birds has led to our Annual SCC Bird Walk. The person I refer to is Dick ‘Judge’ Merrick.

‘Judge’ kept tabs with me nearly every day on our bluebird count, asking me what kind of birds I was seeing on the course and informing me of any unusual species he had sighted. I learned many things about birds and their behavior from the ‘Judge’, and he largely is responsible for my interest and enjoyment that I experience to this day.

So, in 1995, with our bluebird population rising, and many other interesting species inhabiting the course (or at least foraging throughout), the ‘Judge’ thought that other bird enthusiasts (as well as some potential recruits) might enjoy these birds, and suggested we have a Bird Walk. The following spring, the first Bird Walk was held, and the Monday event was preceded by a very interesting and informative Sunday afternoon slide show, of birds we would likely see, by ‘Judge’ Merrick’s wife, Margot Merrick.

That’s a little history of how the Bird Walk came to fruition and a bit of information about our efforts to help perpetuate Eastern Bluebirds.

I’ll write more about this beautiful species and other resident species in future blogs, but for now this year’s event recap follows.

About 20 people attended Margot’s slide show and the first Bird Walk. That number has steadily increased to what I believe was our largest attendance last Monday, of 42. It was actually the first time we had more participants than we had bird species counted. In past years, we’ve had species counts in the mid 50’s to 60 plus range, but this year our count was surprisingly low at only 41.

Perhaps it was the cool, cloudy day that accounted for the low species total. In spite of this we saw some very colorful species, and the group was once again treated to the very knowledgeable and educational birders, Lynne Carpenter and Barbara Brown. These two ladies can easily identify all of the species we’re likely to see, as well as recognize them by just hearing their chirps or song! We are indeed fortunate to have them here every year, as well as members, Roger Miller and Char Delaney, whom organize the annual event.

This year's species list on Monday, May 11th was:

A few of the more strikingly colorful species are shown here in this post, but if you look carefully as you play the course you’ll possibly see these and many more. When you’re out on the course playing toward the 7th green and walking off the 8th tee, be sure to check out the Red-tailed Hawks nest in the large elm tree on the right , just before beginning of 8th fairway. It appears as though eggs are being incubated and it shouldn’t be long before we see nestlings. This has been a very popular nest over the past few years. Two years ago there were Great–horned Owls nesting in February, followed by Red-tailed Hawks in the spring. And now this year we have Red-tailed Hawks again. Should be fun to watch the fledgling(s) this summer!

Blackburnian Wabler

Yellow Warbler

Black Capped Chickadee

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-tailed Hawk

Friday, May 15, 2009

Week Wrap Up

It was an extremely busy week for us on the golf course, but a very productive one despite the bothersome rainfalls. As usual, the entire staff did a fantastic job keeping up with the frantic pace, which generated more than one dawn 'till dusk work day.

The cause for such a busy week was simply the merging of many time-sensitive factors.
  • Final stages of irrigation project
  • Green and tee aeration
  • GPS data collecting of entire course
  • Finalizing pump house work
  • Rapid growth of rough and other grasses
  • First week for newly hired Equipment Technician (Shaun Hill from Spring Hill Golf Club in Wayzata, Minnesota) and the training of other new employees
  • Applying time-sensitive plant protectants and fertilizers
  • First full week of new mowing schedules (learning curve of new routes and procedures)
  • Clubhouse grounds work including adding new mulch, planting newly delivered flowers, and resodding entrance areas
  • Completion of #6 forward tee construction
  • ...and continuing to provide our daily conditioning standards.
Aeration was a success, taking only 2 days to complete all the greens and tees.

Irrigation Update: With the exception of the clubhouse irrigation and 1 bunker (we are testing 1 bunker face with site specific heads) on the course, all of the pipe, wire, and sprinkler head installation is complete. The majority of irrigation work done this past week has included wiring and programming satellite controllers, flushing out lateral lines, sodding worn trench lines, and finishing the pump house exterior.

Satellite controller wiring and programming.

Flushing the lateral lines of any debris that may have entered during installation.

The clubhouse irrigation will be a cooperative effort between Leibold and several of our staff members. To date, we have had only manual irrigation at the clubhouse, resulting in many labor hours allocated to hand watering. The new automated system will be much more effective by significantly reducing hand watering and delivering water more efficiently. We will begin the installation on Monday, and if everything goes as planned, it should be completed by the end of the week.

The pump house is near completion as well, and the cultured stone exterior combined with the cedar roofing is really taking shape. We will soon begin to work on the landscaping around the pump house which will include some surface grading and native grass planting. We feel once everything is finished, the pump house and its surrounds will blend in seamlessly to the rest of the golf course.

Finishing the cultured stone exterior.

Sprinkler Head Yardages: Included in the irrigation contract, is the GPS data collection of the new system components, as well as our entire golf course. Besides heads, valves, and other irrigation parts, greens, fairways, tees, bunkers, drain lines, and many other golf course areas have been mapped - which will be of great value to us. The equipment used to gather this data is very expensive and extremely accurate... to less than 1 millimeter to be exact!

GPS base unit set up on #3 early this week.

The company is finishing their data collection today and should have the information available in 2 weeks. At that point, we will be sending this data to the company that manufactures the sprinkler caps. It will then take another 2 weeks for them to make and deliver the new caps with the updated yardages. We estimate these new yardage markers to be on the golf course by mid-June.

Golf Course Maintenance/Projects: It was a productive week for the course itself, and we were able to navigate through the rainfalls quite well. We knocked out aeration very quickly, and the subsequent plant protectant and fertilizer applications were a success. We do plan on topdressing next week to top off any remaining aeration holes, with hopes of very smooth putting surfaces by Memorial Day weekend.

The vast majority of rough blemishes from the irrigation project have been sodded this week. You may notice many small flags scattered throughout the course, as they are placed at all the new sod locations. This is to help ensure our guys don't miss any pieces when they are watering the new sod.

Sod prep work behind #13 green.

We have also completely finished the forward tee on #6. Final grading was done and the entire area has been sodded. If weather cooperates and the new sod roots well, we think the tee should be ready for play within a few weeks.

#6 forward tee shown just after the bentgrass sod was installed. The banks were sodded shortly after.

We are looking forward to the completion of the irrigation and other projects. Unfortunately, the grass won't stop growing in the interim, but we are very confident projects will be completely on schedule and golf course conditions will only get better - it has to dry up one of these days!!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Aeration: Coming Soon to a Green & Tee Near You

In an earlier post a couple weeks ago, we wrote about Pest Management and the many Integrated Pest Management techniques we employ throughout the year. There are several cultural practices we regularly perform that are critically important for general turf health and vigor, and in turn, this imparts resistance to pest damage.

Aeration, both core aeration (where plugs of soil are removed) or solid aeration (where only a channel is created but also fractures the soil), is one of the most important cultural practices, besides mowing and watering, we do for the overall long term condition of our turf.

We will be core aerating the greens next week, Monday May, 11 and the tees thereafter. The process on greens should only take a day if weather conditions cooperate. We’ll be using small coring tines, which are not much larger than a pencil, and after aerating, the cores will be broken up with a drag mat to reincorporate the sandy root zone material.

Using smaller tines improves recovery time and playability.

We will then mow and roll the greens to smooth them at which time they should be very playable. Between using small tines and the fact that the weather has finally warmed, accelerating overall plant growth, the holes should recover quickly. We’ve also applied nutrients which will assist this process as well.

Breaking down the cores and reincorporating the root zone mix with a steel drag mat.

The inconvenience should be minimal but the benefits are numerous:
• Reduces thatch accumulation (organic layer that creates puffy conditions) through physical removal and the addition of sand
• Improves water movement into the soil and throughout the soil profile
• Improves oxygen movement into the soil and gaseous by-products out of the soil
• Improves root depth and mass aiding drought tolerance
• Provides an avenue to incorporate improved root zone material (sand)
• Provides an avenue to incorporate plant protectants to aid disease management (Monday we will apply a fungicide for our management of Fairy Ring disease that must be moved down into the soil. The small aeration holes are ideal for improving this penetration into the soil.)
• Improves the overall health and condition of all turf areas.

An illustration of some of the benefits.
Hopefully you will agree that the short term inconvenience is worth these many benefits that will last well into the season and help us provide you with high quality putting and playing surfaces.

Thank you for your patience during this very important cultural practice.

Friday, May 1, 2009

April Showers bring…?

We’re poised to have a great deal of flowers if there’s substance to the old adage, ‘April showers bring May flowers’! So far though, April showers have brought little more than a saturated course with standing water in places we’ve seldom seen. This has caused headaches and difficulty with work and travel throughout, while creating unattractive tracking.

Despite our efforts to spread traffic patterns, tracking is simply unavoidable at this point.

We are limiting our movement as much as possible, walking with equipment where practical, and foregoing some time-insensitive tasks, but certain jobs are critical and course travel is necessary. Hopefully, we’ll get some sunshine, lower humidity, and gentle drying breezes before long ...and a generous period of time with NO RAIN!

We’ve had plenty of rainfall for sure and there have been other climatic conditions that have contributed to this saturation that we’re now experiencing. Our weather station has been working overtime measuring rainfall on 10 of the last 12 days of April. As you can see in the graph below the amount of rain during this period was 3.16 inches. For the month we’ve had a total of 3.85 inches. Average for the month of April is 3.68 inches which is not significantly less than what we have received but we have to look at a couple other climatic factors to understand why it is so wet. Rainfall year to date compared to average, and Relative Humidity and Evapotranspiration for these last 12 days of the month.

According to local weather reports (our new weather station was not active for the entire period), we’ve had nearly 15 inches of precipitation to date, making this the 2nd wettest recorded. The normal average amount for this same period is 9.71 inches.

Relative Humidity during these last two weeks of April has averaged very high at 80% as shown below. Therefore, with near record rainfall and moisture laden air, it’s no wonder this water is just sitting on our slow to drain, nearly saturated, silty clay soils.

Another factor we monitor regularly, especially during irrigation periods, is Evapotranspiration, or "ET". This is the combination of water that is lost from the soil through evaporation and through transpiration (plants way of perspiring) from plants as a part of their growth process. In simple terms, it’s the amount of water used by a particular plant, in our case, well-maintained turfgrass.

Throughout this same 12 day, end of April period, the amount of water needed for plant growth processes totaled .94 inches. If we subtract this amount from the amount of rain we’ve had, it gives us a relative quantity of “excess” moisture. That amount is nearly 2.25 inches. That’s a lot of extra water in 12 days with high humidity, and lots of clouds. In fact, according to Tom Skilling, it’s been the cloudiest April in 14 years!

Hope this weather pattern changes soon or else well see a lot of moss and algae instead of those May flowers!

Improving Our Pathways... or, What We Do When It's Too Wet To Work On the Course!

As you know, we have few cart paths on the course, and their use is limited to areas of high cart or maintenance traffic. This is because they require added maintenance and can create erratic ball flight when impacted by a golf shot.

Years ago, we decided a way to improve the appearance, reduce the cost of periodical replacement, and reduce erratic ball flight on our asphalt cart paths, was to replace and/or cover them with the crushed red brick chips. Since that time, perhaps the last fifteen years or so, we have covered over deteriorating asphalt paths with the crushed brick and used this material exclusively for any newly constructed paths that are not prone to high water flow across or where access by heavy equipment is needed.

Crushed brick path by #2 tee

We have found that the brick chips will move over time and wash when placed on asphalt and/or will migrate into underlying soil or gravel base. Through trials we conducted a couple years ago, we determined that if we use a soil separator fabric combined with brick edging (which match nicely with the crushed brick), we could dramatically extend the life of the path. This process also reduces the need for topdressing with new material, retains the original desired width, and reduces adjacent turf loss by keeping drivers within or “on” the paths.

Example of a "growing" cart path. The edge originated roughly 12" to the RIGHT of this sprinkler head - over 2 1/2 feet from where it is in the picture!

Two years ago, we performed significant work of this type on the pathway from #8 tee going west to the Half Way House and continuing west to #11 tee. It worked very well and now requires much less maintenance and expense than the before. We have many more path areas to address, but we have recently begun to work on the cart path near #14 tees.

The path improvement process involves:
• Creating a solid base with sub grade gravel
• Cutting an edge into the adjacent turf to contain the brick edging
• Installing Soil Separator fabric
• Placing and cutting bricks along edges to follow desired path flow
• Installing a plastic edge material to keep bricks “tight” against adjacent soil/turf.
• Placing and moothing crushed red brick top material
• Repairing damaged areas along path edges with sod or soil & seed

Current improvement work behind #14 tees.

We plan to continue this work over time, as it will provide important benefits including being aesthetically pleasing, cost effective, and create reasonable outcomes when impacted by golf balls.
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