Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Mysterious Footprints

A few members have recently asked questions about the odd yellow to brown footprints noticeable on a few greens. They were very good questions indeed, and to be completely honest, they are a bit of a mystery to us. We’ve considered various possible reasons and analyzed the conditions leading up to these blemishes, but there are still several unexplainable facts.

Footprints on #2 approach and green (photo was digitally enhanced for visibility).

Here’s how the “mystery footprints” story goes:

In our ongoing quest to provide you with high quality putting surfaces, we apply plant protectants to the greens on a weekly basis. As mentioned in an earlier 'Pest Management' blog (available here), plant protectants include many items such as nutrients, micronutrients, fungicides, plant growth regulators, and biostimulants, to name a few. These weekly applications are usually made on Friday’s so that if high stress conditions, (high heat & humidity - which can induce certain fungal activity leading to disease and turf loss) were to occur on a busy weekend, we would not interfere with play by conducting emergency spray applications.

Two weeks ago we made a routine plant protectant application which included nutrients, biostimulants (sea-weed extract, plant hormones, vitamins), and plant growth regulators. We’ve used all of these products in the past, but this time we added half rates of two different plant growth regulators instead of the full rate of just one. This is the only difference from past applications. We’ve applied this mixture many times before on fairways but not on the greens. However, these same products and mixtures have been, and continue to be, used at other courses in our area and even at much higher rates than we typically use. We wanted to be very cautious and use very low rates initially, as these are very active compounds (1 ounce per acre). In time, we would then increase rates to normal recommended levels.

You may ask, “Why do we need a mixture of growth regulators”? I could write a multi-page blog on this topic alone, but basically, the varying types are used to provide two modes of action and two different responses. One type slows the vertical growth causing the turf plants to grow more compact (more consistent green speed by slowing the growth from morning into the evening), while the other type helps lateral growth, aiding in recovery from ball marks and wear.

Close up of footprints

The application went well with no problems encountered during the procedure, and there were no unusual environmental conditions that day. The putting surfaces were finally starting to dry out a bit, with several days of windy conditions preceding this treatment, but nothing at all stressful to the turf.

Two days later we noticed these peculiar, off-colored footprints appearing and upon a thorough inspection of all greens, it appeared as though 7 greens had these mysterious footprints. We of course, became concerned and began to speculate. Was it happening that day? Was it something from a previous day? Was it caused by a golfer (it looked like the prints were going to and from a previous hole location)? Was it something that we recently sprayed and then walked over to replace the flagstick after making the application? The questions really started to flow.

Perhaps it was this “new to the greens” growth regulator mixture that was a little phytotoxic (damaging to plants) when traffic was present immediately after application? However, the same mixture was used on all greens, so why was it not more wide spread and only on 7 greens? Four tank mixtures are needed to treat all the greens. As we reviewed our records and recalled the process, there was no clear indication that any one tank mixture was the problem. Footprints occurred on greens from 3 different tank mixtures, but not all of the greens treated with these tanks were affected. Very puzzling indeed!

We contacted suppliers of products and reviewed our tank mixtures and were reassured that these problems had not occurred with our same tank mix recipe at anywhere in the past. And, as I mentioned before we have applied these same products to fairways and in fact, the same week applied 4 times the rate (still well below maximum rates) of these same products to our fairways, with no signs of traffic or mystery footprint damage!

We thought about other possibilities as to the cause and considered that perhaps it was something on the applicators shoes, maybe a spill in the mix area that picked up on his shoes and he unknowingly tracked it onto the greens. This would explain multiple tanks being involved but why not all the tanks, and also, there was no obvious spill during the mixing process! And, if something were perhaps, on the floor board (carried by the shoes of the applicator) of the sprayer, why then would there be 2 sets of footprints on one of the greens, coming from persons from 2 different vehicles. Any CSI’s out there?

It’s usually at about this point in a mystery story where a clue finally surfaces that allows the mystery to become unraveled and solved. Problem is… we think we have thought through all possible scenarios, and we don’t have any other clues!

So, as we continue to scratch our heads and ponder the cause of these mysterious footprints, fortunately we can take a little comfort knowing that, at least, the damaged areas were limited and they do appear to be recovering.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Course Update - New Turf Establishment

Now that the irrigation installation is finished and many other early season projects are concluding, more time will be available to bring you new blog posts on a more consistent basis. For today's post, we'd like to give you an update on the progress of several of the new establishing turf areas (ie., winter damaged greens, expansions, and over-seeded rough areas).

Winter damage #3 and #11 greens
Recovery on both greens has been quite good despite such a cool and wet spring. We have seeded the areas twice to this point, and new plant growth has filled in 90% of the areas. Sod was only needed on the small spot on the back left of #11. With more topdressing, watering, and care, we believe the remaining thin spots will be completely filled very soon.

#11 damage shown shortly after the green covers were removed.

Recovery shown below - picture taken June 6, from the same location.

Winter damage #8 fairway:

Similar to #3 and #11 greens, the right side of #8 fairway is recovering nicely from the winter damage. This was seeded a few weeks later than the greens, but the seedlings are thriving well now.

Damaged turf in #8 fairway - mid-April.

New seedling growth.

#4 approach expansion:
The new expansion on #4 approach is filling in very well and beginning to really take shape. The process began last November and involved sod cutting out the new area, followed by the planting of aeration cores (we will elaborate on this process in a future post). Some of the areas did not over-winter that well, requiring supplemental planting and seeding early this spring.

This particular expansion will make for more interesting and optional approach shots into the green and greatly enhance the "reward" for clearing the bunkers... as intended by the original design.

Before and after pictures of the new expansion.

Rough overseeding:
Each spring, we have a fair amount of over-seeding to do in the rough. High traffic areas and rough around and beneath trees require the bulk of this work. Most of these areas are aerated, seeded, and finally topdressed with a soil/sand mix material. It generally takes 3 to 4 weeks for the areas to fully mature, at which point we are able to take the protective rope lines down. Sod is also used in the worst of these areas, which you may have already seen on the course.

An example of thinned out rough in a high traffic, tree competitive area.
New seedling establishment in a similarly worn rough area.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Irrigation Project Finished

It was just about a year ago when loads of pipe, wire, valves, fittings, controllers, sprinkler heads, storage trailers, installation equipment, and Leibold Irrigation crew members arrived, beginning the new irrigation system project. Today, I’m pleased to report, all of the materials are installed, the storage trailers and most equipment are gone, and Leibold’s crew has moved on to other projects.

The last 2 projects of the entire installation: clubhouse irrigation (above) and the Sahara bunker face irrigation (below).

There are several other items that I’m pleased to report at this time, and I think you will be too.
  • In spite of one of the wettest spring periods on record, the installation was completed within the planned completion date of May 31. I can’t say enough good things about Leibold Irrigation; they were great to work with, accommodating at every step along the way, provided superb attention to workmanship and detail, and worked like warriors in battle during some very unpleasant working conditions last fall (floods) and again during this spring’s miserable cold, windy, and rainy weather.
  • With 21 miles of pipe, 340 miles of wire, 400 valves, and nearly 2000 sprinkler heads, there has been only a couple minor leaks, a few defective sprinkler heads, and one defective quick coupler valve. There may be a leak here or a malfunction there, but we can be certain that Leibold Irrigation will stand behind their work for years to come.
  • The new system has several control options which will provide nearly unlimited flexibility and upgradability well into the future:
  1. Central Control from office (the primary means of operation)
  2. Radio Control (for supplemental watering during day)
  3. Palm Pilot Control (similar to radio but allows any desired field changes to be made on the course and then synced to central)
  4. Field Satellite Control (operate stand alone if a malfunction were to occur with central computer, or supplemental watering during day)
  5. Manual Control (heads can be turned on with a special key)
  • These features will provide the ultimate in flexibility and at this point the computer has been programmed, all satellites are communicating, the radio communication equipment is installed and all systems are functional. The Palm Pilot Control will be available after we receive all GPS mapping data and the system design is downloaded and programmed to the central computer and palm pilot.
  • Water management and application with this new system will be state of the art and will ultimately allow us to be very precise with where, when, and how much water we want to apply. This system also could eventually save us as much as 25% in our water use. I’m told that with the efficiency of water distribution with these new heads, compared to what we replaced, we could see savings of 30%. I don’t think we should “bank” on this just yet. We are now able to place water in more areas than we did in the past, but we can control that which we do apply, so much better. I’m thinking (ok I’m hoping) that we will balance out and use approximately the same amount of water as we used in the past, but we’ll be applying it more uniformly and where we want it. We’re at the infancy stage with our new system, heads are in new places compared to the old system, and we need to learn what run times are now appropriate. We’ll make mistakes I’m sure, but we’ll learn from them and in time we’ll have things “dialed in”. There is still so much to do and learn, from fine tuning arc adjustments and nozzle trajectories to determining and recording spray pattern adjustments and imputing these into the computer so that we can ultimately be very precise with setting run times and frequencies.
These part circle heads will cut run times in half on fairway perimeters.
  • In the final analysis, and in time when we’ve “fine-tuned” everything, what our new irrigation system will ultimately provide for us is improved playability. Our goal is firmer playing surfaces while still providing a durable, dense, and healthy turfgrass.
  • Finally, The last item I think you will all be very pleased for me to report is, this equipment rich, highly technical, and labor intensive project will come in right on budget! All parties involved worked well together (EC Design, Liebold, and SCC) in both the planning and implementation phases, and we will all do so again now in the operational phase. EC Design, our irrigation design/consultant firm, planned and designed what we wanted, Leibold Irrigation installed it as we wanted it with minimal inconvenience, and our SCC Grounds Operations Staff performed (or is currently in the process of) old equipment removal (heads, controllers, valves), spoil material processing (shaping and grassing excess soil generated from project), restoration (haul roads and wear areas), and general assistance throughout entire project.
Old irrigation equipment removal will continue over the next several weeks.
An old irrigation head being removed from the 3rd fairway.

I’ve been involved in many projects over the nearly two decades that I’ve been here at Skokie. and I’m happy to say that they have all went very well and have all been on budget. A few stand out as being exceptional however (in terms of working together with contractors) and I’d have to say that this one ranks right up there, at or near the top!
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