Monday, October 20, 2014

2014 Mowing Season is Done

As another mowing season comes to a close at Harrison Bay we have to look back to what all has been accomplished this year and look forward to the enhancements and improvements scheduled for the winter months ahead.  Your agronomy staff has been working hard this year to bring you the best playing conditions possible so if you see them out on the course, let them know you appreciate your efforts.

Last winter brought us some unexpected and unneeded very cold temperatures and snow cover.  Extended cold temperatures and shade are not the best friend to 419 bermudagrass which we have on our fairways and roughs.  As a result we had close to 3 acres of turf which had to be replaced or resodded. These areas have come in nicely and are ready for this winter to come.  If you have noticed we learned from last winter and have raised our height of cut on the fairways a bit more than normal and have moved some of the fairway cuts in on a couple of holes.

One of the biggest improvements we made to the course over the past year was the installation of new irrigation heads around many of the greens.  These heads have allowed us to only water the greens surface instead of using full circle technology which watered the green and the surrounds.  This has cut our watering time and has reduced the amount of water we use to water our greens by over 1 million gallons of water this year alone.  We have 6 more holes to go and this project will be in the books.  I bet Willie and Jonathan will be happy about that.

One change we made to the course this year (some liked it and some did not) was to change the way we mow the fairways and tees.  Instead of striping the fairways which we have done for several years we decided to mow the fairways and tees in the "classic cut" manor which means we mow up and back on one side of the area.  This was a drastic change but the final result was exactly what we wanted.  Not only did it give us a different and unique look, it saved us a considerable amount of time and fuel.  This season, by making this one simple change, we eliminated over 312 man hours spent on mowing fairways.  This reduction in mowing saved over 811 gallons of diesel fuel and eliminated the creation of over 18,000 pounds of carbon emissions.

In an effort to correct the many years of neglect and soft handedness we have given to our greens, this summer we got really aggressive with our aerification and verticutting of the greens.  There was a great deal of debate and concern over the process but in the end it turned out to be one of the best things we have done for our greens in quite a long time and as many of you have been telling us, they are the best they have been in many years.  Sometimes you have to break several eggs to make a really good omelet.

To repair some of the areas on the greens which were damaged from the winter we had to use our nursery, which is what it was made for.  After we used what we needed we went back and sprigged it and grew it in.  It was a good bit of work but having a source of sod on site and having the area double as a short game practice area is the perfect solution.

This year in an effort to help the pollinator population on the golf course we created two areas designated to the growing and cultivation of native wildflowers.  Working with Syngenta through their Operation Pollinator project we selected two areas, one beside #1 tee complex and one between #10 green and #11 tee complex, to create these areas.  The project has been a great success and we see these areas teaming with bees and butterflies.  We will continue to improve our planting processes over the winter to hopefully have these areas even more plentiful with wildflowers and pollinators.

As we look ahead to next season we have many improvements in mind.  We will be adding the DryJect process to our aerification in August. We hope using this process will provide better subsurface drainage and root growth and will reduce the disruption to the putting surface so we can get the greens back to their desired quality sooner.  This winter we will finish our greens irrigation renovation, add surface drainage to #10 fairway, selectively reduce shade around the course, renovate the native planting bed between #1 tee and the driving range, and renovate the remaining fairway bunkers.

It is going to be a long winter and a lot of hard work.  We will do our best to not interfere with your round but please remember that all the work we are doing is simply to make your course better.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

American Eagle Foundation Visit and Harrison Bay Raptor Center Opens

Mr. Cecere with HB5 before release
Back in June we had the great pleasure of getting to meet Mr. Al Cecere, founder and president of the American Eagle Foundation.  After one of our eaglets, HB5, was injured trying to learn how to fly, Mr. Cecere and his great staff at AEF took care of the eaglet, rehabbing it to get it healthy enough to return to the sky HB5 Flies Free Again. Mr. Cecere was gracious enough to invite us up to Dollywood to the AEF headquarters for a tour and to discuss the best options for us to improve our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam.

On Tuesday Mitch and I took a trip up to the AEF Headquarters which is located on the Dollywood property.  It was quite impressive to see the operation and hear Mr. Cecere speak about how his passion to protect the American Bald Eagle had grown to the size operation it is today.  Currently they have over 80 birds which are housed on property either as educational birds, repopulation mating pairs, or birds which are injured and are being rehabilitated with the hopes of returning to the wild one day.

The highlight of the trip, besides gaining all the valuable information from Mr. Cecere, was the upclose time we got to spend with Challenger, the Foundation's most famous ambassador.  Challenger is a 26 year old male Bald Eagle who can be seen flying at many sporting and social events around the country.  If you watched the opening of the Eagles-Redskins game on Sunday then you were able to see Challenger fly before the game and if you read this before Monday night you can tune into Late Night with David Letterman as Mr. Cecere and Challenger are scheduled to make an appearance.

We were fortunate to be there during Challenger's daily exercise time and were able to watch Mr. Cecere and another handler let Challenger fly back and forth down a 200 foot hallway in the enclosure house.  The silence as Challenger flew by use was amazing and made it very clear why they are such good hunters.  Prey simply can not hear them coming.

Challenger had to be placed in his travel case while they got his "treats" cut up and prepared for his flight time.  Even in a "cage" he still looks regal and demands respect.

Besides providing educational and instructional programs for Dollywood and many many other organizations the AEF also is very active in trying to repopulate the skies with American Bald Eagles.  This structure is known as the "breeding house" where they have mating pairs of bald eagles which have bred hundreds of eaglets which have been raised, trained, and released into the wild.  The adult eagles in this area are disabled in some form or fashion and would not survive in the wild so this is a fantastic place for them to live.  A free nest and free food plus a mate.  How could it get better.

If you have had the pleasure of going to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee hopefully you have taken the time to stop and watch the eagles in the Bald Eagle Aviary and have watched the "Wings of America Birds of Prey" show which is performed four times per day by the AEF.  There are currently 18 bald eagles in the aviary with a couple of nesting pairs inside of the enclosure.  It is quite a site to see all those white heads lined up at the top of the aviary basking in the sun.

Mr. Cecere was kind enough to take us behind the scenes to see the show operation where we got to see a very curious Bald Eagle named "Spirit" who was very interested in what we were doing looking into his enclosure.  Birds like "Spirit" and the other raptors on property make up the "Birds of Prey" show that you can see at the park on a daily basis.  The AEF has been putting on the raptor show since Dollywood opened over 25 years ago and is one of the most popular entertainment activities at the park.

One of the main reasons we went to AEF was to pick Mr. Cecere's brain about how we can improve our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam Project for this year.  He was more than willing to show us the entire setup and gave us all the information we needed to copy his NE Florida operation.  Gaining friendships with experienced people in the eagle world is fantastic and will allow us to provide a better experience for our viewers.

Thanks so much to Mr. Cecere and everyone involved with the American Eagle Foundation for their time, experience, and encouragement.

Back home at Harrison Bay State Park we have some exciting news to tell you about as well.  Last week the rangers at the park were able to add three injured birds to the Harrison Bay Raptor Center.  These birds are injured or disabled and will remain at the Center where they will be cared for and will provide educational and viewing opportunities for park and community guests.  This is a great project initiated by Park Ranger Matt Vawter and funded by The Friends of Harrison Bay State Park.

We have a Red Tailed Hawk named "Scarlett" who doesn't miss a single movement outside of her enclosure.  Yes, eyes like a hawk.

The resident "camera hound" is "Happy" a Turkey Vulture who can not sit still and wants all the attention.  Shaking of a set of keys will get him hopping up and down and looking straight at you.

The last member of the trio is an owl named "Marley".  She has over half of her left wing missing and can not fly so she uses the branches and limbs which have been positioned in her enclosure to move about.  She also does not miss any movement outside of her enclosure and has "night watch" duty on all the guests coming in and out of the park.

We encourage guests to stop by and see the raptors.  For those interested in more information or how you can help support the project click here Harrison Bay Raptor Center.  Donations are readily accepted as feeding these birds will be an expensive venture.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The TOUR Championship 2014

Again this year I had the pleasure to volunteer to help the Agronomy Team at East Lake Golf Club prepare the golf course for the 30 best golfers in the world who were participating in the TOUR Championship.  Every year that I have volunteered I think Ralph Kepple, CGCS and his staff have the golf course dialed in about as good as it can possibly be, yet each year they surpass my expectations and those of the golfing world.  This year was no exception.

 The details to the setup and maintenance of the golf course are, in my opinion, what sets East Lake apart from other high end golf courses that I have had the pleasure to be on.  It is evident when traveling around the golf course that the Agronomy Team takes exceptional pride in their work and in the product they produce and that pride certainly starts at the top with the management team of Ralph, Shaune Achurch, and Jason Tharp.

Each year improvements are made to how the course is set up and presented to the PGA golfers and this year was no exception.  In addition to a bit higher bermudagrass rough, the bunkers were prepared in a different way than years past.  The process of having a firm, smooth area around the perimeter of the bunker allowed for the golf ball to roll down the sand face and rest more consistently in the floor of the bunker.  This process provided a more fair and predictable lie for the golfer if they hit into a bunker.

Although the bunkers look very nice and play even better, remember this, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army to prepare and maintain bunkers in this manner.  After a slight 3/4" rain storm on Friday night close to 30 East Lake Agronomy Team members and volunteers spent close to 5 hours repairing slight washouts in the bunker faces, repacking areas on the faces, and raking the bunker floors.  This process is not for the average golf course or even the mildly dedicated private course.  The fancier you want your course the more effort has to be exerted.

Morning activities on the golf course consisted of mowing all the short grass which included a double cut and roll of the greens along with all the approaches and collars.  Tees and fairways were mowed and leaves, clippings, and debris were blown from all areas of the course.  As you can see the work begins early but the staff is well trained to provide the highest quality of results even in the dark.

Afternoon shift activities included mowing of the fairways and surrounds followed by all areas being blown for debris and leaves once again.  I was impressed that the equipment mechanics came out to the course and checked the height and contact of the mowers before they allowed the fairway units to go from the front nine to the back nine.  Making sure that the mowers are cutting the same on the front and the back can easily be seen in the final product.

After the greens were double rolled again in the afternoon Ralph was right there to check green speeds to see what practices needed to be performed in the morning to ensure the expected speed and consistency of the greens would be available for the pros.  After a little "jittery" start Ralph finally got the stimpmeter to cooperate and give him the measurements he needed. (Sorry, inside joke)

 As I have ridden around East Lake over the past several years I have noticed that there are not many areas which can be maintained toward the "environmental" side.  Although this is discouraging I know that not every golf course is designed or set up for native grass areas or bird houses or other environmental projects.  What I do like however at East Lake is they use the areas which can be used to help protect the environment very seriously.  The maintenance department area is a prime example of doing what you can.  Here the Agronomy Team and volunteers are using a self contained wash pad which uses recycled water to clean the equipment. In the background and to the left is an "organic refuse area" where clippings and cuttings are collected and recycled.  As I have said many times, just do something.  I am very happy to see East Lake is doing what they can to help and protect the environment.

I still say this cameraperson does not get paid enough

MetLife Snoopy 1 soaring over the course giving some awesome overhead video

Downtown Atlanta in the background

Again thank you to Ralph, Shaune, Jason, and all of the East Lake Agronomy Team for their hospitality and friendship over this and previous years.  Volunteering for The TOUR Championship is work there is no doubt about it but the information I gain and the new friends met and old friends reconnected with make it worth all the effort.  I know I can not implement most of the processes carried out at East Lake but it gives me several ideas that I can bring back to Harrison Bay to improve our course and our operations.

Until next year!!!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

DryJect Demo--Changing Perceptions about Aerification

It's time to talk about aerification again.  Don't panic we are not going to aerify the greens again this year but we are already discussing the aerification timing and process for next year.  As I have said before, aerification is a "necessary evil" but if we can find techniques and processes that will provide our greens with the cultivation management needed but will be less disruptive to the putting surface and require less time to recover then we will investigate that process.

On Friday we saw a demonstration of a "new" technique known as DryJect from Chad Gamble owner of DryJect of Tennessee.  The DryJect process is unique from traditional core aerification in that it uses high pressure water injectors to incorporate sand or amendments directly into the putting green profile.  This is different from core aerification where sand and/or amendments are placed on top of the green and every attempt is made to drag/brush/broom the sand down into the holes, which honestly is nearly impossible to accomplish.

This illustration shows how the DryJect process works to make for a better aerification process with little to no disruption to the putting green surface while at the same time completely filling the soil with sand or amendments and fracturing the subsurface of the green to provide greater movement of air, water, and roots.  The DryJect process is better for the soil also because compared to normal core aerification it does not "glaze" the side of the core hole which limits where air, water, and roots can penetrate.

Here is a link to a very informative video made by a good friend of mine, Mark Langner, Director of Agronomy at Pursell Farms in Alabama made the DryJect process and why it is beneficial.

This is a photo of the demo area on the putting green on Friday following a pushbroom brushing and a rolling.  The spacing on the DryJect in this area was spaced at 3" x 3" and placed the sand/amendment to a depth of at least 6" deep, leaving a hole on the putting surface close to 3/8" in size.  Once broomed and rolled we were very impressed with how firm and smooth the area was and Robin and Mr. Nixon had no issues with putting quality.

Here is a photo of the same area on Saturday morning after the area had an irrigation cycle applied to it and had been mowed.  Even though you could tell that something had been done to the area it was drastically different in both firmness and smoothness from what one would expect to experience following a normal core aerification.

As we look ahead to next year we hope to continue our pursuit of providing you with a high quality golf course from putting green to fairway to bunker.  Each improvement we make to our maintenance program and practices helps us to achieve our goal of being among the best golf courses around and somewhere everyone will want to play.  We hope we can include the unique DryJect process into those programs and reduce our need to aerify the greens so aggressively or as often.  A "win-win" for everyone.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tennessee Wild Side Video of Earth Day Event

Earth Day at Harrison Bay State Park Golf Course

It seems like a year ago since we had our Earth Day Event at Harrison Bay but Ken Tucker and his staff at Tennessee Wild Side have put together a video of the day's events that I wanted to share.

The event was a great success and we had the opportunity to renew many friendships while at the same time striking up new ones.  Being able to join with CNN, We Are Golf, GCSAAtv, TurfNet, Superintendent Magazine, Golfdom, and Golf Digest, just to name a few, to get the word out that golf courses are not environmental polluters but can provide much needed habitat for wildlife and filter air and water pollutants was amazing.

 I have to take this opportunity to again thank Jacobsen Turf for envisioning and sponsoring the event and most especially Mr. David Withers, Jacobsen president, for making special arrangements to fly in for just a couple hours to join in the festivities and also to present us with our Golf Environment Organization certification. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Maintaining the Native Areas on the Course

Whether you love, like, or hate the naturalized areas on our golf course, they play an instrumental role in the our appearance and environmental success.  Many golf courses choose not to have naturalized areas on their property and those reasons could be limited space, desired look, desires of membership, or simply a lack of environmental interest.  For us though the naturalized areas provide movement corridors and nesting habitat for the wildlife that call Harrison Bay home, they filter fertilizer and pesticide residue before it can enter the surrounding waterways, and it reduces the amount of labor and water used to maintain these areas.

Naturalized areas are not intended to penalize the golfer and they do not indicate that the Agronomy Staff are lazy and don't want to maintain these areas, they are there for a reason and have been selected to enhance the golf course appearance and function.  While these areas are "low maintenance" they are not "no maintenance".  This week Mitch will be working to cut these areas down and get them prepared for fall.  It is a long process and with over 50 acres of naturalized areas it will take all week to get accomplished.

So how do naturalized areas help the environment? Well, as you may know our golf course is on a peninsula which is surrounded on three sides by the Tennessee River.  In order to ensure we do not contaminate the public waterway with any chemical, pesticide, or soil runoff or residue we maintain a vegetative buffer strip around the entire property.  This buffer strip extends 10-25 feet from the waterway into the golf course property.  This buffer strips acts as a filter to collect and trap pesticide residue as well as soil and grass clippings.  It also helps to protect the structure of the lake bank so that it does not degrade and fall off into the lake.

This photo is a prime example of what can happen if the vegetation at the waters edge is highly maintained and not allowed to grow to a proper height.  As you can see the soil on the lake bank is readily washed off into the lake, the structural integrity of the bank has been weakened and has begun to recede, and the water temperature along the shoreline is increased significantly reducing the survival rate of small water creatures such as frogs and salamanders.  The increased temperature of this shore transition area makes travel and egg laying in these areas nearly impossible.

Removing these areas from our weekly maintenance program where they would be mowed and irrigated on a routine basis is saving us a lot of money and resources.  Not maintaining these 50+ acres on a weekly basis means we save close to 700 gallons of diesel fuel per year and save close to 260 manhours per mowing season which can be spent elsewhere. As for irrigation savings we have calculated that we are eliminating close to 7.4 million gallons of water which would have to be applied to these areas during the normal 26 week mowing season that we have at Harrison Bay.  Big savings no matter how you look at it, for us and the environment.

Which ever look you like, the grown up look or this after it has been maintained, we hope you look at these areas as beneficial to the golf course and the environment and understand why we have these areas.  It is not because we are lazy and don't want to mow more grass and it is not because we want to make your round more difficult.  Every practice and program done on our course has a reason and I hope you better understand the reason behind the naturalized areas.

Happy Ball Hawking to everyone who will be searching through these areas trying to retrieve "their" wayward shots.

Friday, August 8, 2014

August aerification is in the books

Monday and Tuesday once again marked that time that superintendents and golfers have a "Love/Hate Relationship" with.  I'm talking about aerification of the golf course, especially the greens.  Although it is a necessary evil to maintain healthy turf, aerification is a tremendous amount of work on the golf course staff and drastically increases the stress level of being a golf course superintendent.  We are given only a few days a year to undo the damage, compaction, and wear and tear that occur the other 360+ when we are closed for aerification, we do as much as we can to improve the golf course.

As we are not afraid to try new techniques that we believe will improve the playing conditions of the course, we borrowed a process from our friends at East Lake Golf Club and moved our verticutting practices of the greens to the back of the show. Normally we verticut first but this year we decided to wait until after the greens had been aerified.  Once the cores had sufficient time to dry they were drug with a drag mat and we verticut on top of that surface.

Our greens are over 10 years old and during that time we have not been overly aggressive with them in the sense of removing thatch from the greens properly.  Well that all ended this year.  In an effort to return our greens to the extremely high caliber they were several years ago we got aggressive and removed a ton of unneeded material.  I have to admit it was very scary to see the greens "ripped up" like they were but I am very confident they will recover quickly and be some of the best available.            

While we all know the greens are the most important we took the time to verticut the tee boxes as well.  Verticutting the tees will remove the unwanted thatch, or dead/dying plant material, which makes the tees soft, spongy, and susceptible to disease as seen on the blue tee on #3 recently.  This process has needed to be done for years and we will be putting it into our monthly arsenal of projects from here on out.

Not so the fairways would feel left out and more than anything because they needed it, we also took the time to verticut the fairways during the closure.  It was amazing the amount of material that was removed from the playing surface during this process and will go along way to making our fairways stronger and healthier, all in an effort to reduce/eliminate the effects of a harsh winter like this past one, if it happens again.  Making sure our turfgrass is healthy and prepared for the long dormant winter months will help ensure we have a great playing surface in the spring.

Another practice that we got to do while closed was the topdressing of the tee boxes.  We routinely spot dress divots on the tees but have not had (or taken) the opportunity to topdress the entire teeing surface before. This process, in conjunction with the verticutting and aerifying, will help to smooth the tee boxes out and make the plants much healthier.

Once again, not so the fairways would feel left out, we have begun the process of topdressing the fairways as well.  If you played over the past couple of days you have seen a sand layer on a couple of the holes each day.  We are only able to topdress a couple holes per day due to the fact that we are having to use our greens topdresser to do the job and it does not have the capacity of a large area material handler which would be able to cover 4-5 times the area with a single load.  Hopefully we can show over time the benefits of having a sound fairway topdressing program and we can purchase a machine of this type.

As if aerification and verticutting of the greens, along with verticutting and topdressing of tees and fairways, was not enough to put on our plate this week we also worked on repairing some of the bunkers which have been neglected for far too long. The crew have added new sand to several of the bunkers on the course and it will take time for this sand to become packed and firm so please be patient.

Like I said in the previous blog post, our golf course maintenance staff works extremely hard to provide you with the best course possible.  We don't have all the tools and gadgets that some of the bigger, better financed courses have but we make up for it with creativity, desire, and hard work.  This photo was taken today, four days following one of the most aggressive cultivation practices that we have ever done to our greens.  I am pleasantly surprised by how well the greens handled all the different abuse they were placed under.  Our greens were healthier going into this aerification than they were in June so I feel very confident they will be back better than ever shortly.