Monday, September 28, 2015

What's Up With the White Sand??

"More sand, laddie" is a quote accredited to Old Tom Morris, the first greenskeeper at The Old Course at St. Andrews.  Topdressing greens and other areas on golf courses has been as common as mowing the greens since the beginning of the game of golf.  So why is there such an uproar when greens, and other areas of the golf course, are topdressed now. 

For many years we have been using dyed green sand to topdress our greens in an effort to appease golfers and lessen the amount of grumbling and complaints heard by the agronomy team and the proshop but this has been to the detriment of our greens. This picture shows the layering of fine green sand that had occurred over the many years of continuous use of green sand.

The problem with layering of sand in greens, especially green dyed sand is that it restricts the movement of water, air , and nutrients within the soil profile. The biggest problem is that the roots can not thrive in this environment and as you can see in this photo break off at this layer.

This is an electron microscope image of a sand particle. As you can see it is far from round and smooth as one might think. Each one of those pores or holes in the surface of the sand particle has the potential to act as a cation exchange site or an area in which nutrients and water can attach to later be used by the root system.

Now image you fill up or eliminate 70-80% of these valuable cation exchange sites with paint. Is it feasible to believe that the soil structure and the root system could function properly and provide us with the high quality putting surfaces that we are all demanding? 

For a better visualization with something we are all more familiar with, a golf ball. Imagine removing 3/4 of the dimples on a golf ball. The golf ball would not function properly and would not generate the lift that golfers demand.

I agree that green sand is more appealing to the eye but it is harmful to the health of the green and that is why we have discontinued the use of it at Harrison Bay. We are working to improve our course, not simply out to upset anyone. If you still have an issue with the white sand, see me. Don't take it out on the proshop or the outside operations staff. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Time to Reset

I have to begin this blogpost with a sincere apology.  Over the past couple of years I have failed to do the job that I was hired to do; to be the caretaker, the protector, the "voice" of the golf course.  I have spent so much time trying to satisfy so many different entities from golfers, to management, to the proshop, that I have failed to care for the most important entity we have, the golf course itself.

One of my favorite movies is An American President and to quote Michael Douglas' character "I have been so busy doing my job, I have forgotten to DO my job.  Well, that all ends today."  I have spent countless hours worrying, stressing, and beating myself up over what we need to do on the golf course to keep everyone happy and not effect or interfere with anyone's golf game that I have failed to carry out many of the important agronomic practices that I need to carry out to ensure the golf course is in top condition.  That all ends today.

So what does that mean for you, the golfer.  We will be carrying out more of the vital and important cultural practices that we have put on the back burner such as verticutting, aerification, topdressing, and slicing to name a few.  Don't be surprised when you see an aerifier on the course or a slicer alleviating compaction and wear in the fairways, or the greens, tees, or approaches being topdressed with sand.  And we will be using white sand from now on for many reasons (cost, availability, and the fact that painted sand is harmful to the soil profile).  More on that in a later blogpost.

Now please don't get me wrong.  I greatly appreciate everyone who chooses to spend their hard earned dollars at our course.  We are blessed to have a great collection of loyal golfers and tournament directors that choose our course over all others in the area every day.  We have over 50 tournaments/outings per year bringing in over 4,000 of our 30,000 annual rounds and we will try our best to not interfere with your round or your outing but with three to four outings in some weeks we will have to perform some of our cultural practices when we have to do them.

As always if you ever have any questions about the course or what/why we are doing certain practices on the course please don't hesitate to contact me at or stop me on the course and I will be happy to sit down with you as I have with others in the past several months.  Our job is to provide the golfer with the best golfing conditions possible within the constraints of our budget and manpower limitations but to do that we have to take care of the foundation of the property, the turfgrass.  I thank you, in advance, for being accepting and understanding of the maintenance being performed on the course.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

DryJect--Sand Injection Aerification

Just like a mechanic can not overhaul an engine with just a 9/16" wrench, a golf course superintendent has to have several "tools" in his tool chest to maintain a golf course to high standards.  As many of you know the course was closed last week for two days so we could aerify the greens.  Well this year we broke out one of those different tools in our arsenal and were VERY pleased with the results.

The process is knows as DryJect.  The DryJect process, as you can see in the video, uses high pressure water to inject sand into the greens.  This process eliminates the mechanical removal of material from the greens which is the main cause for bumpy greens following aerification. In the video you can see the sand being delivered through the tubes into the injection chamber and then being injected into the green.

Close to 20 tons of dried bagged AS45 sand were injected into the greens during the process.  Our staff did a fantastic job keeping the hoppers full of sand and dealing with the heat and the popup rainstorms that slowed us down a bit.  Being able to inject this much sand at one time is incredible.  If we were to try and apply that much sand on top of our greens and drag it into aerification holes we would have had to place a layer of sand close to 3/16" deep on the green.  That would have been almost impossible to get drug into the holes and everyone would have been upset.

This is a photo of one of the injection points that I lucked up and got down the side of a cup as we reset the holes for play. There are better pictures of DryJect applications online if you are interested.  What this shows me is that we definitely achieved the goal we were shooting for which was to get below, or through, the traditional 4" aerification layer that we typically get during aerification.  If you look about half way down the cup you will see a dark layer and then it changes to a light brown.  The dark layer is where our traditional core aerification stops at, which in turn is where water and oxygen infiltration stops at, and where our roots stop at.  The light brown layer is where we want our roots to be but they can not get there due to the hardpan layer formed at the bottom of the coring stroke.  The DryJect application blasted a 1/2" column of sand through this layer and into the green between 6-8" inches deep.  Better oxygen and water infiltration will result in better roots and in turn better putting surfaces.

Here is a photo of a green following the DryJect process after it had been drug with our carpet drag.  The holes are 3" x 3" apart and the disruption to the putting surface is about the size of a 3/8" coring tine.

This is a photo of the same green after an application of our dyed greens topdressing sand and a drag.  Not pulling a core reduces the disruption to the putting surface and the use of the green sand helps to mask most of the evidence of the process being done.

One of the added benefits of using the DryJect process is the ability to inject helpful amendments into the soil that otherwise would be almost impossible to incorporate into an existing green.  On a couple of holes we injected Profile Porous Ceramic which will aid in firmness and water movement in the green.  We also injected Harrell's Divot Recovery Mix which has MaXand, EarthMAX, and Milorganite into one green to test how it would aid the green in recovery and overall health.  The options for this process are almost limitless and the return on investment, almost priceless.

I have to give a special thanks to Chad Gamble of DryJect of Tennessee, and his assistant Patrick, for providing this service for us.  Was it worth it financially?  The greens were injected on Wednesday and Thursday.  We did over 400 rounds Friday-Sunday with zero discounts and zero serious complaints (always have that one person, you know).  I had some of my biggest critics come up and tell me how nice the greens looked and how well they were rolling.  Time will definitely tell but as for now I feel it is worth every penny spent.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bunker Maintenance and Etiquette

Bunkers on golf courses have come a long way from when they were simply hallows dug out by sheep and other livestock trying to escape the stinging sand driven by the winds off the Scottish coast.

In today's world of golf course maintenance, bunkers have taken on a whole different meaning.  Bunkers are considered a hazard but for many golf course superintendents they consume the most time and money from their budgets, just behind greens.  In many cases good golfers, especially professional golfers, will aim at the bunkers because they are almost assured of a close to perfect lie or at least one that is relatively consistent and predictable.

 Along with the daily maintenance performed on bunkers including blowing out leaves and debris and raking the bunkers, there is also the special work that has to be done including removing water and silt after storms, pushing back up washouts, adding new sand, packing the sand, or complete rebuild of bunkers when needed.  There is also the maintenance of the turf surrounding the bunkers that has to be done as well.

This week the agronomy staff spent two days in the hot sun flymowing the faces of the bunkers, edging the lips, pulling/removing grass runners from the edges, blowing out the bunkers and packing and raking the bunkers to get them back in the shape they should be and golfers expect/demand today.

So after all the work and expense put into preparing the bunkers the way golfers demand it is extremely frustrating and disheartening to find bunkers left in this condition by the very golfers demanding pristine playing conditions.  If you are a golfer it is your responsibility under the rules of golf, and simply common courtesy, to leave the surface as close to the condition that you find it for your fellow golfers following you.  Golf course maintenance teams all around the world do their best each day to provide the best playing conditions possible but you, the golfer, also have a part to play in the success or failure of the course you play.

Please do your part and rake your tracks out of the bunkers, fix your ball marks on the greens, fill your divots on tees and in fairways, put your trash in the trash cans, ect. In general, treat the golf course as if you own it and want it to be the best it can possibly be each and every day.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Renovating Greens Surrounds

Sometimes the turf around and on greens just has to be replaced.  Whether it is from stress from disease, traffic, or weather it takes time and effort, and the attention to detail to get these areas repaired properly.  Over the past couple of weeks we have been working on these areas around several greens.  This past week we moved to #16 to sod the surrounds and repair some weak areas around the edges of the greens.

For many years we have battled with small areas on the surrounds of the greens.  These areas have gotten extra special attention with extra aerification, extra fertilizer, extra water, all to no avail, as they simply never healed in but the area less than a foot in on the green looked fine.  So since we can not use these areas for pin placements we decided to move the green in just a touch in these areas.  Our process began with the removal of any good Champion sod to be used to patch areas in the greens and then the removal of the poorly performing 419 grass which surrounds our greens.

We took the good Champion turf that could be salvaged from the weak areas around the greens and repaired some weak areas in the greens.  It will take a couple of weeks to allow these areas to heal in completely and then hopefully we should not be able to tell the work has been done.

Once the bad grass was removed we had to add some dirt and sand to fix the poor slope going from the walk on area near the cartpath to the green.  New sod was then laid on these areas.

After a few hours on a very hot day the area was repaired and all cut in.  I have to say special appreciation to my great agronomy staff who continue to do everything needed to produce a great conditioned golf course with all the weather issues and being short staffed.  These men deserve all the credit for how the course performs.

It will take a couple of weeks for these areas to heal in before we can lower the turfgrass and blend it in with the existing surround.  We will be moving on to do the same to the remaining holes which need some repair work and hope to be finished with this project by the end of the month.  We appreciate your patience and please consider these areas as Ground Under Repair until they are grown in.

Friday, June 19, 2015

HBEC Eagle Day 2015

Once again this year we have had the blessing to watch two more Bald Eagles hatch and grow thanks to our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam and all of our great viewers, chatters, sponsors and donors. We have always held to the belief that a golf course is more than just a place to chase a little white ball around and put it in a hole.  Golf courses are a fantastic sanctuary for wildlife, insects, plants, and especially, birds.  Our camera gives us, and anyone else around the world, an upclose view of the life and struggles from breaking out of the egg to taking that first leap of faith and launching into the wind to soar free.

 This past Tuesday we got to welcome just a few of the people who have logged on to view the eagles this year when we held our first annual HBEC Eagle Day at Harrison Bay.  In 2011 when we started this project I would not have imagined that it would have gathered such a loyal following or would have brought so many different people from different parts of the nation together, but it has.  Each Tuesday morning we have a nest tour for the locals who want to come view the eagles from the ground but not everyone who watches the camera is local. So, with the help of our moderators, we put together a date when people outside of our local viewing area could come to the course to see the eagles.

The festivities began on Monday night where many of us met, some for the first time, at the Harrison Bay rec hall for a "meet and greet". With over 50 people in attendance from 9 different states we had the great opportunity to watch Harrison Bay State Park Ranger Matt Vawter give us a demonstration of Scarlett, a red tail hawk who is a resident at the Harrison Bay SP Raptor Center.  Scarlett is blind in one eye and so she can not be released into the wild but she has a great home and does wonderful educational programs at Harrison Bay.

One of our moderators, affectionately referred to as PTomahawk, brought this specially decorated cake for the event.  Not sure who to give credit for the skill and creativity but it is amazing.

Special appreciation has to go to the Friends of Harrison Bay State Park for providing food and drinks at the "meet and greet" as well as for the moderators lunch on Tuesday.  Wonderful group of people who have supported, sponsored, and encouraged the eagle cam from the beginning.

Sadly, not everyone that wanted to attend Eagle Day could make it so we turned the camera on some of the visitors so they could wave at all their HBEC friends.  It was nice to see people who had chatted together all year meet each other and put faces with names.  Our eagle cam is like a little family spread out all over the world.

Watching Elliott and Eloise raise their young each year has truly been one of the highlights of my career.  There is a special sense of pride and responsibility in keeping their "home" safe for them and their young and we take that very seriously.  I hope that we will continue to be blessed by these magnificent creatures for many years to come and I hope you are able to get a glimpse of them when you are on the course.

Remember, golf courses are for more than just playing golf.  Take a look around next time you play and take in all the course and the environment has to offer.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Summer has finally arrived for us and while many people are going on vacation or laying out by the pool for the managers of ultradwarf bermudagrass greens the work is just beginning. Speaking for myself I can say that I love my job. I love being outside, seeing the sun rise each morning, watching the wildlife play on the course, and I even like the challenges that comes with my chosen profession.  One of the biggest challenges that we, golf course superintendents, face is finding the balance between the expectations of golfers and the health of the turfgrass, especially when it comes to putting surfaces.

For managers of the new ultradwarf bermudagrass cultivars that are replacing bentgrass greens all over the south thatch accumulation is probably one of our biggest issues.  Thatch according to the dictionary is "a tightly bound layer of dead grass, including leaves, stems, and roots, that builds up on the soil surface at the base of the living grass of a lawn."  Thatch according to a superintendent creates soft, patchy greens which are slow, can easily be scalped, harbor insects and disease pressures, and restrict the inflow of water, air, and nutrients.

The greatest tool that we have in combating the excessive accumulation of thatch is the use of vertical mowing or verticutting.  This is a process of using blades which are positioned vertically to slice through the surface and raise/remove growth which is not removed during normal mowing operations.  Is thatch a big issue?  Well the picture to the left shows the material removed from a single 10,000 sq. ft. putting green.  If this material is not removed on a regular basis the greens will become soft and puffy and will not be an acceptable putting surface and will eventually fail to perform correctly.

Our practice for the past two days which we called "Verticutapalooza" because it was a party for both us and the greens was to vertical mow up one direction and then back down the same line with the blades set 1/16" below the rollers. This picture shows on the left the green surface following the verticutting practice and on the right the greens surface once it has been mowed with our normal cutting units.  The thatch that was removed and the excess growth that is cut off of the surface helps to provide a firmer, faster, and more consistent putting surface.

Once the greens were mowed they were topdressed fairly heavily with a kiln dried green sand which was then drug into the surface with a carpet drag mat.  The incorporation of sand to the surface helps in the breakdown of organic matter in the soil matrix, fills in any voids in the putting surface, and helps to aid in the infiltration of water.

We use kiln dried green sand for our topdressing sand because it mitigates some, if not all, of the concerns and/or complaints by golfers of the greens being topdressed.  Many golfers are under the misconception that a green which has been topdressed will be slow, bumpy, or will drastically interfere with their round.  A light application of topdressing sand will actually make the greens smoother, faster, and more consistent but the sight of a green topdressed with white sand, no matter how well worked in, will still cause some golfers to complain to the proshop.  With our green sand if you don't see us putting it out you are most likely not going to be able to tell the greens have been topdressed and in our mind is worth the extra cost.

This is a picture of #18 green after being verticut twice along the same line, mowed, topdressed, and drug.  A massive amount of material was removed from the putting surface but it will only go to help the green both in the short term and the long haul.  Some golfers may see agronomy departments verticutting greens and think "They are destroying the greens.  Why can't they just leave good enough along?"  We could but the putting surface would not be the best it can be and would eventually begin to fail, resulting in lost turf and extensive restoration of the surface. Basically it is a very short term, minimal disruption for the overall longevity of the green.

May was a very busy month for us with 21 outings and tournaments which limited the amount of cultural practices we were able to perform to the greens.  We will resuming our biweekly verticutting program starting next week so that we can continue to improve our putting surfaces in an effort to provide the best putting surface we can for our golfers and guests.  Some had questions about what we were doing to the greens and I hope this has helped to alleviate some of those questions and concerns.