Sunday, July 17, 2016

Playing Catch Up at the Bay

With all the work being done on the golf course this summer, mostly on the greens, there have been some areas of the course which have unfortunately had to take a backseat on the priority list.  One of those has been the native grass areas around the course and with over 50 acres of native grass areas that has begun to become an eyesore and an added obstacle to many golfers' enjoyment of the game.

This past week Mitch used a Bobcat brushcat equipped with rubber tracks to go through and clean up all the native grass areas and lake banks around the course.  Many of these areas had become overgrown with weeds and tree saplings becoming unsightly and in some cases blocking golfers view or even ability to play properly off of certain tee boxes.  We do apologize for that and believe we have remedied that issue.

View from the tee box on #2 before maintenance.

View from #2 after maintenance.

#5 tee box before maintenance

#5 tee box after maintenance

Another area on the course that we have neglected has been the faces, or turf surrounding, the bunkers.  These have become overgrown and were extremely difficult to play out of but several members of the agronomy team led by Bill Greene have put forth tremendous effort mowing the grass back down, reestablishing a nice clean edge on the bunkers and getting them back in shape for play.

Our agronomy staff is working very hard to catch up on several of the important areas on our course and we ask that you do your part in improving the course by repairing your ball marks, filling divots, raking bunkers, and obeying golf cart directional signs.

Harrison Bay will have the honor of hosting the Tennessee Golf Association Match Play and Senior Match Play Championships July 28-31 and we are working to have the course in championship condition by then.  In preparation for that we will be adding sand to the bunkers, aerifying selected tees and other areas on the course, landscape work around the course, and a lot of prep on the greens to get them smoother and faster.

It has been an interesting summer so far and we are excited about where the course is headed.  I have to thank our agronomy staff, some of which have only been with the course for a month or two, for jumping in with both feet and putting in long, hard hours to rebuild the course to the level that you, and I, expect.  We are not done, not by a long shot, and will continue working hard.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Managing Excessive Organic Material in Greens

Over the past couple of months we have been working very hard to recover our greens from the nematode infestation that we experienced coming out of dormancy as detailed in a previous blogpost Greens Getting Better Everyday.  With all the extra fertility we have had to apply to the greens to help them recover we have generated a lot more organic matter in the greens this year than usual causing them to be puffy, or have a "spongy" feeling, which reduces the firm, fast feel of the greens and allowing our greensmowers to start scalping and gouging areas in the greens.

We have worked too hard in getting the greens back to lay off of them now so that is why we got aggressive with our verticutting process this past week.  The whole idea of getting aggressive is to remove the stolons or top growth on the greens.  It looks very intense but is actually one of the best things we can do for our greens as it removes the excess growth in the greens, allows for more sand topdressing to be incorporated into the greens, creates a firmer faster surface, and reduces the potential scalping issues that we have been facing.

The greens were verticut in two directions at a depth of 0.125" below the surface using a backtrack mowing pattern meaning we verticut directly back up the pass we just did.  This is done to make sure all the green is consistently affected in the same way.

Verticutting or vertical mowing is accomplished by using blades which are set in a vertical position, thus the name, and designed to penetrate the surface of the greens to remove stolons and excess growth on greens.  The depth at which the blades are set determine the amount of material removed and the disruption to the putting surface.

So why do we spend the extra time and energy to backtrack mow?  The set up of the verticutting units and the growth habit of the greens to grow downhill and toward the sun requires this to insure a consistent affect to the entire surface.  The top picture shows the units going up hill or "into the grain" so the blades are actually not affecting much turf.  The bottom picture shows the blades going downhill so that the teeth shown above are actually reaching under the green surface and pulling the turf upwards.  If the greens were only verticut in one direction then every other pass would be affected more than the other and that would result in stripes across the green which would affect play and appearance for a very long time.  And no one wants that.

After the greens were verticut we used a tow behind turbine blower to remove any excess organic material from the greens surface before it was double cut with our sand reel mowers set at 0.130 and then single cut with our regular cutting units set at 0.120.  The amount of material removed from the greens is unbelievable and I wish there was a way to collect it all and pile it up so everyone could get a grasp of what is going on under that putting green surface and why these processes are necessary.

After the greens were double cut and then single cut they were moderately topdressed and drug in and then watered.  We really opened up the canopy of the greens with this process and the sand worked right into the voids we had created, so much so that we were able to come back on Wednesday morning and apply another dressing with sand to finish the process off and smooth the greens up so much more.

So on Wednesday some of the greens looked like this which did give credence to some of the comments we heard like "What have they done to the greens now?" or "They just got them back and now they have torn them up again".  But the greens putted very well considering their appearance just proving you should not judge a book by its cover.

So by Friday the greens were healed in from the verticutting process and better than they have been all year.  It takes some work to get and keep greens in the condition that golfers demand and as we are not closed one day a week for maintenance we have to perform these tasks when we can.  Normally we would not have been this aggressive during the playing season, and would have waited for our summer aerification closure, but this needed to be done and if I could I would do it again next week.  Don't worry I'm not.  Thanks for your patience and I hope you agree with me that the final result was worth the couple of days of pain.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Best Laid Plans Gone Awry---Green #9

Not every plan that we come up with at the golf course works out the way we plan, but you have to be willing to try different techniques or you will never know.  When we came out of winter dormancy this year we were dealing with several issues and had to try different techniques to combat them.  On #9 green our issue was not nematodes as it was on the other greens but rather poor drainage and an excessive amount of surface algae that was smothering the new turfgrass as it was trying to come out.

We tried several chemical controls to try and eliminate the algae growth but none of them worked the way we needed so we decided we would "wash" the algae off with a high pressure hose.  We started with a 1" adjustable fire hose nozzle but that was not working as well as I wanted so I decided to use a flat fan nozzle on the end of the 1" hose to peel the algae off of the green.

In theory the plan worked great and there was lots of green grass on the green under all that algae.  So our plan worked out, correct?  Well, not really.

On other areas that had algae growing on them on other greens we reverted back to the less aggressive adjustable nozzle after we realized that the flat fan nozzle had actually, almost irreparably, damaged the green by stripping the leaf blades off of the plant.  After a week or so after performing the high pressure washing of the green I knew our best laid plans had gone awry.  The green was showing some signs of recovery but with the golf season coming on quick we had to make some quick decisions about how to fix or repair this green.

Before just fixing the green we needed to figure out what could have been the cause of the issue in the first place.  Why was the green failing to drain properly and allowing the surface to stay wet for so long to allow the algae to become such a problem.  At first we thought it was our pigment PAR from Harrell's that we used for greens applications but according to lab testing that was not the cause of the sealing off of the greens.  A closer look at the top three inches of our greens surface and the topdressing sand we have been using for several years began to tell the tale about what happened.  The fine and very fine sand particles in our topdressing sand exceeds the suggested limits for topdressing sand from the USGA.  These particles had packed together to make water and air almost impossible to penetrate the green surface.  Below the top 2 inches tests showed that our greens were functioning properly but the water simply could not make it through to that level rapidly enough.

With several big events coming up at the end of the summer we had to pull the trigger on fixing the green.  We simply could not wait for the green to come back in on its own.  So on Monday, May 23rd, we started the renovation process of the green by removing the top 3-4 inches of the green surface as we did on #3 green over the winter months Rebirth of #3 Green  The removed material was stockpiled in the parking lot to be used in other projects at a later date.

Close to 75 tons of new greens mix was brought to the green and spread.  We used the tracks of the Bobcat track loader to disturb the area beneath the 4" so that there was no chance of the two sands bridging or water being trapped between the new sand and the existing greens complex.

After the green was roughed in and then fine hand raked to level out any humps we watered down the sand to help it pack better and used the weight and the tracks of the track loader to firm up the greens surface and get it ready for it's new coat of turf.

The removal of the damaged green and the replacement of the new greens mix was done by Mitch and Bill in only one day.

Over the next couple of days we continued to hand rake and pack the new greens mix as well as apply our pre plant fertilizer getting the surface ready to lay the new Champion Ultradwarf bermudagrass sod on it.  The sod arrived on Wednesday and early on Thursday morning we got started by first placing a ring of sod around the perimeter of the green and then pulling a rope across the middle of the green so we could have a good first line and off we went.

It took the agronomy staff a little over 4 hours to cover and cut in the new sod on the green.  Roll after roll after roll we kept laying it down until it was all done.  The sod came in a refrigerated trailer so it was still in excellent condition and gave us an instant idea of what the green would soon look like once it was grown in.

Once the green was completely covered and cut in we cleaned up all the scrap pieces and moved all the unused pallets of sod out of the way and began the "seating in" process.  First we hand watered the green rather heavily to water the sod and to make the 1.25 ton vibratory roller work better.  We rolled the sod in multiple directions which did a great job of helping to level everything out.

After the multiple rollings we had a sand slinging party to add greens mix on the surface and used level lawns and brooms to help work it down into the canopy.  This helped to firm up the green and level off high and low areas in the green.

The next thing on the list, after multiple heavy waterings, was to mow the green at a high height of cut 0.250" taking off the top bit of canopy to help the smoothing process and to make it easier to get the multiple topdressings into the surface.

Unfortunately this is the last project, and last picture I took, of one of our agronomy staff members Barry Webb.  Barry passed away unexpectedly on Memorial Day.  Rest in peace Barry.  You are very much missed.

So it has been three weeks since we went from what was an embarrassing situation and green to one that is looking extremely good.  Already down to greens height and rolling better and better every day we are extremely happy with the results of the project.  Thanks to all the golfers who put up with the temporary green in the fairway for a few days and with the slower than normal putting as we worked the green down to height.  As we move forward the green will only get better as the rest of the greens are.

The Agronomy Staff did a great job on this project and we will continue to work to improve the golf course with other projects such as sodding, tee and approach aerification, and adding sand to bunkers will be carried out throughout the remainder of the summer.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Greens Update -- Getting Better Every Day

Photo taken on April 19, 2016
It's only the first of June but it has already been a long season for the agronomy team at Harrison Bay, mostly due to the extended growing season we encountered this past winter where we were still mowing green turf on our greens on New Year's Eve day which is very unusual. If you have played the course you have witnessed the areas on the greens which are less than ideal.  So what caused this and what are we doing to correct it?

The primary cause of our issues on the greens was a severe infestation of nematodes, mostly of the Sting (Belonolaimus longicaudatus) variety.  Nematodes are microscopic, non-segmented worms which feed on the root system of plants in various ways, all leading to the injury and/or demise of the turfgrass.  In the case of the Sting nematode they feed by inserting a stylet into the plant root much like a mosquito into a human and suck out the plant juices.  By the time the symptoms are observed on the surface the damage has been done below.  We normally treat for nematodes from March through October but with the warm weather this winter the nematodes did not enter dormancy, or hibernation, as they usually do.  This was an abnormal year and I simply was not thinking of nematode control during the Christmas season.  This has been a wake up call for us and we will, from now on, be on a 12 month preventative control program for these little pests.

Photo taken on May 21, 2016
All is not lost however.  We have seen a considerable amount of recovery over the past couple of weeks since the weather has improved with higher temperatures which has greatly encouraged both topical and root growth.  The nematode infestation has been controlled with the use of Avid from Syngenta and Nortica from BAYER Golf.  We have begun using a new product Dakota REV from Dakota Peat which we have seen considerable benefits from.  This product along with our foliar apps from Harrell's MaxLine and our granular fertility, along with Harrell's Divot Recovery Mix, will help to continue to improve the putting surfaces every day as we move forward.

Unfortunately there are areas on a couple of greens which would take longer than acceptable to recover just by growing in the turf that is there so we will be working to repair these areas with sod over the next several weeks.  No one likes to have to sod a green surface but this is the best and quickest way to get these areas, mostly on the perimeter of the green and thus not affecting most putts, back into proper condition and ready for the major golfing tournaments and TGA state championship events we have coming up in the next three months.

Healthy turfgrass from root to tip can withstand more environmental stresses than plants which are already weak.  This is well known and commonsense.  So as I stated last year in Time to Reset we will be doing more cultural practices on the greens to help improve their health and ability to withstand the pressures placed on them from weather, play, maintenance practices, disease pressures, and other forces such as nematode activity.  This may include additional venting and quad tine core aerifications, spiking, shallow and deep verticutting of greens, and additional applications of sand topdressings.  All designed to improve the health of our greens by revigorating our 12 year old Champion greens with new, stronger, healthier plants.

We are confident that our greens will continue to improve exponentially as the summer progresses and we thank all of our faithful members and tournament directors who have stuck with us through this learning process.  This has been a trying time for everyone at the course as golfers look to us for answers as to what went wrong.  I have to thank my agronomy staff for their hard work and the operations staff in the clubhouse for taking the brunt of the questions and concerns.  As it has been said before "If it was easy, everyone would do it." which is definetely true for a golf course superintendent.  We are excited about the future and thank you for your patience.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

BT@HB Bluebird Trail is Thriving

The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay is home to a collection of 45 Eastern Bluebird nesting houses strategically scattered throughout the golf course.  These nesting houses have been in place since 2008 and have fledged hundreds of bluebirds which now fill the air around the golf course.  Eastern Bluebirds are not only nice to look at, but have a peaceful song and help to eat lots of insects, including spiders, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and many more.

Nesting boxes at the course are very active already this year with over half of them already having residents staking claim for the year.  Bluebirds usually have 1-3 broods of 2-7 eggs per year.  The incubation period is between 11-19 days and the then they will remain in the nest from 17-21 day before fledging.

Bill and Diane Bice, Diane Johnstone, Angie Medley
(Deanne and Jim Morgan, Chuck Johnstone not pictured)
We are extremely fortunate that several years ago we were able to connect with interested community members who love to monitor and take care of our nesting boxes.  These members of the Friends of Harrison Bay State Park volunteer their time to take care of the blue bird houses at the course and a smaller blue bird trail at the park.  Projects like this one where we can reach outside of our course and invite people from the community to see what golf courses can provide for the environment are critical in changing the philosophy that golf courses are harmful to the environment. Previous post on Bluebird Nest Monitoring

After a couple of years where we lost several nests due to predication from raccoons and snakes we installed simple wire predator guards which have made a significant difference in our success rate.

Recently our friends at TurfNet put together this video on the predator guards and why we use them.

Bluebird nesting houses can be a great addition to any golf course, or even your backyard, and are rather easy to make.  There are many nesting house plans on the internet but we chose to use the Eastern Bluebird Nesting Box Plans from Audubon International.   Bluebird Fact Sheet from Audubon International

All the information you could probably ever need to know about bluebirds can be found at or at All About Birds

In order to keep up with how our nesting houses are doing Mrs. Diane Johnstone reports our nesting activity to  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Nest Watch.  A real simple way to know which boxes are doing well and help to keep a count of Eastern Bluebird nesting activity at Harrison Bay.

The Bluebird Trail at the golf course has been one of the easier environmental projects that we have done and has provided suitable habitat for hundreds of hatchlings to begin their lives.  If you don't have bluebird houses (or another species nesting house) on your course then I strongly encourage you to consider it.  Start small with just a few and expand from there.   Happy Birding!!!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Rounds 4 Research was a Resounding Success...But There's More Opportunities

The Rounds 4 Research auction ended last night with a resounding success.  With over 100 rounds available to bid on in Tennessee alone, we are happy to announce that over $11,500.00 was raised for turfgrass research, scholarships, and advocacy to be used in Tennessee.  Across the entire program over 900 rounds were bid on raising over $155,000.00   Congratulations and THANK YOU to all the winning bidders and thank you to all the participating golf courses.

The Tennessee Golf Course Superintendents Association is extremely grateful and thankful to all those who participated in the program.

Exciting News:  For those who were not able to participate, or were unlucky and got out bid, you now have a second chance at VICTORY!!!

The Environmental Institute for Golf is re-opening the auction to clear house on all the remaining rounds up for bid.  The auction will run from April 12-17.  We have 40 rounds remaining for Tennessee which will go back on the block.  

Here is your opportunity to play some great courses such as TPC Southwind, Spring Creek RanchThe Links at Kahite, Hillwood Country Club, Humboldt Country Club, and even a one year membership at Knoxville Municipal Golf Course along with many more.   

To view all the available rounds please go to Tennessee R4R Auction and help raise money for turfgrass research while getting to play some great courses in Tennessee.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Time to Tee Off with Rounds For Research Again

It is almost that time of year again where you have the opportunity to bid for the chance to play some of the best courses in the state of Tennessee while at the same time supporting and funding turfgrass research.  I am proud to announce that we (The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay) and all the other courses along the Tennessee Golf Trail will join close to 100 other golf courses in Tennessee as part of the Rounds 4 Research program.  Between April 1-10, 2016 you will have the opportunity to bid on rounds of golf on the Bidding For Good website with proceeds from your winning bid going to local and national golf associations to be used to fund education, research, advocacy, and scholarships.

The Rounds 4 Research program is a great and simple way for you to "support turfgrass research while playing on exclusive courses.  It's a WIN-WIN."  The funds raised by your winning bid will be split with at least 80% going to your local golf course superintendent association and the remaining amount going to the GCSAA Environmental Institute for Golf .  As stated before, it's a Win-Win.  You get to play on some of the best courses that you might have thought you would never get the opportunity to play and your local golf association, Tennessee Golf Course Superintendents Association gets much needed, and valuable, funds to help support turfgrass research that will aid all golf courses.

We have a generous collection of golf courses throughout the state of Tennessee who have stepped up and donated rounds of golf, usually a foursome with golf carts and some with range balls and/or other extras, which will make your golf experience even that much better.

So how can you help??  

1.  Go to Bidding For Good website and register for an account.
2.  Look over the golf courses for Tennessee and select the courses you are interested in bidding on.
3.  Get ready to bid on your choices from April 1-10.

That seems so simple so what else can you do to help out??

1.  Check the list of golf courses and make sure your home course is listed.
2.  If they are, Thank them for supporting the cause.  If they are not, Ask them why they are not on the list.  There is still time for your course to get involved.  Donations will be accepted throughout the auction period.


3.  Help promote the program but telling your membership, golf buddies, and anyone that will listen about this great opportunity.  Every little bit of promotion helps.

The Rounds 4 Research program only works if people bid on the rounds, so we can get millions of rounds donated, but if you don't do your part and bid on these amazing golf properties, then neither of us wins.  Please help us raise much needed funds for turfgrass research.

If you are a golf course in Tennessee that has donated a round THANK YOU.  The project would not be a success without you.

If you are a golf course interested in joining this great group of donors there is still time.  Please contact TGCSA Executive Secretary Ms. Shelia Finney or myself to donate a round.