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+ days...so 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.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Course Improvements--Recent and Future

As always the golf course maintenance staff at Harrison Bay has been hard at work over the past few weeks.  The renovations to the golf course have made it all the better and with our second greens aerification of the year coming up next week there will be even more improvements made to the course.

 The chipping/nursery green is coming along on schedule. We have had some set backs due to the cloudy weather and the fact that the green is very lacking in organic matter in the soil which means it does not hold water or nutrients readily but we have been "babying" it and are stating to get well defined roots and the grass is beginning to spread quickly.  If we get the good weather they are forecasting over the next few weeks I feel confident that we will be ready to open the area for practice by the end of the month.

Willie is mowing the new zoysia tee on #9 at 12:45 PM
Notice the amount of shade still on the tee.
The white tee on #9 that was resodded a couple of weeks ago has rooted down and has been opened for play.  This tee was built several years ago, moving the original tee from an area closer to the cart path to its current location due to the heavy shade created by the trees near the tee box.  Moving the tee did not help the poor turf conditions caused by the small area, the excessive use, and the inability of the 419 bermudagrass to deal with the amount of shade.  This time when we regrassed the tee we chose to use zoysia grass which is more tolerant to the shade.  It does not have the recuperative ability that 419 does but hopefully will be able to survive in the shade better.  It will require more care and we may occasionally have to move the white tees back up to the forward tee if the traffic becomes too heavy.

For several years I have been wanting to start a vertical mowing program for the tees, approaches, and fairways and this week we began by doing the tee boxes.  This process removes unwanted growth and thatch by slicing into the turfgrass surface and cutting the plant vertically.  Following this process we came back with a regular cut with our tee mowers and then blew off all the chaff.  This practice will make the tees firmer and healthier and will allow for easier incorporation of topdressing sand which will happen over the next week.

As I said earlier we will be conducing our second aerification of the year this upcoming week so the course will be closed on Monday and Tuesday. We have heard many compliments on the greens lately which is nice to hear but we have also heard the question of "Why do you have to tear them up when they are so good?"  That is a fair question.  If we want to continue to have good greens then we have to do the maintenance on them to keep them that way.  Aerification is a vital process to the health and survival of our greens.  It removes old, dying plant material, increases the exchange of gases from the soil and the atmosphere, increases the infiltration rate of surface water, and relieves compaction caused by golfer and maintenance traffic.  It will be a temporary set back and with the greens being as healthy as they are now I expect a quick recovery.

Bill Greene preparing for fairway verticutting
While we are closed we will also be attending to the verticutting practice on the fairways and approaches.  We will be applying topdressing to the tees and approaches and will be aerifying the sod that was laid in the fairways back in June to help with drainage, rooting, and to help level/smooth these areas out.  We will also be adding sand to many of the green side bunkers and preparing them for play.

Your golf course maintenance staff is always busy, working hard and trying to improve your golf course.  I consider myself very fortunate to have a staff as committed and dedicated to the course as I do, so if you see them on the course, say "Thanks" and let them know you appreciate all they do for you.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Sprigging and Sodding from 2014 Winter Injury

We all enjoy seeing a snow fall across the golf course every now and then and while it is beautiful to look at the damage that cold temperatures and snow/ice cover leave behind can be felt for a very long time.  The winter of 2014 was very hard on turfgrass in the transition zone and we are still recovering from its effects.  We have worked to repair areas around the golf course, on greens, tees, and fairways, as possible.  This week and next we will complete our recovery efforts.

We had several small areas on the greens that did not recover and needed to be sodded or plugged. Our staff used the sod from our nursery/chipping green to make the repairs in the greens which turned out very well.  With the removal of so much plant material from the nursery it has been necessary to renovate the nursery again this season.  I guess that is what it was built for so we should use it as such. The process began last week with Willie and Tanner stripping any remaining turf from the surface, adding some new sand and smoothing and packing the surface.

The resprigging of the chipping green started this morning with a quick trip up to Knoxville where Champion Turf Farms was converting yet another golf course.  Upon returning to Harrison Bay it took us about an hour to introduce the sprigs to their new home.

Once the sprigs were completely spread across the green surface and had a quick drink of water they were "buried" in humate blended sand.  The sprigs were covered with enough sand so that they were barely visible.  This process will help protect them from drying out and from any movement by wind or water.  It also helps to begin the smoothing out process of the green during grow in.

Once the sprigs were sufficiently protected and they had another drink of water we used the bunker rake to pack or press the sprigs into the green.  This process will help the sprigs make better contact with the soil surface for better rooting.  I would have liked to have used a heavy roller or cutting tool but sometimes you have to use the best tool that you have available.

With favorable weather, the sprigs will take about 6-7 weeks to completely grow in and become a true putting surface like the rest of the golf course greens.  Until that time the chipping green area is closed to play.  Irrigation will be applied over the next several days on a regular interval so we ask that you stay clear of this area so you do not get wet by accident.

Other renovations to the golf course will include the finishing up of sod repair on #5 and #17 fairways.  The repairs on #10 and #15 have turned out very nice and we expect these two new areas to do the same.

We will also be placing sod on a couple of tee boxes and in some heavy traffic areas on and approaching greens.  Please be aware of these areas and avoid driving through, walking over, or playing from these areas until further notice.  We will not be placing ropes and signs around many of these areas since they are so small but we ask that you show care for the golf course and respect the hard work your golf course maintenance staff is putting forth to provide you with a high quality golf course.

Monday, June 30, 2014

HB5 Flies Free Again

Injured and infected right wing of eaglet on 5/29/14
As many of you might remember one of our eaglets, HB5, was injured last month and had to be taken to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine for treatment as documented in this blogpost Harrison Bay Eaglet Injury Update.  Dr. Cheryl Greenacre and her staff at UT CVM did an amazing job of cleaning HB5s injuries and preparing it for transport to the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge, TN for rehabilitation.

After a short time in a solitary cage to regain its strength and mend its wounds HB5 was moved from the small netted cage area to a larger 150 foot flight cage where it could spread its wings and get stronger.  A sub adult bald eagle was placed in the flight cage with it for companionship and to help it cope with being in captivity.  In the short three weeks that HB5 was at the AEF facilities it quickly regained its strength and it was evident that it wanted to fly free, again.

Today was a special day at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay as Mr. Al Cecere and his staff from AEF journeyed to Harrison Bay to return HB5 back to the wild where he belongs and at the site where he was designed and destined to live.

After a little bit of a struggle and a "good bye" nip at Mr. Cecere's thumb HB5 was removed from the transport carrier.  Mr. Cecere stated that HB5 was one of the feistiest birds he had seen, using every trick in the book not to be captured each time they tired, and did not expect this bird to ever want to be near humans again.  Bad for us but great for HB5.

A small but very interested group of eagle watchers gathered for the release which was probably a once in a lifetime event for us all.  The support and interest in our program has been overwhelming this year and we hope to carry this momentum forward. Mitchell Sivley, Assistant Superintendent at Harrison Bay, looks on ready for the action.
Mr. Cecere was very patient and accommodating with all those in attendance allowing us time to be up-close and personal with HB5.  Golf Course Superintendent Paul L. Carter and his daughter Hannah, who gave the adult eagles their names, Elliott and Eloise, spend time some quality time with HB5 before its release.

Seeing this magnificent bird up close today was a highlight of my career.  We were so thankful that Mr. Cecere took his time and provided us his special observations about HB5.  Mr. Cecere stated that he had not seen a prettier eaglet and was amazed by the pure dark feathers on HB5s head and tail.

One feature of the eagle that I had never seen before were the black barbs located at the rear of the tongue.  These barbs are called "rear-directed papillae" and are used to aid in the swallowing of food.  In the very back of the tongue there is a hole called the "glottis" which is the entrance to the windpipe.  The "glottis" will close when swallowing or calling out.

Every eagle needs a little bling
HB5 was also banded with a special band from the US Department of Agriculture.  The band is unobtrusive to the bird and will help to identify it if is viewed by eagle watchers in another area or is injured or captured again.  The talons are extremely impressive up close and definitely demanded your attention.

Before the release of HB5 back into the wild Mr. Cecere took a moment to remember a great Tennessean and great American who he was a personal friend with and had recently passed away.  Mr. Cecere in a fitting tribute to his friend Senator Howard Baker asked if we could rename HB5 to "The Great Conciliator" in honor of the late senator's ability to bring peace and mediation between both political parties while serving his country in Washington.  Senator Baker's spirit will now fly free with HB5.

After everyone had gotten to see HB5 it was time for it to return to the sky where it belongs and in one quick toss Mr. Cecere released it into the air.  It quickly took to flight and flew directly to the perch tree beside the nest tree where HB6 had been sitting less than an hour before.  As we watched it sit on the tree both parents and HB6 came flying overhead as if to say "Welcome Home".

We cannot thank the Bear Trace golf course staff members who captured HB5, the Harrison Bay State Park Rangers who rushed it to be checked out, the fine doctors at UT College of Veterinary Medicine for treating it, or Mr. Cecere and his fantastic staff at the American Eagle Foundation enough.  Their hard work and dedication has returned another bald eagle into the wild and this is one experience I will never forget and consider myself blessed to have been a part of.

Coverage and updates on the release can be found at www.harrisonbayeaglecam.org and https://www.facebook.com/AmericanEagleFoundation

Fly Free HB5 Fly Free

Monday, June 23, 2014

June has been a busy month

A lot of work has taken place at Harrison Bay since my last post.  The golf course maintenance staff has been hard at work and with summer temperatures finally arriving the turfgrass has taken off and the course is looking better and better by the day.

The greens have completely recovered from our June aerification and we are back to our normal maintenance practices such as double cutting, rolling, topdressing, vertical mowing, and venting.  These processes are tedious and sometimes inconvenient but they are a necessity to continue to maintain high quality putting surfaces.  Please bear with us as we do these practices, especially if you are one of the first groups out.  We are working as fast as we can to get it done right for all our guests.

One of the projects that we took care of while we were closed for aerification was to repair the winter injury areas in 10 and 15 fairways.  The damaged sod was cut up with a sod cutter and removed from the damaged area.

We then used large rolls of sod from Mid Tenn Turf in Manchester, TN to repair the areas.  It was a lot of work and of course it rained on us right in the middle of the process which made it that much more difficult but the staff stayed with it and got the work done.  These areas have been rolled several times and have been topdressed and fertilized and are ready for play.  We will continue to lower the height of cut down over the next month until it is back to fairway height.

One of the things we are doing different this year is our mowing pattern on our tees and fairways and we get a lot of questions about this.  Mowing the fairways and tees in this pattern is known by many superintendents as the "classic cut" as it takes us back to the day before the modern lightweight fairway units that made striping fairways so easy.  This mowing pattern was chosen because it reduced the time it takes to mow the fairways, the fuel used, and the emissions created.

Some people like the look and some don't.  I guess it is a personal preference but we are doing it to save time and money.  We estimate that by mowing our fairways in this pattern we will save 312 manhours, 811 gallons of diesel fuel, and eliminate the production of 18,641 pounds of point source CO2.  Along with the sharp look that this mowing pattern provides these saving are the icing on the cake.

As the work is never done on a golf course we have several more projects that we will be carrying out during the month of July to continue to improve the course.  We will be aerifying and topdressing the tees this month, we will put the finishing touches on the greens plugging project that Willie and Jonathen have done such a great job on, and we will continue to repair areas in fairways and around greens damaged by the cold winter of 2014.

As the summer progresses please take time to enjoy all of the aspects of the golf course and not just the green grass.  We have an abundance of wildlife to enjoy watching and the Operation Pollinator plantings on holes #1 and #10 are beginning to bloom.  As the seasons progress and these areas mature we should have a great stand of wildflower color in these areas which will provide food and shelter for many bees and butterflies.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Greens Aerification Scheduled for June 3rd and 4th

Much to everyone's excitement the greens at Harrison Bay have made a tremendous turnaround over the past several weeks.  Good growing weather combined with some extreme TLC from the grounds staff have proven to be the special touch that they needed.  Although the greens are improving we know we can make them even better and so we will be carrying out our first large core aeration of the year on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.  The course will be closed for these two days to allow us to perform the necessary tasks that we need to in order to keep improving the golf course.

I know that very few, if any, golfers like to hear the word "aerification" but it is a necessary evil that must be performed.  Just so you don't think that I thought up the process by myself, I invite you to view the USGA video below on the importance of greens aerification.

Please bear with us as we continue to make the golf course better.  We feel that the greens will be back in better shape than they are now within 7-10 days.