Saturday, March 4, 2017

Spring Cleaning for the Wood Duck Boxes

For me personally I think the Southern Wood Duck is the most attractive bird we have on our golf course, except for our bald eagles of course. The population of the wood duck was greatly threatened in the late 1800's and early 1900's as detailed in Staus of the Wood Duck from Ducks Unlimited but has made a comeback.  Our belief in sharing the property our golf course sits on with the wildlife and waterfowl that call it "home" started a long time ago and we still hold that belief to be true today.

Several years ago we constructed 12 wood duck boxes which were placed in different areas near the water around the course.  The plans for these nesting boxes are really simple to make. This plan from Ducks Unlimited is some of the best I have seen. Wood Duck Nest Box Plans  So each year in the spring we go through the course and repair any damage to the boxes and install new bedding material (cedar shavings) to help the ducks out.  Wood ducks are extremely timid and will abandon nests built in tree knot holes if threatened so installing these nest boxes over the water where predators can't get to them give them a greater chance of nesting success.

Our wood duck boxes have been very successful over the years.  We have provided a safe and suitable nesting habitat for these waterfowl for just a very limited investment in material and time.  Installing these nest boxes has allowed for the wood duck population around our golf course to grow like the hatchlings in this photo.

Our next step might be to add a nest box cam so we can watch the nesting process and to continue to promote the environmental benefit of golf courses and the superintendents who manage them.

If we can assist or encourage any others to protect and promote the wood duck population please let us know.   Happy Birding!!!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Limbing Up Trees and Dressing Up the Walkpaths

We are fortunate at Harrison Bay to have an active group of golfers who love to walk our golf course.  These golfers make up a significant part of our yearly membership and our yearly rounds.  Through the years as we have increased our native grass acreage to eliminate daily maintenance expenses and increase the nesting and movement areas on the course for the wildlife we have unintentionally constricted the travel path for some of our walkers.  This winter we decided to dress up the walkways through the native grass areas to make it easier to travel and more attractive.

This winter has been about some of the smaller projects we can do to the course to improve it and one of those easy but very beneficial projects is to limb up the trees in the playing areas of the course.  Limbing up trees will provide better shot options for golfers, will allow more sunlight to reach the turfgrass so it can be healthier, and will give the golf course a better appearance overall.

To make the limbing up process easier we created a secure platform which we placed on the front end loader tractor which allowed us to reach farther up the tree to do a better job.  Trying to hold up an extended pole saw will tire the operator out quickly so this technique makes it safer and more productive.  With safety in mind the saw operator is secured to the tractor with a safety harness so he can not fall out.  This process has really sped up the limbing project and we are through the front nine in only a couple of weeks.

The big question was what do we do with all the limbs that we will generate and how do we use them to benefit the course.  We decided that we wanted to chip up the limbs and use them as mulch on the walk paths as I have seen done at some other golf courses.  Willie did some research and found this great little chipper WoodMaxx DC-1260 chipper.  It will easily chip up a limb up to 4" and is very economically priced compared to some of the chippers we were looking at to rent.  Now we have a chipper to help clean up the course when needed.

A simple plywood box was built on the back of one of our Toro Workman MDEs and we chip the limbs directly into the box.  Being small in size like the DC-1260 is makes it very easy to maneuver around and easy to use.  Once the box is full we take the chips to a nearby walkway and spread them across the path.

Using the wood chips on the walk ways will hopefully make the native grass areas more attractive and will give our walking golfers a nicer path to walk.  In the past following rainstorms some of the areas along the walking paths have had standing water or have been extremely muddy which is less than desirable to walk through or pull your pull cart through.  We hope this will eliminate these issues.

The wood chips through the native areas are a nice addition to our golf course and will help our walking guests have a better round.  That being said these areas are for WALKERS ONLY. NO golf carts should ever be taken into native grass areas or driven down the wood chip walk paths.  Please allow me to repeat this.  THE WOOD CHIP PATHS ARE FOR WALKERS ONLY.  GOLF CARTS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO USE THEM!!!!  Please help the course by doing your part and obeying the cart rules that are in place at Harrison Bay or at your own course if you can't come join us.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Front Entrance Facelift--Part 1

As the old saying goes "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."  For a few years now the sign at our front entrance has not represented the quality of golf course we are trying to produce for our guests.  The paint on the old sign was faded, the sign dirty, and the posts rotted through and only being held up on one side by steel support beams and long bolts. So this year we decided to give the sign and the entrance area a facelift.  Hopefully it will provided the first impression we are looking for.

We removed the overgrown plants and the years of old mulch from around the sign.  The sign was removed and taken to the maintenance building for a good cleaning and a tree that overhung the sign was cut down and cleaned up.  After we removed the steel supports that had been holding the left side of the sign up we had to pour new footers for the cinderblook columns that were to be constructed.

Two new 8 foot tall cinderblock columns were constructed which were then wrapped using Airstone from Lowes.  The Airstone was a great product to use as it is lightweight, can easily be cut to fit with a hacksaw or a radial arm saw outfitted with a masonry blade, and is easily attached to the block wall with an exterior adhesive.  The varying colors, textures, and thickness of the Airstone gave us the ability to contrast the stone work and give the columns some character and interest.

After a nice bath and a new coat of paint the sign looks brand new.  The sign project turned out better than I thought it would.  The remaining steps in the project, which will be happening over the next couple of weeks, will be to add some new plants, level the area up and lay new sod, and install some much needed uplighting on the sign which will help our guests locate the course easier on dark early mornings.

As all projects at Harrison Bay are a team effort the success of this project fell squarely on the shoulders of Willie Hamby (left) and Bill Greene (right).  Neither of them are block masons or stone masons so there was a lot of measuring and remeasuring to make sure everything would fit perfectly, and it did.  It always amazes me how many different hidden talents agronomy staff members possess.  It takes more than just the ability to grow and mow grass to succeed on a golf course and I am very thankful our staff always rises up, goes above and beyond, and continues to improve Harrison Bay.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

HBEC is Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Since 2010 The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay has been blessed to be the home of a pair of American bald eagles.  With the addition of cameras, infrared lighting, and microphones over the past five years we have had the unbelievable pleasure of getting an up close and "birds eye" view of the nesting and brooding habits of Elliott and Eloise. Last years addition of the approach cam allowed us to get a different view of their activities.

The 2017 nesting season was to be an exciting and intriguing viewing season since we now have a new female eagle, Eliza A New Lady in HBEC . Lots of questions were in the air. Would Elliott take to the new female?  Would they make a good pair or was there a new male waiting to take over as well? How would Eliza's parenting style differ from Eloise?  Unfortunately we have not factual idea of what happened to Eloise and we continue to pray that she is okay and somewhere else raising a new family.

As fate would have it, and a reminder that you can't beat Mother Nature, the storms that came through our area in the beginning of December that helped to put out the raging wildfires also took out the electronics in the top of the nest tree.  We have lost communication with the HD PTZ cam, the infrared light, and the in tree microphone.  Basically everything that we need to continue enjoying the famous view of the HBEC nest is down and at this time can not be fixed.

Looks a little like HBSP Ranger Matt Vawter

So Fix-It Felix!!! If it was that easy, we would, but we can't.  The eagles have begun the nesting process and we cannot do anything that might disturb them based on the International Migratory Birds Treaty, and the Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle Protection Act (Act 16 U.S.C. 668-668C). Even if the Protection Act was not in place we still would not take any actions that would disturb them. It's just not the right thing to do.

So what is the plan?  Right now we are putting together a package to place a new camera at the ground level with infrared lights to light up the tree, along with a new microphone.  Will it be perfect or what we are used to? No, it will not but it will allow us to get a better view of the nest tree activities than we have now.  We are hopeful to have all the technology in place within the next two weeks so we can start streaming a better picture for you.  In the fall when we can do some maintenance on the cameras we will replace the PTZ camera and other items in the top of the tree and install backups so if this happens again we will not be in the same predicament.  

If you would like to help our project out and donate to the camera/tecnology replacement and upgrade campaign please visit the HBEC website for different ways in which to donate.  Our project is completely funded by donations from our fabulous viewers so every penny helps.  All donations are tax deductible and we can provide you with any donation information you might need.  Matt will be placing a Fund Raiser page on the website soon with more detailed information about the components, timing, and need.

Thanks for your support of the Harrison Bay Eagle Cam Project.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Farewell 2016...You Will Not Be Forgotten

As we say goodbye to another golfing season at Harrison Bay I wanted to take a quick look back at the 2016 season.  This summer marked my 25th summer on a golf course and my 16th at The Bear Trace.  Although I consider myself a pretty decent superintendent I have to admit that this summer definitely educated, and humbled me more than any other year I can remember in my career.

In preparation for this season the agronomy staff worked hard during the winter months to make improvements to the golf course.  The biggest projects were the renovation of #3 green  and the extensive drainage project in the landing area of #10 fairway.  We also worked on some bunker renovation, irrigation improvements, and improving drainage along cart paths.  With all these improvements we felt pretty good about the upcoming season as dormancy broke and the growing season began.

#2 Green on April 19 under attack from nematodes
Unfortunately our season got off to a terrible start with a massive nematode infestation that devastated many large areas on our greens.  The original diagnosis of our problem was a root pathogen which was attacking the root system, which was accurate, but this disease was really only allowed to attack the greens root system because the nematodes had weakened the roots to the point that they could not defend themselves or recover quick enough.  As the greens continued to come out of dormancy the nematodes continued to feast on the fresh, new, susceptible young roots that our bermudagrass greens produce each spring.

Putting green Nov 2 recovered from nematode damage
After receiving the results of a soil assay that showed sting and root knot nematode counts drastically elevated we were convinced that the primary concern was not to combat the root pathogen but rather the microscopic nematodes that were reeking havoc on our greens.  After several application of products to reduce the nematode population and provide protection for the root system the greens began to recover.  Over the summer the agronomy staff worked hard to repair areas on the greens that were damaged from the nematode attack including the complete renovation of #9 green.  It has been an long battle by I am proud to say that our greens are back to their championship form that we have been known for for so many years.

After an exciting week hosting the TGA Match Play Championships at the end of July the agronomy staff jumped right back into improving the golf course.  Our aerification of the golf course this August was the most extensive we have undertaken since we renovated the greens back in 2003.  Removal of major amounts of thatch and organic matter from greens, tees, fairways, and the driving range made a tremendous improvement in the course.
All of the activities cataloged in posts about 2016 Greens Aerification and Showing the tees, fairways, and driving range some love.

The fall was a definite reminder that every year is different from the next.  The hottest, driest summer that I can remember that gripped the southeast was unprecedented with Chattanooga breaking long standing records with a total of 108 days with temperatures over 90 degrees and over 7 months without receiving a total of 1" of rainfall in a single day.  This was the first summer I can remember of having to place supplemental irrigation sprinklers around the course just to save wilting 419 bermudagrass.

On the environmental front we welcomed the latest two eaglets HB9 and HB10 to the HBEC family and unfortunately said goodbye to Eloise as we got a new female eagle at our nest, which Hannah named Eliza.  We are currently experiencing some technical issues with the main PTZ camera and sound resulting from the storms a couple of weeks ago but hope to have this resolved in time to watch the next brood of HBEC eaglets enter the world.

Barry supervising Mitch's work in the mini-ex.

The golf course lost two very good employees this year.  Barry Webb passed away unexpectedly on May 29th.  Barry was one of those guys who never complained, always showed up to work, and did his best for the course.  RIP Barry.

We also said goodbye to my first assistant Mitch Sivley. After 17 years of dedicated service to the golf course he left to follow his dream of being a truck driver.  Mitch was a cornerstone of our course and I relied on him greatly throughout the years.  His skill on heavy equipment and with a chainsaw will be missed as will his dedication and passion for the golf course itself.

Outreach, education, and accolades continued this year beginning in January at the 50th annual TTA conference where I received the Dr. Tom Samples Professional of the Year Award.  At the Golf Industry Show in San Diego we were honored by Golf Industry Magazine for our social media presence and outreach with the Dr. John Kaminski Award.  I was fortunate to be able to present our environmental projects and programs to several organizations including the New England Regional Turfgrass Council, Sustainability in Golf, and most recently at the 2016 Carolinas Golf Course Superintendent Association Conference and Tradeshow in Myrtle Beach.

After a long summer we are eagerly looking forward to the dawn of 2017.  This year I have realized that even after 25 years in the business I still have much to learn and that I can not let my guard down at any time of the year.

The agronomy staff deserves all the credit for the turn around in the conditioning of the golf course this year and I am grateful for their continued dedication to the course.

From frustration to elation, from failure to victory, from questioning my future in the industry to remembering why I really love my career.

Farewell 2016...You have been an interesting year and one we will not forget.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What does a "Clean" course cost?

Some of the beauty of a golf course, especially BT@HB, is that you can get away from the hustle and bustle of metro areas and enjoy a peaceful day in nature.  Although the trees that frame shots and line fairways make golf courses beautiful and strategic, they also create a maintenance nightmare in the autumn months when the leaves begin to fall.  We, like most every other golf course I know, work very hard to keep up with blowing and mulching leaves as they fall so that golfers can find their golf balls and enjoy their round.  Personally I think our staff does an amazing job of keeping Harrison Bay clean, especially since every single hole is surrounded by old growth hardwoods and pines.

So what does it cost to keep a golf course "clean"?  One of my staff members ask me that question last week and it got me thinking, and the figures I came up with are striking.  Just looking at the month of November alone, we used 350 man-hours blowing leaves with our turbine blowers and/or tractor mounted blowers and 100 man-hours blowing leaves with backpack blowers.  If we average $8.00/hour for pay then we spent $3,600.00 on labor alone to blow leaves from the course.

The fuel needed to operate these blowers has to be calculated as well.  We used 117.2 gallons of gasoline in our turbine blowers during November.  At $1.85 per gallon that means we spent $216.82 on gas for the turbines.  Tractor blowers, front end blowers and mulching mowers that run on diesel consumed 45.9 gallons of diesel, which at $1.48 per gallon means we spent $67.93.  Mix gas for the backpack blowers consumed 40 gallons of mix gas during November.  Gasoline and two cycle mix oil combined cost $165.80.

Now I didn't bother to figure up costs for engine oil or batteries for the turbine remotes and I am extremely thankful that we have electric utility vehicles so we don't have the added fuel expense that they would use.

This also doesn't account for the cost of
equipment that is used to keep the course clean.  Turbine blowers like we have can run between $8,000-$9,000 each and tractor mounted blowers can run several thousands of dollars.  I consider myself lucky in that I have a forest surrounding my course and not homes because I always have somewhere to blow the leaves but some courses are not as fortunate and have to collect leaves and pile them in a selected location on the course.  Sweepers and vacuums can run between $20,000.00 to $40,000.00 depending on how big and what features you want out of your vacuum/sweeper.

So as you can see golf courses with beautiful, tree lined fairways that separate one hole from the others and give each hole its own look and feel, invest a ton of money and resources in keeping the playing surfaces clear of debris and playable.  We have, and will continue to, invest the time, manpower, and resources needed to keep the course clean and enjoyable for all.

What does a "Clean" course cost?  A LOT!!!

Monday, November 21, 2016

First Frost and What to Expect at Harrison Bay This Winter

This morning we experienced our first full frost of the season as the temperatures at the course dipped to 25 degrees.  It was quite a shock to the system since we were at 79 degrees at the end of last week.  As this will not be our last frost, and in turn frost delay, this year I wanted to try and pass along some information about why we need to keep foot traffic, cart traffic, and maintenance equipment off of frosted grass in order to keep it alive and healthy.

Again the United States Golf Association can explain better than I can what happens to grass when it is under the grips of cold weather and frost.

We all hate to have our round delayed but we have worked too hard to get our golf course back in shape this year to allow anything to risk damaging it now.  So please be patient as we allow the frost to burn off and realize that we are doing it for the betterment of the golf course, not to keep you from your round.

Good Lord willing you will not see any heavy equipment tearing up the golf course this winter like last year with The Renovation of #3 Green and Installation of Drainage in #10 Fairway.  We will be continuing to make improvement to the golf course however with smaller projects.  Projects for this winter will include limbing up of trees to provide clearer shots for you the golfer and more sunlight for the turf.  We will also be installing more cross tie curbing along the cart paths in needed areas and will be renovating the main sign at the front entrance.  Lots of work but all intended to make your course better.

As I said before we are going to make every decision this winter with the health and survival of the turfgrass in mind.  So we may not be mowing the greens first thing in the morning or changing cups right before play goes out or other practices that are routinely done before play during the summer.  These practices will be done later in the day when we are positive that the greens surface and the surrounds are free of frost and are not frozen.

We will be foregoing our normal painting of the greens this year in an effort to eliminate any foreign substances covering the leaf blades and blocking any issues that we need to be seeing during the dormant season that might be harming the greens.  Hopefully there will be enough distinction between the putting surface and the greens surrounds and if needed we will apply a dose of our normal green dye that we use when applying our routine foliar fertilizer and plant protectants.

I can also tell you to expect a greater probability of the greens being covered this winter compared to past years.  In the past I have pushed the envelope on whether or not to cover the greens during questionably and potentially damaging weather to try and keep the golf course open for play.  However I realize that I may have been putting the health of the turfgrass at a greater risk than what the reward was worth.  Like all other decisions, when and if we cover will be done with the greens health and survivability in mind.

As you can tell from the tone of this post there is a different mindset at Harrison Bay going forward.  We have recovered from a trying and hard summer and our course is in the best condition that it has been in many, many years.  We will do what ever it takes to keep it that way and we hope you understand and agree with our decisions.