Thursday, December 10, 2015

Frost and Golf Courses

Lately I have been getting some questions regarding frost delays.  Why do we have delays?  What can happen if we play on frosted grass?  What can be done to speed up or eliminate the delay?  These are just some of the questions that I will attempt to shed some light on in this post.

What is frost and why is it bad for turf?  During the spring, summer and fall, dew normally forms on the grass in the evening and early morning hours.  This is due to condensation and a process called guttation that occurs in the plant where water from the leaves and roots is expressed from openings in the leaves.  During the warmer periods we simply mow off this excess moisture and it is no problem.  Once the weather turns colder, this moisture will freeze.  The moisture will not only freeze on the leaf surface but also into the openings (stomates) of the leaves.  The leaf will essentially freeze and become brittle.  Once this moisture freezes, that is when it becomes dangerous for plants.  Any foot or cart traffic on frosted grass will break the leaves causing damage.  Sometimes the damage is merely superficial but if the traffic is heavy enough, permanent damage to the plant crown can occur resulting in death of the turfgrass plant!

Footprints across frosted grass!
Cart traffic on frosted grass!

In order to avoid damage similar to the pictures above (none of which are from Hasentree), we must delay play until the frost has melted. These delays can be quick if the temperatures that day are supposed to rise quickly and be warm.  However, sometimes the frost will form and then cloud cover will roll in.  When this happens the delay can be drawn out for much longer.
I often hear the question of "Why is there frost, the temperature was only 35 degrees last night?".  The reason for that is that the "official" temperature is taken at about 5' off the ground.  That is the temperature that is used for forecasts and official weather records.  By taking the reading 5' off the ground you avoid outside factors, such as ground temperature, that would skew the temperature either high or low depending on the time of year.  So if the official temperature was 35 degrees, the actual temperature at the ground level would be closer to 30-33 degrees.  Warm air rises while cold air will sink.  This is why it is typically a few degrees cooler at the ground level.
What can be done to speed up the delay?  Truthfully there is little that can be done other than waiting for it to warm up.  One trick we can use, only if the temperature is rising quickly, is to go to each green and turn on the irrigation for a few minutes.  This will help burn off any lingering frost.  The drawback to this trick is that if it is still too cold when the water is turned on, you can actually ice the greens even worse than when you started!
In the south we are fortunate in that we have warm season grasses on all of our playing surfaces other than the greens.  Once these warm season grass go dormant and get the tan color that you see for most of the winter, no damage can be done to them by driving on frosted turf.  At that point we are only worrying about getting the frost off the greens.  In northern climates, you have to wait for the frost to burn off the entire course!
I hope this answers some of the questions that you may have had regarding why the frost delays are a necessary evil.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Great Article Re-Capping Winter Kill Across the Carolinas

Myrtle Beach area golf courses dealing with weather-driven grass winterkill

Published online: Jun 22, 2015 Golf News
Viewed 144 time(s)
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.—Grand Strand golf courses endured some relatively harsh winters in 2013 and 2014 and managed to emerge from them largely unscathed.

They weren’t so lucky this year.

A series of unfavorable and untimely weather occurrences combined to promote the onset of a condition known as winterkill on area grasses – particularly the different varieties of Bermudagrass that are prevalent in the Carolinas – and it has taken its toll on Strand layouts.

Though the impact of winterkill, a general term used to describe turf loss caused by cold weather during winter months, varies in the area from destructive to mild, few courses have been spared.
It’s the worst case of winterkill in the Carolinas since the mid-1990s, according to Patrick O’Brien, the Southeast region agronomist with the USGA Green Section who has been in the Carolinas since 1987.

“In Myrtle Beach I don’t know that it’s a disaster, but in parts of the Carolinas it is,” said Trent Bouts, a spokesperson for the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association.

O’Brien said many of the worst cases are in the North Carolina areas of Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and Charlotte, regions where he’s seen damage on 30 to 50 percent of fairways on several courses and at least a few courses are closing for repairs.

Myrtle Beach may be the hardest hit region in South Carolina, and the worst case on the Strand appears to be at Black Bear Golf Club, where bare Champion Bermuda greens will be re-grassed through sprigging beginning in the next couple weeks, depending on the delivery date of the Champion sprigs from Texas.

The course will remain open during the work as temporary greens have already been cut near the existing greens and will be used until the Champion is ready for play, possibly by early August.
Black Bear head pro Patrick Wilkinson said a few options were considered. The problem areas could have been sodded. “We ended up with about 40,000 square feet of damaged area, and at $1.25 per square foot plus installation that wasn’t a real feasible option,” he said. Another option was sprigging only the affected areas, but you’d have to keep those areas wet for growth and it could have adversely affected adjoining grass.

So course operators opted to completely re-grass the greens. “That will give us full coverage again and we can get a fresh start,” said Wilkinson, who said green sizes will be enlarged to their dimensions when the greens were last replaced eight years ago before the encroachment of fairways and collars.

Other Strand courses have had to repair portions of their playing areas but haven’t reported having to replace all of their greens.

The damage can be to tee boxes, fairways, rough or greens, and varies from course to course.
Bermuda is an aggressive grass that quickly sprawls, and maintenance practices that stimulate growth such as aerification are beginning this week as scheduled at most courses.

“We’re well on our way to recovery now, and in the middle of our aerification process,” said Max Morgan, director of agronomy for Founders Group International, which has acquired 22 Strand courses over the past 10 months.

The weather factorsThe winterkill likely took root on dormant warm-weather Bermuda on the Strand in February, when temperatures dipped below freezing on several occasions.

Morgan said temperatures of 32 degrees or below were registered on 16 days in February at River Club in Pawleys Island compared to just six days in February 2014, which itself wasn’t considered a great month for weather. “We didn’t have any record low temperatures, it was just a cumulative effect of a damp, cool and cloudy February,” Morgan said.

In late March, just as the Bermuda was beginning to wake from its dormancy, a particularly cold night saw temperatures dip to 26 degrees on the north end of the Strand and 31 in Pawleys Island, according to Morgan.

“It definitely chill-shocked the greens and we were already pushing them along with fertilizer because they did have some damage from the winter time,” Morgan said. “When it came time for them to green up they weren’t greening up.”

While April was generally pleasant, it didn’t provide the temperatures of 80-plus in the day and 60-plus at night to spur Bermuda growth. Morgan said it never reached 80 degrees at Pine Lakes Country Club in Myrtle Beach in April.

“It was nice for golf other than being a little cloudy and rainy but it was not nice for growing Bermuda grass,” Morgan said. “We needed temperatures to stay above 60 degrees [at night] to get Bermuda growth.”

A tropical storm in early May that dumped more than 5 inches of rain on parts of the Strand may have inhibited the recovery process.

“Everything just seemed to go backwards at a period of time the grass should really be growing aggressively,” said Jim Knaffle, superintendent at International Club of Myrtle Beach and a past president of the Palmetto GCSA, the Strand’s superintendent organization. “It turned into a difficult time for a lot of people.”

The damagePerhaps because of the colder temperatures in late March on the north end, the stretch of courses on the S.C. 9 corridor was particularly hard hit, including Black Bear.
Morgan said the most drastic measure that needed to be taken on Founders Group’s 22 courses was the complete sodding of the ninth green on the Highlands nine at the 27-hole Aberdeen Country Club on S.C. 9.

“Everything on Highway 9 seemed like it just got smacked in the mouth this spring,” Wilkinson said.
Many Strand course operators have only recently learned the extent of their turf loss as cool-weather grasses die off at courses that overseeded and green colorants wear off at facilities that didn’t, revealing dead patches of underlying Bermuda.

Area golf courses that are particularly susceptible to winterkill are those that are shaded, have north-facing slopes, traditionally retain water, or have high foot or cart traffic that compacts soil and weakens turf.

In the central corridor of North Carolina, where course operators are more accustomed to freezing temperatures, the damage is generally limited to tees, rough and fairways because they routinely use green covers to protect putting surfaces on cold winter days. “There has been virtually no damage at all to Bermudagrass greens where the covers are used,” O’Brien said.

At least three Strand courses used the covers, which are similar to tarps, this winter, and Prestwick Country Club, The Dunes Golf and Beach Club and Tidewater Golf Club all helped limit any damage to greens by doing so.

Tidewater closed last summer for renovations that included the installation of MiniVerde Bermuda on its greens, and the new grass was often protected by custom-fit covers over the winter. Tidewater general manager Archie Lemon said the course was closed about half of the days in February when the covers were in use.

“It impacted revenue, but our greens were new so we gave them probably a little extra TLC over the winter,” Lemon said. “The covers are phenomenal and I expect more courses to go to those.”

Lemon said the covers can cost up to $30,000 for a course, depending on the size of their greens.
Michael Shoun, director of agronomy for McConnell Golf, which owns and/or operates 11 private courses across the Carolinas including two on the Strand, told Bouts he expects to spend close to $250,000 repairing damage at his chain of facilities. That includes one truckload (about 10,000 square feet) of new sod at The Reserve Club in Pawleys Island. McConnell’s Dye Course at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., will close for sprigging.

As will the two courses at Bryan Park Golf Course in Greensboro, N.C., which is home to the Carolinas PGA Section. It lost 30 acres of turf over the courses, which will both close within the next month for sprigging, according to Bouts.

Many in the Strand golf market expect more courses to reverse a recent trend and get back to overseeding fairways and greens for the winter, to both have the live overseed grasses – generally ryegrass on fairways and poa trivialis on greens – to absorb moisture in a wet winter and ensure golfers in the important spring season have healthy grass.

More cold-tolerant Bermuda strains have been developed at Oklahoma State and are now for sale in the Carolinas, and some N.C. clubs are replanting fairways with the improved varieties called Northbridge and Latitude 36 rather than the traditional Tifway 419 Bermuda.

Latitude 36 is the home stadium turf for NFL teams in Philadelphia and Washington.

The grasses aren’t in use on the Strand yet. For now, Myrtle Beach area courses will just pray for some better weather.

“Let’s hope those days are behind us and we have some mild winters coming up,” Lemon said.


Monday, April 20, 2015

4/20/15 Golf Course Update

Spring is upon us and I am long overdue for an update on the golf course, its conditions and how we are transitioning out of winter.  Spring is a very busy time of year and sometimes I forget to make time for the communication that is vital.


On April 6th and 7th we aerified all the greens on the golf course.  As is typical for the spring aerification, we dodged raindrops almost the entire process but were able to get everything accomplished in the two days.  The finished product turned out very well and set us up for a quick recovery of the holes.

This year we stopped our aerifiers short of going into the collars in an attempt to put less stress on the bermudagrass collars that struggle every spring from the cold of winter.  After all of the greens were aerified, cleaned up and rolled once, we verticut the greens to stand up any laterally growing bentgrass before we topdressed.  This process helps to control grain and keep balls rolling true once the green is healed up. 
As of today, the greens are healing slower than we had planned.  This can be directly attributed to the cool, cloudy and wet weather that we have been experiencing since the greens were aerified.  The sunlight and warmth that we have been lacking would certainly have stimulated growth and we would be farther along in recovery.
We topdressed again this past Monday with a finer sand to smooth the surface in preparation for the upcoming tournaments.  Our next step is to begin to work the mowing heights down and get the green speeds up!
Irrigation Breaks
This spring we have been plagued by a number of mainline breaks in our irrigation system.  These are very time consuming to repair and often very messy.  When these breaks occur along our mainline, it typically will shut down the water supply to at least that hole and often several others.  Because of this, it is very important to get them repaired quickly and correctly.

Tifsport Bermudagrass and the Driving Range Tee
The most frequent comment that I have been hearing over the last week is concern over the bermudagrass in the fairways and on the driving range tee.  There are many areas that appear to not be coming back from dormancy.  It is still a bit early to make the determination on whether or not those areas are going to green up.  To date we have had one day at Hasentree where the temperature has been over 85 degrees.  Most days have been in the upper 60's to low 70's.  On top of that we have had extended periods of cloudy, cool and rainy weather.  All of these factors affect soil temperature.  Soil temperature is the biggest driving force in bermudagrass green-up. 
For TifSport bermudagrass (the cultivar of grass on much of our fairways, tees and rough) growth is initiated at a soil temperature of 65 degrees.  This morning I took several measurements of the soil temps and they were in the mid 60's (65-66 degrees).  The exposure of the slope that the grass is on has an effect as well.  Southern facing slopes are heating up faster than those that face the north.  The pictures below illustrate that very well. 
These pictures were taken from the same spot at the bottom of the approach on hole #18.  The picture on top is the southern facing approach, while the one on the bottom is further back toward the tee by 50 yards.  That slope faces north and does not receive the direct heating from the suns rays as the southern slope does.
The TifSport bermudagrass that we have at Hasentree is very unique to us.  There is only one other course in the Raleigh area (Garner) that has it and beyond that you would need to head toward Pinehurst to find another one.  The major difference between TifSport and the more typical 419 bermudagrass at most other local clubs is the fact that it is 2-3 weeks slower to green up.  While some of the 419 courses (Brier Creek and Wakefield for example) are almost completely green, we are still seeing areas that appear more dormant than not.
There is a dramatic color difference throughout the golf course just from late last week to this morning.  I fully expect that greening trend to continue as the soil temperatures climb in the areas that still appear to be dormant.
There has also been a tremendous explosion of poa annua in our fairways this past winter and early spring.  This is not surprising to me as poa thrives in cold wet conditions and we are not alone as many other local clubs are fighting the same issues.  Typically our pre-emergent spray in January would eliminate any of these winter weeds that pop up as we include glyphosate in the mix since the bermudagrass is still dormant.  This year was difficult as most of January and early February there was snow and ice on much of the course.  This was then followed by cold wet rains that continue to hinder us today.  Because our spray was delayed, I feel that the poa had germinated (thus being unaffected by the pre-emergent) but was still not visible at the top of the turf canopy (therefore being untouched by the glyphosate). 
We have purchased products to spray out the poa annua populations and should be getting that out soon, weather dependent.  The spray must dry on the plant in order to work, therefore rain will delay these applications.
Range Tee
There has been much talk about the range tee and why it wasn't overseeded and whether or not the bermudagrass is coming back there as well.
The bermudagrass is in the same situation as the grass throughout the golf course, it needs warmth and some good dry sunny days.  There is green tissue in most of the areas that I inspected this morning.  We fertilized the tee last week and plan to do so again early next week to continue to push growth and green-up.
As for overseeding, we have not overseeded the range tee in 5 years.  There are many reasons that I feel overseeding is not the right practice for The Hasentree Club.
  1. Overseeding delays the green-up of the bermudagrass in the spring.  The overseeded ryegrass shades the bermudagrass in the spring and inhibits it from being warmed by the suns rays. We have seen that, on average at Hasentree, that the tee greens up several weeks sooner than it used to when it was overseeded.
  2. In order to overseed, the range tee would need to be closed down for 2-3 weeks in September in order to allow the ryegrass to germinate and establish.  At this point in the year, the golf course is at its busiest and the bermudagrass range tee is still actively growing and thriving.
  3. The process of removing the ryegrass in the spring, after the bermudagrass begins to grow, is detrimental to the bermudagrass as well.  TifSport is sensitive to herbicide applications and would be tinged off color during the transition.
  4. During the late fall and winter months, the overseeded tee would require us to shut the tee down for frost delays.  Without being overseeded, we are able to let members and their guests out of the range tee to hit balls earlier while the frost burns off the rest of the course.
We are beginning to map out areas where the collars around the greens didn't fare so well through the winter.  These are not new issues that we face on the collars and we have had to do sod work every year since Hasentree opened.  It is a common ailment of courses in the southeast that have bentgrass greens and bermudagrass surrounds. 
Over the past few years we have been able to reduce the areas that were affected by the winter cold, through a variety of management practices aimed at keeping the traffic off the collars once they go dormant.  In the fall we typically implement a greens mowing/rolling plan to take some of the wear and traffic off of the collars.  We stop having our rollers go through the collar but rather have them stop on the green to begin their next pass.  We also reduce the number of mowings to avoid having the mowers turning on the collars.
I am afraid that due to severity of the cold temperatures, frozen precipitation and the lack of warm weather this spring, that we will be looking to replace/re-sod more areas this year than the past 2-3.  When we begin resodding some of these collars it will most likely start in mid-May.  We must wait for the collars that are going to grow out of winter to become strong enough for us to work on the areas that need replacing.  If we start too early we risk damaging more areas than we need to.
As always, please reach out to me if I have not addressed your concerns or questions.  I would be more than happy to add additional information.  I will also be updating this site more frequently as we transition out of dormancy.  I can be reached at


Monday, November 17, 2014

Making Our Bridges Safer

One of the most common issues we hear about lately is that the bridges on the golf course are slippery for walkers when they are damp.  We have a total of seven bridges on the golf course and all but one are almost entirely in the shade. Because the bridges don't get a lot of sunlight they will often remain wet well into the day.

All of the bridges are constructed with marine grade treated lumber so the moisture does not affect their structural integrity.  What does happen when the bridges remain damp, however, is that they will develop a film of algae on them.  This algae can be slippery and will also allow dirt a debris to accumulate on the bridge as well.  All of this can lead to a potentially slippery surface, especially in golf shoes.

In researching a solution to the problem I looked into several different materials and methods for creating a non-slip surface on the bridges. One popular material is a 3M product called PEM matting.  This is a product that is commonly used in pool bathroom and locker facilities.  The PEM matting seemed to be the most common material, however the courses that I visited that had their bridges equipped with this material the matting looked faded and frayed on the edges after several years.

Another material that was available was a paint with textured grip mixed in. These products would have worked but I would have needed ideal weather conditions to ensure they would adhere and turn out the way they are supposed to.  We would also struggle to keep cart traffic off the bridges while the paint dried.

The product that I decided on turned out to be the simplest method available.  We decided to go wit a 6"x24" tread sticker that fit perfectly on the 8" decking boards of our bridges.  With close to 600' of bridges, we had to order 850 of these treads.  The material is a rubber sticker with a heavy grit "sandpaper" texture on it.  The adhesive is very strong and should have no trouble sticking to the bridges.

The first step in the process was to pressure wash the entire bridge.  This removed all of the algae and dirt that had accumulated on the bridge surface.  The bridges looked almost new again after pressure washing!  This will certainly become a process that we do more frequently, not just for aesthetics but the freshly pressure washed bridges had noticeably more traction than before.

After pressure washing, we had to let the bridge completely dry before we could affix the treads. For most of the bridges we were able to snap a chalk line to use as a guide because the bridges are straight.  Having that guide line sped the process up considerably.

To date we have about half of the bridges completed (#4, #14 and #16).  We will complete the remaining bridges as the weather allows.  The forecast this week is for wet, followed by extremely cold conditions. We will complete #6,  #9 and #12 as soon as we can.

The tread stickers are very practical as well, if one becomes damaged we can simply replace it with a new one rather than having to patch it back together or replace a long stretch of matting.

I have already heard very positive feedback on how well the treads improve traction!