Friday, October 13, 2017

Fall Maintenance and Paspalum Removal

Fall maintenance has nearly wrapped up for 2017. We aerified greens less than two weeks ago and they are healing nicely. For this round, we went with larger tines than usual and punched as deep as we could. The greens will appreciate all that oxygen and fresh sand and we appreciate your patience and support during this process.

We still have some select seeding to accomplish in the rough, but all tees and collars are finished. Soon these areas will be a carpet of dark green. The fairways will also be greening up soon, with the help of our winter pigment that provides the color golfers enjoy without destroying the bermudagrass base we worked so hard to build.

Finally, a project we planned months ago is the removal of any remaining paspalum in the greens. We timed a herbicide application to coincide with aerification, so all the ugliness happens at once. The herbicide works great this time of year and produced the results we were looking for, dead paspalum.

Most greens have some brown paspalum around the edge. The majority is less than a few inches wide, but some is larger. Our Assistant Superintendent, Heather, has been leading the sodding effort on the green edges. We pull the sod from our nursery green that we rebuilt two years ago and replace the dead paspalum while coring out any remaining roots and stolons.

The sodding project should wrap up next week. Any small spots that remain will heal on their own and we will finally be paspalum free. Thanks to all the members who complimented the crew during the last few busy weeks. I've had many reports from my staff of the encouragement and thanks they receive from passing golfers. They notice when you notice, so thank you.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Shades of Bermuda

Bermuda is a fantastic turf for golf. It can take all sorts of abuse, drought, traffic, and maintenance practices and bounce back quickly. Recently, we've really put bermuda to the test, with some scalping in new low-cut areas and aerification of the fairways. Below is a good example of recovery from scalping. The green surround on the par-3 9th hole was trimmed down and went brown for a couple weeks. It's now green, heathy and smoother than ever. These new areas are giving our members more shots to consider and helping to eliminate undesired grasses.

Over the past two weeks, Bernardo Heights has installed 62,000 square feet of new bermuda grass. This new turf replaces half an acre on the 18th hole, all the collars, a long strip along the range tee, and many locations in the fairways.

I've had many questions about the project and the new turf, so here are some of the most common:

Will the new collars go dormant?

The collars are Tifgreen 328, a fine leaf, hybrid bermuda. This was chosen for a few reasons. It can be mowed very short, it moves laterally less than other warm season grasses, we can overseed it, and it plays well. Yes, it will go dormant, but not like the paspalum we've been dealing with. Also, we will seed in winter with Poa trivialis, which provides a green cover in the cool months, but transitions quickly and dies when it warms. 

Is the sod OK, it looks a little brown?

Whenever we lay bermuda sod, it is very common or standard that the sod goes off color, sometimes solid brown. This is the turf going into a defense stage. It puts all its effort into sending down roots and the leaf tissue above will turn brown. It will green up soon and already has roots down 4 inches in about 10 days. Please don't going looking for roots like this yourself, you'll have to take my word for it.

Why do some fairways look better than others after aerification?

I've always felt that the fairways that get torn up the most are the ones that need the most work. This past week, we have been solid tining (not pulling a core) the fairways with our big tractor-mounted aerifier. Hybrid bermuda sections show very little damage. This includes most of #5 and #17. It almost looks like we didn't do anything, but there are many, many holes to get oxygen into the soil, improve infiltration of irrigation, and relieve compaction. Where we have common bermuda, most of holes 4, 7, and 10, the turf gets ripped up. Lateral runners of 4-6 inches are severed and pulled up during the process. We drag the fairway with a large mat and then mow off the plants above our cutting height. This is excellent for bermuda. It might turn brown for a few days, but where the bermuda is cut, new growth is stimulated and fresh, healthy leaves replace old tired stems.

 Why did we renovate #18?

This area is shaped like a bowl. Insufficient drainage caused sodium from our irrigation to pile up and turf to thin and die. Instead of continuing to core out and replace patches, we spent some money and did it all the right way. The root zone is deeper and healthier with quality sand blended into the existing topsoil. There is 1000 feet of new drain lines which will prevent the sodium from building up again. Irrigation heads have been moved and added to improve coverage. Finally,  3 to 4 types of bermudagrass is now one uniform variety.

I love the strength and durability of bermudagrass. I appreciate the many shades, and this summer, I'm sure you'll all be seeing more green than ever before. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New Collars are Coming

Paspalum has been a dirty word around Bernardo Heights for a very long time. The green collars, installed about ten years ago, have never been enjoyed by the membership. This turf is a bit sticky, nicknamed velcro by many players. The winter conditions have been poor, overseeding unsuccessful, and even when it looks good, it doesn't play particularly well.

Over the next few weeks, the collars will be removed and replaced with bermuda 328. This surface will blend nicely with the fairways and green surrounds and new collection/low cut areas. Overseeding will take place in the winter to maintain year-round playability and aesthetics.

The first step in this process is removal of existing sod and a portion of the soil below. USGA sand will be installed, compacted and graded before sod is laid down. While the crew is completing their tasks, we will have temporary greens in place. Speaking with some members today, I apologized for the inconvenience of temporary greens and the response was an emphatic, "do whatever you gotta do!!"

Another project, that actually is well underway, is the renovation of #18 fairway. We've battled this section for years, with many aerifications, topdressings, tons of soil amendments and conditioners. It has improved, but not nearly to the standards we expect for our members. The problem is dense clay soil below the 4 inch sand profile of the fairways. Drainage is not sufficient to drain excess water and salts, we are unable to flush the soil like we do on the greens.

Long time members may remember a similar situation on the 17th fairway. This area was a "salt bath" and plagued by the ill effects of bad water, even though it was potable water at that time. Now, our well water, with three times the sodium we used to battle is finding new areas that need a little help. Just like the front half of 17 fairway, we will install drainage and sand to give new hybrid sod some breathing room. And, just like the front of 17, your closing hole is about to be gorgeous.

To make the most of this project, much of the sod coming off of 18 is quite good and will be relocated in other areas. Our staff installed about 2000 square feet on the range floor yesterday and they are busy prepping locations today to use as much as we can.

The excitement around the club is obvious. The grand opening for the reinvented clubhouse was just weeks ago and now new collars are coming. As a bonus, the 18th hole is getting a facelift. Things have never looked better and we still have a very long ways to go.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Coyotes, ropes, and fences

For years, Bernardo Heights has been the site of a mystery, a frustrating whodunit and why would they do it anyway. The nylon rope we use for traffic control was repeatedly cut, over and over again. Many times the rope would be cut on either side of the green, plastic stakes that serve as fenceposts. The cut is too perfect to be made by anything other than a very sharp knife or a pair of scissors, or so we thought.
The crew had their guesses of who was responsible. A certain member that complained more than his fair share or the school kids walking home or causing mischief at night. Many ideas were shared to catch the perpetrator such as trail cams, or placing rope outside the homes of members serving as our neighborhood watch. This was a case of senseless vandalism, and somebody was going to pay for it. 

Neighboring superintendents suggested coyotes, but the cut was too perfect. I ventured onto the TurfNet forum and read a long thread about this issue and many people swore the cut from a coyote's teeth is as clean as a knife. Finally, I got smart and escorted Izzo, our resident canine detective, to a recent site of "vandalism." She smelled the rope and the hair stood on her back. She darted around sniffing more pieces of rope and a tree and stopped to mark multiple spots. I could replicate this at every new location. 

So, mystery solved, we are no longer searching for Edward Scissorhands, which was the criminal nickname the club awarded to our suspect. The problem, however, still exists. Many nights the rope is cut, sometimes across the entire course. Traffic control, unfortunately, is a necessary tool to manage turf conditions.

Our solution is a split rail fence that is dyed to match the color of the mulched areas. The photo above is the 4th fairway, our longest current stretch of fence. I have much more in the shop that will be installed later this year to eliminate daily repair of coyote damage and provide a cleaner look than rope and stakes. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The woes of winter

Cart Path Only

These three words are more feared than "you're still away." Unfortunately, you've all been hearing "cart path only" for a few weeks straight. With another inch about to come down, we won't be driving on the course any time soon.

This year's rain total, now up to 6.13 inches since October 1st, has been excellent for the course, but not so great for playing conditions. Slow, soaking rains have saturated the soil and we need a stretch of dry weather to firm up. Hopefully, we get some dry days after the next storm.


A very high maintenance priority for the next four months will be weed control throughout the course. We lost a very effective weed barrier when we removed 35 acres of turfgrass and replaced it all with mulch and decomposed granite. This year, we are training additional staff to spray weeds and we'll be experimenting with some pre-emergent herbicides. You'll see a lot of little weeds peeking through the mulch. We go hole-by-hole in a continuous loop to keep the landscape as clean as possible.

Frost Delays

To end on a positive note, we only had a single frost delay this year and I don't expect to have another as days lengthen and temperatures begin to climb. This has been good for the members, but it has been especially good for the bermuda. Normally, we spend March just waiting for the bermuda to green up, but this year, we didn't lose much color in the first place. The growing season is longer thanks to the mild conditions and we will take full advantage.

Everybody knows that California needs every drop of this moisture to make up for too many dry years. Let's appreciate our good fortune even when we are cleaning mud off our spikes.

Friday, December 30, 2016

This is supposed to be the dry winter?

 La Niña, they call it. It's the positive phase of the El Niño system and it is associated with cooler than average temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, these cooler sea temperatures are sure to bring less rain to drought stricken California. Right?

Here we are, late December, and the weather station at Bernardo Heights has recorded 3.46 inches of rain in this month alone with more to come this weekend. Last year, we picked up 1.6 inches in December. Then the skies opened up and the biblical rains came down and washed away mulch and DG and bunkers and did very little good. It was all at once, 4.29 inches in 3 days and 2.6 inches in 5 hours. It all ran off and made one hell of a mess.

This year's rains have been slow and steady. There is some cleanup work to do, but nothing like last year. More importantly, these rains were useful in pushing through our soils and flushing out two years of sodium that's accumulated from our well water. There is no substitute for rain like this.

Hopefully you've noticed that the many acres of decomposed granite and mulch have held up pretty well this year. We spent a lot of time and money spraying stabilizers on our major runoff areas. I'd say we are about halfway done and we continue to learn as we go. We still need to install more drains and reroute some rain water, but we're making progress.

Another positive I see right now is green bermuda. We just passed the shortest day of the year and the bermuda in most fairways is still green. We have used some colorants, but they have been mowed off and you're looking at grass that is still growing. One reason is a healthier stand of bermuda after all the fairways have enjoyed their first full year of bermuda-only growth. Another is the warm temperatures and lack of frost with only two minor frost events on the year.

We are in a really good spot right now. The fairways will get back to growing in late March, the mulch and decomposed granite will be groomed and stable, and the greens will be refreshed and ready for another summer after all this amazing rain. All of this points towards excellent conditions in 2017 and that prognostication is far more reliable than a weather report.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Paspalum Collars

Collars are rarely a topic of conversation at golf courses. The main purpose of a collar or fringe cut is to create a transition between the higher cut green surround and the putting surface. In fact, before Bernardo Heights, I've never heard, "the collars are amazing" or "the collars are terrible." They rarely enter the golfer's mind and they do not need to be thoughtfully played or navigated. If the collars are in decent shape, you'll never hear a word about them.

We have a different situation here. The collars are Seashore paspalum and they were installed with a five foot width. During most of the year, they look great, but the grain is so extreme that a shot into the collar, even a low chip, will check up hard and stop quickly. If you land down grain, the ball shoots forward. Each chip or pitch requires a decision on how to play the collar. It's a great defense for the golf course, but it's not an enjoyable challenge.

When winter rolls around with cool temps and short days, the collars lose their color and density. Some areas thin out completely and we are left to putt on soil around the greens. At least this surface is smooth and predictable. Overseeding is nearly impossible and past attempts have resulted in tufts of cool season turf. Putting on this surface was like Plinko on the Price is Right. Once again, not an enjoyable challenge.

Our goal is to replace these collars and expand the greens. We have been making progress the last few years, but it may look like the opposite. I get a lot of comments about the paspalum creeping into the greens. We are actually cutting into the collars and expanding the greens. The crew members have  been very aggressive, mowing into the collars during the cleanup pass. We then spray the paspalum with a herbicide that does not kill the bentgrass or Poa annua. The photo above is an example of this application. The light, six inch band next to the collar has been sprayed and most of this paspalum will die. The photo to the right shows a collar that has been scalped down to green height. The collar is now only three feet wide in this section, but the reclaimed green will need to be converted or sodded to the proper turf type.

We have shrunk many collars down to 3 feet, but some are still very wide. Eventually, we would like to reduce the collar to 18 inches and return the rest of the area to putting green. We may complete this task with one major project, installing bentgrass sod that will transition to a blend of bent and Poa like the rest of our greens. If this does not happen, we will continue to convert this turf using our current methods, plus sodding from our nursery green. Some sections are transitioning on their own, like the front of #15, shown here, where Poa annua has filled in most the collar which is half the size it once was. The paspalum will still need to be removed or killed because it will come back during the summer.

We have made progress and I assure you that the paspalum's days are numbered. I look forward to the day that nobody mentions collars when discussing course conditions. Usually, no word is the good word.