Thursday, August 24, 2023

Late Summer Grounds Report

 As we slip into late summer the golf course looks to be in fairly good condition. After experiencing a rare drought in late May into June, July has delivered timely rainfall events with near normal temperatures. Early August has provided much of the same. However, this last week the temperatures have become very hot and humid. Some poa annua is starting to die out, but the longer nights and shorter days are helping to decrease the amount of stress experienced by the turf. As we move farther into August hopefully the turf conditions continue to out preform previous summers. 

July 27th Storm

The storm that took place on the night of July 26th was a big one to say the least. 4" of rain fell at WHCC in about a 3 hour window. This created an abundant amount of debris to clean up. Some big branches fell, with others hung up in trees that needed to be pruned out. Cleanup took some time but the crew did a great job making sure the course was playable and within a couple days all the debris had been removed.

The bunkers took a hit from all the rainfall. Bunker consistency has been an issue recently, and highlighting how the bunkers were impacted is helpful to this discussion. The WHCC bunkers are constructed on top of existing soil. Drain tile is dug underneath to help with drainage and signature 700 bunker sand is dumped on top of the native soil. This type of construction leads to frequent washouts from the edges after big rain events. Water rushes in from the sides, especially on steep bunker faces, and washes the sand down to the low areas and mixes in soil and silt from the surrounds. This contaminates the bunker sand and decreases the consistency of the bunkers. It is an all day job for two crews to get the bunkers into playable conditions after these rain events. Inevitably, sand and silt are mixed and sand depth consistency is negatively impacted. Measuring sand depth is still accomplished but the soil and sand line quickly become blurred after a number of washouts. Currently there are much better ways to construct bunkers to minimize washouts from occurring. A liner is implemented in between the sand and soil layers to decrease contamination, hold the sand in place, and keep soil from mixing in. There are many different techniques and materials used to achieve this but one of the most popular is the Better Billy Bunker System (click here for more information). We are talking with the Green Committee to asses if bunker renovations are needed/wanted. The drawback is the cost and time it will take to install the linings. We will continue to improve our maintenance process; however, we are limited by the makeup of the current bunkers. For more information click here for an article from the USGA about bunker inconsistency.

Photo courtesy of  the Food and Beverage Manager, Josh Ward. The parking lot during the 4" rainstorm-looks like a river.

Debris on #8 fairway

Ash tree limb

Limbs hung up in ash tree right of #9

Silt in a bunker after the rain.

The amount of water in a bunker immediately after a big rain event.


September is aeration month and it is quickly approaching. The greens are first up and they will be aerated the day after labor day on September 5th. Cores will be pulled to help decrease organic matter and this will increase the amount of time it takes to accomplish. Hopefully, mother nature will cooperate and we can get this done in one day. After greens, the tees will be aerated throughout the week working around play and during any maintenance time worked into the golf schedule. 

Fairways are due to be deep tine aerated on October 5th. This will be a solid tine aeration. We have been able to bypass pulling cores on the fairways because of the purchase of the wiedamenn triple v verticutter unit. Verticutting is another way to decrease thatch. We have been verticutting the fairways at least once a year over the last 3 years and it is having a noticeable impact in decreasing the fairway thatch. Some aeration is still needed and the deep tine solid application is beneficial for creating deeper root systems, and allowing oxygen down into the rootzones. The rough will be aerated late September into October. Aeration is a necessary process for maintaining healthy turf and hopefully everyone understands the importance of it even though play will be impacted for a short time.


First an overdue hello. Jim Hessel worked as the WHCC head mechanic for 8 years. Earlier this year he decided to cut back on the physical labor and transition into mowing rough a couple days a week. In March we hired his replacement, Kevin Obert. Kevin started out working on equipment with his dad at a very young age. After graduating high school (from Moeller, an inferior GCL school but we will try not to hold that against him), he attended and graduated from Nashville Auto Diesel College. After graduation he worked for a couple years as a mechanic in the automotive and forklift industry. Then he jumped on as a mechanic at Kenwood Country Club for 8 years before working with Greenville Turf and Tractor. With the recent merger of Greenville into Beard Equipment Kevin decided to come back into the golf course industry and took the head mechanic job at Western Hills Country Club. We are grateful to have him on the team and look forward to his mechanical knowledge and input to continue to improve the WHCC golf course and grounds.

Kevin adjusting the height on the greens mowers.

Now for the goodbyes. Lynn Thompson started his career at WHCC in 1986. As the golf course superintendent he was involved in many course transformations. In his first year he orchestrated the installation of a new hydraulic irrigation system that ushered in the area of automated irrigation at WHCC. In the 1990s he rebuilt the putting green and #17 green, managed the installation of new landscaping around the clubhouse, oversaw the construction of the current swimming pool, and added on new buildings to the grounds facility. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the golf course went through a major renovation with the help of architect Brian Huntley and Kentucky Golf Construction. Many of the holes were completely redone, #14 lake was added, #7 lake was reconstructed, new cart paths added, and most of the bunkers were redesigned. In 2011 he managed the construction of another irrigation system, with more irrigation heads, and much more technologically advanced components. These projects were in addition to all the hard work put in to manage the daily golf course maintenance operations throughout his 34 year superintendent career. In 2020 he officially retired from the superintendent position but continued to help out the crew by working a couple afternoons a week. This September he will be moving to South Carolina and this will bring an end to a long and productive WHCC career. His calm demeanor, knowledge, strong Christian faith, and patience helped to make him a successful manager. Personally, I can not begin to quantify how much I learned from him over the years about agronomy, management, and life. I would not be in this position without Lynn's mentorship and I hope you will join me in wishing him and his wife all the best in their new adventure!

On a sad note, long time assistant superintendent, Jamie Wullkotte passed away on August 14th. Jamie started working on the grounds in 1981, under then superintendent Harold Herbstreit, as a part time employee. He took a full time position in 1983 and became the assistant superintendent, under Lynn, in the 1990s. He worked along side Lynn on all the projects listed earlier and was instrumental in keeping the golf course in good condition for 39 years. Jamie was passionate about his job and loved working at WHCC. In 2020, he retired and spent the last 3 years with his wife in Indiana. The grounds crew is not the same without old Wullcotte talking about the good ole days, with his coffee in one hand and cigarette in the other. He spent a long career here and helped to shape the golf course into what it is today. Hopefully he is somewhere in heaven doing what he always loved to do- mow grass. RIP Jamie, you will be missed! (link to Jamie's Obituary)

The only constant in life is change, and the grounds department has experienced many transitions in the last couple years. While saying goodbye is always difficult, we look forward to the future and the prospect of improving the WHCC experience for the next generations!

Brad Piecuch

Grounds Superintendent

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Summer Conditions

 Summer Conditions are Never Perfect

The tri-state area has switched from a hot and dry June to a hot, dry and humid July. Surprisingly, we are still dealing with dry conditions-the U.S. drought map has southern Ohio under a moderate drought. Despite the recent light rainfalls, we are still behind on precipitation over the last couple months. With daily evapotranspiration rates around a quarter inch, most light rain events are quickly used up by plants or evaporate into the atmosphere. This has kept our irrigation system busy. Also, the high humidity has lead to an increase in spray applications to keep the summer time diseases in check. Ultimately, it is never perfect conditions in the summer for the cool-season turf (which most of the golf course is composed of). If it is too dry a struggle ensues to keep enough moisture in the ground, if it is too wet the challenge is to keep the diseases at bay. Or, as is the current situation, the crew is trying to irrigate to supplement moisture loss in addition to increasing spray applications during this very humid stretch. This is the toughest time of the year for the WHCC turf and adding in the copious amounts of poa annua that thrive in this shaded golf course make it an even bigger challenge. Currently, the golf course is in great shape; however, having experienced many WHCC summers, I know how quickly conditions can deteriorate. As we advance deeper into the summer months the grounds crew will strive to keep the turf alive with acceptable playing conditions.

Tree roots sucking up all the moisture behind #12 tee. This picture is from last season. Eliminating one of the two pin oaks over the winter has helped to decrease the amount of stressing/dead grass in this location.

A picture from last season. Poa annua dying out in late July on #9 fairway. The increased shade caused the poa to thrive in this area. Poa can not tolerate extreme heat and will die if these conditions persist.

Pythium blight outbreak in the rough. Picture was from August of 2020.

Poa annua dying out, left of #7 fairway in 2019.

A localized dry spot forming on #12 green this year.

Chris Wheeler spraying tees-trying to keep the summer disease at bay.

Green Speed

July is typically a month when we receive many questions about green speed. When the heat and humidity tick up, the distance the ball travels decreases (Here is a link to an article from the USGA that explains the variations in green speed throughout the season). We are within the WHCC standard range for green speed; however, current and past stimpmeter readings have shown that the greens are usually at the lower end of the range during the heat of the summer and higher during the cooler months. During the summer, humid conditions cause the turfgrass plant to literally swell with moisture, increasing resistance when the golf ball rolls. In addition, the hot soil temperatures increase microbial activity, thereby increasing turfgrass growth and slowing down speeds. We spray PGRs to combat the growth, based on clipping yield measurements, but it is definitely a challenge to get the sprays down during the busy golf calendar. 

Balancing the speeds with trying to keep healthy turf is another added challenge. The environmental conditions dictate how aggressive we can be with height of cut, decreasing irrigation, increasing rolling frequency, and PGR applications (Click here for a previous blog post on factors influencing green speed-The Need For Speed). Ultimately, we have to keep the turf alive and healthy to perform well throughout the long golf season. Pushing to increase speeds for daily play during stressful environmental conditions is not recommended for quality putting surfaces. Knowing when to pump the brakes for aggressive practices is a necessary skill that involves data, science, and experience. For tournaments, we will push the limits on the turf to achieve faster speeds; however, once the tournaments conclude, the turf needs time to recover. Overall, I believe the WHCC greens are performing very well. Continuing to implement weekly cultural practices, such as verticutting, PGR applications, venting, and topdressing will continue to improve turfgrass health. Healthier turf will allow for more aggressive practices that will eventually lead to faster greens. Hopefully, everyone understands that speeds will fluctuate, especially during the summer, in order to keep the greens healthy.

Assistant Michael Westendorf measuring green speed on #5 green.

2nd Assistant Chris Wheeler venting the putting green extension.

Bees in Bunkers

Over the last couple of years small wasps have begun to buzz around some sand bunkers. They are smaller than the usual suspect, the cicada killer wasp, but tend to look almost identical. I'm not an entomologist, but my best guess is these are sand wasps (Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus). Joe Boggs, Ohio State Extension entomologist, wrote an article about these wasps a couple years ago when he found them at White Oak Garden Center (click here for the article). They feed off of brown marmorated stink bugs and are also named stink bug hunters. Like cicada killers, they are solitary wasps that are not aggressive and rarely sting. They dig burrows into sandy soils, making bunkers a perfect environment. Chemical control is difficult because the wasps are scattered out into many different burrow colonies. Daily raking of the bunkers helps to keep the populations down, but the wasps are extremely difficult to fully eliminate. We have made some pesticide applications; however, they eventually resurface. Sand wasps are technically a beneficial insect, and are not a threat to stinging humans. We will continue to frequently rake the sand traps, and if this year is similar to the past, they will eventually move on.

Miscellaneous Jobs

Many behind the scenes jobs get accomplished during the summer months These include trimming irrigation heads, trimming back brush along the fence lines, fixing irrigation leaks, pulling weeds, and edging bunkers. These jobs are completed in addition to the daily maintenance and course set-up. These tasks are an important part of keeping the WHCC golf course and grounds in good shape. I want to acknowledge the hard work of the full and part time grounds workers for accomplishing these assignments, especially throughout the hot and humid weather conditions. Most of their work is done behind the scenes, with many tasks rarely being noticed. Yet, without their finished jobs the aesthetic value and playability of WHCC would quickly deteriorate. Hopefully, everyone will join me in appreciation for their hard work!

Ricardo trimming back the fence line by #16 green. Ricardo is one of 7 guys on the crew that hail from Guatemala. Their daily hard work and dedication can not be overstated! They are the backbone of the grounds department.

Jacob and Michael digging up a pipe leak in between #5 and #1.

Matthew Doll and his brother Michael Doll trimming irrigation heads. These two brothers attend East Central High School in Indiana and have been a big help during the past two seasons. They have a wonderful work ethic and I can't wait to see what the future holds for these two talented young men!

Jacob and Michael fly mowing bunker banks. This is a very exhausting job, but these lighter hover mowers help to keep the bigger mowers from causing ruts on the steep bunker slopes.

Brad Piecuch
Grounds Superintendent

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Grounds June Update


Dry, Hot Conditions

So far this summer it has been extremely dry. As I write this, the Tri-State area is under "Abnormally Dry" conditions according to the U.S. drought monitor. This is the second drought period to occur within a year, with the last dry event occurring in September and October of 2022, which had over 40 days without significant moisture. Currently, we are at 20 days without any substantial rainfall. May and June are typically wet months, and the lack of rainfall is, in some ways, more concerning than in the fall. Evapotranspiration rates are .20 and above because of wind, hot temperatures, low dewpoint temperatures and extended daylight hours. This means between evaporation and transpiration around 1/4" of moisture is being lost daily. Add in the 90 degree temperatures, and we are experiencing drought stress that is typically not seen in this area until the heat of late July and August. This is setting the course up for a difficult road ahead. Obviously, we are utilizing the irrigation system; however, even with nightly irrigation cycles many localized dry areas are forming. To combat this, we are applying wetting agents in our spray applications and our hand watering procedures, raising mowing heights, and lowering the amount of PGRs used. The turf is hanging on, but many areas are starting to wilt and decline. Poa annua, in particular, has a hard time surviving in these conditions (click here for a previous post on poa annua). The grounds department will continue to implement strategies to mitigate turf loss; however, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature and without rainfall and cooler temperatures some poa annua will be lost. Click here for a post from Ohio State about current dry turf conditions.

Poa annua staring to stress under the current conditions

Close up of stressing poa annua on #9 fairway.

Aeration and the North Tee

The deep tine aeration of the putting surfaces was completed in early May. All the greens were solid tine aerated to a depth of 8" and a heavy topdressing application followed. The conditions during the aeration were not ideal with temperatures in the 40s and light, misty rain; however, I am glad we pulled through and completed the process before the hot, dry temperatures occurred. The greens took about two weeks to heal and are now rolling to the WHCC course standards.

Deep-tine aeration of the putting green

The new north driving range tee is now open. The finishing work was completed in early May with the completion of cart path paving, the installation of a parking lot area, and a new 8' safety fence installed. The new tee looked healthy and full before the first practice shots were taken. Big chunks will come out with divot shots on the newly seeded tee until the grass matures and builds a bigger thatch layer. We will switch back to the south tee in late June or early July. The South practice tee has been solid tine aerated, topdressed, and overseeded while the north tee is in use. Moving forward, the plan is to have the north tee open for early spring and late fall with the south tee open for the summer months.

Installing the new parking area by the north tee

Extending the sides of the north tee cart path.

The north tee before practice shots. The best it will ever look!

Chris Wheeler aerating the south tee.

Bunkers and Tees

The WHCC bunkers are over 20 years old and starting to show their age. We have measured the sand depth in all of the bunkers on the course and are adding sand where needed. This along with the newer raking style has helped give a new, better look and play to these old surfaces. Still, washouts continue to be a problem with sand consistency and soil contamination. Many courses have installed hard liners (comprised of gravel and a spray on polymer) under the bunker sand to keep it in place and reduce contamination. However, this procedure is expensive and will require the closure of holes for the installation. We are working with the Green Committee on all possible solutions and I will update if/when anything is decided.

Ricardo edging the #8 bunker with a weed whip. This is done once a month to give the bunkers a nice, crisp edge.

Adding sand to a bunker

Tee leveling will take place this fall. The scope of the work is still to be determined with budget constraints and the exact tee locations to level at the fore front. Over time, tees become unlevel because of wear patterns and filling in divots with sand. Most of the use on tees occurs in the middle areas that, consequently, become crowned and uneven. We aerate, topdress, and try to move the markers evenly around the tees to help smooth them out, but eventually they become crowned enough to warrant a renovation procedure. Once the scope of this work is finalized I will update (click here for a USGA video on why tees become uneven).

Honey Dew

Many members have noticed the sticky residue that is coating many vehicles parked by the white oak trees in the parking lot. The sticky substance is called honey dew. It is produced by aphids that feed off plant sap. The excrement from these aphids produces a sticky, sugar filled substance called "honey dew". These are cool season bugs that typically feed in the late spring and early summer months. This usually coincides with an abundant amount of rainfall that washes the aphids and the sticky honey dew off of the trees and surrounding landscapes. Since rainfall has been scarce, these feeders are able to produce more sticky residue and whatever it sticks too becomes coated like a syrup glazed flapjack until washed off by a hose (click here for an Ohio State extension article about honey dew).


The summer annuals are planted. Increased watering and fertilizing will occur until the annuals become rooted in. The honor garden located by the fountain has added a nice new area for members to enjoy a drink, listen to the fountain, and take in the beautiful scenery. Many tropical plants have been incorporated into the clubhouse annual design and they are loving the hot summer conditions. The landscape bed behind the chipping green survived the winter months well and is beginning to put on new growth. It adds a nice screen and backdrop to the chipping green hillside. The horticulture team will continue to maintain the annuals and they should fill in throughout the summer months.

Honor garden consisting of fragrant return daylilies, silver mound artemisia, azure snow salvia, stewartstonian azalea, limelight prime hydrangeas, sunshine bluebeard, and bubblegum petunias.

Roses by the fountain in full bloom

Landscape bed behind the chipping green consisting of karl foerster feather reed grass, blue pacific junipers, and spring grove arborvitaes.

Finally, on a sad note, the Grounds Department is heartbroken by the sudden death of Stan Berry, WHCC's longtime morning Sous Chef. Typically, the agronomy team has limited contact with many other departments because of the early morning work hours and our 127 acre workspace; however, Stan worked an early shift and we had many early morning interactions. We always enjoyed talking about his newly purchased vehicles or his future goals of starting his food truck business. He was a fun loving guy, a good chef, and we always loved sampling his legendary pecan rolls. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Rest In Peace Stan! 

Brad Piecuch

Grounds Superintendent

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Mid-Spring Grounds Update

 Tulips blooming, trees budding out, and the smell of fresh cut grass can only mean one thing at WHCC-golf season has officially started! The grounds department has been busy prepping the golf course for daily play. In addition, the extended work time on Mondays has helped the course significantly. Topdressing, spraying, and some aeration has already begun and, in my opinion, the playability and health of the greens has never been better coming out of the winter season. The proxy applications made in December and February have decreased the amount of noticeable seed heads on the putting surfaces. This has increased green speed and smoothness compared to prior springs. Some of the new and problem greens have been needle tine aerated to help decrease compaction, increase oxygen, and help with drainage. Furthermore, topdressing was initiated in early March and is helping smooth and firm up the putting surfaces for the early golf season. However, on May 1st the putting greens will be deep tine aerated with 1/2" solid tines (weather dependent). This will slow down green speed for around two weeks and make for some bumpy play until the greens heal. This is a necessary practice to keep the greens healthy, fast, and smooth throughout the hot and humid summer months.

Poa annua seed heads. The right half was sprayed with proxy. Notice the difference in the seed head population between the sprayed side and the non sprayed side.

Seed heads on the new putting green extension. Old aeration plugs were used on the putting green extension along with new bentgrass seed. The plugs from existing greens were composed of bentgrass and poa annua and the poa seed heads are noticeable compared to the newer bentgrass varieties. This section and the new chipping green were not sprayed with proxy to limit PGR exposure to the newly seeded putting surfaces. Consequently, the new PG extension has a lot more poa seed heads than other greens.

Aerating the new chipping green with needle tines. This machine punctures the soil at a 4" depth.

A picture of deep tine aeration done last season. These tines puncture the soil at an 8"+ depth. This helps produce deeper roots. Deeper roots=healthier summer time turf.


The roller coaster spring temperatures really messed with the bloom time and duration of the tulip flowers. A warm end of February pushed the bulbs out of the ground earlier than usual, leading us to believe that the annual tulip display would be much earlier than expected. Then winter returned in March and froze tulip progression, allowing them to bloom on time for the Easter holiday. Then hot summer temperatures decided to show up and they pushed many of the bulbs to bloom faster than usual. Currently the tulips are past bloom and we will be removing them in the next couple weeks to make room for the summer annuals. We treat the bulbs as annuals and remove them every year. We place them in bags next to the grounds building and they are free for anyone that wishes to pick them up. 

The cold winter temperatures negatively impacted many of the less cold tolerant plants on the property. As I have written about in a previous post (click here for the post), late December temperatures dropped to -10 F. This is at the lowest end of the cold spectrum that plants in our area can tolerate. The cold air killed off some azaleas, roses, and defoliated many other shrubs. We are still in the process of discovering what plants survived. Already some of the azaleas behind #3 green have been replaced with 'Karen' azaleas, which are one of the most cold hardy of all the azalea cultivars, to try and keep this from occurring in future winters. 

The winter tree removals are completed. Around 20 trees were removed and the stumps ground out. The grindings were removed, filled with soil, and either sodded or seeded. They should grow and fill in the next couple of months.

Tulips in bloom.

White daffodils and grape hyacinth in bloom.

The roses by the fountain experienced significant winter desiccation. Luckily we mulch over the crowns in the fall and everything under the mulch survived the winter temperatures.

Filling in the stump hole by #13 green.


In late March the grounds crew measured the sand depth in every bunker and added sand where needed. The 20+ year old bunkers continue to wash out every time there is a thunderstorm that rolls through the tristate. We are experimenting with a newer way to rake the bunkers, called the "Aussie" method, consisting of smoothing out the sides of the bunker and raking the middle. This is supposed to firm up the sides to decrease fried egg lies and allow the golf ball to roll into the center of the bunker. We will continue to test this method and use feedback before making it a permanent practice (click here for more information).

Aussie method. The sides are smooth raked and the middle hand raked.

Broadleaf Weeds

As the grass grows so does the springtime weeds. White clover has always been a nuisance on the golf course. It is great for pollinators and produces nitrogen in the soil, but it is very susceptible to compaction and does not make for good golf ball lies. We are using a newer herbicide in our fairway spray applications and spraying the rough to decrease its presence this season. Some other weeds include dandelionspurple deadnettle, chickweedhairy bittercress, and violet. One of the most invasive spring weeds is lesser celandine. It is a short lived perennial that is on the rise in our area. It is a non native plant brought here from Europe in the 1800s. It blooms in the spring, then dies down to the ground in the summer, and returns the following spring as an expanded colony. It forms a dense mat that chokes out many of our native woodland plants. We are currently making herbicide applications to eliminate this weed and other broadleaf weeds on the golf course.

Lesser celandine in the woods behind the new north tee.
Lesser celandine in the valley between 3 and 4.

Contractors, Phase 2, and Leaks

Phase 2 of the driving range project is nearing completion. The new north tee has been mowed, aerated, and topdressed and is just about ready to be completely annihilated by practice shots. The new cart path is set to be paved in the next week (along with all of 6 cart path and the cart path from the chipping green to 5 green) and a new safety fence is installed parallel to the cart path to block flying balls originating from the new north tee. The new north tee area is scheduled for opening around Memorial Day.

The in house installation of the concrete barrier bin blocks was completed in January. The unsightliness of their appearance will be blocked by the new green slate chain link fence around the perimeter. This should make the area, that has always been used as a material dumping site, look much more organized with a cleaner appearance.

Irrigation leaks continue to pop up around the grounds. Two tee pipe fittings have been replaced by #10 tee and the new south driving range practice tee. Also, a couple bell-end pipe leaks were replaced. We will continue to fix leaks as they occur.

Material bin encloser fence.

Safety fence by the new north tee cart path

Fixing a leaking pipe tee by #10 tee.

Summer time is just around the corner. In the meantime, the agronomy team will continue to prepare the course for a busy golf season, the grass for the hot and humid summer time conditions, and the clubhouse grounds for all the summer festivities!

Brad Piecuch

Grounds Superintendent