Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Dog Days of Summer/Farewell to a friend

The dog days of summer are upon us, and as we transition from mid-summer to late-summer the cool-season grasses are showing signs of stress. Most notably, poa annua (click here for more information) can not handle the extreme heat. This July almost every day was close to or over 90° with soil temperatures approaching 100°. With temperatures this high poa annua begins to shut down and eventually dies out producing thin and brown patches. The Grounds Department has done a good job so far keeping as much poa alive as possible through proper irrigation, fertilization, and fungicide applications; however some grass will inevitably succumb to the heat. The beginning of #13 fairway is one example where the poa annua had enough and tapped out. To combat the dead patches the Agronomy Team aerated the entire area. Then added a soil amendment (CarbonPro-G), overseeded with Princeville bentgrass, and applied a light sand topdressing. This, along with the expected cooler temperatures for the next week, should help with recovery. 

The area on #13 fairway stressing 3 days before the poa died off.

Topdressing the area

Close up of solid tine aeration holes

Aeration of the area.

The grounds department will do everything possible to keep as much of the cool-season turf alive and healthy but we could use everyone's help during the summer. We ask that all golfers try and limit the amount of time that carts are in the fairways, and use the ninety- degree rule when entering and exiting during days of extreme heat (close to or over 90 degrees). On these days the grass is so stressed simply driving over them can cause severe damage. This type of damage usually occurs during the middle of the day when the sun is at its peak and the temperatures are the highest. Limiting cart traffic to the rough as much as possible will greatly help improve fairway conditions.

Golf cart damage on #18 fairway after a 90 degree day

The greens maintenance program is on schedule and running smoothly. We have been keeping up with fertilization, herbicide, PGR and fungicide sprays. Also, cultural practices have been increased. We are periodically spiking the greens to improve water, oxygen, and nutrient infiltration. Spiking makes holes about 1 inch below the surface, much less invasive than aeration but with similar benefits and quicker recovery time. It does not replace aeration but is a way to help alleviate some compaction during the hot summer months. In addition, we have been topdressing the greens every two weeks with the help of the new spinning topdressing unit. These practices have helped with the firmness and health of the greens.

Putting green after spiking

#12 green half-way through with a light topdressing

The trees to the right of #16 fence line were starting to encroach into the fairway. The Grounds Crew cut back much of this brush, improving the play ability for this hole.



The Landscape crew has been working hard to complete a project that had been put on hold in the late winter/early spring because of the current pandemic. The area in between #16 green and #15 tee was cleared out of brush and honeysuckle during last winter. Now stones are being added to improve aesthetics and soil erosion. The finish product should look like a creek with native trees lining both sides, adding to the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.

Oversized rip/rap added

The Grounds Department continues to battle pop up thunderstorms that seem to blow through the course at least once a week. Every time the wind picks up the crew has a lot of debris cleanup to contend with; in the form of leaves, sticks, branches, and sometimes entire trees. We will forge ahead and clean up whatever mother nature dishes out.

#3 green after a wind storm

"That’s something to be proud of!"
John Gerke, the Assistant Mechanic, was a simple hard working man. He graduated from Diamond Oaks with a certification in appliance repair in 1980. After working in the industry for a short while he decided to change course, first working at a family farm and then at a local auto parts store. In the mid-1990s he joined the WHCC Grounds Department working as the Assistant Mechanic under "Buck" Martini-the Head Mechanic from the mid-1960s to 2002. In 2002 John took the Head Mechanic position at Deer Run Country Club. After that club closed for good, John moved on to the Head Mechanic at Crooked Tree Golf Course and eventually ended up as the Mechanic at Traditions Golf Club. In 2018, John again joined the WHCC Grounds Crew as the Assistant Mechanic working under Jim Hessel. 

John was a dedicated employee. He was the first one to arrive at work, sometimes arriving as early as 3:30 am during tournaments to get maintenance accomplished before the first tee times. Anyone who met him knew he had the gift of gab and loved to tell stories about occurrences from past employments or to talk about his favorite sport, NASCAR.  He was a good mechanic who would spend hours reading through manuals to figure out tough mechanical issues and usually was able to fix them. John passed away suddenly last weekend (July 26th). His life reminds me of one of my favorite country songs- "Something to be Proud of" by Montgomery Gentry. John's life was "Something to be proud of, That's a life you can hang your hat on!" John lived alone but he touched many lives through his hard work and kindness. Hopefully now you are able to rest and reflect on a life well lived. RIP John Gerke- You will be missed!

Brad Piecuch
Grounds Superintendent

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Tropical Heat

Incrediball hydrangeas in full bloom by patio

Tropical heat has descended upon the Cincinnati area. The last couple weeks have introduced multiple thunderstorms and very high humidity. This is good for keeping adequate moisture in the root zone for the cool season turfgrass, but it has its drawbacks. High humidity is a recipe for many turf diseases to take hold. When night time temperatures reach 70 degrees with daytime temperatures above 85, Pythium blight (one of the worst summer diseases) becomes a concern. Brown patch, anthracnose, and dollar spot are other diseases that thrive in this environment. To combat this we have been increasing our fungicide applications. They are not 100% effective at controlling outbreaks but with timely sprays we can greatly reduce disease presence.

Dollar spot on the chipping green collar

Frequent rains and high humidity also negatively affect green speeds. Our data is showing that on days with high moisture the stimpmeter readings can be lowered by as much as a foot. Please understand that when a good amount of moisture is present, whether from rainfall or humidity, green speeds will be reduced. We will continue with our rolling frequency and once the humidity levels return to normal, the speeds will increase. For more information about green speed click here for a previous post.

With the heavy downpours bunker washouts become an issue. After a heavy thunderstorm many bunker faces wash out and it takes a 2 man crew a whole day to plow and rake the bunkers back into shape. Over the last couple of years we have been eliminating some of the problem bunkers and replacing others with a bunker without a steep bank. Also, the storms have produced an abundant amount of debris cleanup work.

#12 green bunker washed out after a thunderstorm producing 1.5" of rain 

debris after a thunderstorm

debris after a thunderstorm

#17 valley resembling the whitewater river

#13 green draining the way the architect designed

Broken tree branches on the ground and hanging in the catalpa tree by #9 fairway after a storm

This season the Grounds team has been accumulating data to help with agronomic practices. One of the areas that we are measuring are the nitrogen applications. It has allowed us to pin point how much nitrogen we have been applying and make necessary changes throughout the season. On the fairway spray applications we are increasing the nitrogen input to offset some diseases, improve color, and help with recovery from increased cart traffic. We will continue to monitor and make corrections as the season progresses.

#16 fairway showing an emerald green color after a nitrogen application

The burning bushes adjacent to #12 cart path have been removed. This will help with safety for cars and carts traveling in that area and help with the aesthetics, allowing the new guinea impatien bed to be more visible when entering the club.
Burning bushes before removal

Area after bushes removed with new bed of crotons by #12 tee

There are swales and uneven areas in the fairways that we have been raising and leveling.  Low/uneven spots on #2, #4, #13, #12, #15, and #18 were rectified earlier in the year. The large swale located to the left on #11 was recently fixed. The sod was excavated, dirt added, leveled off, and sod placed back on. The area should heal back in the next couple of weeks.

Low area left of #11 fairway after completion

The new landscape beds located by #11 green and by #13 tee are filling in nicely. The swamp milk weed is attracting monarch butterflies. Many pollinator insects are being attracted to the other perennial flowers as well.

A monarch butterfly enjoying the cinderella swamp milkweed
#11 landscape bed

An interesting disease is occurring on many pear trees around the tri-state. It is called cedar-quince rust and it leaves orange dust underneath the tree canopy. It is very noticeable on side walks and driveways and even garnered enough attention to became a segment on the local news. The wet and humid conditions that are occurring have created an environment for this disease to thrive. Orange spores on the fruit produces the Cheeto like dust.  To read more about this disease click here.

Cedar-quince rust on the pear fruit on #18

We have been experimenting with turf-lock blocks from Western Hills Builder Supply to help with cart traffic wear near cart paths. The blocks help to stabilize the soil while still allowing turf to grow. We will monitor how this holds up.

Turf-lock blocks
If a typical Cincinnati summer is ahead we should be trading in these tropical conditions for a drought sometime in August into September. In the mean time, we will adjust our agronomic practices for a tropical rainforest climate and give the irrigation system a respite before the dry heat returns.

Brad Piecuch
Grounds Superintendent

Saturday, June 6, 2020

June Update

White floribunda rose by the fountain in full bloom.

It has been a tale of two extremes during the last month for the Grounds Department. In the middle of May the monsoons arrived and by the end of May we had accumulated around 7 inches of rain. Our normal procedure during heavy rains is to cease mowing operations and wait for a couple of days for the turf to dry out. Unfortunately, the wet weather did not cease after the wait period and we were forced to be more aggressive with mowing. The last half of May was so wet that we were unable to mow some areas with the riding mowers and had to walk and/or weed whip many rough areas around the course. Then the rain stopped. Currently, we are in a dry period and have switched our mowers for hoses. It was amazing how quickly the course changed from wet to dry. The irrigation system is now running and the cool season grasses are starting to show signs of stress, especially poa annua.

Poa annua (annual bluegrass) is a winter annual grass that typically germinates in the fall, goes to seed in the spring, and dies out in the heat of the summer. The seeds produced during the spring germinate again during the cooler temperatures of the following fall. It is a very prolific seed producer and can produce seedheads at very low mowing heights making golf courses an ideal place for poa to thrive. It has three main drawbacks. The first is its seed head production. When produced in the spring on putting green surfaces it decreases the smoothness and speed of the greens. The second is its inability to tolerate hot temperatures. Hot temperatures will severely stress the plant and eventually it will die off. The third is it is highly susceptible to many summer diseases, especially anthracnose. 

The main reasons why poa annua is so prevalent at WHCC is because this is an older golf course with an abundant amount of shade. We do strive to suppress and limit its growth in the spring with PGRs and overseed with better turfgrass species; however it is almost impossible to fully eradicate. We keep as much of it green and alive, as possible, in the fairways, tees and greens during the summer by keeping adequate moisture in the soil, and syringing (keeping the soil temperatures down), but some of it will die and cause dead patches to occur. The great (or bad) thing about poa annua is that when the days get shorter and the temperatures cool off, the seed that was put down in the spring, will germinate and fill back in the bare areas.

For more information on poa annua click here!

Difference between solid stand of bentgrass vs bentgrass mixed with poa annua. Bentgrass is the darker green color on the bottom left corner.

Poa annua stressing in the rough

Annual bluegrass showing signs of heat stress on #15 fairway

The current hot and humid weather has created a great environment for cool season grass summer diseases to take hold. Anthroacnose, brown patch, pythium blight, and summer patch are all examples of some of the summer weather diseases that we are fighting against. The agronomy team has kept up with the spray applications and hopefully most of the diseases will not occur.

Spraying fairways

Also, we have begun to spray the course for broad-leaf weeds. The heavy rains, and now hot temperatures, have put this procedure on hold but will begin again when temperatures moderate. 

Spraying broad-leaf weeds in the rough

The far practice tee has been aerated and the lower tee is currently in use. It should be healed and ready again in about three weeks.

Far practice tee after aeration

The gravel cart paths located on #4, #8, #11, and #18 have developed many pot holes. The crew has filled in many of these holes with crushed limestone.

#4 cart path after filling in holes

We have had a couple summer wind storms blow through leaving a lot of debris and large broken limbs to clean up.

broken limb in ash tree by #11 tee

Large limb hung up in the shagbark hickory tree by #17 tee.

On the horticulture side, all the summer annuals are planted. We have some new flowers including, bromeliads, cleome, gardenias, bamboo palms, and Mexican petunias. The new beds that were planted in the spring are filling in and starting to bloom. Now the maintenance of fertilizing, watering, and pruning take center stage and these plants should double in size by the 4th of July.

The bed by #13 tee with plants getting bigger

Late freeze damage on the taxus bushes by #5 tee. The early May frost caused this damage.

Perennials behind #11 green getting ready to bloom

Mexican petunias in front, elephant ears, and crotons in the back

Gardenia flower by the entrance.Very fragrant.


The Delhi area has the nickname of "Floral Paradise of Ohio," and for good reason. At one time there were approximately 60 operating greenhouses in Delhi, now there are around 6. Here at WHCC we are trying to keep this nickname alive by purchasing our annuals from western hills distributors and taking pride in our horticulture program to help keep the West Side the "floral side" of Cincinnati. I came across this video made in 2000 about the history of greenhouses in western hills. It is interesting to learn about this area’s rich history with horticulture.
Here is a link to the video-click here

Brad Piecuch
Grounds Superintendent

Saturday, May 9, 2020

May Curves

In baseball, nothing throws a batter off more than expecting a fastball and instead getting thrown a curve. It’s unexpected and usually throws the batter's timing off, causing a swing to miss. Believing that sports can be a metaphor for life, life's curves can be just as as unpredictable. Lately many surprising situations have been thrown at the Grounds Department. The Covid-19 situation is an obvious one that everybody is currently dealing with and the agronomy team is no exception, but mother nature also seems to be following suit. Frost and freeze delays are common in March and early April. It becomes unexpected and disruptive when they occur in May- a time when tee times get earlier and earlier. Frost delays really throw us off our game. Greens mowing, rolling, changing cups, moving tee markers, and raking bunkers are all jobs done ahead of play. Normally to combat the morning tee times we begin work earlier, but with frosty mornings that is not possible. We know that everyone is excited to get out and golf, but the daily course maintenance takes time to accomplish, and during these curve-ball days we just ask for patience and time so we can accomplish our maintenance without disrupting play. 

The new way to limit cup exposure during the Covid-19 era.Thanks to Mr. Kelley for the new golf ball lifters. Use your putter head to lift the lever on the flag stick and your ball will lift out of the cup.

The aeration that took place on May 4th went well. The day turned out to be perfect for deep-tine aeration (8" deep), and topdressing (for more information on the importance of aeration click here for an informative article by the USGA). We did have an unexpected situation occur on #4 green and on a couple green collars (#2 and #11). The pull-behind tractor aerator that was used happened to find a couple of our old irrigation heads (from the 1986 installed hydraulic system) that were still in the ground. The aerator tines punctured the old head and it stuck on leaving some bigger holes a quarter of the way down #4 green. We filled in the holes with sand and put small bentgrass plugs in them. This should heal up in the next month or so. 

Big holes on #4 green after old irrigation head got stuck in one of the tines

Holes filled in with sand and small bentgrass plugs

Small flag showing the 8" depth of the aeration holes

The city water flows into our irrigation system in the irrigation pit. This is where the water is turned off for the blowout of the system, and on for the spring start up. Periodically we check down there to make sure there are no leaks or other surprises. Well we were greeted with an unexpected surprise when we opened the lid to the pit and found it half way filled up with water. The sump pump had broken and we needed to pump out the pit and replace it with a new one. The amount of water in the area made this task challenging but it did get accomplished and hopefully the new pump will buy us many more years before it needs replacing again.

Pumping out the irrigation pit to fix the sump pump

Lastly, while changing the cart restriction sign in the rain, a small red puddle was noticed by #1 cart path.  The smell revealed that we had a diesel fuel leak and upon further investigation it was discovered that our 20 year old diesel fuel tank had sprung a leak. With the help of our handy assistant mechanic and Wardway fuels we siphoned out the remaining fuel and put a temporary tank in front of the grounds building wall by the mulch pile. Since we caught the leak early very little fuel was lost. Hopefully the grass along #1 cart path will be spared but only time will tell.

The leaky diesel tank

Temporary diesel tank

Now that I am done with my therapeutic venting, there are other tasks being accomplished by the crew. May is an extremely busy month for the Grounds Department. The May temperatures combined with the spring fertilization cause the grass to explode with new growth. Of  course, all the new growth must be cut, and during weekdays we have every mower in the shop out to accomplish this.  On the horticulture side all the tulips from April have been removed to make way for the summer annuals.  A new landscape bed has been created at the corner of Neeb road and Cleves-Warsaw. It is replacing the overgrown prague viburnums and consists of emerald green arborvitaes, pink and red drift roses, and moonbeam coreopsis. This bed will improve aesthetics and visibility to a very busy Delhi intersection.

New landscaping. Mulch to follow

Julio fly mowing around #6 green. We are trying to fly mow more often around steep green banks to decrease ruts left by mowers.

As we get deeper into May, hopefully mother nature cooperates and warmer temperatures are not far away. In the next couple weeks the summer annuals will be planted, outdoor dining will begin, and it will look more like summer.  Meanwhile, the agronomy team is waiting on the next pitch-hope it’s a fastball!

Brad Piecuch
Grounds Superintendent