Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Whacking Away!

 Growing up one of my favorite games to play at the arcade was Wack-a-mole. The game consisted of moles popping out of random holes and the player would try and "Wack" as many moles as possible before time expired. Every time you thought you whacked them all, inevitably another one would surface. Currently, the grounds department is playing their own version of whack-a-mole called whack-a-project. Every time one project is accomplished another one will pop its head. 

First up for the WHCC construction team has been phase 1 of the driving range projects. I'm happy to announce that after 1,284 in-house man hours, the opening of phase 1 is only days away.  The chipping green, approaches, and new driving range tee all look healthy and are ready for daily play. However, the putting green expansion, especially the transition area, needs more time to heal in. The late seeding date combined with many washouts have caused uneven drainage pockets that have held on to water leading to some scorched areas along with mower damage from mowing over the uneven surface. We are trying to decrease the wear patterns by skipping the cleanup round in the transition area and using rubber mats for turning but I do think we may have to address the unevenness with some excavation this fall. In the meantime, the transition area will have to be roped off until the grass can completely heal in. We plan on opening the bottom half of the putting green for bump and run shots on the June 15th opening date. Please understand that both the new putting green expansion and chipping area will take some time before they begin to roll as fast as the rest of the greens on the golf course. The turf is still in its infancy state and cannot take the lower mowing, continuous rolling, frequent topdressing, and heavy plant growth regulator applications like the older greens. Eventually we will get them there, but the grass will dictate how aggressive we can be in the short term.

The transition area of the new putting green expansion. We are decreasing the topdressing applications and keeping wear patterns down to try and help it heal in.

 Innovation zoysia grass has been installed on the target greens in the driving range. This grass was selected because of its drought tolerance, disease resistant, and heat loving attributes. Also, it is a newer variety with the coldest hardiness of all southern type grasses. Zoysia grass does not have the aggressive creeping nature of Bermuda grass so there are no worries about it taking over the entire driving range floor. During the colder months the target greens will be a light brown color that should be very noticeable against the green backdrop of the cool season grasses.

Sodding is the best way to establish this turfgrass and there are only two local companies that have it available. One is in Evansville, Indiana, and the other is the Southeastern Turfgrass Research Center in Lexington, KY. We went with the Lexington distributor and Dr. Mike Harrell is the owner. They are on the front lines of new and improved turfgrass varieties. 15,000 sqft of innovation zoysia sod was delivered over the weekend. It was a day and a half project in between monsoons, but we did get all the target greens stripped and resodded. The new zoysia grass will take some time to root in and once it does, we will be mowing it at tee height and this should enhance the target green perimeters.

The innovation zoysia field in Lexington KY

Section the new turf was cut from

Innovation zoysia arrives-43 rolls.

Stripping of old target greens

Laying out new zoysia

New target greens after installation. The target greens will be mowed at tee height once the sod is established

The chipping green surrounds have many wet pockets because of cutting into the existing hillside. We have fixed two of the 5 wet areas with new perforated drain tile and backfilling with sand. Some of the wet areas may need the work of an excavator and will need to be accomplished during phase 2 this fall. Any wet areas that we do not rectify will have signs to notify golfers.

Miguel and Raymond taking on a wet area

Miguel digging a new drainage trench

The old cart path on #5 has been eliminated and Russ Mackee used the excess dirt from the new golf cart building to fill it in. It has been seeded and is currently filling in.

The new patio expansion is complete and will be a great addition for outdoor dining. The drainage work done around the putting green left a good size trench that needed to be filled in and sodded. We completed the finishing work a couple weeks ago and we are now trying to keep the sod watered and alive in the summer heat.

Jason and Mark leveling out the old soil.

Next up will be the landscaping on top of the chipping green hillside. We will be choosing plants that will block golf shots from hole #6 without getting too tall to shade out the new chipping green.

New landscaping to be installed in the next weeks

Meanwhile, on the golf course we have been in full spray mode trying to stay away from the summer time diseases. The mowing crew is out in full force and it has been a challenge to keep up with cuttings in between the rainstorms. Also, the annual bluegrass weevil has reared his chewing head again and we are making insecticide applications to minimize its impact. We will spray a couple more insecticide applications to kill off future generation that will try and emerge this season.

ABW larvae found by #7 green

Close up of ABW

Zach Nicoludis, the regional USGA agronomist, dropped by WHCC for a consultation. Many topics were discussed including, trees, putting green and tee maintenance, bunker management, the new driving range project, thatch reduction in the fairways, and labor. He will write a report about recommendations, and I will share it with membership once completed. The visit went very well and many of his past recommendations have been followed. In particular, his recommendation on frequent and light topdressing has yielded positive results with firmness and green speeds.

Light topdressing of #3 green

On the horticulture side, the installation of the summer annuals is almost completed. There are a few new annuals that were used this season. The back patio pots have, as their focal points, majesty palms and one gardenia. The gardenia is a southern plant that is very fragrant, and the majesty palms give off a tropical feel. Birds of paradise were used next to the oak room entrance and celosia should give a different look next to the putting green.

Gardenia flower. Very fragrant

Birds of Paradise

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 a couple years ago 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

As we get deeper into the summer season the grounds department will remain busy with golf course maintenance and the beginning of phase 2 of the driving range project. In the meantime, we will be looking for a bigger whacking mallet!

Brad Piecuch
Grounds Superintendent

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Around the Grounds-May

The Champion overcup oak lit up at night.

 As we close the book on April and move into May, the agronomy team is looking forward to warmer temperatures. Late March and April have been colder than normal hindering many of the grow in projects. The far (north) driving range tee is opening on Sunday May 1st; however, the floor of the driving range is still in the process of germinating and will need more days of warm temperatures to fill in. One thing I have learned through phase 1 of the driving range project is the importance of seeding in August or September. Every area seeded in that time frame has come out of the winter with nice coverage and healthy turf. The areas that were seeded in mid-October into November have less germination, thin turf, and much more growing to accomplish. 

Spring seeding is less effective than early fall. 1 to 3 is a good ratio when thinking about the difference in seeding. 1 week of germination in the fall equals 3 weeks to accomplish the same amount of germination in the spring. This is because the soil temperatures are very warm in early fall but take much more time to warm up after the cold winter. Since the driving range floor was seeded in early November, the turf is very thin, and the seed planted a month ago is just starting to grow. The grass should continue to fill in as we head into late spring and summer, and in June we will be sodding all the target greens with innovation zoysia (more on that on a later post). 

The putting green expansion was seeded in early October and is starting to fill in but is still behind the progress of the chipping green that was planted in late September. We will continue to water and fertilize to push growth and hit the target opening dates but understand the quality of these surfaces will take some time to mature before they are able to take the daily abuse of regular play and meet current green speed benchmarks.

Floor of the driving range in late April

Notice the left side of the floor. That was planted in November and needs time to fill in.

New driving range tee. Seeded in September and looks great in April.

The greens maintenance program has begun with regular topdressing, PGR applications, mowing, rolling, and verticutting taking place. The greens are scheduled for solid tine aeration on Monday, May 2nd. A contractor is used to deep-tine aerate (10" deep) the putting surfaces, and this will take all day to accomplish. We will heavily topdress after aeration to fill in holes and smooth out the surface. This is a much-needed cultural practice that reduces organic matter, helps drainage, and decreases compaction. The bottom line is to have healthy, firm, and fast greens this needs to be accomplished at least twice a year. The green speed will be slower for a week or so but will steadily increase as the greens heal. Click here to read a USGA article on aeration!

A green after verticutting. This encourages horizontal growth, decreases thatch leading to faster and firmer greens.

Topdressing at 2 cuft/1,000 sqft. Frequent light topdressing smooths out greens and helps firmness.

2nd assistant Chris "Wheels" Wheeler verticutting #5 green.

USGA illustration of the benefits of aeration

We have received some questions about the cup changing process. The putting green cups are changed during the golf season 5 times a week. The number 1 concern with changing hole locations is to decrease wear on the greens. If cups were kept in the same location for many days the area around the cup would become compacted, stressed, and eventually die. The cups need to be rotated in order to spread foot traffic to different areas. Also, it creates different putting reads for different hole locations.

We use a 9-grid pattern for selecting pin placements, with flag colors consisting of red for the front, white for the middle, and blue in the back. If hole number 1 is in the 3 spot, hole 2 would be in the 4 spot, hole 3 would be in the 5 spot, and so on (see diagram below). There are specific holes where a hole location cannot be used (left of the middle of three green is an example). For these locations we move the cup as close as possible to the grid hole location without making it an impossible putt. Some people like aggressive cup placements and some prefer locations to be in the easiest spot possible. There have been many occasions where on the same day golfers will approach me and applaud the cup placements, and 5 minutes later other golfers will comment on the "horrendous" hole locations. Keep in mind WHCC has small greens and to properly space out foot traffic sometimes we do have to be aggressive on pin placements. We try and keep holes off of slopes, but sometimes mistakes are made especially when training new employees. We will strive to keep the cups fair and the turf healthy.

9-grid cup changing pattern. Locations are moved in order daily. For example, if hole 1 is set in the 2 spot the next day it will be in the 3 spot, and the next day 4 spot, and so on.

2007 was the first year the tulip display was planted with 200 bulbs under the red oak tree. Today it has grown to around 5,000 tulips. It is always a beautiful site to see them in full bloom around Easter. Along with the tulips the grounds are home to many other spring blooming plants. WHCC has thousands of daffodils (that are deer resistant), hyacinths, and many other flowering trees and shrubs. This provides a cornucopia of spring flowers for people to enjoy. Soon the spring display will give way to the summer annuals. Here are a few pictures of the spring flowers.

Finally, some trees are getting treatments for diseases or other stressors. 4 blue spruce trees (3 by #7 green, 1 by the clubhouse) are getting treatments for rhizosphaera needle cast disease. This is the disease that has killed almost all the blue spruce trees on the grounds over the last couple of years. These treatments consist of trunk injections and foliage sprays and have saved many blue spruce trees around the area. There are no guarantees but hopefully the fungicides will keep them alive. Also, the pin oak by #9 green, that was hit by lightning last year, is being treated with fertilizer applications, fungicide injections, and insecticide sprays to try and save it. This tree was recommended for removal, but there is a chance, with these procedures, it may recover and we will continue to monitor. The last tree treated is the pin oak by #17 red tee. It blocks many shots from hitting houses. It has a ganoderma infection, which is not curable but can be minimized extending the tree’s lifespan. We will be planting a tree behind the pin oak to take its place after the disease eventually runs its course.

ArborFos trunk injections for needle cast disease on a blue spruce by #7 green.

As we enter the busy golf season the majority of our time will be devoted to daily maintenance. We are navigating the tough labor market like many other departments and industries. To say it has been tough to find employees would be an understatement. Luckily, the grounds department has many talented and loyal workers who are picking up the slack to keep the course and grounds in good shape. We will continue to navigate these rough times and hopefully the end of the school year will provide us the help we need!

Brad Piecuch
Grounds Superintendent

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Spring Happenings

Cold late March temperatures freezing the newly turned-on clubhouse fountain

Spring is here and the Grounds Crew is busy getting the golf course ready for the season. The temperatures have been up and down; with the first part of the month well above normal and the latter half much colder. Mowing has begun on the putting greens, fairways, and tees. The rough should start to grow in early April. 

Verticutting of the fairways is underway. This will help decrease the heavy thatch layer that had accumulated over the years. Thatch is the buildup of organic material between the crown of the grass and the soil. It is composed of undecomposed rhizomes, crowns, roots and stolons. It binds up water and nutrients prohibiting its percolation farther into the soil profile. This causes moisture and roots to hold closer to the surface. Shallow roots and thick thatch lead to soft and wet fairways. Since we have started verticutting in the spring and deep-tine aerating in the fall, the fairway conditions are beginning to improve. The thick thatch layer is decreasing, and the roots are growing deeper into the soil profile. This has allowed us to cut back on irrigation leading to firmer conditions. Hopefully this continues and we will keep up with these annual cultural practices. 

Assistant Michael Westendorf verticutting #10 fairway

Verticutting and picking up debris with the TC-125 John Deere sweeper

Thatch from a #10 fairway plug in 2020. Puffy thatch and organic material are noticed above the red line

A soil plug from the same location on #10 fairway in March of 2022. The thatch is decreasing. 

Soil profile from #18 fairway notice the white roots extending below this core. Estimated at 8" deep.

The work on finishing phase 1 of the driving range project has begun. We pushed to get as much accomplished as possible before cold winter weather and decreased sunlight brought it to a halt. Over the winter, many areas of the driving range floor, on hillsides and at the low center,  washed out from water rushing through after rainstorms. To fix this we added a 12" catch basin below the 18" pipe that drains under the new practice tee. This is connected to 6" perforated drain tile that connects to existing tile. Also, swales were added to the center to help slow down and catch water before it washes soil and seed away. The ruts on hillsides were filled in and seeded. Target greens are marked, and we will soon begin to mow them at a shorter height so they can be seen. Now, warmer temperatures are needed for germination and, eventually, for the grass to fill in. Hopefully, we will be able to open the far tee and the driving range floor by the beginning of May.

Driving range floor in late February. Notice the long wash out occurring in the center.

Fixing the driving range floor

New catch basin installed in front of the 18" pipe that drains under the new practice tee.

Wilfredo and David laying sod around a catch basin located in the center of the range

Ricardo, David, and Jorge fixing ruts on the hillside.

Seed and futera matting added after soil leveled and prepped. Now we need warmer temperatures and moisture for germination.

The expanded putting green area and the chipping green are filling in. We have begun the process of mowing, rolling, fertilizing and topdressing, but these areas will need much more time to grow before they are ready for daily play. The tentative opening for these areas is June 15th.

First mowing of the year for the putting green expansion. It will take time to fill in and for us to begin to decrease the mowing height to match the other greens.

Bunker work is next on the list, and we have started adding sand to the bunkers that need it. We are measuring each bunker to try and keep 4 to 5 inches of sand in the bottoms and 2 to 3 inches on the sides. Understand that after rain events the consistency of the bunker's sand will change from the sides washing out and mixing in with the surrounding soil. Keeping the right amount of sand after washouts is very difficult (especially on steep slope faces) and I will be discussing with the Green Committee some possible solutions as the current project work winds down. Click here for more information from the USGA on bunker washouts.

Ricardo and Jorge adding sand to the left side #1 fairway bunker.

On the horticulture side, mulching of the landscape beds is underway. The proshop landscaping is completed with a new retaining wall built and new plant material installed. The plants consist of roses, ornamental grasses, hydrangeas, and dwarf lilacs. Something should be blooming in these landscape beds from late April until the first frost. The tulips will be in bloom in early April and there is a chance of the blooms extending into Easter Sunday.

Lemon zest roses by the wall and pink knockout roses in the back.

Pansies added in front of the verdin clock plaque

Miguel and Wilfredo trimming incrediball hydrangeas.

The warmer weather is right around the corner, and I will continue to update the happenings around the grounds as we move into the busy golf calendar. 

Brad Piecuch

Grounds Superintendent