Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thanksgiving Grounds Update


A November morning sunrise

This is Thanksgiving week and it is the time of year to reflect on what we are thankful for. Personally, I am thankful for my wife (who contrary to popular belief, and at the relief of her college English professor, does not write these posts or articles), for working in an industry that I truly enjoy, for working with a very talented group of individuals, for not having a November ice storm like two years ago, and most importantly for almost being done with the 2020 year. 

I don't have to remind anyone of how much of a circus this year has been, and working on the Grounds Crew has been no exception. This year has transitioned from wondering if we would be able to work; having budget and project cuts; masking up and sanitizing every touchable surface; progressing the putting green cups from raised, to noodles, to cut pvc pipe; having bunker rakes to not having rakes, to having rakes again; and having modified sand divot buckets (or not having I lost count). We all will be thankful to have this virus in the rear view mirror. Hopefully, after a couple more months, we will be seeing an end in sight. Despite all the distractions the agronomy team has been moving forward and completing many maintenance and grounds projects.

The aeration and overseeding of the turf surfaces has been completed, with the play rough finished in the middle of October.  Also, the late fall fertilization of the putting greens, fairways and play rough is completed.

Chris Wheeler aerating #18 rough

The leaf cleanup operation is winding down with around 90% of the leaves fallen. The trees put on a good fall show this year with many vibrant colors exploding because of the favorable temperatures and timely rainfall. At times the leaves were falling faster than our cleanup efforts, due to the recent windstorms combined with the abundant amount of pin oaks loosing their leaves. However, it looks like we are over the hump and can now start to focus our attention on other tasks.

Nyssa sylvatica tree in full fall color

White ash by #3 tee beginning to show fall color

Ginko biloba tree fall color

Black Gum tree for Mr. and Mrs. Thomas' anniversary that was planted in between #8 and #9

Green ash trees on #9 fairway showing good fall color

Honey locust and white ash

White ash fall color

The Horticulture Team has been hard at work removing the summer annuals and prepping the landscape beds for the winter by cutting down grasses, perennials, and cleaning out debris. Also, they have planted 5,000 tulip bulbs and some daffodils for the upcoming spring season.

Megan Bihl and Carole Snap planting 1,200 tulips around the red oak tree. Great Job!

Bunker drainage work has begun. There are some bunkers that are holding water after rainstorms and we are replacing and adding drain tile in those sand traps for better drainage. #17 fairway bunker and #10 green side bunker have been completed. Also, we will begin to work on adding drainage in some wet areas around the course and improving other bunkers as time allows.

Raymond, Julio, Wilfredo, and Miguel working on bunker drainage. Their awesome work ethic and reliability keep this course in great shape. Their importance to this crew can not be overstated.

Michael Westendorf working the mini backhoe.

We continue to add turf-lock blocks to wet areas adjacent to cart paths. #11 tee area is the latest wet area where these blocks have been added. We will continue to add turf-lock blocks as the winter progresses.

Tee leveling of #18 tee and the expansion of #13 alternate tee is completed. With the help of Russ Macke, the old sod was excavated, tees reshaped, and new sod placed on. #13 alternate tee is now double the size of the old tee and the back of 18 championship tee is level.

Sod stripped on #13 tee.

Excavating sod on #13 tee

Sod stripped to allow for expanding the tee and surrounds

Starting to strip the back of #18 tee

25 loads of soil removed from back half of tee

Reshaping tee

Tee leveled, ready for bentgrass sod

Laying new bentgrass sod on expanded #13 tee

#13 tee completed

Back of #18 tee leveled

Tee will be closed until spring to let the sod heal in.

The Agronomy Team has been experimenting with intermediate ryegrass for overseeding. The overseeding of Bermuda grass in the #3  rough between the creek and green seems to have germinated well. We will continue to monitor and perhaps expand the overseeding next season.

#3 Bermuda grass in mid October 2018

#3 Bermuda grass in mid October 2020 after overseeding with ryegrass, the Bermuda is not as detectable. Notice the right side that was not overseeded compared to the middle that was. Looks promising

The winter tree work is in the process of being approved. There are some trees that need to be removed because of damage or disease. One example is the pin oak adjacent to #5 tee. It is infected with armillaria root rot (honey fungus) which is a devastating fungal disease that rots heartwood, decreasing the structure integrity of the tree. This tree is recommended for immediate removal. Also, there are many limbs that are affecting play that will be pruned out this winter. We will be beginning tree work during the winter months.

Armillaria (honey fungus) infecting the pin oak tree by #5 tee. The severe fungal infection extends five feet up the trunk.

On behalf of the Grounds Department, I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Brad Piecuch

Grounds Superintendent 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Q&A/Grounds Update

 Since completing the fairway aeration last week the Grounds Department has been receiving questions about the procedure. I would like to address a few of the most common questions.

Why did you guys aerate fairways 4 days before the fall Member/Member?

Since we contract the fairway aeration to an outside company, we have to set the fall fairway aeration date many months in advance. The fall Member/Member tournament was not on the original tournament schedule and was scheduled just a little over a month before the actual date. Therefore, the aeration date was already in place and could not be adjusted because of the company’s limited availability during this time of year.

Why were the fairways so wet after aeration?

There are a couple of reasons why we had to increase irrigation after the aeration procedure. The first was the dry weather coupled with the increased temperatures. The day of aerating was in the middle of a very dry period for our area, with 15 days of no rainfall. The turf was under stress from the dry conditions as well as from the aeration. Irrigation had to be applied at a heavier rate to try and minimize the stressful conditions. 

In addition, the fairway aerators caused some significant damage to many turf areas. This had little to do with the equipment being used and more to do with the turfgrass fairway conditions. 

A problem that has been noticed over the past couple years has been the accumulation of thatch in the fairways. 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. Thick thatch causes moisture to hold up closer to the surface and roots grow where the most moisture is found. Also, bentgrass is a notorious thatch producer because of its lateral growing abilities.  

The fairway thatch has gotten to problematic levels. Because of this many of the turf roots are extremely shallow. This caused the aeration machine to pull up mats of fairway turf in many locations. These areas had to be heavily watered to get the sod rooted back into the soil profile. Once the sod started to recover (after a week and the recent rainfall)  we were able to cut back on the irrigation.

An area that was pulled up by the aerator. Notice the shallow root system.

Fairway areas that were pulled up by the machine. They are turning a grayish, purple color indicating severe stress. Heavy irrigation needed to be applied until it started to root back into the soil.

How do we know that the fairways have a thatch problem?

This is a good question. There are a couple of ways that we have realized this is an issue. The first is through our own observations. Core samples taken on many different fairways indicate a thick thatch layer and shallow rooting is a common occurrence. Also, many of the turf professionals that have visited the course have commented on "thatchy fairways". Most notably the USGA agronomist during his visit wrote, "A sample collected from No. 8 fairway revealed that organic matter is accumulating to a level that is somewhat concerning." In addition, soil testing was done and revealed a high level of fairway organic matter- 7.4% with a normal level being around 4%. The fairway conditions are also pointing toward this problem. Soft spongy conditions increase the need for irrigation and cause golf balls to plug and decrease ball roll.

An aeration plug taken from #10 fairway. The thatch layer (above the red line) is soft and spongy measuring around an inch. Thatch layers should be 1/2" or less.

Plugs taken from #4 fairway showing the thick thatch layer

Core plug with thatch measured at around 3/4"

A core taken from #8 putting green. Notice how the thatch layer is not noticeable. This is due to good culture practices performed on the putting surfaces.

6" roots on # 2 Green. This is what a healthy root system should look like!

How do you resolve the thatch issue?

Not skipping on core aeration is a good first step. In years past, less emphasis has been put on routine cultural practices and the golf calendar has taken precedence. This has led to fairway aerations being skipped for 4 years straight, and is the biggest factor leading to the high OM content. Core aeration is only a once a year procedure and the course only has to be shut down for a day. The conditions after aeration will quickly recover, especially if done at the right time of year (Late September/ Early October). 

Also, other practices must be initiated in the short term to decrease the organic matter. In particular we are looking into verticutting the fairways twice a year along with the core aeration. The verticutting would be accomplished during the shoulder season (Early April/Early November) and the impact on the golf calendar would be minimal. In addition, we are decreasing the amount of nitrogen being applied to the fairways. Too much nitrogen will increase thatch. Currently we have eliminated the mid summer granular application and only spoon feed with 1/10th of a pound of N during spray applications. The goal is to apply no more than 2 to 3 pounds per 1,000 sqft per year. Other/all options are currently being discussed with the Green Committee and we will implement a solution that makes sense agronomically and financially. It will take around 3 years to resolve this issue, but the results, I am sure, will be well received. For more information CLICK HERE for an informative USGA article on thatch control.

A verticutting fairway unit


The fairways have been wet all year. Why are you guys watering so much?

Deeper roots = less watering and drier conditions. Shallow roots = more watering and wetter conditions. We have shallow roots in the fairways. A big contributor to this is the thatch (also a producer of more localized dry spots) that has already been discussed. However, another factor is the tree roots. Later in the season, when water becomes scarce the tree roots have a very negative effect on the turf. They win the battle and suck up most of the moisture. To combat this we have to increase watering. Root pruning and some tree eradication will help decrease the amount of water needed to maintain healthy turf. Also, heavily shaded areas have increased poa annua, which has shallow roots and needs more moisture to survive. Again, eliminate the shade and we eliminate much of the poa, decreasing the water bill. Finally, we, the agronomy team, can do a better job with the irrigation. Sometimes programs overlap and some irrigation heads end up overwatering areas. We will continue to spot these areas and use the moisture meter to help us become more efficient in our watering practices. Our goal moving forward is to produce fairways that are firm and fast. This goal will take time and multiple issues will have to be addressed.

Tree roots affecting turf quality

Maintenance Update

The aeration process is moving along. The greens, fairways, tees, and driving range tees have been aerated, fertilized and overseeded. Next up is aeration of the play rough. No more course closers need to be implemented to accomplish the rest of the aeration. We are going to try and be more aggressive using the mats on the range, instead of the grass, as the temperatures turn cooler, so we can have healed and healthy practice tees ready for the beginning of next year’s golf season.

#2 fairway aerated

#2 fairway a week after core aeration and fertilization. Recovery is very quick this time of year.

The fall fertilization is almost completed. The fairways, tees, and greens have been fertilized. Some of the rough is still left and will be completed soon. A late fall fertilizaiton will be accomplished on fairways and greens in about a month.

In the next couple weeks a tree inventory will be assessed. I will update when this is completed. It is safe to say that we will be taking down many of the blue spruce trees that have succumbed to rhizosphaera needle cast disease. 

Dying blue spruce trees cut down last winter

Regular fall maintenance is on the horizon with leaf cleanup beginning to take center stage. Blowing off tees and greens everyday is becoming commonplace and soon the fairways will need to be blown off daily and leaves chopped up. This is always a major undertaking at WHCC and the Grounds Department will keep the playing surfaces debris free as much as possible.

This picture taken a couple of years ago showing how thick the leaves can get.

 The green speeds continue to increase as we head into the fall months. The last three month’s average green speeds are as follows:

July-10.39' (10’ 5”)

August-11.18' (11’ 2”)

September- 11.32' (11’ 4”)

The drier weather and lower humidity have really increased the speeds. Also, the new spinning topdresser unit has allowed us to increase topdressing. We are now able to topdress with light and frequent applications helping to firm up, smooth out, and increase the speed of the putting green surfaces. In addition, we are dialing in on our green's watering program with the help of the new moisture meter. We can now hand water with pin point accuracy and cut back on the nightly watering to help firm up the greens. In fact, we are now seeing some of the fastest speeds we have ever recorded on the WHCC greens. We will continue to make adjustments and fine tune our putting green maintenance program.

Close up of the spinning topdressing unit

A plaque honoring Chris Burger’s unbelievable two hole-in-ones on the par 4 number 8 hole has been installed. Everyone will be able to read about this feat for years to come!

Finally, we have the tulip bulbs ordered and will be ready to plant by the beginning of November. We are also working on the summer annual design. In the coming months we will be designing a couple new landscape areas for next season. 

If you have have any questions, concerns, or feedback please send an email to we would be happy to respond.  

Brad Piecuch

Grounds Superintendent

Saturday, September 5, 2020

September Update

The cooler air temperatures and warm soil temperatures make September the best time of year to overseed, aerate, and fertilize cool-season turfgrass. Greens aeration in the fall differs from our spring time practice. In the spring we deep-tine aerate all of the putting surfaces with solid tines (we do not pull a core). In the fall, because of the optimal growing environment, we core aerate (pull plugs). This helps more with decreasing organic matter and  prepares the soil for overseeding. There are many other benefits to core aeration, and for more information click here for an informative USGA article.

The majority of the golf course is core aerated this time of year. We understand this can be a nuisance for golfers; however it is imperative that aeration be accomplished in order to have a healthy, aesthetically pleasing, and well playing golf course. The benefits that occur because of this practice may not be noticed right away, but its positive effects will be enjoyed later this season and next. Some of the noticeable results from core aeration that a golfer would appreciate is faster greens, firmer fairways and tees, and greener, healthier looking turf. The dates for aerating different areas of the course are as follows:

  • Greens- September 8th (Course Closed)-Completed
  • Tees- mid September, during the week, working around play- Completed
  • Play Rough- late September/early October when time and weather conditions dictate- Completed 
  • Fairways- September 21st (Course Closed)-Completed
Of course, all this is weather dependent, and we will update if anything changes.

Fairway aeration completed September 21st

Fairway aeration

Fairway core aeration

Tee aeration

Core green aeration completed on September 8th

Topdressing, on greens, will be applied at a heavier rate to fill in aeration holes

Fall is also the best time to fertilize turfgrass. The summer causes a tremendous amount of stress on the cool-season grasses and giving these plants a good amount of supplemental nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium helps the turf recover.  These macro-nutrients are essential to plant development and provide expanded leaf and root growth that help to aid the plant in its biological functions. With the warm days and cool nights, that early autumn provides, the plants are more able to absorb these beneficial nutrients, helping the turfgrass to produce more carbohydrates-which it will need going into the winter months. There are two types of fall fertilization that are equally important- early and late. The early application will be accomplished on greens, tees, fairways, and rough, later this month and into early October, working around play.

Equipment used to fertilize fairways and rough
Overseeding is the third cultural practice done in September. Planting seed this time of year gives grass the best chance of survival, allowing the plant to establish a root system during the fall and spring before the hot summer months arrive again. To accomplish this the soil must first go through some form of cultivation. This is accomplished through slit seeding or aeration. After the soil is prepped the seed is applied and needs to be kept moist before and after germination. We will be overseeding the greens, fairways, and tees with different bentgrass varieties, and the rough with tall fescue.

Along with daily maintenance, the Grounds Department has been busy with other projects during the last month. The dry creek bed in between #15 tee and #16 green is finally completed. The aeration and overseeding of the far practice tee was accomplished in mid August, and the fairway dead poa annua areas that were overseeded are filling in nicely. The summer annuals are at their peak and soon the fall annuals will be taking their place in some of the landscape beds, window boxes, and pots.

Dry creek bed between #15 tee and #16 green

Far practice tee aeration/overseeding completed
# 13 fairway area healing
Cannas, cleome, and marigolds performing well by baby pool

Its also the time of year that the WHCC tree roots are having a big impact on turf health. They are both competing for available moisture and the areas where the trees are winning the battle are becoming noticeable, with big patches of brown and stressed out turf. We are increasing our irrigation around these areas and hopefully the cooler temperatures along with the trees' impending winter dormancy will help.

Pin Oak winning the moisture battle with #18 fairway 
With the abundant amount of irrigation heads located throughout the course there is always something to be fixed. Two days before the member/guest tournament was a great time for a creek to form in the middle of #4 fairway. Luckily we have a great irrigation technician (Michael Westendorf) who was able to quickly locate the bell end pipe leak and fix it before the start of the tournament.

Fixing the leak found in the middle of #4 fairway. By the way we did use a bigger shovel to dig the trench 😂  

Finally, the Grounds Department would like to remind everyone of good golf course etiquette. We must all do our part to keep the golf course in great shape. Remember the 3 R's.
  • Replace fairway divots. If a divot is taken out of a fairway or tee and still has a good amount of soil attached, place the grass sod back into the divot and firmly step on the grass to ensure good root/soil contact for healing and to make sure it doesn't get pulverized by one of our fairway mowers. If the sod has little or no soil, or if the grass is destroyed into many little pieces, please repair the divot by using the sand bottle that is in every golf cart or the divot sand buckets that are located on every par 3 tee. Put the sand into the divot and use your foot to gently smooth over the surface, so the sand is not above the surrounding grass. If too low, a golf ball could fall in leaving a difficult shot for the next golfer. If too high, it will damage our reel fairway mower blades.
  • Repair divots on putting greens. Unrepaired ball marks will take weeks to heal. A properly repaired ball mark will heal in a couple days. Unrepaired marks leave uneven surfaces for the next putter. So next time you leave a mark, repair yours, and a couple more. Being a courteous golfer is something the golf course will definitely thank you for!
  • Rake bunkers when exiting. Always rake the bunker upon leaving making sure to rake the sand toward and away from you to smooth out the sand's surface. Always exit out of the low side of the bunker. Also, always knock the sand off your shoes before entering a green.
Also, keep golf carts at least 50 feet away from greens and try to stay on the cart path as much as possible on par 3 holes. These regions get a tremendous amount of traffic and they are areas where the turf needs to look and play it's finest. Golf cart traffic can cause much turf damage so the more you are able to walk to your golf ball the better the turf will look and perform.
Here is a divot repair video from the USGA. (Click here for the link)

Here is an informative article from the USGA on proper golfer etiquette. Click here for the article.

September is an extremely busy month for the agronomy team. Just as the great band Earth, Wind, and Fire stated in their hit song September- "Now December found the love we shared in September"-the TLC we put into the course in September will be found and enjoyed next season and for many seasons to come.  

Brad Piecuch
Grounds Superintendent