Saturday, November 2, 2013

November 2, 2013

Last Tuesday, October 26, we were visited by entomologists Dr. Albrecht Koppenhofer and his post doctoral research associate, Olga Kostromytska, from Rutgers University. The purpose of the visit was to collect adult annual bluegrass weevils (ABW)  to be used in a study to determine the degree of insecticidal resistance to products that are traditionally used to control their populations.

The annual bluegrass weevil, which feeds primarily on poa annua, is the most destructive insect that we battle with throughout the year. In the spring the adults emerge from their overwintering sites ( from under debris, leaves, dropped pine needles, etc) and migrate across the rough to greens, tee, and fairways where they lay their first generation eggs inside the sheath of its preferred host,  short cut poa annua. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the plant before tunneling out and entering the soil to pupate. This egg laying, feeding and tunneling in the poa plant kills the plant. In the soil they cause no damage, but become adults that will repeat this process. Over the year, up until October, there are multiple overlapping generations, before the adults head back to tree lines to overwinter. 

For each stage of its life cycle, a different insecticide must be used – a contact for the roaming adults, a systemic type for feeding larvae, and a soluble contact that can be watered into the soil to affect the pupae. That is complicated enough, yet what makes control even more difficult is that these weevils have been evolving to be resistant to many of these insecticides to the point that the products offer little if any control. In the end, the weevils are becoming harder to control and populations are growing, and damage is increasing. At courses with a long history of ABW, resistance is a serious problem. At the same time, the annual bluegrass weevil, which once was a threat mostly only to New England, is now evolving to thrive in the warmer temperatures of the Mid - Atlantic States and south.

At Greate Bay, we began seeing damage just four years ago. I suspect there is a degree of insecticide resistance because each year it has become harder and harder to control the ABW populations here. This year was especially tough. Two years ago we only needed to treat a few areas on the course, and were able to decrease the adult population enough so that subsequent applications were not necessary. Last year though, we needed to treat the entire course and then on certain fairways and most greens we had to follow up again with as many as three subsequent treatments. As late as early October, we were still noticing light damage on the greens, collars, and on some fairways. This sustaining population of ABW might be an indication that the insecticides we use are decreasing in efficacy, due to resistance

Dr. Koppenhofer had contacted the NJ Superintendent’s Association looking for courses that would allow him and his team to collect weevils for a study to determine resistance population levels throughout NJ and surrounding areas. Within a week after volunteering Greate Bay as a collection site, we had set up a date for his visit.

Sampling was simple. The researchers dug out small, 6-8” diameter pieces of sod, about an inch deep, in suspected overwintering sites along the tree lines of hole #7. The sod was placed in five gallon buckets of warm water and a paper towel was laid on the water as a raft for the weevils to hang onto as they floated up wards through the water. The weevils were then collected from the paper towel rafts and put in containers for their trip back to Rutgers. In all, they were hoping to collect at least 1,500 adults, which they did.

Our weevils, along with the ones from other courses taking part in Dr. Koppenhofer’s study, will be tested with various insecticides normally used to control them, and the degree of resistance, if any, will be determined. From this study, alternative treatments and/ or insecticide rotations may be recommended to decrease resistance so that in the future, we will be able to better control the ABW. 

Dr. Koppenhofer collecting weevils on #7

Annual Bluegrass Weevil

Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 30, 2013

We accomplished quite a lot during the month of September!

Labor day week we performed a deep vertical cut with our graden machines on the greens which we immediately followed with aeration and topdressing. These cultural practices remove thatch, stimulate the growth of the bent grasses, help amend the soil, relieve compaction, resurface the greens, and overall improve the health of the greens.

At the same time, we aerated the fairways and also performed a deep verticut to the approaches – these practices remove thatch, aerate the soil, and help to relieve some of the compaction that has taken place throughout the year. As soon as we dragged and cleaned up, we drop seeded bent grass seed into the open holes, and followed that with our slice seeder. As I write this, I am very happy with the results so far – we have had pretty good germination and I am seeing plenty of seedlings.

We resodded the 7th black, blue, and white tees with Patriot bermuda grass (the same variety that we used on the driving range a few years back). The 7th tee is one of the hardest areas on the course to grow turf – it’s surrounded on three sides, left and back with trees, and to the right with the halfway house. It gets very little air movement and the trapped air heats up, making it the warmest spot on the course by at least 5-10 degrees.( Incidentally, the 13th tee is the second warmest area.) Because bermuda can take the heat, we think its the best choice for this area. The green and yellow tees had been sodded with Riviera bermuda grass three seasons ago, and have out performed the traditional grasses such as bent grass that had been used previously. If the bermuda doesn’t work, the chainsaws will work!

We have overseeded some of the rough areas that have worn thin due to cart traffic and lack of irrigation. Some of the areas include the left of 8 fairway, areas between 1 and 2 fairways, the areas surrounding the 7th green tee, and areas along the left of the sixth hole.

Although not in play, we overseeded the wedding garden lawn too!

Last week we did a second aeration of the tees and this coming week we will topdress them and slice in more bentgrass.

All these efforts will translate to better and improved conditions over time.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

August 17, 2013

We have begun to de compact the fairway and tee soils with a machine named “the Verti-Quake”.  I think that this is the first time here that the fairways have ever been worked deeper than the standard two inch aeration that has been done spring and fall. We did do deep tine aeration and Verti Quaking a few years ago on the tees. And every other year we have done the greens with the process of “drill and fill” – deep tine aeration to a depth of 10 inches and the holes backfilled with sand to provide drainage. Yet for the fairways,  this is a first that I am aware of.

The standard fairway and tee aeration is great, but it only works the top two inches of soil. Below 2 inches, the soil continues to compact a little bit more each year from cart traffic, mowers, foot traffic, etc. Over the 90 years since Greate Bay was built, a definite hard pan has developed (more so on the original holes than on the redesigned). The soil beneath 2 inches has very little pore space for roots, air and drainage. In fact, most of this pore space qualifies as micro pores, which tightly hold water in the soil by surface tension, rather than allowing it to drain by gravity.  

In some areas, the hardpan is so dense that even while applying all my weight to my soil probe, it won’t penetrate it. In this environment roots will not grow strong and deep or last for long, and with the onset of heat, drought, or high moisture stress, the turfgrass plants can rapidly weaken and decline.

This was very evident this summer on the fairways. Record amounts of rainfalls saturated the soils and they never fully drained, drowning the roots with lack of air, and creating a thriving disease environment. When the heat came, the plants in the worst areas were too compromised to survive. Pythium and wet wilt then occurred and increased struggles in many areas.

The Verti-Quake has curved blades which are offset by just a few degrees. As they rotate through the soil at a depth of approximately 9 inches deep, the offset “rocks” the soil sideways back and forth, loosening the soil and creating pore space. If you were to stand behind the machine, you would easily feel the earth vibrating side to side under your feet, like a gentle earth quake. The offset is strong enough that the tractor operator is swayed (gently) left to right and right to left as he/ she drives forward. The harder the soil, the vibration and sway increase dramatically.

A side benefit of using the Verti-Quake is that the rotating blades also cut any smaller tree roots that extend into the playing surfaces. Tree roots are much stronger than turf roots, so out compete the turf for nutrients and water. The cessation of root competition will also make the turf stronger.

The Verti-quake is a slow machine – it is operated at 1mph or less. To do our fairways one time will take many weeks. Tees will take a few days. I am hoping to do the course twice this fall/ winter, and go on a bi yearly program.  

Within a few years, if we are able to stay on this program, the results will be dramatic.

The Verti-quake won’t solve every problem that we have – the need for drainage, less trees to block air circulation, cart traffic on wet soils, etc. Yet, it is another procedure that reduces stress and will give us a more competitive turfgrass plant.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23, 2013

It has been a challenging summer so far....especially since the first week of July. That was the turning point when the temperatures rose substantially without receding, and with the turf roots already compromised from the previously rain soaked soils, some areas of the course – most notably a few of the fairways – began suffering  the effects of  theses environmental stresses.

We have done the best we can with syringing, reducing mowing frequency, raising heights of cuts, reducing traffic in areas, careful water management and increased preventative disease controls. Still, we have had our share of challenges with diseases and the basic problem of nature that not all turf can tolerate the excessive heat no matter what is done.

We have seen more than our share of pressures compressed into the last two weeks. Last week alone, not counting the heat, we battled with pythium, summer patch, dollar spot, annual bluegrass weevil, slime mold, brown patch, wet wilt, fairy ring, cicada killer bees, and summer grassy weeds. We also had vandalism on 14 and 18 greens. And then we had malfunctions with a few pieces of equipment too, but that always happens at the wrong time! Its all Murphy’s Law and its just the way it is. The heat is to subside over these next few days (we are hoping the forecast is correct!), and we will turn our attention to nursing back our weaker areas, and getting caught up on other things.

In the mean time, I want to thank all of our members and guests who let us through to syringe, poke at the turf, and especially for keeping your carts on the paths on the weaker holes. Our staff appreciates all the support you have shown us.

On Thursday afternoon, the valve cover burned the turf when it was set to the side if the quickcoupler

Thursday afternoon - asphalt temperature on 5 cart path at the tee
Thursday afternoon - Temperature of turf  on 5 fairway prior to syringing

Friday, July 5, 2013

July 5, 2013

They’re baaaaa-ck....

Sorry, but I couldn’t help it!

 The goats are back to munch away at all the bad stuff for the season. At this time they are in the brushy area behind 16 green that also borders holes 2 and 17. It’s a pretty big area and we will see how they tackle it. So far they have begun in the middle section under the trees and are working their way out.

Since I have been asked many questions about the goats, I have put together a list of FAQ’s in an attempt to answer them as best I can:

What kind of goats are they? The gals are high percentage Boer goats. Boers are bred and raised for meat. They are efficient eaters, very hardy, and for the most part, friendly.
Do you milk the goats? No, Boer goats are not very good milk producers. There are other breeds like Nubians and LaManchas for that!
Do goats really eat everything? No, not everything, and especially not tin cans! (Those of you who throw your empty beverage cans in the pens please take note!) Some plants, like milkweed and laurel are extremely toxic to goats, so there are areas I cannot take them.  
Do they really eat poison ivy? Although poison ivy isn’t on the top of my herd’s list like wild roses and sassafras have becom , in time they will eat it down.
Do they stay here at night? No, I take the goats to my home for the night. I can’t trust that a stray dog might attack them, a practical joker let them out of their pen, or that someone steals them for themselves or dinner. Anything could happen.
When are they here? I usually bring the goats Tuesday through Fridays, and sometimes Saturday. I dont bring them in wet weather, as goats in general do not like to be wet.
Do they bite? Are they friendly? Our goats don’t bite, although if they get to know you a bit, some, especially Irene and Francis will suck on your finger (I am not sure why they have this behavior). Our herd is friendly, although they can be shy – we take every opportunity to have people interact with them so that they learn trust and don’t become defensive.
Should I get a goat and tie it up in my yard to mow the lawn? NO! Goats are not designed to eat grass – they are browsers and prefer to eat plants “off the ground”. Also tying up a goat leaves it defenseless to run from danger, or it could get tangled up and hurt. And goats are herd animals are very unhappy and anxious if alone.
Are they spoiled? Pretty much! Probably worse than most peoples dog’s!

Friday, June 21, 2013

June 21, 2013 (1981)

Last weeks U.S Open at Merion brought back a lot of memories for me. I interned at Merion for three years (1980-1982), and was a staff member during the 1981 U.S. Open. During that time, I lived in the clubhouse in a tiny room that overlooked the first tee, and for the most part, the club and course was my home.

It was nothing in the evening to walk out through the back kitchen door with a few clubs in hand and wander the back holes hitting a few irons, chipping and putting around. Or going over to the West course with a few friends. Hard to believe that to play Merion was that easy...

I was one of only three interns for the ’81 Open. I had come on board back in ’80 and had worked towards that Open week from day one. We built tees, installed drainage, performed aeration, did overseeding, sodding, sanded the greens, planted dune grass (from Atlantic City CC) and scotch broom, lined creek banks with stone – we did so much and so many things that I can’t remember it all. And that was on top of all the basics – mowing, spraying, syringing, setting up the course, raking traps by hand, repairing irrigation, etc. Many days I would work my day and then after a short nap head back out and mow fairways till dark....

I even made wickers. At that time an older man named Guerrio D'Achille whom I greatly respected -he had worked at Merion since time began  it seemed- made the wickers. He was an Itailian craftsmen who could make almost anything with his hands. He had one good eye and the other could never fully open and weeped constantly. One day he took me with him to a warehouse somewhere in the bowels of Philly and bought bundles of rattan. Every day we would soak the rattan in buckets of hot water to soften it so that it could be worked. Guerro sat beside me and guided every movement of my fingers, constantly saying in broken English “you no good! you no good! you only good when you asleep” But I could not have been that bad because he kept me to help him until they were all done, and some nights, he’d have me over to his house for dinner and his homemade wine which had to have had an alcohol content of 150%. Those were good times.

It was a different time then,,,One of my favorite characters was Alfie, who mowed rough on the west course in an old dilapidated tractor that pulled a five gang. He carried a shotgun with him and would shoot any rabbit that crossed his path, take it behind the old shop there, and cook it up for lunch. Of course ‘ol Alfie had wine too- and that was about 150% alcohol too. Things like that would never happen now. There was another older man named Frankie Machefavia who was maybe 90 years old. Everyday he walked the east course with a scythe (he wore a hoodie and he looked like the grim reaper), and trimmed the bunkers. There were no weedeaters at Merion. Frankie’s wine was more potent than Guerrio and Alfie’s combined.

 I could write story after story, but ....
But back to the Open...

Some of the things I remember from the 81’....before, during, and after...
-A few weeks before the open, leading a crew with a truck mounted gunite machine around the course spraying white sand on the “faces of Merion”
-Meeting Arnold Palmer at Balustrol the year before –a gentleman the whole way through, and meeting him again on Merion’s 16th fairway weeks (or maybe a month) before the Open
-listening to Jack Nicholas complaining about the scotch broom in the traps after playing a preview round a few weeks before the Open...we didn't remove it!
- Seeing the Good Year Blimp overhead – that was the moment that I realized I was a part of something big
-Putting bricks in the green mower baskets to add weight over the front roller to help firm the greens as we mowed them
- a car that had gotten on the course and did a few doughnuts on the second green (I think it was the Friday night), but the green was so firm it really did not do any damage
-Rolling the 12th tee after each group teed off – it had been so wet from the week’s rain that we sodded the tee each morning and then rolled it to keep the sod firm and in place through the competition.
- mowing the intermediate rough and walking paths with a pushmower
-Taking the grass clippings from the mower baskets and covering divots with the divots were green!
-Our mechanic, Frankie, throwing fire crackers under the ABC  t.v. control trailer to see  the unaware technicians run out in a panic– now Frankie was a character!
-Seeing Bill Rodgers in the parking lot after the Open, leaning on his car, with his head down in what must have been total dejection...the defeat of coming in second. Later he would win the 1981 British Open.

And of course I remember and will always remember Richie Valentine, Merion’s superintendent – there is not a day that goes by that I am not reminded of him or something he taught me...I don’t know if I would have ever made it without him.

Monday, June 3, 2013

June 3, 2013

For the past few years we have been using a soil moisture meter to determine when and how much to water our greens. In the past we had used soil probes to pull a small plug of soil from the green to determine the soil moisture. Although this method worked well, it was inconsistent because each person who probed interpreted the look and feel of the soil differently, and so it happened that depending on who did the sampling, more or less water that was needed was applied. The meter takes this inconsistency out of the equation.

The meter works by measuring the electrical conductivity of the soil and converting this data into a percentage of soil moisture. It is very accurate and gives us solid data on which to make our watering decisions.

During the growing season, a trained staff member probes every green each morning. The greens are probed in at least ten different locations and these readings are averaged for the green. When these readings drop below a certain percentage, it’s time to apply water.  Because our greens are “push- up’s” and their soils are not the same throughout the course, different greens have different thresholds, or percentages, that tell us when to water. Over the years we have recorded the daily averages of each green and its wilt point and have learned the thresholds and how much water it will take to put us where we want to be. Some greens are watered for less time and fewer days than others.

As we probe each green, we can see which areas are wetter/ drier than others. If the threshold is met in some areas but not in others, we hand water the drier areas rather than the entire green, which helps balance the percentage throughout the green, and save water. We only water the entire green when its thresholds are met throughout the green.

Since we have been using this scientific method to determine water moisture, watering has become more complicated, and requires more labor to probe, hand water, track data, and set up irrigation programs. The payoff though, is firmer and healthier greens, which is very much worth it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May 15, 2013

It is the golfing season, which is also tick season.

It’s very important that after your round to thoroughly check yourself and your clothing for ticks. Ticks not only live in the wooded areas, but live in grass areas too. Even if you are not looking for your ball in the perimeter rough, you can still get ticks from the shorter grass.

Humans are accidental hosts. A tick must feed at least three times during its life cycle from larvae, nymph, to adult. In most cases, ticks feed on small mammals such as field mice, rabbits etc, and larger animals such as deer. Humans are just convenient, and become hosts if nothing else passes by.

It takes any where from a few minutes to a few hours for a tick to begin feeding. It makes a cut in the skin and inserts its feeding tube. It then secretes a bonding liquid that helps to anchor it to the host. If left unnoticed, the tick will feed for several days. If the tick has picked up pathogens from the blood of a prior host, it can transfer that pathogen to the new host.

Although a tick can transfer many diseases, the most well known are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lymes Disease, and Ehrlichiosis. Lymes disease in itself is a very serious disease, and can lead to Rheumatoid Arthritis, Bells Palsey, and MS.

One of the telltale signs that a disease pathogen has entered your body is the presence of a “bulls eye” type rash forming at the site where the tick fed.  Other symptoms are aches and fever – similar to the flu. If you have any suspicion at all that you might have a tick borne disease, see your doctor immediately. If caught early, most of the tick borne diseases can be successfully treated with anti-biotic.

Our Outside Director, Bernie Welcz was diagnosed with Lymes Disease earlier this year. He was treated with a regimen of anti-biotics over a period of six months, including through a pic line in his arm for thirty days. Bernie did not get the rash, but began to have aching knees. First he went to an orthopedist but no knee damage was found. His family doctor ordered a blood test for Lymes and it came back positive, and treatment began immediately. The first round of anti biotics knocked down the disease but did not clear it up. A pic line was put into his arm and another round of more powerful anti-biotics was administered. At this time Bernie is clear, but he goes back for blood tests in four months to check again.

Ticks do need to be taken seriously. It’s best to be proactive and check for them regularly.

*** if you own a dog cat, etc, they too, can be infected by ticks. There are preventative treatments available, but even still, it’s best to check your animal over on a daily basis. They can develop similar symptoms of fever, aches, lethargy, etc. Very recently, one of my horses developed Ehrlichiosis. The vet successfully treated him with a cycle of antibiotics.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30, 2013

The Greate Bay Maintenance Department would like to introduce Kona as the newest member of our department.  Kona is a pure bred Chocolate Lab Male.  He was purchased as a personal addition to my family and  also be used to help deter the Canada Goose population from choosing Greate Bay as a spring nesting site.  Kona came from Bird Dog Labs, a small scale breeder located in Bemidji, Minnesota. Their Labs are bred to have strong natural hunting instincts, desire to please, intelligence, versatility, gentle temperaments, trainability, the ability to compete in hunt tests and field trials, excellent health, and attractive physical features. Kona has an outstanding pedigree that includes numerous field champion dogs.  Kona is very friendly and loves people, so if you see him out and about, feel free to stop and say hi!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

April 6, 2013

Time to repairs divots.

Today I won’t need the traditional sand and seed -- I will need to send a man up to the Practice Green for a plug and then change out the divot on the 17th green. It will take an hour.  In the meantime, players will have to navigate their putts around the missing turf. In the meantime, an hour of staff time that could have been used to repair a broken sprinkler head will be forfeited. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone.

I guess I should be used to it – this happens at least once a week, and on really good weeks maybe two to three times. I try to think of it as aeration in an attempt to keep my sense of humor. But it isn’t funny. I am not laughing. And I dont think you are either.

At best, its vandalsim. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

March 22, 2013

Our new definition of March Madness is to aerate in a snow storm!!!!!!
We went from blowing plugs to blowing snow
Snow laying on the plugs
Everything too wet to continue
Snow, rain, whatever...Clara always smiles!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 16, 2013

I have had a few questions regarding the greens, particularly about them being more brown than green. There is nothing really wrong with them.

The browning is caused by dormancy. The leaves are not growing, lack chlorophyll, and are somewhat desiccated as they have had no snow cover to insulate them from the cold weather. For the most part, these leaves are dying off. At the same time, with the time of daylight increasing and the warming temperatures, new leaf buds are forming. In a few weeks, and aided by more frequent mowing, the new leaves will push out the old and  the greens will be green again. It's nature taking it's course.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Febuary 15, 2013

We are doing tree work throughout the golf course to open things up a bit so that the course plays more fairly and more as it was originally designed to play. Over the last 85 years, quite a few acorns, pine cones, and cherry pits have grown into monster trees with ever stretching branches that reach out and knock down well played shots, while others force a shot to be played away from the intended landing area. Willie Park Jr was not moonlighting as Johnny Appleseed and never intended that trees alter his design.

Most trees only need to be pruned back, but unfortunately, some need to be removed. On holes #5, #6, #7, etc, large spreading branches overhang the roughs and fairways. In these cases, a well played tee shot is penalized. We are pruning these back to the trunk.

Other trees are coming down. For example, on holes such as #2, trees left of the forward tee are in the line of play and force the player to hit to the right of the intended landing area. On #3, the pines along the right side have encroached so much that the right side of the green is blocked from the tee. These trees will be removed.

In many areas that border the roughs, we have thinned the underbrush and trees so that an errant shot can be punched out from the wooded areas.

There will be other added benefits to all this tree work. Where the trees were crowded together, selective removal will allow the remaining trees to grow big and healthy without competition. Pruning back branches and tree removal will allow more sunlight to the turf, and increase air flow through the course. Removal will also stop tree roots from competing with the turf.

Its a big change in some areas, and its change for the better.