Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Leaf War Update and Course Notes

For the past month we've been moving leaves around, mulching them, vacuuming them, etc... trying to keep them under control.  With a small staff it's tough to stay on top of them, but we are finally getting close.  This rainy week is not going to help us, but with some better weather we hope to have things wrapped up by Christmas.  It can seem futile at times and we probably look insane to anyone watching, but we won't get to the finish line if we don't keep trying.  We work with the wind as much as possible so certain holes may be workable one day, but not the next.  We appreciate your patience with us and promise to keep at it until the mess is gone. 

Winter hole locations will soon be in place.  At the moment we have two holes in every green and will soon have a third.  We'll keep plugs over the spare holes and move the flagsticks around to keep the greens as smooth as possible during long cold stretches.  When the ground and weather is suitable for mowing or rolling we'll do that.  We'll also cut new holes from time to time when the ground isn't' frozen.  The winter pin position sheet will be available in the pro shop when we make the switch.  We expect that to be next week most likely. 

We know that "Cart Path Only" is a deadly combination of 4 letter words for many, but it's going to be common over the winter months.  We hate saying those words and we feel for the golf shop staff that is generally the messenger.  This time of year the ground does not dry up very quickly following rain.  Less sunlight and cooler temperatures don't help matters much.  Some say it's no big deal since it's only a few golfers, but the damage doesn't reset at the end of each day.  It accumulates throughout the winter and can cause a lot of problems in the spring if not sooner.  When the ground freezes people often think it's dry.  However, by the time you get to hole 3 or 4 and the sun pops out, it thaws and becomes very soft again.  We promise to be as liberal as we can with the cart "rules" each day.  Winter is always a roller coaster of course conditions so hopefully we won't have to use those 4 letter words too often. 


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

November Course Update

Another season is coming to a close and we are already thinking ahead to 2020.  The work we do now will have a big impact on course conditions next year.  Currently we are wrapping up fertilizer applications between the rains and doing our best to get turf recovery before the cold weather sets in.  It was hard to get started on rough aeration and overseeding when the ground was so dry in September.  The quick transition from one extreme to the other didn't give us the time we needed to complete the entire course.  Some seed will have to be done later than we'd like.  Thankfully 2019 was one of our best as far as the rough is concerned. 

Recent frigid temperatures brought an abrupt end to the faint green tint left in the zoysia.  It's effectively done growing for the year and will be sleeping soundly a week from now.  Our biggest issue now is drainage following the much needed rains.  Less daylight, cooler temperatures, and no growth means that it takes a lot longer for drying to occur.  Zoysia going into and out of dormancy is more vulnerable to damage especially when the ground is soggy.  Another recent challenge with the zoysia is earthworm castings.  They can and do make many areas very messy.  In wet conditions these castings essentially make a fairway muddy.  They are good for the soil, but they are a mess.  When dry, we will drag the castings into the turf with a brush behind a cart. 

Frost delays are going to be a routine event for the next few months.  We do not want to damage the turf by walking or riding on it when it's covered in frost.  For this reason, early tee times may be delayed until the frost thaws and we've had a chance to do any necessary course prep.  Always check in with the golf shop before visiting the practice green or tee if you suspect there may be frost.  We'll get you on the course as soon as it's safe.  

Leaf season is here and the battle to keep them under control is in full swing.  We do not blow anything off of club/course property, but we do move the leaves to the sides where we either mulch them or vacuum them up.  Please don't be alarmed if you see us moving leaves in your direction.  We are just getting them in position to be mulched or removed.  It's important to understand that the vacuum can only clean up 1 or 2 holes in a day so we try our best to let the bulk of the leaves fall before we start the vacuum process.  Whenever the ground is dry enough for us to blow and mulch, that's what we'll do.  You all fight the same issues at home so we feel your pain.  From now until Christmas, leaf clean up will be the number one drain on labor. 

Thanks for helping us have another fantastic season of golf!  We hope to see you playing golf whenever the weather permits.

Brushing earthworm castings

Earthworm castings...left side brushed, right side not brushed

Please follow the cart rules for the day

Sometimes it's too wet for the big blower 

Monday, October 28, 2019

No More Drought

The tide is rising in all our ponds after a long dry spell.   For the record, we've had 6.18" in October (5.47" in the past 10 days).  In September we had just .78".  In August we had 4.19".  The totals don't tell the story as we received 2.6" on August 1-2 but only 2.3" for the remainder of August and September which included several 7-12 day stretches with no rain.  Low water levels have been the topic of much discussion and debate, but it looks like we are heading in the right direction now.  Most of the ponds on the golf course get very little runoff, but those that do are now full.  Slow steady rains that broke the dry spell soaked into the soil and produced no runoff.  Heavier downpours recently have resulted in a lot of fill for the low lying ponds and main lake.  Yesterday was a big boost as we had over an inch in a hurry.  The ground was already saturated so almost all that rain found it's way into the lake.  

Flow under the bridge behind 2 green went directly into the big lake following a quick 1.33" Sunday, Oct. 27

This was the rain on September 26th.  It didn't register in the gauge.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Water Levels and Golf's Impact

Our ponds are always a hot topic during droughts.  There are 14 ponds on the golf course, many more throughout the neighborhood, and of course the 288 acre lake.  Of the ponds on the golf course, 9 of them were built after Palmer Design Co. finished the course.  The developer decided they'd make a nice addition for the purpose of selling adjacent lots.  The golf course irrigation system was tapped in many areas to assist in keeping these ponds full.  In some cases, a well is also present to supplement water levels.

Our irrigation pump station, which was designed for an 18 hole course, has become a transfer pump in addition to an irrigation pump.  The pump station sits behind the clubhouse and 18 green on the banks of the big lake.  Pipe size and pumping capacity make it impossible for the pump station to satisfy both the needs of the course and the need for moving water to ponds simultaneously.  Consequently, in dry times when water is in high demand and short supply, the ponds will get lower than we'd like.  When we get some rain, we open pond valves and fill ponds.  We can only open 2-3 at a time and it can take several days to fill one of them when it's extremely low.

We pump approximately 35 million gallons annually and much of that is moving water from the big lake to other ponds on the property.  Water withdrawal data from the flow meter at our pump station is reported annually with Virginia DEQ.  Simple math from the flow meter when we are transferring water to ponds is how we determine a ball park ratio of water used for irrigation vs. pond filling.  For instance....if the only water being used is filling the pond at 3 tee box, then we can take a flow meter reading of, for example 300 gallons per minute, and figure out how many gallons were used.  We record the start and stop time of the valve opening, then do the math.  300 gallons per minute = 18,000 gallons per hour = 144,000 gallons in 8 hours.  Often times ponds receive as much as 300,000 gallons in one "fill up" following a long dry spell.  Ponds at 3 tee, 3 fairway, 3 green, 6 tee, 6 green, 13 tee, 13 green, 15 green, and 18 tee all get healthy doses of water from Fawn Lake every year.  

More math tells us that our 288 acre lake has 7,800,000 gallons per inch of depth at the surface.  One acre of water an inch deep = 27,154 gallons.  Multiply that by 288 acres and you get 7,820,352 gallons of water per inch of water depth.  If the lake drops 3 inches then that's 23,461,056 gallons of water.  Our pump station uses roughly 4.5" of the big lake annually and conservatively 1/3rd of that is for transferring water to other ponds.  At most, in a year of golf course irrigation, 3" of the lake is used.  For perspective, that's equal to the amount that was released to the farm downstream in one weekend recently. 

We are rationing water and have no intent of keeping things green and lush, which is obvious with a quick look around.  Our goal is simply to keep things alive to avoid repair expenses we can't afford.  We will continue to be good stewards of the lake, surrounding wetlands, and all of Fawn Lake.   

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Weather Woes and Irrigation Issues

Last year at this time I was updating everyone on how wet things were after 21 days of rain in September.  No such news this year, but unfortunately things have gone too far the other way.  The current dry spell is the hottest topic in Fawn Lake.

We've been busy with Monday outings, back to back Club Championship weekends, a summer that won't end, and the aforementioned dry spell.  At the moment, manpower is heavily allocated to irrigation related issues and hand watering.  There is a long list of fall jobs that need to get done, but it's going to require a change in the forecast in order to justify getting started on some of them.  With some luck, we hope to be able to aerate tees soon.  Rough aeration and spot overseeding will have to wait on better conditions.  We'll get through it like we always do, but it's going to take awhile.

In times like this, the shortcomings of any irrigation system are exposed.  The distribution uniformity (DU) of an irrigation system is not very good compared to rain.  A state of the art system has a DU of about 80%.  An irrigation audit would likely find that our system is somewhere around 50-60% at best.  This poor uniformity results in wet spots and dry spots.  The more we have to rely on irrigation in the absence of rain, the more pronounced these wet and dry spots become.  The only way to combat this issue is by using hoses and hand watering.  That's exactly what we do on greens and tees, but it's not practical to do that on the entire course.  The irrigation system is a pretty good supplement to rain, but a lousy substitute. 

With roughly 1000 heads, we are staying busy troubleshooting and making the most of this difficult situation.  Adjusting sprinkler arcs, replacing valves, replacing nozzles, replacing solenoids, replacing drive assemblies, tracing wires, etc... is occupying a lot of our time.  Alan, Richard, Ryan, and I have all been involved in making repairs daily for the past few weeks. 

In addition to the problems exposed by the drought, we have had only half our pumping capacity for much of the past six weeks due to two separate issues.  There are two pumps in the lake that serve our course and many of the 14 ponds on the course.  These pumps sit side by side behind the clubhouse in the cove near 18 green.  We had one motor come apart from the discharge pipe and shortly after repairing that problem, the other motor died.  Below are some pictures and a video from our most recent incident. 

Mike and Alan separating the old motor from the pump

Lowering the motor and float bag into the lake

Letting the air out of the bag to drop the motor into place

14 Ponds on the course rely on our irrigation pump for water.  Moving water from the big lake to these ponds is not possible nor wise in times like this.    

Soils are have gotten so dry in places that they are water repellent at this point
Ivy and Bean have been good company during some late evening work sessions

Friday, August 30, 2019

Course Update

Greens held up well through the sweltering heat of our aeration last week.  The task was very difficult given the conditions, but the staff knocked it out of the park.  The heat meant that we had to be very cautious in our topdressing and brushing steps to avoid damaging the turf.  It took us a little longer than we'd like, but the end result was well worth it.  We appreciate your patience and willingness to give us the time we needed to get it done the right way.   Greens are now 10-11 days into recovery and they are getting visibly better by the day.  Soon we will ease the height of cut down and they will roll much faster and truer.  

The mass exodus of staff leaving for school is now complete.  We had a tremendous group of kids this year and miss them in a big way now.  In the old days we had a much larger full time staff so the shoulder seasons were not so tough.  Today, we are down to just myself, Ryan, Mike, Alan, Ginny, and Rich.  A small team of seasonal staff members has been hired over the past few weeks to help us out and we are grateful they chose Fawn Lake.  They will be here until sometime in late November.  There is a lot of training underway as everything is brand new for them.  We are still searching for good people, but the competition is stiff and the applicant pool is small.  Labor will remain our biggest challenge for some time I have a feeling.  

As of today, we are down to one irrigation pump.  We generally operate with two, but one of them has died.  The submersible motors that we use typically give us 5-6 years so we anticipated that this would be the year to replace the older of the two.  We replaced one of them in 2017 and it is likely that one will need to be replaced in 2022, if not 2021.  It's uncanny how predictable this issue is.  We'll cross our fingers for good weather and good fortune with the one pump we do have.  The replacement motor will hopefully be installed within the next 7-10 days.  We just limped through a different ailment in July that rendered one pump down for a week.  It's very stressful....which is why I'm typing this on a Friday night when I should be relaxing with friends and family.  

A recent USGA Green Section Update explains our situation perfectly.

Don't Sleep On Tees...USGA Update

The late summer heat took a toll on tees.  When greens demand more and more of our resources, tees often get less than they deserve.  We know they need more, but in tight times they suffer.  In a nutshell they need more aeration and better irrigation coverage.  Tees are built on several inches of sand and the entire tee complex (bentgrass tee and fescue tee surround/slope) is irrigated with a single row of heads.  An impossible dilemma to overcome with our situation is how to properly irrigate the tee complex.  When the fescue growing in native clay is irrigated with the same zone that a bentgrass tee growing in sand is tied to, there is no way to satisfy both situations.  If we give the tee complex enough water to keep the fescue alive, we likely overwater the bentgrass.  If we water to make the bentgrass happy,  the fescue dies.  We combat this by using a team of guys with hoses in order to save water and get it where it's needed most.  If mother nature dumps a mid afternoon storm on us when it's 95 degrees....things go south.  We will be working to squeeze in a few aerations between now and spring in the hopes of firming up tees and getting them to function better.  Aeration won't solve the irrigation issue, but it may make us more durable when heat and humidity crank up.  

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Aeration Reminder

August 19-21 (Monday-Wednesday) we will be aerating the greens with 1/2" diameter coring tines and back filling the holes with sand.  The course will be closed those three days.  We'll do a practice run on the chipping green sometime this week in order to determine what settings to use with the aerator and topdressing.  Hole depth, hole spacing, and sand quantity will need to be figured out before we start on the 19th.

This date was chosen in an effort to improve the chances for a quick recovery and to give the greens relief sooner than the mid September dates of the past.  Summer is tough on old bentgrass greens and having to limp through 3-4 more weeks of summer weather before aerating is difficult.  This date also means we have more staff to help with the process since some of the college kids have not gone back to school yet.  Lastly, it frees us up to focus on repairing the fescue rough at a better time of year.  Last year you'll recall that rains came in early September and didn't stop until October.  Greens continued to suffer through that month and were extremely weak when the sun finally popped out again.  Aeration is a huge step in keeping greens healthy, but the process itself can be tough on greens.  They need to be durable enough to withstand all the steps of aerating.  The only downside to this year's aeration date is the likelihood for hot weather.  We may have to stop the process at mid-day to avoid damaging the greens in the peak of the heat.  Brushing in topdressing sand is abrasive to the turf and that's not something we want to do in the hottest part of the day.  If it's hot, we might need all three days to finish.  If we can knock out the hole punching and topdressing in two days, then we'll use the third day to do more brushing, rolling, and fine tuning to get all the holes full of sand.  The more attention to detail we can give it, the faster it will recover.

Greens aeration is vital to the health of the club's most valuable asset.  Thank you for your patience and understanding during the process.