Thursday, September 17, 2020

Pressure Packed Season Continues

It's been a challenging year to say the least.  We are happy with the course considering these challenges, but we are not satisfied by any means.  The following is a long winded version of some of the key issues and how they've impacted us this year.  As always, we are excited for what's ahead.  If you'd like to save some time just know that COVID, staffing, record setting rounds played, and weather are combining to make life tough for course conditions this year.  

For the die hard reader here is some more detail...

Currently we are under a great deal of pressure from a few different factors.  Starting with the obvious, COVID put a squeeze on staffing from the outset of the season.  Losing two key revenue sources in an instant and not knowing what impact the pandemic would have on membership dues and utilization, we were forced, but wise, to hold back on staffing levels and hours worked among the staff already on board.  Not to mention, it was not ideal to have a fully staffed course with the need to keep people apart from one another.  Our utility cart fleet isn't big enough allow a full staff to have their own cart.  With a smaller staff we have had to eliminate a number of detail jobs, cut back on mowing frequencies, and other general inputs to all areas of the course and club grounds.  Some of the reductions were quick to show up and others have been more gradual.  We want much more than we've been able to provide.  

Pressure from COVID is compounded by the pleasant surprise of a booming golf schedule.  While the loss of some much needed wedding and golf outing revenue still hurts, memberships and golf course use are bright spots.  This is awesome, but it takes a toll on course conditions in two ways.  Obviously it puts more wear and tear on everything.  Individual carts coupled with more rounds means much more compaction throughout the course.  Popular tee boxes are much more worn than they'd be in a typical September and ball marks are off the charts.  Not so obvious is the reduction in available maintenance time due to the uptick in course usage.  Initially the loss of outings afforded us the time on Mondays to accomplish much needed tasks and made having a smaller staff less painful.  Now that outings are back, we've lost a lot of time for working.  The one hour gap we created on the tee sheet on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays has been a huge help.  However, with the limited staff, we aren't able to capitalize on that as much as we'd like.  We'd love to start the day earlier than we do, but the noise ordinance in the community handcuffs us in that regard.  If you've waited until the last minute to make a tee time recently, you know what I mean when I say we've been busy.  A year ago you could walk up and play without a tee time.  Now it's booked from 8 until often times after 5.  Again, this is awesome!  It just puts a damper on course upkeep.  We'll need to address this for next year or the course will continue to suffer.  More staff and some equipment changes to be more productive are critical. 

In addition to COVID and a very busy tee sheet, recent weather has caused some major headaches.  With a full staff and/or a less crowded tee sheet, we might have conquered the weather related challenges ok.  However, nearly 15" of rain in August put us way behind in every aspect.  Fighting through the excess turf growth and dealing with the massive clipping mess would keep a full staff swamped.  With the crowds of golf and the limited staff, getting back to "normal" with fairways, roughs, bunker slopes, bunkers, etc...seems to be taking forever.  Shorter days and cooler temperatures have started to slow down the zoysia grass so we should get fairways and approaches cleaned up and tight again soon.  Mike has been overwhelmed with equipment upkeep due to the bumper crop of grass we've been mowing.  Keeping reels and blades sharp is a non stop job.  Not to mention the "surprises" that need attention.   

We can't do much about the pandemic or the weather, but we are working hard to find good staff.  We are blessed to have a lot of interest from students, but they are back in school now and really only help us on the weekends.   The heavy load during the week is not manageable at the moment, but we are starting to trend upward with some recent new hires.  Unfortunately, we've struggled with some new hires who either vanished without warning or decided it was a tougher job than they were capable of doing and politely said goodbye.  We love the ones we have and hope to find some others to join us soon.  

Clippings wouldn't be so much of an issue if we could mow more often

10 more would be about right


Monday, August 24, 2020

The First Cut Is the Deepest

After almost 2 full weeks of rain, parts of the course are finally dry enough for us to mow.  Saturday, we snuck in some work on the back nine rough before play caught us.  We got one of the mowers stuck in a wet spot on 17 so it wasn't a perfect outing.  Today, we (me included) spent all day on mowers.  Mowing under the current circumstances is a very slow process.  Clean up takes as long as the actual mowing and the mowers must move at a crawl to get through the mess.  We were able to mow all the approaches, half the fairways, and a good portion of front nine rough.  Unfortunately, the recent loss of several staff members (school) kept us from multitasking as much as we would like.  Ideally when we get a full day to work on the course we have every mower occupied and lots of things are happening at once.  

The greens were mowed yesterday for the first time since aeration was completed.  Mike spent a good portion of today grinding the reels as a result.  Mowing after aeration and topdressing will dull the reels in a hurry.  Ideally we do a little more work to the surfaces before making the first post aeration cut.  However, the sloppy conditions last week did not allow us follow our plan.  As a result the mower reels were pretty well shot after one cut.  Mike will be busy with reel grinding for the next week or two thanks to aeration.  This task is highly underrated among golfers.  We have a well equipped shop where mower service takes place and Mike is a surgeon when it comes to keeping things operating smoothly.   

Some self inflicted pain trying to get stuff done around the rain

We could use some farm equipment when the grass gets this long
It's ugly, but it will buff out

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

We "Finished" Aeration

Greens aeration has been our main priority this week and, considering the rain, it went very well.  Unfortunately, the downpour on Monday afternoon messed up our progress with the front nine and the downpour this morning kept us from fully catching up.  However, we were able to complete the aeration of all 20 greens.  The goal of completely filling all the aeration holes with sand was not accomplished due to the wet conditions and recurring rain events.  Ideally we would have used today to put additional sand down and do more brushing and rolling to get the holes full and smooth out the surfaces.  We will open for play tomorrow, but be aware that we are not "finished" yet.  I don't know if we will be able to complete the process to my satisfaction, but it will be too wet for another few days I suspect.  

In other's really wet.  As previously mentioned, we received two more good rains this week to push our August total to over 11".  We found a sliver of time last week where we were able to mow some fairways, but rains interrupted us and we didn't finish.  They are still far too wet to mow and there is more rain in the forecast.  Typically we mow fairways 2-3 times per week, but some may end up going nearly 3 weeks without seeing a mower.  For that reason, we'll have to make some adjustments to the height of cut when we do finally get a chance to get on them.  The roughs are equally out of whack and we are falling further and further behind each day.  In general, the course is just really messy and good weather will be needed for some time in order to catch up.  

Aeration with 1/2" diameter tines at roughly 3" depth spaced about 2.5" x 1.6"apart

Ryan and Matt kept the machine running while the others grabbed a quick lunch

Once the sand is spread it gets brushed into the holes

Mike hauls the sand around the course while Alan spreads it on the greens.  

The rough is deep  

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Aeration Still On...for now

We've had over 10" of rain at the office since August started.  The course was unplayable at 8:00 Sunday morning and it was still raining.  Aeration is set to begin at 6 AM today (Monday Aug 17) and we know it's going to be a messy process this time.  We have a pretty good forecast, but the ground is absolutely saturated.  There will be some collateral damage around the greens from the equipment used to do the work, but the golf calendar doesn't offer us a lot of leeway to reschedule.  The temperatures are unusually mild so we feel like the best plan is to take our lumps with some self inflicted damage in an effort to get the job done.  It's still too wet to mow any fairways, tees, or rough so we might as well use the time to get the greens aerated as scheduled.  Additionally, we have a few more people on staff now than we will have next week and beyond.  We need as many hands as possible to complete the task in the window we have been given so now is the best time from that standpoint as well.  

Having said all of this....if we get started and realize it just won't work, we will punt to another date that has not yet been determined.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


The drought is over!  We had almost zero rain through the month of July and are now in the middle of one of the wettest weeks in the past 20 years.  In addition to the dry weather in July, we broke more temperature records.  I believe there were 30 days that reached at least 90 degrees in July.  That was one of the toughest months we've had when you throw in some irrigation pump station struggles, record numbers of golf rounds, a clubhouse landscape installation, and a Member-Guest.  Ryan and I along with Matt, Jonah, John, Xzavier, and Andrew put in a lot of hours lugging hoses around trying to keep things alive.  The good news is that we were able to keep the moisture levels in greens exactly how we wanted them and didn't have to worry about rain making things too wet.  Too much moisture, especially when temps are high, is far worse than too little moisture.  Hoses, moisture meters, and careful monitoring 7 days a week allow us to be precise with where, and how much, water is neeeded.  Now that the rains have arrived we are at the mercy of mother nature and the drainage ability of our greens.  As mentioned in other posts over the years, our greens have never been superb in the drainage department and with age that's a growing issue.  Summer wet spells like the one we are in, are tough on the health and well being of greens and tees.  Steamed vegetables is an analogy I once heard and it paints a good picture of bentgrass in saturated soil in August heat.  Thankfully, temperatures seem to be dropping some in the near future.  

Greens aeration scheduled for next week will include removing cores with 1/2" diameter tines and filling the holes with sand (topdressing).  This will improve water movement through the top 3" of the profile and provide nice places for new roots to grow.  The process will require closing the course for a few days, but we aim to have it back in use Thursday.  We are excited about the fall golf season and what it will be thanks to this aeration.  It's a job we need to do more often and more effectively to help turn back the clock on our aging greens.  It's likely we will do one or two minimally invasive forms of aeration later this season.  

Fairway aeration was started last month, but you'll recall we had to stop halfway through.  It was too dry and the machines were bouncing off the ground.  A few mechanical issues as a result, meant that we were never going to complete the task in one day.  We rescheduled to August 10th for the back nine, but we had about 6" of rain in the few days prior to that.  We are trying to find some dates to get this done, but juggling the contractor's availability with our golf calendar is tough.  It's going to take about 4.5 hours to finish so it shouldn't be a huge burden for playing on the day we do it.   

We are battling weeds in a number of places and are struggling to get control due to the weather.  When it was extremely hot and dry we were all busy with hoses and now that it won't stop raining, the ground is either too soft to spray or storms keep washing off our efforts.  Twice this week we made spot weed control applications hoping to have a few hours of drying time only to have sudden and intense rain pop up.  Weeds we are fighting include nutsedge and kyllinga in the wet areas, spurge on a few tee boxes, bull paspalum on 13 tee, and goosegrass.  Unfortunately, there is not one product that will work for all these problems and mixing products together isn't a good idea on some of the turf varieties we are spraying.  We will be trying to find some gaps in play and weather over the next few days in hopes of cleaning up the recent outbreak.   

Staffing has been a challenge this year.  The virus meant that we needed to keep the headcount down for financial and health reasons.  More golf (we are setting records) means less time to get things done and less staff means we need more time to get things done.  It's a challenge and we are not firing on all cylinders right now.  Ryan and I have a great team, but we've lost about 70 years of golf course experience in the past year.  The students we have are outstanding, but they aren't available as long as we need their help and they don't have the experience to do some of the things we need to do.  Government benefits to the unemployed are more than we can pay so luring someone off the couch to come sweat in the heat for less money is not working too well.  We've recently found some good people that we are looking forward to working with.  They will help soften the blow of the college kids leaving us.  Some of the high school kids will continue to help us on weekends, but they won't be around on the weekdays.  Ideally, and hopefully before next season, we can add one more career minded ambitious member to the team that can help us juggle all the needs of a golf course in the summer.  The previously mentioned weed battle is a prime example of an area that would be improved with additional experience.  

Bunkers are the new hot topic thanks to the rain.  We have spent more time in bunkers the past week than we did in the first 7 months of the year.  Bunkers require an entire page so I'll save that topic for the near future.  

In closing...PLEASE help us with filling your divots, fixing your ball marks, raking your footprints, and following the cart traffic guidelines.  THANK YOU for your support this summer in what has been a crazy time for all of us.  The golf course will be in great shape this fall!  Play often! 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Re-Post from last year---Very High Lows

The following post was made a year ago, but much of it applies today....

Weather forecasts are warning people to stay inside over the next few days.  Extremely high temperatures are coming.  We'll be out in the middle of it trying to keep bentgrass alive.  The biggest challenge is not so much the high temperatures, but the low temperatures.  We'd love to see something in the 60s at sunrise, but it looks like we'll be in the mid to high 70s instead.  The soil temperatures will remain well above optimum bentgrass growing numbers.  Roots won't be functioning well, if at all, and the symptoms will likely appear on the surface soon.  Afternoon thunderstorms like the one we had yesterday around 4:30 do not help us believe it or not.  Wet soil holds the heat and keeps the soil from cooling back down to a reasonable level.  We can't dry the soil out or change the temperatures, but we can add water with hoses when things are dry.  When soil is wet, highs are pushing 100, and lows are barely below 80 it's a helpless feeling.  It's tough to watch and we will likely come out of this stretch with some visible damage.  Relief is not that far away as next week's forecast calls for mid 60s overnight and more reasonable highs in the 80s.  Additionally,
major relief is coming on August 19th when we aerate.  This is about a month earlier than the past 10 years and will hopefully result in much better fall conditions.  It's hard to hang on to struggling bentgrass for an entire month at the end of summer.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Back To "Normal"

The course is begging for fall.  We are all on our last leg from a grueling month in the heat and dry weather.  The course is doing well considering the record setting number of rounds and extreme weather, but we can do a lot better.  The virus was a very good reason to make some of the changes we made for safety, but it's time to revive some aspects of basic golf etiquette.  We need help from golfers in a few areas:
  • Fixing ball marks and filling divots does not put you at greater risk for getting Covid.  Our Divot Filling Team has been tremendous, but you're free to fill your own as well.  
  • You could argue that touching a rake is a risk and judging from the bunkers, it is clear people are either very afraid of the rakes or have gotten used to not using them.  As of mid-July you must play the ball as it lies in bunkers so remember to smooth out the surface neatly before exiting the bunker.  
  • Cart traffic is obviously a tough one with the record setting rounds played in addition to the large number of single riders.  We are getting great support from just about everyone regarding cart traffic, but I still see a lot of carts in strange places.  We even had 4 carts off the path on a par three last week.  Remember to avoid driving in the rough at all costs, no more than 2 carts can leave the path on any given hole, and all par threes are cart path only.  When it's this hot, cart traffic is even more painful to turf.

There are two rakes just outside the view of this picture. 
That's gonna be a tough shot for the next player that finds this bunker

The next few weeks are going to be very tough.  August is always a grind and we have Ladies Member-Member, Men's Member-Guest, The Fredericksburg Am, and Club Championships over the next 4 weeks.  We need your help to make those events as good as they can be.