Thursday, June 21, 2018

Very sad news with the passing of the legend Peter Thomson this week.  Peter was a Life Member at Victoria GC in Melbourne where I spent 15 years and I had many dealings with him on and about the golf course.  One of nature's finest gentlemen who never had a bad word about anyone.  Vale Peter.

Peter supervising construction of 17 green @ Victoria GC.

This will be the last blog post for a little while as I am heading to the first Australasian Turf Conference in Wellington next week and will then be taking 4 weeks annual leave.  One of the highlights of the Conference will be to get to hear arguably the worlds most authoritative voice on herbicide resistance.  Herbicide resistance is when an individual plant is able to survive an application that would normally (and does) control other plants of the species.  It has been a major problem in the southern States of Australia now for quite a few years and once it has developed there is no way back other than a change of chemistry and that can take a long time to happen and sometimes there is no alternative.  Poa annua is the plant that has been one of the hardest plants to control in fine turf situations and is the one that is causing concern down south.  At Cool Tweed we are now experiencing some resistance with a "crop" of Poa at the rear of 6R green that is now unable to be controlled either pre or post emergence with our current chemistry.  The first time I noticed it I thought it had just been missed by the sprayer but it is now unable to be controlled by any turf registered herbicides but we will keep trying!!  At this stage this is the only area that we have resistance in.

Resistant Poa at rear 6R.

And speaking of Poa, not everyone considers it a weed as evidenced by the greens at Shinnecock Hills last week and arguably some of the best greens in the world at courses such as Oakmont, Pebble Beach and The Olympic Club.  But that's another story for another day.  And just a final word on Shinnecock, it just shows what can happen to a course when people start overriding the knowledge of the Superintendent without really knowing what they are talking about.  As I mentioned last week the Supers I know who were there couldn't believe the quality of the turf and surface in the previous week and even though the greens didn't look very good on TV they still putted exceptionally well.  It wasn't the fault of the turf managers but moreso those that chose the hole locations.  Oh and one more word - I can guarantee that Peter Thomson would have never ever contemplated doing what Phil Mickelson did!!
The Shinny course maintenance crew last week.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The end of a pretty frustrating week with a number of irrigation issues resulting in no water being available for the courses until Friday night.  The problem was a number of leaks on the town water control line that feeds the satellites throughout the courses.  Just a small leak is enough for sprinklers to either leak and/or fully come on and finding the leaks is very difficult, nearing on impossible some times.  We use the services of a leak detector firm who are very adept at locating the leaks but it is a needle in a haystack situation even though we know where the pipes are located.  It is generally only a 16mm pipe that services the satellites and often the leak can be on the underside of the pipe and spraying straight down in to the sand and not visible on the surface.  Finally progress was made on Friday and a full irrigation program ran overnight in to Saturday.  The new greens were starting to stress and I dare say that if we still had Bentgrass greens they may have been in real danger of perishing.  Here's hoping for some settled time ahead with the irrigation system.

The bonus of the warmer sunny conditions this week was a bit of colour coming back throughout the courses though not enough to cause any real growth.  It's still very important to sand your divots and repair pitchmarks on greens as a courtesy to other players and to give the turf the best chance.  As I have said before "Leave the course as you would like to find it"!!

Obviously a lot of golf talk this week is directed at the US Open.  I have a few friends who are there either as spectators or volunteering and they are unanimous in their opinion of the incredibly good turf conditions.  I am yet to see any footage but have heard that the greens have been a little bumpy which is a common problem with the type of grass they have there which is the same as Oakmont who have some of the best greens in the world.  A crew numbering in the 40's is the normal staffing level at Shinnecock so the 150 volunteers takes the crew to near 200 for the week!!  Kind of shades the 9 crew at Cool Tweed on Friday which was unusually low though due to some annual and sick leave.

The lunchroom at Shinnecock!!

Just some of the machinery in their shed!!

Friday, June 8, 2018

So much for the call of nice winter weather last week.  A particularly cold and wet end to the week although the courses were drying so the rain was welcome for the turf but not so much for the players.  

Our irrigation control system was installed in 2002 and consists of a central computer that communicates with the 25 on course satellites which then operate the sprinklers.  As mentioned a couple of weeks back we are having issues with some of the components in the satellites and that some are now out of production and unavailable.  To ensure that we have some necessary spares we changed the satellite on RHS 9 West to a new irrigation control system known as "GWave" which we have been trialing over the past few years.  GWave is a wireless control system that sends underground radio waves from the controller to the sprinklers which overrides our existing system and so freed up a full bank of 12 components for use as spares elsewhere.  To enable the GWave system to be installed the sprinklers need to be changed over as well and that happened this week.

The US Open golf is on next week at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club  and from all reports the course is in incredibly good condition which it generally is during the golf season.  Shinnecock is one of the most private clubs in the USA and one of the best.  Normal staffing levels are around 30 on the course and that has been lifted to 40 for this season before the army of volunteers arrive for tournament week.  It is a particularly windy site and no two consecutive holes run in the same direction and some cut across each other so it is very difficult to read the wind which makes it very difficult to play.  The USGA do take over course set up for this tournament so hopefully they won't put it over the edge as happened last time they were there.

The layout demonstrating the changes in hole direction.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Well what a way to start winter with!!  If that's what is going to be served up I'd take it every day.  A couple of overnight showers to keep the courses ticking along and beautiful sun filled days!!  Let's hope for it.

The grass is still kicking along, particularly on the fairways which have been getting some liquid fertiliser applied to them over the past couple of months.  Their colour is holding very well and I intend to continue the liquid fertilising throughout the winter.  Any growth we can get on the fairways is a bonus with the divots becoming more prominent especially on the short River course doglegs.  As mentioned a couple of weeks ago please repair your divots with sand.

Whilst talking fairways, we have around 34 hectares of mown fairway area which is quite a bit when compared to the average 18 hole course having somewhere between 12 and 16 hectares.  We only have two mowers for fairways which is why you see them mowing in amongst play as we just can't get them all done in front of play.  A really good 6 - 9 am morning session will see about 12 fairways get mown obviously depending on their size and we have some BIG fairways out there.  We also don't really go out of our way to "stripe" the fairways up as you see at many courses as we can't always mow in the same direction which is how you get such a striping effect.  This is because there are many times where we just mow the fastest way possible to stay in front and/or away from play.  The lower photo below shows some of the striping effect whilst mowing 1 River fairway but if you don't keep mowing on the same lines the effect is soon lost.  Throughout the summer months the fairways have a growth regulator applied to them which has the added bonus of preventing the seedhead to form while it reduces growth by up to 50%.   

1W mower in action

1R in action with striping just visible behind.

We get to talk to lots of people on the courses and the positive feedback we get about the courses is very satisfying including one member last week whose praise for the new West greens was such that I can't print most of it but "brilliant" was part of it!  We only operate with a fairly small crew for such a big property with an average of just 11 crew members on course over the past two weeks.  I well remember when I arrived here in June 1999 and there were 19 staff available on my first day!

But when someone plays the course and takes the trouble to put pen to paper (or send an email in this case) about their experience across the whole club then that's very pleasing for all the employees within the club.  Here's what he said;

3 of my golf mates and myself played the VETS comp as visitors, not having played at your club previously and I feel it appropriate to firstly thank you for a wonderful relaxing day on such a brilliant course [ RIVER ]
The PRO SHOP staff were so welcoming and polite which set the day on a special level to begin with.
The HALF WAY HOUSE lady was delightful and friendlyWhile our golf didn't reach ex heights we all will look forward to another visit in the future
Thank you for a most enjoyable adventure

Friday, May 25, 2018

A vastly different end to this week with a very cool breeze blowing all day on Friday and then quite a shower of rain to finish it off.  The daylight hours are shrinking fast as well and this adds up to the warm season turf we have on the courses starting to go to sleep for the winter.  The West greens in particular have lost some more colour and have tightened up which is the natural reaction of the grass at this time of year.  All the other playing areas have now all but stopped growing as well.  As mentioned a few weeks ago it is now more important than ever to fill your divots with sand and repair pitchmarks on the greens on both courses.

I read an article this week (which I can't find again) and Mike Clayton was quoted as saying something like - the groundstaff on golf courses should stop raking bunkers and let the players care for them on their own as it is the one part of the golf course that the players are equipped and able to maintain themselves.  I don't think I would like to see the result here at Cool Tweed though given the poor attention given to bunker raking as evidenced from this weeks photo below.  There's the old saying of when you repair your pitchmark, repair a couple of others.  We might need something like when you rake your footprints out after playing a bunker shot, rake a few others marks as well!!?? 

LHS 17W Thursday morning!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Another glorious day to end the week and again the low wind speeds gives us the chance to get the courses cleaned up and looking great.  Thanks for the compliments we have been getting on playing conditions recently with some very positive reports coming through.

We are back to fairly low staff numbers at the moment with the summer casuals all but finished up so most of our efforts are directed to routine course maintenance.  Even though the growth has slowed the mowers are still out in force presenting a surface and the bunker rakes are certainly doing some raking.  Unfortunately we are also spending too much time repairing pitchmarks, particularly on the new West greens.  They may be firmer than the River greens but balls will still leave a pitchmark that needs repairing as can be seen below.  The lower close up is of an unrepaired pitchmark that was subsequently scalped by the mower and becomes an ideal site for a disease outbreak.  So please check for a pitchmark and repair as required.  

Pitchmark on 14W

Scalped old pitchmark on 14W.

The Byron Nelson PGA tournament in Dallas is certainly creating some comment although Mark Leishman's opening 61 made light of the predictions that the course would be too difficult to score on.  It's an amazing course and here are a few stats to ponder;
  • Average green size is 1200 sq. metres which is twice the size of 12W at Cool Tweed.
  • The double green is 3,400 sq. metres which apparently makes it the biggest green in the USA.  And the greens are walk mowed!!!!
  • There is 40 hectares of fairways compared with Cool Tweeds 34 hectares.  But we have 36 holes!!!  Most 18 hole courses have between 12 and 16 hectares.
  • The actual fairway mowing height has been raised from normal member play height to slow the course down for the pro's?? 
  • All short grass away from the greens is mown at the same height - no step cuts to be seen.
  • The roughs are not mown and are made up of "Blackland prairie seed" which is the most endangered eco system in the USA. 
  • And there is not a tree on the golf course despite its name! 

And the very sad news from the USA this week of the passing of Dr James Beard who was one of the first American turf professors to travel to Australia.  He visited our shores in 1976, 86 and 88 and I will never forget the impact he had on me as a young Course Super back then.  I couldn't believe the knowledge he possessed and his willingness to share it through his presentations and one on one conversations.  He wrote many books, one of which - "turf management for golf courses" was first published in 1982 and is still considered the bible of golf course management to this day.  I doubt there would be a course super anywhere who hasn't owned a copy and I still refer to it regularly.  His research and passion for education is no doubt one of reasons turf on golf courses is at the level it is today.  He inspired not only generations of Superintendents but also researchers and academics alike.  Vale Dr Beard. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

One of the amazing aspects of life in Australia is the weather and it is why it is so predominant in the media and daily discussion.  This week for us saw some really bleak weather early clear in to two magnificent days to finish the week off.  You then hear about 260mm falling on Mount Wellington in Tasmania, most of which runs off the mountain and down through Hobart itself.  This in a city where a downpour of 20mm would cause some serious issues with flash flooding.

The ladies made a sensible decision on Tuesday in amongst the rain and shifted their comp to River course only which gave us a run at the West course largely player free which is always a bonus that despite the rain, we take full advantage of.  So the greens were double de-thatched and edged and fairways fertilised and it was a very productive day.  Fast forward to today and we had 144 players in an 8.30am shotgun on the West and 140 odd players in the members comp from 6.30am 1 tee start and there wasn't much room to move out there!!

I have been taking advantage of "The Players channel" on Foxtel this past week or so and taking in some great golf on an amazing golf course.  A few observations;

  • The greens were originally Tifdwarf and were then changed to Mini Verde for a few years and then converted to TifEagle 2 years ago.
  • Depending on the timing of the tournament the course, including the greens, is fully oversown.  That isn't the case this year but will be next year when the tournament date moves back to March which is a much cooler time of year.
  • Some of the footage shows the greens browning off which is just the grass used to oversow dying off in the heat.  The greens were generally always oversown but since the switch to TifEagle they haven't been but that may change next year with the March date.  Sawgrass is far enough north in Florida to get some pretty healthy frosts as per the photo below.
One of the most interesting things was the spike marks on the greens years ago when players still wore steel spikes.  One of Steve Elkington's wins saw the greens incredibly spiked up which was one of the toughest aspects of greens preparation back in the day.  It was often made more difficult by players deliberately scuffing the turf with their spiked shoes and yet is now not a great a problem with the new soft spikes although some of them can still cause some damage.  I bet there would have been a lot of happier players if they were allowed to tap down spike marks as to be introduced next year in the rules change!!

And as usual for the, dare I say it, "major" tournaments, a huge volunteer crew was on hand to assist with course preparations for the event.  The photo below shows the maintenance facility at Sawgrass full to the brim.

Need a lot of bums to fill those seats!!

A frosty #18 at Sawgrass in late January.