I hope everyone is enjoying these timely weekends where we get snapshots of the spring-like weather that is just around the corner. Having the opportunity to play in the winter is rare for top clubs in the Midwest and especially with winter temps like we have seen the past two seasons. This past weekend we enjoyed seeing some of our members out on the course, and they seemed glad to be outside for a change. I can tell you with confidence that our staff is as excited as you are to get the golfing season started.
Over the weekend we did have a couple members that made comments about our greens. We feel that there needs to be some clarification about our agronomic practices. Yes, we do have some tournaments that are nationally recognized less than 100 days away, but in no way, shape, or form have I made agronomic decisions based on these events. All of our schedules, decisions, and cultural practices are for our membership and the benefits of the golf course. We have done our best to communicate to the membership decisions that are made here at Victoria National.
The decision I made in November was to verticut the greens and inject sand into the top 6" to dilute the higher amounts of organic matter. By staying aggressive, we feel this will help with firmer, healthier greens in peak summer. This will also allow for better ball roll because the greens will not be as spongy as you have seen them in the summer months. Minimizing the thatch on playing surfaces helps reduce the water content in the top layer. The question that arises is "When is the best time to be "aggressive?" The last thing as a superintendent I want to do is open in March and tear greens up for an extended period. Tearing up greens in the late fall is not a good option either as this is the period our membership enjoys this club the most. L-93 bentgrass has a reputation for being dark, dense, and aggressive that makes it a world-renowned creeping bentgrass that is best suited to handle this transition zone climate. Local clubs do not have the same cultivars as we do and can have different cultural practices based on the organic matter it produces. With L-93 being aggressive, we must be aggressive to control the amount of organic matter. Victoria National's expectation is to simply be the best, not just locally, but to be nationally known for our course conditions. The decisions that are made for aerification are always difficult and debatable, but most understand the necessity of it. These aerifications and processes are done to ensure conditioning during our peak season of golf. It does encourage me to think outside of the box and do things like hand drilling into the greens to remove black layer, sand injecting, deep-tining, and grading in the late fall/winter.
The verticut lines that our membership are seeing is not the full reason for why golf balls are following the lines or bouncing over them. As most would recall, shortly after the process was complete, we had multiple compliments of how well the ball was rolling and had no issue with our process. What has changed from then to now? Freeze and Thaw. The heaving and excess water that remains on top of the greens from the heavy rains that are followed by cold temperatures cause the greens to move. The "seams" from the verticut are the easiest point for the turf to heave. A great example of this is to think about the joint cracks in your driveway. If you did not have those cracks, you would begin forming cracks in your concrete from the soil contracting and expanding. As a superintendent I could easily have put a roll on the greens and made it more enjoyable for the members, but the consequences of rolling and sheering off roots due to ice crystals, constant moving, and continuous shifts in the soil before spring has really arrived would have completely erased everything we have been doing for the past 3 months. Although it was 60 degrees for 2 days, please do not forget Thursday of last week we had a low of 16 degrees. Wet soil/sand does not fluctuate to the same temperatures as the ambient air. February 9, 2015 at 3:00p.m., (after the two great days of golfing weather and mild temperatures), our soil temperatures were still at 37 degrees. Below are a few links that I have found to further explain why we did not mow or roll greens as well as why we need to restrict carts to paths in the winter when soil temperatures are at the freezing mark. Also If you have not received the previous newsletters or would like more educational explanations, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be glad to email them to you.
This photo depicts footprints after Freeze & Thaw on #6 green.
Picture taken February 10, 2015
In closing, through the winter months, please know that we want great conditions on a daily basis, no matter the season. However, this freeze-thaw effect "ties our hands," and we choose to let the turf be to protect the roots. Sand is also used to protect the crowns of the greens from foot traffic, desiccation, and crown hydration. On these days, don't think we forget about golf, it's just Mother Nature holding us back. Golf through the winter months is what makes the transition zone unique, and we love to see people enjoying the course year-round.