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Jake Ronchi

Blackstone National Golf Club

July 2020

Well, the dog days of summer are upon us. It seems like yesterday that we had hats and gloves on and were waiting for the grass to start growing. Now the thought of putting a sweatshirt on makes me nauseous. It seems as though across the country over the last decade, we have seen less and less of a spring, and a drastic transition from winter to summer right around Memorial Day. This year certainly supported that model.

Dealing with the stresses of the summer is the most important aspect of the maintenance department. Everything we have done up to this point, even going back to winter projects, was/is to prepare for this next two month stretch. Our goals for the spring were to dry down the golf course in a controlled manner. If we saturate the soils with water early in the season, it becomes very difficult to add moisture when needed without causing serious turf problems in the summer. Now, did we need a record setting June regarding lack of rainfall and humidity? Absolutely not.

We water the golf course with consideration for playing conditions first and foremost. It is very easy to overwater the golf course when looking for a quick green up. However, when under drought conditions like we have been since early spring, irrigation cycles very rarely provide the rebound that we are all looking for. Light, frequent irrigation will build up over time, and once the weather breaks the golf course will snap out of this dry spell. Although nothing will green up dry turf quite like a slow half inch of rain.

Another issue that superintendents deal with when watering in the summer is disease management. The nighttime temperatures, or daily lows, are the indicators of how much water we can put out at a given time. A rule of thumb to go by: if the combined daily high and daily low = 150 or higher, chances are we will water ourselves into a disease problem. We would much rather the turf dry out a bit than create soil born disease issues that we cannot solve immediately.

As a staff it is time that we switch gears a bit both for turf health and playing conditions. The growth curve of cool season grasses (the bluegrass, bentgrass, and poa that we have at Blackstone) will begin to slow down as high and low temperatures begin to rise. We can very easily mow too much grass off the playing surfaces and wear them out in heat stretches. Picking the right days to use the right equipment on greens, tees, and fairways is critical to keeping up with consistent playing surfaces. Venting (those little holes you may have already noticed on the greens), and topdressing are also very common practices that we will need to increase through the summer.

But now that we have the grasses where we want them, it is time to broaden our priorities a bit. Over the next few weeks, we will be getting back in the bunkers to do some serious work tracing drainage, removing surfacing debris, and adding sand. This process will start in the greenside bunkers and expand from there. This is a very labor intensive, and at times loud process, so please bear with us.

Oh yeah, did I mention the 30+ trees that came down during that 45-minute storm a few Saturdays ago? #9 green is really excited about it. The rest were removed from the golf course, or deposited in a way that we could ensure golf carts and our equipment had safe access to all features of the property. The

clean-up process is far from complete, but I am very proud of the staff’s efforts in dealing with the debris removal while still keeping up with the daily work of maintaining the golf course.

That was long winded and excessive, but I can talk turf and weather patterns all day long. If I bring up Pythium or disease management to my fiancé one more time over dinner, she is going to throw me out. So, I appreciate you letting me vent. Hope you are all enjoying the golf course. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE wear a hat, keep sunscreen with you, and drink plenty of water. The sun is clearly not messing around.

 

Grounds Update

June 2020

Finally, after all we have been through as golfers and as BNGC staff, it is starting to feel somewhat normal out on the golf course again. Having all of you out has been great. The familiar faces and many new ones have made the start to this season really fun to work and everyone has been very welcoming to our new staff. We are extremely happy with the turf performance thus far, and are starting to develop a very smooth operation. We are not without our hiccups, but we progress in one way or another daily.

As I'm sure many of you have noticed, we have started to take on a leaner, dryer look on the short grass. This is very natural for this time of year. There are varying philosophies regarding irrigation and soil moisture both in the short and long term. Based on what we’ve seen in our short time here, and the winter and wet spring we had, we found it incredibly important to dry things out ahead of the summer months. This time of year, dry soils will force the roots to look for moisture by diving deeper. This process provides us with deeper roots and a really strong backbone to take on the stresses of the summer months. High areas on greens, collars, and fairways will show the effects of this first by losing some of their color and rigidity. These off-color spots are not dead grass. They will be back in no time as rains and light irrigation will even them out.

Now, shall we address the lime green, 100 blade per square inch producing, 1000-pound gorilla that is sitting in the room and on our greens? That’s a loaded question. First of all, what is it? The lime green blotches on the greens is not a disease, not an insect problem, and not (depending who you ask) a weed. It is the Poa Annua, or Annual Bluegrass, natural grass that wants to grow at putting green height in the Northeast and many sections of the country. Many of the oldest clubs, some that are still regular PGA Tour stops, feature exclusively poa putting greens. Our greens are not poa greens by design, but 20-year-old greens, on a shaded property with high play levels, will naturally develop strands of poa depending on growing conditions green to green. There are many ways to eliminate it, but to do it effectively while still providing good putting surfaces will take time. From my seat, it is far more of an aesthetical issue than a playability issue.

Lastly, the care and respect for the golf course that 99% of golfers so far have shown is fantastic. Your attention to ball mark repair, divot replacement, and cart management really shows on the golf course. We have admittedly not been raking bunkers daily, as we are unable to provide rakes on the golf course per Covid guidelines, so please remember to be mindful of groups behind you and do your best to smooth out your footprints.

Its been a late, but great start for Blackstone National!

Jake Ronchi

GCS BNGC

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May 2020

Well, not much has changed since we last spoke in regards to the opening of our golf course. Both on the golf course and out in the real world, it's been another month of adhering to restrictions and doing everything we can to keep each other safe. Our staff has been working diligently to complete our tasks on schedule on the golf course, but just as diligently to be as sanitary as possible with our work areas, equipment, and golf course items.

The aerification that was completed in April is rapidly showing its effects. Aerification allowed us to infiltrate the greens surface with sand and necessary nutrients in order to firm up the surfaces, improve drainage, and create a favorable growing environment for the greens. While April was unseasonably cold and saw 20+ days of rainfall, I am still very pleased with the recovery we have seen on the greens and the extension of roots below the surface.

To continue to take advantage of the work space on the golf course, we elected to verticut the greens as they showed continued recovery. A verticut is a vertical mowing of the putting surfaces that disrupts lateral growth, removes unwanted thatch and above ground stems, and thins out each blade of grass. The firmness of the greens post-verticut is immediately noticeable, and will aid in making the grass on the greens more receptive to cultural practices, fertilization, and irrigation.

Our staff has been up and running in full in order to have the golf course in its best condition possible prior to your arrival. If you have been around Blackstone recently, you’ve seen many new faces around the golf course. The staff has done an excellent job keeping the golf course on track, their fellow employees safe, and learning the ins and outs of the property. I am very proud of where we are at as a staff, where we are at in the learning curve of Agronomic maintenance, and the culture we have developed early this season.

Keep an eye out for updates as I'm sure you have been. We’ll be ready!

 

April 2020

Hope everyone is staying safe and sane in these trying times. It is certainly uncharted waters for the golf business, golfers in general, and growers of the grass. It feels strange to comment on the golf course and what we have been up to, when we all have much greater concerns.

Blackstone and the Grounds department have coincided with Governor Baker and the Sutton Board of Health’s guidelines for minimal maintenance over the last two weeks and for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a temporary layoff of most of our staff in an effort to keep all employees, patrons, and Sutton residents out of harm's way. Selfishly, it is a frustrating time. We had developed a great momentum as a staff as the golf and growing season has started. The weather has slowed down a bit, which has been in our favor, so there has been no issues with keeping up with the turf over this period.

We have decided to take advantage of this closed period to aerify the greens the week of April 6th. This process will be done with minimal personnel, but the end results will not be sacrificed. We have a solid, extensive plan in place that will set us up for a season full of agronomic success. Best of all, by the time you are back on the golf course, the greens will be nearing full recovery and only improving from there.

For everyone who came out last month for our first opening weekends: Thank you for doing such a great job adhering to cart path restrictions. The golf course handled you all very well with minimal damage. It is our goal to make the golf course as accessible as possible as soon as possible, and with your cooperation, we will get there in no time.

We hope you and your families are all doing well and keeping positive. One thing I realized right away and know for sure is that our Blackstone community is as strong as they come and tough as nails. We will get through this and have a great season, I’m sure of it. For now, any good books, movies, etc., send them our way!

Jake Ronchi

March 2020

That was it? That was the big bad New England winter you have all been warning me about? With under 5 feet of snow since November and more sun-filled days than not, we are very pleased with where we are at in prep for the 2020 golf season. While we are not out of the woods yet, all signs are pointing towards a quick green up this spring. However, with how gentle mother nature has been on us, you just know there is a foot of snow waiting for us in April.

I am half joking and fully optimistic. We should be good to go for golf by the middle of the month. Full cart access to follow shortly after. At this point, it is difficult to judge just how accessible the golf course will be for the first weeks of the season. There is still some, although considerably small amounts of frost in the ground. With fluctuations in temperature and sunlight from day to day, freezing and thawing is still occurring in the soil. Thawing, in combination with early spring rains, can result in a very wet golf course throughout March and April. We want you to access each part of the golf course as efficiently as possible, but we also want to conserve as much turf as we can to start the season. It can also result in frost delays of varying times. I know how annoying that can be to plan a tee time around, but please bear with us.

This time of year, the most important thing we can do is watch the weather. Until we are able to bank on consistent weather patterns, or “Grass Growing Weather”, we will be extremely specific in how we maintain the golf course. Throughout all of March and most of April, our maintenance practices are geared toward turf health. Focusing on the health of the plants now is critical to their success in the stressful summer months. Foliar spray applications, granular applications, irrigation cycles, and mowing repetitions will all be completed with considerations of many factors. Weather, available sunlight, soil moisture, and growth rate are critical indicators. Starting the season too aggressively can damage the agronomic functions of the golf course, and limit turf potential later in the season.

Once the turf is consistently growing, we will shift to a more playability-based approach. Rollers will follow greens mowers to increase speeds and firmness. Pins will be rotated daily to provide strategic variety and turf relief. Mowing heights will drop to influence more ball roll and to take advantage of the natural land movement of the golf course. The golf course will open in broader sense and we will manage traffic more specifically.

Our long-term projects are still in place and will continue. We are still trying to create every opportunity for greens to succeed through drainage and sunlight. Our staff has been set with great people and all are eager to get started. Lets just hope that foot of snow in April misses us...

Jake Ronchi

GCS Blackstone National

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