Blackstone National Golf Club
Grounds Maintenance Update
Chances are, that while you are reading this, raining or about to rain. 7” in 7 days the week after 4th of July, and it seems as though we’ll be getting some intermittent storms throughout the remainder of the month. The weather has been in our favor to receive the rain, it terms of turf health, however the golf course is at its moisture capacity.
When receiving large, rainfalls at a time, important for us to know how close we are to field capacity in our soils. In simple terms, field capacity refers to how much water soils can hold without puddling. How often it rains, how fast it rains, how much it rains, and how fast the soils are draining all contribute to the field capacity value. We reached field capacity in our soils at around 3.5” of consistent rainfall this past week.
So where does the remaining 3.5” of rain go? Once the soils are saturated, the drain lines through the property begin to fill. First, the sub-soil drainage under greens, tees, bunkers, and fairways will fill and discharge water off to the perimeter of the property. Once the subsurface drainage is active, the larger storm drainage functions of the property kick into gear. Storm drainage components are made of much larger drains and pipes that move mass amounts of sheet flow off surfaces. Once the storm drains fill, which can happen rather quickly when receiving 1” of rain per day, it is a matter of time before we start finding water where it doesn’t belong.
The golf course will slowly drain as the weather allows. We need a few stretches of dry weather to accelerate that process. While we wait for that to happen, maintaining the golf course becomes very difficult. There are areas in the rough that will not tolerate large mowers or consistent cart traffic. Fairways in general have been and will remain on the shaggier side, as it has been difficult to get consistent mows on them throughout this month. We have regularly mowed tees with no big issues, and all the greens drainage work in the last year has allowed us to mow them daily.
The positive in all this is that the temperatures have remained very manageable. If we got this much rain at one time with last July’s temperatures, every golf course in Mass would be in crisis mode. Saturated soils and high humidity make for ideal disease growing conditions. The mild temperatures may keep things on the wetter side, but the water is helping the turf more than hurting it. Elsewhere, we had a great week in the bunkers for the 4th of July, but unfortunately much of the added sand will need to be replaced. Also, as we have finished most of our hydroseeding in the rough, most of the seed that hasn’t germinated yet has washed away. We will be keeping up with these seedings once we can get back to basics and working under normal conditions.
We ask that you please take this wet month of weather into consideration when driving your golf cart. Please adhere to cart path only rules as we let the golf course dry down, and please be patient with the staff as we do our best to return to normal playing conditions. When conditions allow, every rough mower we own will be on the golf course for the full work day. It may make for loud rounds of golf or for a lot of clippings, but it is a necessary evil in order to keep up with maintenance without harming the golf course. Also keep in mind that steep banks around greens and bunkers can become extremely dangerous to mow during wet periods, even when done by hand. We evaluate these features daily to determine how and when to cut them.
to a dry second half of the season!
Jake Ronchi GCS, BNGC
Blackstone National Golf Club
Grounds Maintenance Update
What a difference a year makes! This time last year we were already in the midst of a seriously challenging summer with record heat, humidity, and lack of rainfall. Weather extremes will be changing year after year but mother nature has been very kind to us to start the season. The mid-May heat stretch where we saw 90’s for 5+ days was actually very beneficial for the turf, and has accelerated many of the critical agronomic functions necessary to get the turf where we need it to be.
We have seen consistent, steady progress on the greens by the day. Even under unseasonably dry and cool conditions this spring, the rooting and turf density has been excellent. No, green speeds were not a top priority for the early portion of the season, and we thank you for your understanding on that front. But now that the foundation has been set, soil temperatures have solidified, and seedlings have become mature, we have upped our daily greens inputs to generate higher speeds. All done with consideration of many factors, safety and heat being the most important. The staff has done a near perfect job with equipment management and it shows.
All that to say we are certainly not out of the woods yet. Im sure you have noticed the spot seedings we have done weekly on the greens. We have continued to use Declaration Creeping Bentgrass as we have seen very quick germination rates out of that particular blend, and they are much better suited to deal with the high play demands at BNGC. The spot seedings are to repair high foot traffic areas, and some large poa patches that will become very difficult to manage in the heat of the summer. Topdressing will need to increase for added protection and surface drainage, a very difficult balance for us to provide the turf what it needs but not interfere with a very busy golf schedule.
As we expand our cultural practices away from the greens, please bear with us when you hear the loud tractor punching through compacted soils. Its very important for us to take advantage of this opportunistic window late June has provided us. Also, please keep in mind that these processes require complete attention from the operator. He is not ignoring you on the tee box, in many instances it is safer for the operator and for the turf to finish his pass rather than immediately lift to get out of your way. We are very aware of where the play is coming from and we do our absolute best to not slow your round down.
Lastly, a big reason for early season success so far has been irrigation supply management. It took a lot of math, a lot of man hours, and a lot of creativity to re-address this issue over the off season. Brian and Steve have gotten the water supply down to an exact science and always keep us in a good position to have the water necessary to manage turf in extreme conditions. Hats off to them.
We thank you for your continued support during the golf season and have enjoyed your feedback. As always, we are easy to find so feel free to drop by the shop. See you out there.
Jake Ronchi, GCS BNGC
Spring 2021 Aerification
First couple weeks are in the books. It's been nice having the members out there for the last few weeks while the weather has been cooperating. The 4+” of snow came and went pretty quickly, and didn’t saturate too much of the golf course. Things have dried down nicely since, and the turf really liked the natural fertilizer the snow brought with it.
Next week, we will execute two aerifcation processes at once, in order to kill two birds with one stone and keep the large equipment off the greens for the summer. Last month, we talked about some of the great results we have seen from the drilling last year. We are doing the same processes next week to keep building off that, and to continue to facilitate drainage off the surfaces of the greens. We will follow the drill with a traditional aerification to deal directly with the root zone, and get some really important nutrients and sand down deep where it can get to work all year. We will also use this opportunity to continue to introduce top of the line bentgrasses to the greens to aid in our long-term conversion.
Some other projects we will complete while the golf course is closed:
Sod farms are up and running and cutting good sod, so we have quite a bit coming this week to achieve instant gratification. Select areas of the clubhouse lawns, the driving range area, and the old chipping area will be sodded with Kentucky Bluegrass, or “rough” and will be rooting in no time.
You may have noticed the paint on the putting green outlining the new chipping area. We wanted to get the practice area away from the barn construction, and eventual events. The new area, once totally grown in to appropriate height, will be a more accurate representation of approach shots on the golf course, and provide more room and variety for you to warm up.
We will also complete our herbicide applications in the rough. These applications are very difficult to make with play on the golf course, so this is the perfect week for us to get this application out of the way. A quiet golf course with no traffic will guarantee a proper application and not track to areas we don’t want to spray herbicides on.
That’s enough of that for now. We can talk about holes, sand, seed, and fertilizer all day. We’d be happy to discuss aerification and early season applications to anyone that will listen, so feel free to wave Brian, Steve, or myself down next time you’re out there.
I would also like to thank all the members who have been out since our soft open earlier this month. We appreciate the patience and understanding with the new GPS system on the carts. It has really shown itself in a positive way early this season, and is a key to our success through the summer.
See you next Thursday,
Jake Ronchi GCS, BNGC
Grounds Maintenance Update
SPRING HAS SPRUNG! We’re excited to have everyone back this weekend and on the golf course. The course is waking up slowly and steadily as we come out of this winter. The staff has been hard at it for the last two weeks in prep for this season, and while we have been patient with the grass, it has been nice to use the space to get some large, critical projects done.
First things first, the weather. It was extremely difficult to get on the golf course with roughly 2 ½ months of consistent snow cover, but our boys got it done this winter. We accomplished our goals of resetting each greens drainage exit, and are monitoring the discharge very closely to great results. Early spring has been extremely dry, both in lack of rain and in air quality, which has been great for the golf course in terms of firming things up. Spring rains can be inconvenient for golf, and for us to get large equipment out, but it does wonders for the grass. We haven't gotten any significant rainfall yet, but we are forcing growth through our irrigation system. We are seeing average daily temperatures of around 60 degrees, and nights fluctuating between high 20’s and low 40’s. A slight increase in nighttime temperatures will really get things going in the next few weeks.
Next, the greens. They have been on everyone's mind since August and is without a doubt our highest priority. The consistent snow cover this winter was very beneficial for the greens. They were able to stay very insulated throughout a cold winter, and no turf on the greens saw any winterkill. Some slight discoloration from our tarps, which were put down for added insulation, but that is very normal and will even out shortly. They snapped out of dormancy very quickly and are gaining color by the day. We have been aggressive in our cultural practices to start the season. The toughest part now, is patience. We’ve gotten a couple mows on them, a vertical cut to firm things up, a heavy topdressing, and seed is in the ground. We will continue these processes through the spring.
We have seen the effects of the aggressive aerifications we completed last fall almost immediately this season. No, grass has not blown out of the ground quite yet, our soil temps have not quite reached germination level. But the metrics we use to track how greens are performing underneath, where it counts, are very promising. All the deep drilling and material removal have left us with a very consistent root zone. Something we worked very hard to improve on in the last year. Moisture levels are very consistent across the each green, which is where many of our problems started. Continued infiltration of the root zone is our main goal long-term.
For this first weekend, please pardon our appearance on #15 Tee. We took each tree down that was inside the cart path on that tee complex, which opens up room for much needed sunlight on those tees. We removed those trees very late in the winter, because of safety concerns with a lot of snow on the ground. The stumps will be ground and removed very shortly, but our priority right now is in playable areas.
On the topic of seeding, we will begin our hydroseeding process, mainly in the rough, starting next week as well. We are going after areas that had a tough time with traffic last year, or that are contaminated with bentgrass. Bentrgass (the shortgrass on tees, greens, and fairways) becomes a huge issue once established in the rough. In the spring it may be unnoticeable, but once the weather ramps up on us, those areas in the rough will be the first to die. Seeding through them now while we are in seeding season will put is in a much better position this summer.
Much more to cover, but you’re busy getting your swing ready and we’re busy getting the golf course going. A couple new faces will be out there mowing grass this year, but for the most part our staff is the same as last year. It’s amazing what one year at BNGC has done for all of our understanding of this property.
Brian Bruso, AGCS, is the man in charge of staff operations on the golf course, and Spray Tech Steve Lemieux is making all of our applications this year. These guys had a massive winter solving greens drainage issues and are tackling nagging problems on the golf course that will benefit greatly going forward. They are top notch Assistants, and are going to be better Supers.
Thank you for your patience as the golf course comes together this spring. There are plans in place for all of our concerns and things are improving by the day. Can you feel the love in the air? I’ve heard there is a real nice place to get married not too far from the 18th green....
See you out there,
Jake Ronchi, GCS BNGC
Blackstone National Golf Club
Grounds Maintenance Update
Hello all, long time no talk and hope all is well. Just an update here to discuss some winter punch-list items and what we have been seeing on the golf course. Blackstone National is a busy place these days. It has made for a quick off-season although considerably different from last year.
We exceeded our yearly snowfall total in comparison to 2020, before 2021 even started. We received 12” of snow in total before the new year began. It prolonged our winterization processes until after the holidays, but all went well and all applications were made with consideration for the weather and how the turf would respond to us beating on it with equipment. In regards to the greens, the winterization processes were to spray fungicides for snow mold control, topdress heavilly for turf protection against the winter elements, and lastly, to tarp them in order to provide excess insulation.
Our friends over at TPC Boston didn’t use their greens tarps this year, so they lent a few to us for the winter. The results that we have seen under the tarps in terms of dormancy, winter color, and seed output has been outstanding and will aid in getting off to a hot start on the greens.
So, as of this last week in February, we have accumulated more than 40” of snow on the golf course. The storms going back to mid-January in combination with freezing temperatures left the golf course rather inaccessible for a few stretches this winter, but has since thawed out nicely. The East side of the property (5 green, 6 green, 16 green, etc) has seen a considerable amount of drift and is where most of the snow we’ve gotten this winter has deposited, leaving the west side rather thin in regards to snow cover.
So how much snow is too much? Well, 40” in total, mainly coming in 6-12" increments, makes getting around very difficult. But up to this point it has helped more than its hurt. The snow has provided consistent insulation against freezing temperatures. Formations of ice near the greens surface could be harmful if left for too long, but we have seen very little of that this winter. When ice has formed, it is usually melting to a slush by lunch time. Any time we see ice forming on the greens, we reset our 30-day clock. After 30 days, we would be looking for the right conditions to remove ice from the greens.
We’ve seen many familiar faces on the golf course this winter and want to say thank you for keeping off sensitive areas. However, I must note that there are tracks from a 4-wheeler or ATV going across the 5th green, and some snow mobile damage in #2 fairway and #2 bunker complex. PLEASE do not drive on the grass with your vehicles. Heavy traffic over frozen turf, no matter how much snow cover, will likely result in root shearing and very slow green up. For turf protection reasons, we have not removed the snow or tarp on the 5th green to further evaluate these tracks, but there is likely a surprise waiting for us underneath.
Feel free to hit the simulator or to chip in your basement, but don’t let this recent warm snap get you too fired up. The first few weeks of March are forecasted to see highs of mid 40s. The golf course will need a little more time to wake up after that.
Also, if anyone is getting married anytime soon, I’ve heard there is a beautiful new venue nearing completion not far from the 18th green...
Jake Ronchi, GCS
Blackstone National Golf Club
Forgive me for the brief break in these updates. It has been non-stop down here as we make our final push for recovery on our greens and start our golf course winterization protocols elsewhere. A condensed, yet extremely busy season is ending, but things will hardly slow down for us.
I will provide a separate update shortly to discuss winter projects and some large scale work we will be tackling this offseason. But I would like to use this update to discuss only the greens. A lot has changed in three months and since we last spoke. While the results on the surface are slow and steady, we have been hard at work doing everything we can to alter significant portions of the subsurface. A portion of 33% to be exact. Maybe grab a snack, or a drink, because we could be here for a while.
Comfortable? Great. What does 33% mean? Well, the last update highlighted some of the issues we have been battling with our soils. The organic matter build up, blue layering, thatch compaction, and lack of infiltration are some of the things that, in combination with one of the hottest summers to date, has made for exceedingly difficult grass growing on the greens. We talked traditional aerification vs drill and fill how we have utilized each practice to achieve different results for long term benefit. We base how we aerify off the standards provided by the International Sports Turf Research Center, which recommends 20% organic matter removal per season. We upped our numbers to 30%+ to build on that, and to reach sections under these greens that have not been touched in a long, long time. A MASSIVE number for one season, but drastic results come from drastic measures.
The cultivation schedule since August 1st has been intense, even extreme, but well worth it. All this punching and drilling has provided us with opportunities to replace much of the soil with fresh sand, plenty of oxygen, and to introduce new grasses that are more equipped to deal with the stresses of Blackstone National. It has resulted in far more consistent soils moisture wise, and it is no longer luck of the draw regarding how the greens react to heavy rains during heat stretches. Each green consistently hoovers around 20% moisture content since we started drilling, quite different from where we were at only a few months ago, when some greens struggled to stay above 10%, and some never dropped below 30%.
Why are we at this point? How did all this happen? Is this all that is necessary? Questions we have been asking ourselves since August and concerns I am sure we all share. While the greens were healing up from all the cultivation over the last few months, we shifted our focus to the more structural aspects of the drainage system of each green. Meaning pipes, water flow, and discharge from underneath the green. We built a device that allowed us to test each green drain line directly, utilizing the pressurized water in the irrigation system. We were able to bypass the soil profile of each green and flood the pipes underneath directly. In theory, every minute of water pumped into the pipes, should discharge from the pipe’s exit in reasonable time. The results of our drain line testing were very telling, and will keep us very busy this winter...
We found that on our best greens, greens that got slightly dinged up this summer but recovered nicely, saw immediate discharge from the drainage system. Our worst greens, and even some in between, saw almost no discharge if any, meaning any water that was applied to the greens by us or from mother nature, has been sitting underneath all season, and from many seasons prior. We can get by with this under normal weather conditions, but once the heat cranks up on us, it is a matter of time, and frankly out of our control, as to how the greens respond with failing drainage systems.
It all comes together as follows:
1. The pipe is pinched shut, crushed, or blocked with various debris
2. Water, gasses, and hot air are trapped in the lines. Instead of a smooth exit, they work themselves back into the green’s subsurface
3. Anything trapped in the pipes now fuels organic matter build up in the soil. Keeps the soil wet, and shortens the root systems
4. Organic content in the soil now acts as a sponge for anything we, or mother nature applies. Water, nutrients, and air are utilized by the organic compound, rather than the turf, and the turf starves
5. Greens stay wet, temperatures continue to rise, roots boil, and turf health rapidly declines
No disease present, no bad cuts, proper fertilization ensured.
The pressurized water test allowed us to pin point where the drainage problems are on each greens complex. We are already using a power snake to get inside each line to clear them out, or to determine where further excavation is needed. It will be no issue to complete this work on every complex during the early portions of the winter. I am of the belief that three months of aerifications, and upgraded drainage systems will put much of these issues behind us.
Still awake? Ready for another drink? To recap, we have solid tined all season, traditionally aerified the greens in an extremely aggressive manner, drilled down to disrupt 12” of soil compaction and layering, planted new grasses, filled the greens with new sand, and are now getting to work on the pipes. We are looking at new drainage functions and a 33% upgraded subsurface that we will only build upon as we gear up for next season.
That’s just the greens. Theres tree removal, dormant seedings, brush clean up, shop work, and many other things to check off our list before we are teeing it up in 2021. More to come on that later. As always, come see us, come find the drain snake and excavator getting to work on these drain lines, and get a peek at all we have planned for 2021.
Until next time,
Jake Ronchi, GCS
Blackstone National Golf Club
What is going on with the greens?
Well, they are thin, off color, wet, yet oddly dry at the same time. How does that make any sense? You just cored them out, doesn’t that dry greens out? Isn't it early to be aerifying? And how were they progressively improving, even throughout the heat of the summer, just to see immediate decline as we move out of the summer? Let's break it down and see what we know and what we can do to improve.
First things first: Are we watering enough? Are we watering too much? Is the water any good?
Yes, yes, and yes. For better or worse, you have seen us out with hoses on the greens throughout the season. We may have caused you to wait a few minutes on a tee box, we may have accidentally gotten your ball wet, or we may have gotten YOU wet (only upon request). But chances are you have seen us out early in the morning, and again late in the day checking moisture levels and prepping greens for the day at the appropriate times. We aim to keep the root zone between 10-20% in order to support both playing conditions and growing conditions. All of our irrigation supply inputs: our well systems, our supplemental pump behind #16 green, and the irrigation pond has been tested by various sources this season. Our water sources are very clean and contain almost no harmful salts or bacteria. There have been days this summer that we have watered aggressively in order to protect the turf against extreme temperatures, however, we have learned that some greens just won't let that water go, and it winds up “cooking” the root zone. It has led us to be more conservative with our hoses, which results in other areas not getting enough water.
All that sounds about as clear as mud. Throughout the season we have sent samples of various greens to both UMass and URI turf/soil testing labs to help us determine how to water, and to see if anything fishy is going on under the surface. There hasn’t been one spec of disease on the greens and our roots are very clean to the eye, but it is always good to have a lab-trained professional go through things with a microscope.
Neither lab found any soil born disease, they agree that the root systems are progressing in a healthy manner, and there are no nematodes or other insects in the root zone causing these problems. What they did find, is something we are going to have to work very hard to combat moving forward:
This is a cup-cutter plug, showing a 7” soil profile on #1 green. At a glance, with a soil probe, or our electric moisture meter, all indicators would say that this plug is wet. At the time this picture was taken, our moisture meter provided a reading of 25% VMC (Volumetric Moisture Content). There are no loose soil particles, the root zone holds together nicely, and the top portion is very soft. You would not want to water this area based on what the soil is showing you, no matter the color of the turf.
But sometimes our eyes and our electric readings don’t tell the whole story. Working from the top down: The blue thatch layer in the top 1-2" is collecting and holding almost all of our irrigation, rainfall, fertilizer, etc. It is made of fully organic compounds that are composed of: anything applied to the soil that has not quite broken down, old grass clippings, or anything that has been mashed into the turf from mowers or foot traffic. These organic compounds suck water away from the roots and soil particles that fuel our turf, but still shows as wet soil. So, when we probe by hand or with our electric meter, it appears that there is FAR more than 20% moisture in our soil. However, its being held by thatch and organic matter and not being used by the turf.
Even below the thatch layer, there are many black blotches or strips in the soil that are hurting us in similar fashion. The moisture holding organic matter and the surrounding soils of each spot are filled with moisture, while in between are almost bone dry. Again, applied water will sit in the organic areas, but result in hydrophobic sections in between.
We are finally entering a point in the season where overwatering greens can actually be a benefit in order to fill the hydrophobic voids. It is a HUGE gamble however, if we were having this discussion two weeks ago. See #4, #5, and #17, where a 1” rain storm filled our hydrophobic gaps, but cooked the root zone on a 90-degree day following the rainstorm, resulting in immediate wet wilt decline.
The answer to these issues doesn’t fall in the spray program or mowing schedules. It is all cultural practice related. The goal for aerifications is to remove 20% organic matter per season. We need to exceed that. We have vented aggressively all season and have gotten good results, so that will need to continue. But anything we can pull out from under these greens, and fill with a sand channel, will enhance the subsurface functions immensely and will aid in our ability to bank on our water working for us rather than against us. Routine ½" core aerifications need to be done regularly, and also working in some deep tining or “drill and fill” practices yearly will ensure the water applied to the turf can work its way through the entire root zone.
You’ve all heard me ramble in preceding updates about how dry is better, and that in general the problems these greens have suffered from in the past are from wet soil conditions. My beliefs have not necessarily changed on that. But through University sampling, a full summer under our belts, and further evaluation of greens drainage would indicate that the initial plans were just simply not enough. More air, more sand, more penetration is how we get rid of that blue layer. It is how we eliminate water holding particles, and let our roots do the work for us. When roots are breathing and utilizing water, they are happy. And we all will be too.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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...
GCS Blackstone National