Grounds Maintenance Monthly Updates
From the Grounds Crew at Blackstone National Golf Club
Grounds Maintenance Update - September 2021
Blackstone National in the Fall
What a great time of year we are heading into. The weather is starting to peak for the best part of the season in my opinion. Football is on, baseball playoffs are around the corner, and leaves are going to be changing soon. This property is really stunning in the fall, and the nice red barn that just went up will go great with the foliage.
Since July 4th, we have received a whopping 20+ inches of rain. We have seen some, although brief, dry periods throughout the summer, but removing the water has been far more of a challenge than applying it. Funny how much can change in a year.
Course Conditions going into the Autumn
We are very pleased with how the turf has performed under these rather extreme conditions. When the ground is saturated as much as it has been, some turf functions begin to slow down and become out of our control. It is a scary feeling knowing the golf course hasn’t quite drained in full capacity, yet its going to be 90 degrees by lunch time. It forces us to have a plan B for just about everything, on a daily, or sometimes hourly basis. Mowing is difficult, and often harmful in these conditions, and with a busy golf schedule it sometimes means our mowing windows are closed.
Something that has developed over the last 30 days or so, are slight algae outbreaks just beneath the surface of the greens, or in some cases hockey puck sized patches of moss that fill in ball marks or small voids. With 20+ inches of rain and a couple very humid weeks, it is natural to see this in low lying areas, common walk ons or walk offs, or regular pin placements. This occurs from foot traffic compaction and mowing and rolling the greens repeatedly in wet conditions. The turf needs to be mowed, and while soft the roller is necessary to generate any kind of green speed at all. It can feel like nails on a chalkboard while we are performing these tasks, but they are a necessary evil during the busiest months of the golf season.
Even with the weather starting to work in our favor, it is important for us to address these issues now before they get out of hand. Most golf courses in the northeast are doing their full-scale aerations this week, mainly for this reason. It has been a long, busy, wet season and it is time for the greens to get a breath of fresh air. We won't complete our traditional greens aeration until October, but for the time being we are going to deal with these spots directly. Expect to see some sand filled holes, larger than the venting holes you’ve seen all season, in these low areas in order to facilitate drainage and to break through any sealing off that may be occurring. The largest area to be addressed would be no greater than 6’x 6’.
Regarding the Greens
While we are talking greens, lets cover speeds. It has been a long road since this time last year. Through every reclamation effort from last season, this last winter’s construction work, and through the spring and early summer, the greens surfaces improved daily. Getting through all that rain and various heat stretches was a huge accomplishment for the staff and shows a lot of their work is paying off. However, I must admit, green speed was not our highest priority for most of this season. Consistency, drainage function, turf health, and traffic management all ranked slightly higher on our priority list.
Mowing heights, rolling frequency, and growth regulation have all been tinkered with in order to increase speeds while keeping up with full tee sheets and limited days off. Some results we really liked; some results are still up for discussion. However, what I'm getting at here is that these very significant rainstorms will make any stimpmeter reading disappointing. 1 or even 2 inches overnight can be manageable to generate speeds on top of. But lingering storms that have brought 4, 5, and 6 inches of rain at a time like we have seen this season will result in soft, sticky surfaces. Even when it's not raining, the humidity brings condensation on the leaf blades, and it sometimes looks like we haven't mowed a thing an hour after cutting the greens.
There is far more to cover but I have tendency to go long on these. Ill likely post another update this month that is not so greens and rain specific.
Lastly and most importantly, a well-deserved congratulations to the clubhouse staff and all involved in the barn project. Completing a project like that during the most difficult two years construction teams have ever seen was no small task. Love is in the air!
We’ll talk soon,
Jake Ronchi, GCS
Blackstone National Golf
Grounds Maintenance Update - July 2021
Where is all this rain going?
Chances are, that while you are reading this, its 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, 1”+ rainfalls at a time, its 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.
Golf Course Care in Heavy Rain
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.
Heres to a dry second half of the season!
Jake Ronchi GCS, BNGC
Grounds Maintenance Update - June 2021
Faster greens and warmer days
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.
Necssary care for healthy greens and high speeds
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
Grounds Maintenance Update - Spring
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