Monday, January 11, 2010

Tree Removal & Slope: Is there a connection?

The tree situation at Westmoor CC (we removed some 500 during our recent renovation) typifies the complicated anxieties attached to significant removal. Most acknowledge that courses this old (Westmoor’s original routing dates to the 1920s) were built on land that was originally treeless, or sparsely forested. Most agree that tree encroachment hinders play and steals sunlight/soil nutrients from turf. But still… removing those trees after 80 years in play remains politically delicate.

At Westmoor, all those anxieties were joined by one that surprised us: Members thought removing so many trees would make their slope rating go down — the secret fear of club members everywhere.

However, John Warren of the Wisconsin State Golf Association (WSGA) walked the course when it reopened and his findings surprised and delighted the Westmoor faithful: It went up! He explained that WSGA raters look at 10 different obstacles when rating a golf course, trees being just one of them. We had added considerable distance to the course, especially from the back tees. We also added considerable challenge in the landing areas and around greens with the new bunkering. Mainly we removed trees that didn’t affect the immediate strategy of the golf course.

We’re curious: How would tree removal and non-removal really affect the difficulty of your course?

Soil-Matching, drainage and regrassing

The drainage scheme and soil profile-matching measures we enacted at Westmoor were very enlightening.

In the spring, before we regrassed the greens, Stuart, Fla.-based XGD Drainage removed 2-inch strips of sod on each green before digging 15-inch drainage trenches spaced every six feet in a modified herringbone design. XGD then laid down 2-inch drainage tile and refilled the trenches with a 7:2:1 mix of sand, soil and peat — an attempt to match the greens’ existing push-up soil profile. The sod was then re-laid and members played these greens up until Aug. 1, when the course was closed. This is the drainage we would have done in the fall, when the course was closed. Doing it ahead of time, in the spring, gave us more renovation time in the fall — before the snow shut us down.

When the course did close, the existing putting surfaces were killed via fumigation. Samples of the soil profiles underlying these greens were sent to a testing lab to determine their characteristics.

This was an extremely important phase, because when this course reopened, we wanted all 18 greens — the four we rebuilt, and the 14 that weren’t rebuilt but were regrassed — to be cared for in a reasonably identical manner. What the lab recommended was a
7:2:1 construction mix of topsoil, sand and peat, the same mix used for the XGD drainage backfill. It’s a dirty mix, as they say, not a USGA mix. But it closely matched the existing profile and that’s what we used on the four new greens.

We had to go this extra mile because it made no sense to put the same grass on 18 greens that, underneath, didn’t have the same soil profiles. Of course, we could have rebuilt all 18 greens, but that would have been a far more expensive prospect.

Share with us your soil profile stories: Do you know if they’re consistent green to green? If they are (or aren’t) how does this affect their upkeep?

Putting USGA agronomists to work for your club

Sometimes we all need an impartial broker.

Our renovation project at Westmoor CC in Brookfield, Wis., was in danger of not passing a membership vote. So superintendent Jerry Kershasky and I invited some special guest speakers to a club-wide meeting and let them make the case, alongside Jerry and me. We brought in the big guns: USGA Green Section North-Central Region Senior Agronomist Bob Vavrek; Dr. Joe Vargas, the legendary Michigan State University agronomy researcher; and Dr. Tom Nikolai, another distinguished MSU agronomist.

Nikolai talked about the different approaches to managing putting surfaces for consistent green speed, something A1 enables. Vargas discussed A1’s ability — due to its extreme density — to compete with and ultimately rebuff poa annua when properly managed. Vavrek offered more anecdotal stories from clubs across the upper Midwest, and shared his experiences working just south in Chicago, where several clubs have converted to A1 greens with great results. Vavrek also discussed how many facilities in neighboring Michigan had developed reciprocity programs with nearby clubs, so members would have somewhere to play while their club was closed during replanting.

The combined expertise of the panelists helped sell the renovation proposal to the members, who backed it with an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote.

The USGA is a great resource; you can put them to work in just this way. Sometimes it just means more coming from them. The turfgrass departments at dozens of reputable universities across the country can serve the same purpose — maybe you can make alumni points by enlisting them to educate your membership in a away that advances your club’s agronomic goals.

Superintendents don’t often deal with members en masse. What are your experiences in this area? Positive or negative?