Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pond Work Completed

Aqua Mog working in Georges Lake

I stretched out a long series in our course reports last year describing the history, function and issues we have with the two ponds on our property. This explanation culminated in the first ever aquatic vegetation removal from primarily around our pump station intake area in George’s lake or the lake adjacent to holes #1 & #9.

As with any new procedure there were learning curves to work out. The first on was that the contractor showed up with this massive piece of equipment called an “Aqua Mog” which was on a large trailer moved by a large diesel truck. Communication prior to the equipment’s arrival could have been better as we had to lay down protection along the cart path on #9 to maneuver the piece of equipment into the pond.

The “Aqua Mog” was like a large floating excavator that removed rotting vegetation at the ponds bottom around the pump station intake along with some shoreline vegetation that had crept into some shelves along the 9th fairway side of the pond. We had budgeted only two days of work with the “Mog” and probably could have used its services for another day but budgets are what they are.
The combination of the selective spraying and the “Mog” work has created a different environment in George’s Lake this year. The Azolla or floating red vegetation is not present but its absence as I suspected creates an environment for filamentous algae. So far we have been able to keep the algae in check but we still have some summer left.

Bottom line is our ponds are just one other part of the course that need to be maintained and prior to the work that we did this year nothing has been done. We made progress this year but need to keep up on aquatic vegetation much like we need to keep up on thatch removal in the turf.


Since our last course update we have had several members express interest in serving on our Audubon Resource Advisory Committee.

What Is A Resource Advisory Committee?
"A resource advisory committee is a group of individuals with expertise and qualifications in specific professions, who volunteer their time to advise and assist in maximizing a property’s environmental benefits and minimizing potential negative impact to the surrounding community and natural resources. The areas of expertise may include, but are not limited to, ornithology, native plants, energy efficiency, waste management, water management, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM)."

Why Organize A Resource Advisory Committee?
"Every property that joins the Audubon Signature Program is required to form a resource advisory committee. Individuals associated with property in the process of being developed are extremely busy and will find themselves increasingly so as construction moves forward. Appointing appropriate people to the resource advisory committee will relieve the burden of Signature Program implementation by spreading responsibility to various individuals. In addition, people with special interests or expertise should be focusing their attention on that specific area.” (Forming resource Advisory Committee – Audubon International)

An advisory committee was formed during construction which was a integral requirement of achieving Audubon Signature Sanctuary Status. My thought was that we re-form our advisory committee to re-invigorate awareness of our unique status as a signature sanctuary and continue promote and educate our members and community of Granite Bay’s environmental stewardship. My thought was to have this be a sub-committee under the umbrella of the golf committee and I am fairly certain we can get a discussion on the agenda of the next meeting.

After the next golf committee meeting I hope to reach out members who have already expressed interest and move forward. Any one receiving this correspondence wishing to serve on this committee could contact myself or any golf committee member. I can be reached at 791-4930 or e-mail at

I really think this can be an exciting opportunity for everyone at Granite Bay.

Recent Course Tour with Kyle Phillips


We recently had the pleasure of spending an entire morning with Kyle Phillips, the lead golf course architect of our very own Granite Bay Golf Club. The meeting was the idea of Dan Becker who had questions regarding the golf course aging and what we should do when, as example, the inevitable tree dies and effects the strategy of any given hole. Dan’s concern, as was ours, that moving forward we maintain Kyle’s “original intent” with say tree replacement or potential additions to the course. Kyle graciously agreed to meet with us so a group of golf committee members and management basically spent the morning letting Kyle reminisce about his original vision for our club.
I am sure many of you have heard some details from members who attended the walk-around. My intention in this segment is to give you a general overview of the meeting from the eyes of Golf Course Maintenance and will highlight some details in future additions.
This was the first time Kyle and I had met. He is extremely engaging, gracious and down to earth along with his staff of Mark Thawley and Roby Seed. My prism of looking at a golf course has always been primarily from the view of maintenance. It was a transformational experience for me to listen and then look at the course from their different perspective. I now consider the meeting a highlight in my career. Most of his criticisms on changes to the course arise from the “change of vision” and their unintended consequences. Cart paths were a particular bone of contention with Kyle. He understand totally the need for paths from a business standpoint particularly when ownership / vision changes. However in his opinion, some of them could have been incorporated into the original design without as much aesthetic disruption to that vision.
One big positive thing I took from the meeting was that we all; member golfers, golf course maintenance staff and management and golf course architect are on the same page as far as far as the encroachment of the native areas blocking the vision on certain golf holes. He loved the exposed rocks throughout the course as we all do and encouraged more. He showed me where original fairway lines were and how, in many instances, our fairway lines have receded over the past 16 years. Standing on tee boxes he said “WOW” on numerous occasions regarding how tree and vegetation growth had encroached and on the ride to the next hole expressed his sympathy by stating “man, you got you work cut out for you”
The lines and flow of the holes, tree planting and not tree planting, Granite Bay history although it only been eighteen years are all things we touched on. I look forward to future visits. It’s good for Granite Bay. It’s good for me. Thanks Kyle for the great vision that is Granite Bay Golf Club and for spending a day with us discussing it. I for one will never look at the placement of a ball washer the same.

What’s going on with the Greens? Part II

In our last update I explained that the primary cause of the decline of our putting surfaces was we have developed an excessive thatch layer over the years. This excessive thatch layer developed from not being aggressive enough with core aeration and cultural practices. The buildup of organic matter has in effect sealed off the greens from air movement into the soil and to the roots. Oxygen is crucial in the root zone for any plant to convert the simple sugars created by the plant during photosynthesis into usable food for cell division.

Anaerobic black layer in removed turf on #14 green
This lack of air also creates an anaerobic black layer in which certain bacteria, who thrive in environments without air, attack the thatch layer as a food source. In doing so, this aerobic bacteria release a by-product of hydrogen sulfide gas which is toxic to roots. This is why we need to continue to vent the greens by poking small holes in them allowing the toxic gas to escape and oxygen to reach the root zone. Fortunately the surfaces have recovered to the point that we can now lightly topdress with sand after we vent them as opposed to a few weeks ago when their condition was much more precarious. Working even light applications of sand into a putting surface can be stressful by itself to a healthy green and devastating to a weak one. However topdressing really helps with putting quality as it smoothes the surface and fills the dimples of the spiking holes.

As I explained in the last update this thatch has to be removed mechanically via core aeration and deep vertical mowing. Both of these processes will remove portions of the excessive thatch layer and allow oxygen back into the soil. In our climate these processes too stressful to do in the heat of the summer particularly when the surfaces are already suspect. This is why we typically do this type of cultivation work in the spring and fall.

You can see why keeping things in balance is crucial when maintaining a modern day putting surface. The demands we put on them to roll true and fast can only be achieved when we have a firm and healthy surface. We know that to get back in balance we have to be more aggressive with our core aeration this coming fall and next spring but how aggressive and how long do we have to be this aggressive? I could speculate but a definitive answer will be found by doing some physical soil testing.

Chemical soil testing is concerned with maintaining an appropriate balance of nutrients. We perform chemical soil testing on our greens at least annually. Physical soil testing is an entirely different animal as it is concerned with maintaining an appropriate balance between air and water properties in conjunction with the soils ability to supply nutrients. Physical soil testing has never been done to our greens after establishment primarily because of its expense. At this point I believe it is crucial to give us a roadmap on how we need to proceed with our greens moving forward. I will have results from this testing in approximately four weeks and will share the high and low lights with you then.

We will be limping through the summer with our greens. We have re-sodded bad areas and will continue if necessary. We will be spiking and light topdressing on a regular basis just to keep oxygen moving into the root zone and gasses displaced. Rolling will continue but we can not cut the greens down as tight as we have done in the past at the risk of further decline.

With the help of sound science along with diligence and patience at aeration times, I am optimistic that we will have the firm, fast and healthy putting surface’s we all desire. Definitely more to come.

Preparing for sod on #14

Installing sod #14

Completed sodding #14

The Return of Southern Blight

I am of course stating the obvious that the summer season is a taxing one on the turf here at Granite Bay. Any golf course with primarily cool season grasses will inevitably have some issues July and August. Granite Bay is no exception. Of course our main issue through July so far has been putting surface decline and the resulting performance or putting inconsistencies as we reacted to the decline. When the greens “go south” every other issue seems to magnify. One of those issues that we are battling is a pretty decent outbreak of a disease called Southern Blight (sclerotium rolfsii).

Southern Blight infestations have been steadily increasing here at Granite Bay for the past six to seven years. We typically see the disease in higher mowed turf or “rough” around greens, tees and fairways. It is a nasty looking disease pattern which has really taken a toll this season at the same time, to add insult to injury, the putting surfaces were in decline.

We treat areas that have a history of the disease preventively but we had a stretch of perfect conditions which facilitated infection in new areas. We treated again once new infection became evident and the disease spread has stopped.

Southern blight has small fruiting bodies that over winter in the thatch and explodes when environmental conditions become right. I think I have mentioned that thatch is not only an issue in our putting surfaces but also it is an issue through out the turf here at Granite Bay. There is no guarantee that going aggressively after the thatch in rough and green surrounds would eliminate the threat or infection of Summer Patch. It does however make sense that by removing the excessive organic matter that the pathogen over winters in and creating a healthier environment for the plant, that disease pressure would be mitigated. Bottom line is excessive thatch is the common to most of the problems we have with our turf here at Granite Bay and we must get more aggressive at removing and controlling it.

"Sclerotina" or fruiting bodies of Southern Blight in the thatch layer

Souther Blight behind #2 green

Traffic Control

Pro Active Traffic Control Program – Under Way

As I mentioned in the previous newsletter that we were planning to initiate a pro-active traffic control program here at Granite Bay. Golf carts are a part of everyday life in golf and with that reality comes a major stress for turf especially as the weather starts to heat up. We have all witnessed what golf cart traffic can do to the turf. We have started this program and have already noticed a difference with turf quality on two of our most challenged areas as far as traffic is concerned, holes #10 & #6. We have alternated closing these holes to cart traffic with success and plan to continue through the summer months.

When we installed the concrete cart path to the left-hand side of the #12 green we never intended to use it 100% of the time. If we did the turf directly adjacent to the entrance of the path would be worn to dirt. This is why we alternate opening & closing that path to keep the adjacent turf from wearing out to dirt. We installed that path because from what I understand the left hand exit was the traditional exit before the installation of the original paths and crossing the fairway with a path then would have been aesthetically unacceptable. The preferable traffic pattern when the left-hand path is closed would be to the right and around the green.

To the left and around the green is also the preferable traffic pattern on #10 where the same original design principles applied, avoiding at all costs crossing the fairway with a cart path. A majority of cart traffic gravitating to the left on this hole is what creates the one of the biggest traffic control issues on the course. The flow of traffic goes to the left to #11 tee, which I also assume was tradition, trampling down a narrow band of turf to the walnut shells behind the tee. The more traffic that can get in the habit of going right and around the green will help this area immensely and potentially limit the hole's closure.

Another traffic control myth, in my opinion is the use of the 90-degree rule saves turf. For one, most people don’t use it and if they do, they go 90 degrees to the rough line and wear out the rough. Scattering golf cart traffic rather then channeling is much better for the turf. I would much rather carts use the simple rules of;
  •  Using paths as much / whenever possible
  •  Follow the directional signs
  •  Avoid driving on stressed turf

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Final Thought on Thatch

If you recall, thatch is something I have addressed in these course updates on a few occasions previous to this one. Most all of the problems we have with health and playability to all of the turfgrass surfaces here at Granite Bay can be directly correlated with the development of excessive thatch. 

This situation did not just develop, it has been accumulating for years, but it is imperative that we reduce its current accumulation mechanically if we are to have playing surfaces we can be proud of. It starts there. Not aggressively removing it for the sake of keeping surface disruption to a minimum will not serve any of us well, both now and in the future.

Thank You


Audubon International is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to fostering more sustainable human and natural communities through research, education, and conservation assistance. As I stated in our last update our status is something to be proud of and highlight and will now be formally a part of our course updates.

Granite Bay has been a member of Audubon International since 1993 and became certified at the bronze level in May of 1998. We are one of only six certified golf courses in the state. During our certification one of the requirements was to form a resource advisory committee consisting of at least two club members.

I believe one of the first things we need to do is to reform our advisory committee since it has been, to the best of my knowledge, inactive at least since my arrival here at Granite Bay. The re-formation of this advisory committee I hope can be an agenda item at our next golf committee meeting. If there are any members that have any input or would like to serve on this committee please contact me preferably before the next golf committee meeting on 8/10/10.

Some of the items I would like to address through the Granite Bay Audubon Resource Advisory Committee are:
  • Proactive Native Oak Tree Replacement Plan.
  • Creating a Nursery of our own Native Oaks for Replacement
  • “The Wild Life of Granite Bay” – Positive Identification & Documentation of Birds and Wild Life that make Granite Bay their Home.
  •  Existing Native Oak Inventory & Mapping
  • Involving the Memberships Children as much as we can with all items mentioned above as a required Audubon Educational outreach.
This is kind of exciting when you think about some of the different things the club has to offer besides golf, food & drink. I truly am looking forward working with whomever willing, and really taking advantage of our Audubon status and taking it to a new level.

Recent Pond Work

Did not want to leave you hanging on the pond work that was recently done in our main Irrigation pond. Many of you have asked me about it and I promise full details in the next update. Bottom line is everything went well and our ability to draw water out of the pond is better for it.

Main thing I learned from the process is we need to continue to be diligent and proactive in pond maintenance like anything else or we end up having to do more work in the end. Sometimes easier said then done I suppose.

Aqua Mog recently working in Georges Lake

What’s going on with the Greens

More aggressive core aeration is necessary if we are to ever have the consistent firm and fast surfaces we all desire

When I arrived at Granite Bay just prior to the 2008 golf season there were two items that were high on the Memberships concern list. First was the deteriorated condition of the sand traps and their need of renovation, and second was putting surface roll & speed. In 2008 we embarked on an “in house” bunker renovation project and have just recently completed all green side bunkers. This work has been well chronicled.

Additionally in 2008 we addressed the green speed issue by introducing regular greens rolling and manipulating, or better said lowering our mower heights of cut (HOC) to achieve a smoother and faster ball roll on the putting surfaces. We were successful in getting ball speeds on the greens from 8 to 9 feet on the stimpmeter to 10 to 11 feet. We targeted a goal of 10.5 to 11 feet as a fun speed for the membership as a whole hopefully leaving room to tweak them up to 11.5 to 12 for special events. Admittedly we were only moderately successful in achieving a consistent 10.5 to 11 feet. The reason for this moderate rate of success and quite frankly for the softness of the greens and entire golf course for that matter is an accumulated organic layer called thatch. Once this thatch layer becomes too dense it acts as a sponge and fills with water then the layer becomes black or anaerobic because of the total lack of air.

This produces an “ inhospitable place for plant roots to grow. The pore space in a dense organic layer is dominated by small water-filled capillary pores, while the large air-filled macropores are lacking. Oxygen is necessary for the plant to carry out respiration, which is the conversion of stored food to energy. Respiration takes place in the roots and, therefore, good air exchange in the upper soil profile is vital to plant survival.” (USGA Green Section Record- Core Aeration By The Numbers by Chris Hartwiger & Patrick O’Brien)

Lowering our mowers, double cutting and rolling the greens sometimes as much as five times a week are common practices to produce a faster, smoother ball roll. And if our greens were healthier and were not excessively thatchy, they should be able to handle these procedures. However their current condition is very sensitive as evidenced by turf loss on some of our greens. Everyone likes a smooth fast ball roll on the greens, but if we don’t have healthy condition below the surface, and still try to produce speeds with above the mentioned common practices, you can end up with the situation we are currently experiencing.

There are factors that exacerbate excessive thatch accumulation but for the most part its production is a natural process of highly maintained golf turf and some is necessary. But when it becomes excessive it has to be removed mechanically in a timely fashion through core aeration and de-thatching processes. These removal processes disrupt the surfaces we play golf on and get put off or minimized for a variety of reasons. The problem with this common approach of minimization or delay is the thatch continues to accumulate and then you inevitably have problems.

Some of these delay and minimization reasons are tournament scheduling, others construction and renovation busyness. The maintenance department admittedly got over extended on projects and over promised on putting surface performance abilities. Its not like we skipped scheduled greens aerations, we did not. We have just not been nearly aggressive enough with our aeration practices to keep up and deal with the thatch accumulation of the past fifteen years much less the past two where we have put more pressure on our greens to perform at a higher level. Our motives were to give you the fast and firm you desire however firm and fast are synonymous and trying to make our soft greens fast without doing what is necessary to make them firm is a recipe for mediocrity and potential disaster.

For the most part the greens at Granite Bay Golf Club have been aerated with ½’ coring tines with holes spaced 2”x 2”, two times per year for the past 15 years. This affected approximately 10% of the greens surface area per year with core aeration, which actually removed organic matter or thatch. The USGA Green Section states “golf courses with successful, mature greens have been on a core aeration program where 15% to 20% of the surface area has been impacted each year.” “ The amount of surface area impacted is a direct result of tine size, tine spacing and frequency.” “If aeration has been neglected, a more aggressive program may be warranted.” The USGA currently recommends 20% to 25% of the total surface area should be impacted annually due to modern putting surface demands and procedures to accomplish such demands.

Bottom line is we need to get more aggressive with our core aeration on our specified dates if we are ever going to produce the consistent firm and fast surfaces the membership desires. We are in the process of getting physical soil testing done on our greens which will give us data for recommendations to proceed. I would not be surprised if we needed to effect 30% of the surfaces for the next few years to get caught up with accumulation.

We can achieve this by aeration with 5/8” coring tines spaced 1” x 2”, two times per year, in other words bigger and more holes. Additional procedures could involve deep vertical mowing which in combination with core aeration could really effect the surface area. What all of this will mean is a prolonged recovery time for the putting surfaces to completely recover after aeration.

Currently we have experienced some turf loss as a direct result of the thatchy conditions explained above and exacerbated by all the things we try to do to get speed out of them. We have a lot of loss around the perimeter of #14 green and some patches on #3, #13, #16 & #17. Additionally the customary summer thinning has taken hold on our #7 green. We plan to sod the rear perimeter of #14 and all of the patches on #3, #13, #16 and #17 by the end of this week. Additionally we hope to pick a morning in the next week and core aerate #7 with small coring tines along with light topdressing. Additional strategies to help us get through the summer will be a stepped up spiking events to all of the greens along with preventive fungicide applications to prevent disease in our susceptible condition. These short-term strategies are designed to help us get through the stressful summer without further turf loss. The long-term strategies of aggressive thatch removal by core aeration will be the key for our greens moving forward and need to begin this fall.

I believe we can have great greens here at Granite Bay however we cannot achieve this goal if thatch accumulation continues. Fast is directly correlated to firm and firm is directly correlated to an absence of excessive thatch. Even better the absence of thatch is directly correlated to a healthy condition that requires less water because the roots are deeper, less disease pressure because the green is healthier and fewer problems overall. Its that simple.

We’ll continue to address the greens situation in the course updates through the summer.

Thatch induced anerobic black layer

Recently sodded area on #14

Patches sodded on #13

Front area sodded on #7