November is Project Time

Starting the drainage on 18th approach by removing sod
While we strive to engage in productive projects throughout the year, there is an opportune window of time for larger projects between the date the course closes and the day winter truly arrives.

Once the door closes on the golfing season it is critical that we use this time to complete work that is otherwise too disruptive to conduct during the golfing months. In some regards, November is one of our most challenging months. On top of the essential tasks to carry out like covering the greens, draining the irrigation system, final snow mold prevention applications, etc... we also set some ambitious goals for course improvements. Numerous challenges are encountered at this time of year. Daylight, good working weather, and seasonal staff are all diminishing through October into November. Nevertheless, the shoulder seasons are when some of the most important work is done on course.

Excavation of drainage trench on 14 fairway
Drainage improvements typically take precedent on the late fall punch list. It has been discussed in prior blog posts that a well drained golf course is the foundation to a great golfing experience. Drainage improvements were made to the 3rd fairway, 4th approach, 18th approach and fairway, and on the 14th fairway. We were pleased to have completed the work on the 14th fairway as this area perennially sustains some winter damage. The intercepting drainage trench will help to reduce the large amount of snow melt flowing over the fairway. This snow melt causes ice and freeze/thaw cycles that are the major cause of winterkill.

Laying pavers at SCC "Hitting Barn"
In addition to these drainage projects, a forward tee has been added on the 3rd hole. It is located just before the bend in the cartpath as the fairway begins. It provides a clearer target view and fair access to the broad section of the fairway. The tee will be open for play soon after opening day. Lastly, a handful of staff on our Stowe Golf team made a major improvement to the Hitting Barn at Stowe Country Club. The first phase in revitalizing the Hitting Barn was resurfacing the dirt floor. We installed stone pavers and five artificial turf hitting mats. Interestingly, the pavers were reused from the renovation at the Spruce Peak entryway. This project was a collaborative effort between Stowe Mountain Club and Stowe Country Club employees. The hitting barn should be open for practice at the first sign of spring 2014.


Bleached out fescue in the Fall
The wispy brown grass that surrounds many of the golf holes at Stowe Mountain Club is called “fescue”. Fescue or Festuca is a genus within the grass family of Poaceae. The species are characteristically a perennial tufted grass species - many are drought and disease resistant and shade tolerant. Planted at Stowe Mountain Club is a blend of the fine fescue grasses that includes; chewing fescue, sheep fescue, hard fescue, and creeping red fescue. The fescue high rough areas are an integral part of the golf experience at Stowe Mountain Club. While playing the course an errant shot has a high probability of landing in fescue since every hole has some fescue on the outer edges.  Knowing how to hit a successful recovery shot out of the fescue is very important to shooting a good score.

Fescue on the right side of the 2nd green in Summer
While there are a few basic skills to hitting out of the fescue, the same is true for managing it. Our main focus when it comes to managing fescue is to have it be aesthetically pleasing and still be thin enough to find a golf ball to advance it. This management strategy is based on a simple principle; the worse you treat fescue the better it is for playability. Successful management of fescue starts from day one. The future success of a stand of fescue grass will depend on what it is planted on. The worse the soil is the better the fescue will be. If fescue is planted on rich, loamy soil it will always be thick and healthy. Thick and healthy fescue will swallow golf balls and trying to hit through thick fescue is almost impossible.

Thin fescue that a ball can be easily found
After proper establishment, fescue should never be irrigated. Our irrigation technician is constantly on the lookout for misaligned sprinkler heads that cover fescue. When there is a very wet spring and early summer the fescue will become very healthy and thick. This was the case this year. Obviously, the growth was out of our control. Similar to irrigation we are very cautious not to fertilize fescue after it has been established for two years. Once established, fescue should be left alone. The one exception to that are weeds. If weeds become too prevalent they need to be removed. Weedy fescue is very difficult to play out of and looks unkempt.
Last week the maintenance team has begun to cut the fescue.  This annual mowing of the fescue is the final piece to the management strategy.  Cutting back the fescue assures even growth next year.  The cutting will also thin out any areas that have grown too thick.  A tremendous amount of work has gone into managing the fescue to get it to the current condition.  Every year the fescue gets better.  The maintenance team is committed to preserving this special feature of the golf course.

Core Aeration, Why and Why Now?

Core Aerifying the 16th Green
   On August 25th and 26th the putting greens were core aerated. The tees were core aerated the following week. On September 18th the maintenance team will focus on core aerating the fairways.  The dilemma with core aeration of the golf course features is that from an agronomic perspective it is the best possible preventative maintenance that can be done to the turf and from a playing perspective it is one of the more disruptive maintenance practices. From all accounts, there was a general concensus that the greens putted great within a few days after this process. Many thanks to the membership and guests for understanding the importance of completing this core aeration at this time.


Topdressing with Sand Post Aerification
    The process of core aeration falls under the general term called "aeration" There are multiple types of aeration that involve the process of mechanically inserting a metal spike or tine into the turf. These terms include; core aeration, needletine aeration, deeptine aeration, solid tine aeration, slicing, and spiking. There are also multiple terms that are used to describe core aeration. Such terms are plugging, punching, or coring.
    The goal at Stowe Mountain Club is to remove organic matter (OM) that has built up just under the surface. Excessive OM will lead to poor growing conditions which in turn may lead to compromised playing conditions. OM left unchecked will lead to: slow water percolation
Notice light colored sand core in top 2 inches
into the soil profile which creates wet playing
conditions that persist over many days; shallow rooted turf that burns out very quickly leaving dead spots; thatchy or puffy turf that gets easily scalped from mowers leaving an unsightly appearance; soft turf that footprints easily leading to bumpy putting greens; and an increase in winterkill due to excessive moisture in the turf canopy leading to poor conditions for Spring golf.
    Included with core aeration, especially with putting greens, is the application of sand post aerification. This is done to dilute the OM with the porous sand.

Why Now?:

    Late August is the best time to aerate golf course turf in the Northeast due to good growing conditions. The daytime temperatures are still warm but not too hot and the night time temps are starting to cool. The good weather provides a quick recovery from the surface disruption. Pushing the aeration window later will reduce the recovery time leading to extended bumpy putting greens. Aerating during colder weather can lead to multiple other undesirable outcomes. The USGA Green Section published a great article on this issue of aeration timing. Click the link to read. Aeration Timing

Purple Bergamot, The Queen of the Summer

Purple Bergamot

Purple Bergamot, or more commonly known as bee balm, is a beautiful summer blooming native plant. The delicate purple blossoms provide a great source of nectar for all insects and hummingbirds. Bee balm is a common plant found in perennial gardens. The garden variety is most often a red flowering plant. The bee balm on the golf course is purple. This plant has proliferated very successfully in areas where it was seeded. Take a close look at the intricate flower of the Bergamot plant, it is a delicate beauty.

Name: Monarda media
Common Name: Purple Bergamot or bee balm
Color: Purple
Bloom: Late July-Late August
Location: Cottage steps, 6 Tee, 8/9 cart path, 17 blue/white Tee, 18 Tee
Use: Soil stabilization, nectar source for insects, & seed source for birds

USDA Plant Guide

July, Come and Gone...

The intention of this blog is to keep you informed of the comings and goings of the maintenance team and provide updates on the conditions at Stowe Mountain Club. While the blog was off to a good start, July simply flew by with no posts. My apologies. With that said, let's get back to business.

Wow, what a crazy weather season! The weather has been the top story around these parts. The golf course has received 29 inches of rain since May 1st. I need to thank the crew for powering through all these rainy days and getting things done around the golf course. The greens, tees, and bunkers have perfomed beautifully with all this precipitation. The main reason for this is because of good drainage. Greens, tees, and bunkers are built out of sand and have great subsurface drainage. As in the real estate industry where it is all about location, location, location. The golf turf industry is all about drainage, drainage, drainage. It is simply no fun to play golf on a soggy course mainly because the ground game disappears and your bump and run turns into a bump and slop.

The biggest challenge on the course due to the wet weather has been the fairways. Our fairways have good surface drainage due to the various catch basins located in the fairways. The challenge comes with the thick, rocky mountain soils that the fairways are planted on. These soils drain very slowly. With excessive rain the low areas in the fairways just don't dry out. Our actions are focused on identifying these wet areas and fixing them. The fix is to locate any springs that may be bleeding into the area and move that water out of the area through pipes. Or, if it is simply low and stays wet we will dig out the native soil and add pure sand. The later of these two scenario's usually occurs around catch basins where storm water is concentrated.    
Pipe back filled with stone and sand being placed around the catch basin

A good example of this process of drying out wet areas is the project that was recently completed on the 13th hole. Due to the exccesive rain, ground water springs that cause wet fairways in the Spring were problematic well into July. The left of the 13th green was a quagmire for 3 months due to a spring coming out of the hill. This was a call to action for the maintenance team because the area is a critical play area.The process involves removing the sod, piping the spring to the nearest catch basin, removing the native soil, placing sand around the catch basin, and replacing the sod. Due to this work, a tee shot that misses the green to the left can be putted back on the green off of a dry and firm surface. The process described above has been executed in over a dozen areas around the golf course over the years. It is a primary focus of the maintenance team to continue to fix these chronic wet fairway areas. As the weather patterns continue to prove to be extreme in their nature, these drainage improvements will play a critical role in making Stowe Mountain Club playable in all conditions.

Black Bear

With a thunder storm pounding the Stowe area recently, I anxiously drove out on the course in the morning thinking I would find storm debris and washed out bunkers. Zooming down the 11th fairway, a big black bear stopped me in my tracks. It was a beauty! Big and black as night with a beautiful brown snout. We both checked each other out and then it moved on. Check out the video. BLACK BEAR VIDEO

Sightings of black bear on the 11th hole is not uncommon. The design of the golf course included a wildlife corridor that starts on the 15th hole, drops down between the 18th and 11th hole and ends next to the 10th hole. This corridor is actively used by wildlife because it encompasses multiple habitats; ridge top forest, meadow, wetland, and a stream.  Many people ask what does it mean to be a sustainable golf course. Including wildlife corridors in development is a prime example of what it means to be "sustainable". It is a simple understanding of our surroundings (Place) and allowing it to continue existing along side us (People) while we engage in our human endeavors (Profit). People, Place, and Profit all in balance is sustainability.

There is no need to be scared if you encounter a black bear on the course. They are more scared of you than you of them. I have posted an informative piece about black bears in the "Environment" section of the blog. The piece was produced by our naturalist, Kim Komer.


White flowers in the Spring
A good stand next to the 18th green

Hobblebush is a native woody perennial that grows naturally around the course. Hobblebush is an understory plant found predominately in northeastern North American forests. For the past few weeks we have enjoyed its beautiful white flowers. It is a true Spring beauty. The golf course has provided many areas for this plant to flourish due to the "fringe" environments that have been created along the golf holes. Hobblebush is present in most of the forest understory. However, when sunlight is present the plant will flourish like it has at Stowe Mountain Club. Some people refer to this plant as "Moose Wood". It gets this name from the fact that during the winter the tops of the bush will be the only  plant that is above the deep snow pack. Because of this, the moose will browse on the buds. Hobblebush is a staple in the moose diet during the winter.

Name: Viburnum lantanoides
Common Name: Hobblebush
Color: White
Bloom: Spring
Red berries in the Fall
Location: Golf course forest edges and tree islands
Use: Attracts early spring pollinators, stabilizes soil, provides food source for browsing mammals

USDA Plant Guide

Subtle Tweaks

While the presentation of the golf course is basically the same for 2013 (excluding the changing of the nines), there are a couple changes that you will encounter this season. These changes are part of the maturation of the course. Stowe Mountain Golf Club opened for play in 2007. This process of subtle tweaking of the layout is a natural progression for any young golf course such as ours. In fact, many new courses under go extensive renovations in the first decade of existence. This is simply due to learning the land and how best to present it for the game of golf. It should also be stated that these subtle modifications are part of any good golf course's existence.
Removal of creeping bentgrass on 17th approach

Our changes for this year are based on grassing modifications. The 17th hole approach has been re-grassed with Kentucky bluegrass/fine fescue sod that is mowed at 2.5 inches. This rough grass replaces the creeping bentgrass that was mowed at .5 inches. The challenges we faced with the bentgrass was that approach shots that either landed just short of the green or rolled off the the green form back to front would end up all the way down to the drain in front of the green. This collection area was often wet and full of divots. In order to keep the ball closer to the green and to disperse the golf balls across the approach, the taller grass was installed.
The initial scalping of the 8th green

On the 8th green, we have expanded the putting surface on the right side by six feet. This process involved scalping the existing creeping bentgrass collar to greens height. One of the attributes of creeping bentgrass is that it can adapt quickly to aggressive scalping.The scalped area will be slightly off color until the grass has adapted to it's new height of cut. This green expansion will assist approach shots that drift right with the chance to funnel towards the green or land on puttable bentgrass.The area adjacent to this expansion will be sodded with collar height bentgrass. The six foot wide collar expansion will allow more putting options for shots that  land slightly off target.With the expansion in place the green flows much better with the terrain and looks better to the eye.

These subtle changes are part of our continual effort to improve the golf course. The maintenance staff is always on the lookout for ways to make a round of golf at Stowe Mountain Golf Club more enjoyable. Have fun with these new changes and enjoy!

The Rugged Mountain Spring

The golf course has turned the corner and is back on track. The variable weather during April in the mountains takes its toll on turfgrass. The long winters with extended ice and snow cover has depleted all of the reserves in the grass plant and it just wants to wake up, start drinking water and soak up some nutrients. The challenge in the mountain environment is that spring is slow to come and can be quite harsh at times, delaying "normal" spring conditions.
Snow blowing 13th green in late March

The big push for us started in late March when we began to snow blow greens. As the weather permitted, Mark Finch, assistant superintendent, would walk the snow blower out on the course and remove as much snow off of putting greens as possible. We make this effort because history has taught us that the quicker the snow and ice get off of putting greens the better. If we left it up to Mother Nature to melt the ice and snow, we would have a considerable amount of damaged turf. By April 9th we had cleared as much snow as possible off all the greens with a walk behind snow blower. The following weeks in April consisted of shoveling the remaining snow off of greens and breaking up ice pockets that had formed on the greens surface. This work is slow at this time of year. The snow changes its form from day to day and throughout the day. If the temperatures drop at night, the snow is rock hard and is very hard to move. If the sun comes out and the temperature rises, the snow becomes like wet cement and is equally hard to move.

Breaking ice on 7 green in mid April

During late April we rent a tractor with a snow blower attachment. This is done to clear all of the cart paths so that we can drive utility carts around the course without having to drive on squishy spring turf. All cart paths were clear by April 19th. Check out this video of the snow blowers in action.
During this same week we took sledge hammers and broke up the remaining ice that was on the greens. Now, it was time to focus on the remaining snow and ice on fairways. We pushed as much snow as we could off of fairways to assist in the melting.

The big worry at this point is turf damage due to crown hydration. Crown hydration is caused by the turf breaking it's dormant state, absorbing some water, then freezing at night due to the low temperatures. The plant is so tender as it comes out of dormancy that this extreme freeze/thaw cycle will explode the plant cells at the growing points, causing instant death. Most of the turf damage that occurs takes place during a few days during this late April time period when all the harsh conditions combine to trick the plant into waking up but then hitting it hard at night with below freezing temperatures.

Due to our work, the greens made it through just fine. The 10th green received some damage towards the front. With some TLC it will be just fine. A few fairways did get stung by the harsh conditions. The 12th, 14th, and 15th received the worst damage. The "corner" I spoke of  involved sodding and seeding these fairway spots. In a couple weeks we will be back to normal with the exception of the 14th fairway. This area will need a little more time to heal. I ask for your patience as we grow in a few areas on this hole. 

Changing The Nine's

The maintenance team is ready for the switching of the nine's. We embrace the decision and look forward to working in this new environment. The new front nine has always been known as the "easier 9". Starting out on these holes will warm the player up before the big climb up the new back nine. As the back nine climbs in elevation for the first 6 holes, the finishing 3 holes will gradually descend for the completion of the round. It will be a great journey. The new 18 is a dynamic finishing hole. The potential for eagle is just as great as a double bogey.

The First Green

This change will impact how we operate. Our daily challenge is to accomplish the morning chores in front of the first tee time. Morning chores include; mowing of the greens, tees, and fairways, changing the putting cup locations, raking bunkers, hand watering greens, spraying greens, tees, and fairways with fertilizer, wetting agents, and pest control products, and the list goes on. To provide the best golfing experience, these tasks must be done in front of the first tee time. The most efficient route to the first few holes will be to travel down the Big Spruce Road  from the maintenance facility. This will be the "Morning Convoy" down the road. With a few minor changes we are positive that the maintenance team will smoothly transition into the new routine.

We have been training ourselves to discuss the course in terms of the new hole layout. All of my blog posts will be written in the new 9 terminology. I have asked the team to talk in terms of the new holes only. We are trying to not say "the new 1" or "the old 10". I feel that this type of vocabulary will get cumbersome as we progress into the season. There is a serious learning curve with this change. The old hole numbers have been imprinted in our brains because it is part of our daily conversations amongst each other. We are having fun with the change and enjoy the challenge! See you on the 10th...oops....the 1st tee soon...

The Cottage Bar Story

Stack of trees on the 4th hole ready for chipping
One of my duties during the Winter of 2004/2005 was to monitor the logging operation for the clearing of the golf course. My task was to flag the boundaries of the property and to keep the logging moving forward. It was a very interesting time because I was able to see golf holes created from forest to finished product.                      
Loggers in 15th Seep
The timber was of low value for it's potential for lumber. Much of the property was logged in the 1970's leaving very young trees. Most of the trees were chipped up to be used in the bio-fuel industry. However, there were pockets of mature trees in areas such as gully's or steep slopes. These areas held 50-80 year old trees. The trees were most likely not taken during the initial logging due to the rough terrain. One of these areas is the gully or "seep" that you hit over on the tee shot for the 15th hole. In this seep there were very mature white ash and yellow birch.
Out of respect for the land, we chose to keep the trees for lumber and not let the logger take them. After some negotiating with the logger they agreed to drop them and place them out of the way for us to use. The motivation to keep the trees was focused on bringing the natural world inside. Using the lumber harvested from the property in the Cottage was one way of connecting things together.
Portable Saw Mill on the Golf Course
After we secured the trees, I contacted a local portable sawmill operator. I found Woodchuck Milling out of Johnson, VT. Woodchuck Milling showed up on site and we set up shop on the 18th hole. After the trees were milled we needed to get the fresh cut lumber dried quickly or a fungus would set in and ruin the wood. The lumber was trucked to Steve's Kiln Drying in Wolcott, VT. After being dried, the lumber was trucked back and stored on-site for two years.  

The Cottage Bar

The final home for this lumber was the Cottage bar. Local furniture maker Whit Hartt from Elmore, VT was chosen to build the bar with our wood. We are proud of Whit's work and the effort that went into creating this wonderful piece of furniture. Next time you are in the Cottage, take some time to enjoy the beautiful grain in the home grown wood from the golf course.

Grass-Leaved Goldenrod

Grass-Leaved Goldenrod

Grass-Leaved Goldenrod with gone by Penstemon
This pretty yellow flowered plant is really not a goldenrod which are in the Solidago family. This plant is in the Aster family (Asteraceae). The picture here was taken next to the cart path going up the hill to the 9th tee. I like this picture because behind it is a Penstemon plant that has gone past the flower stage and the stem has turned a beautiful red.

Name: Euthamia graminfolia
Common Name: Grass-Leaved Goldenrod
Color: Yellow
Bloom: August-September
Location: 15 tee, 16 wetland,17 green
Use: Attracts pollinators, stabilizes soil

Grass-Leaved Goldenrod flower


Beard Tongue or more commonly called Penstemon is one of our more successful population of wildflower. The beautiful White flowers bloom in July and August. The bees love this flower. They will dive right into the flower to get the nectar. It is fun to watch while you are waiting to tee off on the 6th tee.

Name: Penstemon digitalis
Common Name: Beard Tongue or Penstemon
Color: White
Bloom: mid-summer
Location: 6 tee, 7 wetland, 8 green
Use: Attracts pollinators, stabilizes soil

USDA Plant Guide


One of our winter chores is to assess the conditions on the golf course and how they will impact turf survival. This task requires myself and Mark to put on snowshoes and hike around the course. We bring a shovel to see how deep the snow pack is and to see if any ice has formed. This tour of the course is done every few weeks or after a winter rain or thaw event.
Looking at snow and ice depth on Jan. 25th on 2nd green
There are four main causes of turf loss due to winter conditions; extended ice cover, snow mold fungus, the freeze/thaw cycle, and wind burn. In this post, I'll discuss ice damage which is caused by extended ice cover. The other causes I'll discuss in future posts. Extended ice cover can cause major damage. If turf is under ice for more than 60-75 days there is a potential for damage. Different species of turfgrass can tolerate ice cover better than others. Creeping bentgrass, our dominant species of turf was chosen for it's tolerance for these conditions. Bentgrasses have the potential to survive 90 days under ice.

Ice on 12 green Feb. 18th
Why does extended ice cover kill grass? Good question. University studies have shown that a process called "anoxia" occurs. Anoxia is the lack of oxygen. During the winter months the turf is dormant (or not actively growing). However, the turf is still alive and is respiring. Respiration is the process of creating food for survival. Respiration is low but still active. This lack of oxygen makes respiration difficult and the plant simply dies due to starvation. The depletion of oxygen also leads to the build up of carbon dioxide (CO2). Even though plants need CO2, an excess can be toxic and lead to death. When anoxia has occurred there is usually a strong odor present when the ice has finally melted.

Where are we today? Well, we have ice. On January 31st, a one inch rain/ice event occurred with snow on the ground. This rain event was followed by temperatures in the teens. The snow on the ground slowed the movement of water and subsequently ice was formed in the low areas and on various bowl shaped greens. The good news is that the rain/ice event happened late into the winter and the duration of ice cover will most likely be short enough for the bentgrass to survive. The month of March is always the deal breaker. At what time the winter breaks in the month of March is the question. An extended wintry March can make winter survival for golf course turf a bit tricky. Every winter has its challenges. Touring the course during the winter and accessing the conditions prepares us for these challenges . Being prepared to act accordingly in March often determines the turf health for first half of the golf season.


The Team
Welcome to the Stowe Mountain Club Turf Blog. This blog will serve as an inside look into the golf course maintenance operations at Stowe Mountain Golf Club. We are proud of the conditions and experience we produce for you. Communicating the process of how my team and I get to the final product is the goal. While turf and course conditions will be the focal point, there will be other opportunities to share my knowledge of the natural world that we all live and play in while at Stowe Mountain Club.

The Work
It has been an interesting journey from construction, through opening, to where we are today, and to what lies ahead. The Stowe Mountain Golf Club story is what will unfold here. We work and play in a beautiful environment. The information in this blog will get you even closer to to this place.


The End Result
 The winter months will allow me to provide some history of the golf course and how we have arrived at where we are now. As we move into the season, I will give weekly updates on the maintenance operations and various observations on the property. Check out some of the information I have posted already to get a taste of what is to come. So, stay tuned to this blog and enjoy the journey with us.