Stowe Country Club Trees

The following bullet points are the foundation of our tree management program at Stowe Country Club. The strategy is to keep maintenance costs down, maintain good turf quality, maintain healthy trees, create and maintain the wonderful vistas, and eliminate obstructed tee shots.
  • Tree plantings predominated by white pine, red pine, and spruce trees (all conifers).
  • These trees were used due to their cheap cost and quick growth.
  • The over reliance of pine and spruce species has lead to an increase in disease potential. Many trees are showing damage from Diplodia blight.
  • A more diversified tree population reduces concerns of catastrophic tree loss due to pathogens or insect pests.
  • Where existing tree stands provide crucial strategic importance or screens, a diversified tree replacement program will be considered using deciduous species.
  • Pine and spruce trees create a large amount of ground litter from branch, cone and needle shedding. This leads to direct maintenance costs due to the need to remove such litter for playability. Removal of certain trees will keep maintenance costs down.
  • Root extrusion from soil surface has caused a major playability and safety issue.
  • The most effective and sustainable way to maintain trees next to golf turf is to create mulch beds. These beds will hide tree litter and cover exposed roots. High priority tree beds will be identified and maintained.
  • Current maintenance program is to trim the grass below trees. This requires many man hours. Installation of tree beds will assist in keeping maintenance costs down.
  • Absence of tree beds has negatively impacted health of trees due to lack of soil nutrients available.
  • Conifers grown in open or “pasture” settings produce prolific branching. This branching weakens over time and is prone to failure when impacted by wind or ice storms. This loss of limbs after storm events creates excessive maintenance costs due to cleanup.
  • Trees and golf course turf do not coexist very well due to the competition for water and nutrients.
  • Trees use more water than turf. This leads to browned out turf on the edges of golf holes in midsummer due to trees out-competing turf for water. Our current center row irrigation does not provide sufficient irrigation to the edges of golf holes to help the turf compete with the trees for water.
  • Coniferous trees are shallow rooted. This shallow rooting disrupts the turf surface with exposed roots. These shallow roots steal water and nutrients from turf. A root pruning program will be implemented to control root encroachment.
  • These fast growing softwood trees have begun to impact play due to size and improper placement. These overgrown trees now create “forced draws or fades”. Most impact is on tee shots. 
  • Unnecessary tree plantings of these fast growing coniferous trees have blocked beautiful vistas. These views are a very important design aspect of Stowe Country Club and they should not be lost to trees.
  • The thought that tree removal will make the course easier is untrue.  USGA Article

Winterkill 2014

In previous posts it was predicated that the weather leading into winter was potentially harmful to golf course turf. Unfortunately, that prediction came true. The turf loss on golf courses in the northeast and beyond is of epic proportions. Veteran golf course superintendents are proclaiming that this is the worst winterkill they have experienced in their careers. The widespread area and level of damage are the main reasons this is news worthy topic. The damage consists of dinner table sized dead spots on greens to complete loss of multiple putting greens. The area of concern covers New England (seacoast to the mountains), Quebec & Ontario regions, and North Central region (Michigan and Chicago area).

What happened? Simply, too much rain in January. The abundance of winter rain led to copious amounts of ice. The nail in the coffin for turf was the dramatic, almost overnight, switch from generally moderate temperatures in the early winter to a chilling continuous freeze mid winter. After the last rain event in mid January the temperatures plummeted and did not rise until April. This flash freeze scenario was a main cause of the widespread damage, especially in northern Vermont. The two other scenarios that led to turf loss were anoxia (extended ice cover) and crown hydration (spring freeze/thaw cycle). Review prior posts and "post categories" for more information on these environmental conditions.

Course Updates:
Fortunately extensive turf loss was avoided, but both courses did receive isolated damage. Areas where water was unable to flow freely subsequently pooled up causing ice and turf damage. This winter emphasizes the importance of effective drainage (subsurface and surface) on golf courses. Drainage is key to creating conditions conducive to winter survival which then leads to quality conditions during the playing season.

Stowe Country Club
16th approach "Birdbaths"
The three historically wet greens received the most damage (3, 12, & 13). These greens have poor subsurface drainage and more importantly have very poor surface drainage. #12 is the worst of all greens. The entire lower shelf was damaged. Once the water drained to the green it pooled and froze solid. The other two greens were damaged in low spots, or "birdbaths" as I call them. Any other such birdbaths on the course were also damaged such as; 18 fairway, 16 & 17 approach and areas near drainage culverts, i.e 3 & 5 fairway. The 4th, 9th, and 10th green also received some damage. The damage on these greens was due to the freeze/thaw cycle in the spring.

14th fairway drain. Notice no winterkill below drain.
Stowe Mountain Club
The good news is that the fairways did well this year. SMC did receive some damage in areas that historically pool and subsequently experience winter kill. Every year drainage is added in these areas to better winter survival  to create firm playing conditions. This is an unfortunate ongoing challenge. A drain installed on hole 14 last Fall proved very successful. The bad news is that the damage to greens is more than we have seen since opening in 2007. The worst greens are 4, 7, and 13. These greens are bowl shaped and were unable to shed water fast enough when the January rains came. Other greens have smaller areas of damage at the water exit points. These areas were damaged due to what is called "collar dams". The small change in the height of cut between the green surface and the collar is enough to slow the winter rains down to form pools of water that causes ice formation. Collar dams become worse over time due to the turf maturing and forming a thick thatch. These areas will be corrected by cutting the sod out and lowering the sub-grade to make a smooth transition for water to flow freely.

Moving Forward:
The damaged greens on both courses were seeded earlier this week and covered. A limiting factor for good turf germination and growth are soil temperatures. A warm stretch of weather is greatly needed at this time to hasten seed germination. The covers are used to assist in warming the soil. Fairway and tee damage will be seeded this coming week. Selected areas in fairways will be sodded to speed up the recovery process. Sodding greens is not preferred due to the difficulty of feathering the new sod to the existing turf. This feathering process is much easier with fairways due to the higher height of cut.

The recovery process from winterkill is one of the most difficult tasks superintendents face. Maintaining healthy turf (mowing & grooming) directly adjacent to new seedlings takes skillfulness. Additionally, restricting golfers on these recovering areas may interfere with play, which is not popular. These are challenges that can be resolved on a short and long term basis. The turf maintenance team will work diligently to grow in the newly seeded areas and continue to add drainage to prevent future damage. This is not the first time we have seen winterkill and it will certainly not be the last. Your patience with the recovery during the ensuing weeks will help us with the task ahead. I will update you on a regular basis during. You can follow me on Twitter for daily updates @kevinkomer.

More information on Winterkill 2014 can be found below:
Club & Business
CBS Boston
WMUR Manchester, NH
Press Herald, Maine
Superintendents Association of New England
Michigan Superintendents Association
Ontario, Canada Damage Report
USGA Northeast Region
Chicago Damage