The Fall Push

The golf season may have ended at the resort but the work on the golf course continues. Both golf maintenance crews are busy with chores to put the courses to bed for the winter. The challenge this time of year is the unpredictable weather and not knowing when winter conditions will finally arrive.  Our goal is to have all winterization chores done by the second week of November.
Draining spring on  11 approach

When the courses close our first task is to bring in all items on the course that are not anchored to the ground. These items include tee markers, flags, benches, hazard markers, bunker rakes, ball washers, etc. These items are thoroughly cleaned and stored safely for the winter. Tree litter clean up is constant in these last few weeks. Whenever conditions allow we will clean up leaves and pine needles. The irrigation systems will be cleared of water using compressed air. Close attention is paid to this chore because an improperly blown out system will lead to broken pipes or irrigation heads in the spring. After the system is clear of water the pumps are dismantled for the winter.     

Old picture of SCC showing original bunker contour lines on 18
This time period on the golf course is ideal for drainage projects. Multiple drainage projects have already been accomplished and are still under way. At Stowe Mountain Club (SMC), three springs that popped up during the very wet June were fixed. Due to the mountainous terrain, springs will pop up over time as the groundwater moves through the underlying soil and exits at the surface. These spring diversion projects were done on eleven approach, sixteen approach, and eighteen white tee. A large drainage project was also completed between seven tee and 8 fairway. Due to the proximity to the dam, this project was contracted out and was supervised by an engineer. We will be sodding this area in the coming days so that it will be ready for play on opening day next year.
Same bunker today at SCC. Notice how bunker has grown in.

At Stowe Country Club (SCC), we are close to completing the bunker restoration on the eighteenth green. These bunkers had grown in over time and water would puddle in the bunkers after rain event. These bunkers were re-contoured to the original shape, drainage was installed, and new sand was added.
SMC, Applying Wintergreen to greens 

Finally, in preparation for the long winter we implement multiple preemptive measures to help the turfgrass survive.  If you ski during the early season you may notice that the greens at SMC are a vibrant green color. This is due to a paint that is applied to the putting surface for winter protection. This product is called Wintergreen and is a combination of a latex paint and anti-transpirant. The logic behind this application is that it protects the turf from severe wind damage, will prevent disease controls from degrading, and will help the soil warm up in the Spring due to the dark green color. After painting the greens we will lay a protective mat in areas that experienced prior winter damage. This mat is called Enkamat and has proven to prevent ice damage. We will then cover the entire green with a breathable cover on eight of the greens. These greens are covered because they get windblown and do not get the protective snow cover. Some of the same measures are implemented at SCC, but not all.

If you get a chance to enjoy touring the course this winter please stay off of the greens. Packing the snow on the green will cause icing which can kill turfgrass. We will rope off all the greens to identify the location of each green. Both golf maintenance teams hope you had an enjoyable 2015 golf season. We are already preparing for another great golf season in 2016.

Pure Stands

Maintaining pure stands of desirable turfgrass on our golf courses is the ultimate agronomic goal. The desirable grass on greens and fairways is creeping bentgrass.  On tees at Stowe Country Club (SCC) the desirable grass is creeping bentgrass. At Stowe Mountain Club (SMC), the tees are a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue. The rough at both golf courses is also the mixture of Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue. Finally, the desirable grass in the no-mow high grass areas that sit on the edge of golf holes is a blend of fine fescues. At SCC, while creeping bentgrass is most desirable, the fine fescues are considered desirable in all playing surfaces except greens.

The purpose of this goal is based on playability. When multiple different grasses or weeds populate a playing surface ball roll and shot making are both negatively impacted.  On greens, pure stands of creeping bentgrass is desirable because it will provide the smoothest ball roll. The creeping nature of the bentgrasses allows for the ability to mow at low heights of cut. The non desirable grass that we manage against is Poa annua or annual bluegrass. Poa annua is present in the greens at SCC but not at SMC. In the spring, the Poa annua will produce a seedhead which in turn makes for a very bumpy and irregular putting surface. Additionally, Poa annua is not as tolerant to stresses as bentgrass is and will decline in the summer and winter if conditions become severe.

On tees, the two golf courses differ in the desirable grasses but the purity of the turf is still important. Weeds such as crabgrass are kept at bay because of its coarse leaves that produce an uneven surface. Poa annua is considered a weed on both sets of tees because of it's clumpy growth habit. The interesting aspect of our tees is that while creeping bentgrass is the desirable grass at SCC it is considered a non-desirable grass at SMC. The bluegrass/fescue mixture was chosen for tees at SMC due to it's low maintenance costs and durability. Creeping bentgrass has invaded the teeing surface and is now considered a weed on tee surfaces. The bentgrass got into the tees during construction. The bentgrass seed is very small and subsequently was tracked onto the tees from the shoes of the construction workers and was in poorly cleaned drop seeders. As time progressed this aggressive grass has spread. Removal of this grass is needed because the blotchy nature of the bentgrass patches can be distracting to the eye and the feel underfoot is completely different from the bluegrass/fescue mix. Additionally, the agronomic requirements for bentgrass is different than bluegrass/fescue making proper management a challenge.

Pure Creeping Bentgrass #7 Fairway at SMC
On fairways, creeping bentgrass is the best possible playing surface. Kept weed and Poa annua free, a pure bentgrass fairway provides the best possible shot making experience.

In the rough areas, bluegrass/fescue mixtures are the most desirable grass stand because of the upright growth habit. This growth habit props the ball up providing a good lie. Broadleaf and crabgrass weeds can present a problem if the populations are too high causing difficult lies.  As with the tees at SMC, creeping bentgrass is considered a weed in rough areas at both golf courses. The reason for this is that when bentgrass is mowed at rough height of two and a half inches, the bentgrass becomes very puffy. Playing out of a bentgrass rough is difficult because the golf ball settles deep into the puffy bentgrass and the grass will grab the golf club causing errant shots.

In the no-mow areas the fescue grasses are the desirable stand of grass. The fescues have a growth habit that allows for the golf ball to be found and advanced even when the grass is left to grow high and seed out. These fescue areas provide a look to the golf course that is very aesthetically pleasing, especially when the grass turns brown. Weeds and pasture grasses must be kept out of these areas because finding and hitting a ball out of non-pure stands of fescue is very difficult resulting in errant shots and slow play.

The strategy to accomplish the goal of pure stands is varied. When it comes to growing pure creeping bentgrass there are some basic rules. The timing of aerification is very important. Both SCC and SMC greens were both recently aerated because late August and early September is the best time for this. The reason for this is that Poa annua will not germinate when the soil temperatures are warm. Aerating in April and October is avoided due to the cool soil temps and the possibility of increasing the Poa annua populations when the putting surface is opened up due to aeration. The aeration is necessary to maintain proper organic matter and thatch levels. When bentgrass gets too thatchy it can begin to thin and weeds will encroach into the stand. Specific growth regulators are used to promote bentgrass growth and discourage Poa annua growth.

Creeping Bentgrass Turning White On #12 Tees at SMC
Maintaining pure stands of Kentucky bluegrass/fescue is accomplished through the used of different herbicides. The broadleaved and crabgrass weeds can be easily controlled on an annual basis. The more difficult "weed" is creeping bentgrass. The same characteristics that make bentgrass a desirable grass in some areas is the same reason why it is difficult to remove from bluegrass/fescue stands. The aggressive and resilient characteristics of the bentgrass calls for multiple herbicide applications to remove this grass. Currently, at SMC we are in the process of removing the bentgrass from the back nine tees. The product used to remove bentgrass attacks the chlorophyll producing mechanisms of the plant causing it to turn white and eventually starve to death. Ultimately, to maintain a pure bluegrass/ fescue stand we need to produce healthy turf that will crowd out any undesirable weeds.

A Pasture Grass Plant Amongst a Pure Stand of Fescue
It is challenging to maintain pure fescue stands because of the fact we only mow these areas once per year and mowing itself is a method of weed control. The best way to maintain pure fescue is to burn these areas every year. Unfortunately, open field burning is banned in the Stowe, VT area. As a result of not being able to burn we apply herbicides that reduce the weed and pasture grass populations. Often times we will hand pull weeds if the populations are small.

Maintaining pure stands of desirable grasses is our goal. How we get there is multi faceted and often challenging. Once this goal is obtained the playability of the golf courses is improved and the enjoyment of the game is increased.


Stowe Country Club Update

The weather was once again the biggest challenge over the past month. The month of June brought over ten inches of rain to Stowe Country Club. In May, we battled the extreme lack of rain and now June was the complete opposite with record setting rain totals. This "new normal" of extreme weather patterns is reality and how we prepare to overcome these challenges is the difference between success and failure. The heavy rains were a good test for the new fairway and bunker drainage. These new drainage projects performed very good and we will continue to address other wet areas by installing more drainage.
Squeegeeing greens before Kirkwood Tournament

Kirkwood week was a challenge due to the rain. The days leading up to the event brought significant rainfall. The crew spent all day Wednesday before the tournament squeegeeing water off greens. Our sixth and final round of pushing water came as the sun went down. These efforts allowed for firmer greens for the first three days of the event. While Sunday ended in a rain-out, I am very proud of our crew's effort in preparing for the tournament.

The winterkill spots have grown in very well. The repair would have been much quicker if it was not for the excessive rain in June. These areas were damaged in the winter due to the fact that they puddle with water and then freeze. The nature of these areas to puddle made it difficult for the seed to establish because of being submerged under water and being constantly washed away. As the Kirkwood tournament approached the excessive squeegeeing damaged some of the seedlings setting the recovery back even farther. Mark Finch, golf course superintendent, did a superb job with the re-establishment of these areas. Mark worked diligently on a day to day and hour by hour basis for two months to get these damaged areas back to full turf coverage. Growing in turf on established golf greens is very difficult due to the ongoing maintenance of the surrounding turf and golfer traffic.
Root pruning at 15 tee

There were some recent changes to the fifteenth tee. The granite tee marker and bench were moved to make room for a root pruning operation. The close proximity of this tee box to the row of white pines negatively impacts the turf quality due to shade, needle shed, and root intrusion. The shallow rooting of white pines steals water and nutrients that is needed by the turf. Root pruning cuts the tree roots before they intrude into the teeing ground. We use the drainage trencher that was purchased last year to shear the roots. This process is an annual maintenance activity that will help the fifteenth tee recover faster from divoting and wear.

The big push on fairways has been to achieve one hundred percent full turf coverage. The crew has been diligently seeding and sodding thin areas. Most of the damage is from poor drainage. Low areas on three, five, and twelve have had chronic thin areas. This is unacceptable for myself and staff. We will continue to sod and reseed until we reach full turf coverage in fairways.
Construction of cart path on 4th hole. Notice old path routing
to the left of new mounding.

The revitalization of the fourth hole is nearly complete. Multiple issues impacting the quality of this par three have been addressed. The over planting of trees on the left and right side of the hole blocked the view of the entire green complex and limited the use of the teeing ground due to blocked shots. A dozen trees were removed over the past two winters opening up the view of the green with surrounding mountain ridge line and providing full use of the tee. The fescue grasses that existed under the trees have come back to life and now provide a stunning framework to this hole. The cart path running along the right side was damaged in multiple sections, was too narrow for maintenance vehicles, and was positioned in a way that impacted the look of the hole. The path was repositioned and is now hidden from view. Slight mounding was added to aid in blocking the view of the cart path. Fescue was then planted along the new path to add additional screening of the path. As the fescue grass matures on both sides of the hole it will provide a stunning look to this great par three. The path is scheduled to be paved this week. Finally, the bunkers have been aggressively edged to bring back the original shape and add a better visual from the tee box. New sand was then added to provide consistent shot making.

The Spring Hustle

   As May has come to a close, it is a good time to review the condition of the golf courses and discuss the projects that have occurred. The variability of the Vermont spring is always a challenge for golf course maintenance. While planning operations is essential, it is even more important to be able to react quickly to unexpected challenges.

    The biggest challenge this spring has been the dry weather. While recent rains have helped, early spring rain did not occur. The successful start up and operation of  both irrigation systems has been of extreme importance. As the turf completes its winter dormancy and begins to grow, the need for water is crucial to initiate growth. While it might be hard to believe, early irrigation in May is crucial for positive turf growth. Turf is grown in sand based systems that can lose moisture quickly. In addition, the closely mown turf is very susceptible to moisture loss. Compounding the challenge of irrigating in a dry spring, a deep frost layer caused an above average number of breaks in the irrigation system piping. The turf care teams have been hustling to repair these breaks so that irrigation can continue.

9th green at Stowe Country Club. Notice standing water in the
damaged areas.
    Stowe Mountain Club (SMC) and Stowe Country Club (SCC) courses were impacted by winterkill this spring. The two reasons for winterkill this year were crown hydration and wind desiccation.  Stowe Mountain Club received desiccation damage on the first tee and sixth green. Those two areas were impacted due to the exposure to the severe north winds in the winter. In my eleven years at Stowe Mountain Club, I have never seen these levels of wind desiccation damage. The damage occurs due to the severe winds simply drying out the above ground tissue of the turf. Most often the turf can withstand the winter winds, this year the extended cold weather coupled with high winds pushed the turf to the extreme limit.

    This spring both courses were impacted by crown hydration. Ideal turf growing conditions during spring thaw requires sufficient surface drainage preventing standing water. Crown hydration occurs when night time temperatures drop below freezing. The cells in the turf plant will explode due to the freezing standing water. The common theme with this type of damage occurs in chronic wet areas. Stowe Country Club experienced crown hydration on the greens of one, nine, thirteen, and eighteen. At Stowe Mountain Club the damage occurred in the low lying areas of the fairways. The worst of the damage at SMC was found on eight and twelve. The turf care teams have seeded the damaged areas and positive germination has occurred. Full coverage is expected by the end of June. In reviewing the best options for damage prevention in the future, the installation of sub surface drainage to these wet areas will significantly reduce the potential for crown hydration.

    Currently, the Stowe Mountain Club crew is wrapping up a couple drainage projects that were initiated in the late Fall of 2014. The hillside on the eleventh hole had drainage installed to firm up the slope due to springs emerging through the turf. These springs were captured and piped through the fairway. The fourteenth fairway had drainage installed to help prevent winter damage and help firm up the fairway after rain events. These projects are in the final stages of completion.

    At Stowe Country Club a large key culvert was replaced in the practice field. The old pipe was made of metal and was rusted out creating multiple sinkholes holes in the field. Coupled with this project is the addition of target greens in the practice field. When completed there will be four greens for players to hit at. These greens will replace the current poles. The design of these target greens is such that they are raised slightly above the field and the top surface will be mowed at a short height. This raised angle and low cut will provide a larger target for players to aim at and improve their game. Two of the four greens have been shaped and seeded. the other two are still under construction. As an added visual aesthetic, there will be pseudo bunkers placed in front of these greens. These features will look like bunkers but will be built in such a manner that mowing and picking balls will not be extra maintenance.

Wash pad at Stowe Country Club. Notice grass clipping
separation system in trough.
    Finally, a project was completed at the SCC maintenance facility that has revolutionized how the turf care team  conducts business on a daily basis. A new equipment wash pad was constructed away from the fourteenth tee box. Prior to this new wash area, all equipment was washed directly adjacent to the tee box. The subsequent activity and smell of decaying grass clipping significantly impacted the golfing experience. The new location is on the other side of the road out of site of the public and golfers. The construction of the wash area is such that grass clippings can be managed properly reducing the odor and the water runoff is treated using a natural buffering system. Maintaining great golfing conditions starts with effective, efficient, and safe working conditions at the maintenance facility.

    While the dry May weather has presented some challenges for the grounds staff, the dry firm conditions have been excellent for golf. I hope everyone has had the opportunity to get out and play. Our two golf courses are very close to rebounding from winter and will soon be in top form. Thank you for your patience and assistance while we continue to maintain and improve the golfing experience at Stowe Mountain Resort.

A Short Look Back and a Long Look Forward

The 2014 Golf Season was defined by the epic level of turf injury that occurred from the severe winter weather of the "Polar Vortex". Widespread turf loss was reported throughout the Northeast and Canada. Unfortunately, six greens at each of Stowe's courses experienced some type of turf loss. The areas that experienced the most damage were greens seven and thirteen at Stowe Mountain Club (SMC) and twelve and thirteen at Stowe Country Club (SCC). Fairway damage was also significant at each course. While many golf courses suffered for months with visible damage it was hard to find any damage on either of Stowe's courses by late June. The hard work and diligence of both crews  is commendable.

Late Fall of 2014 was a productive time at SCC with focus on drainage, infrastructure repair, and tree management. Most projects on the to-do list were completed with exception being the repair to the green-side bunker on the ninth hole. Completed was the repair to the bunker on one green and the fairway bunker on eighteen. Good sand and new drainage were installed, and the bunkers will play and look better in any type of weather. The re-contouring of the bunker on eighteen provides an important architectural feature-the hazard is now visible from the tee.

Re-contouring SCC 18 Fairway Bunker
Last season a tremendous amount of work went into improving the drainage at both courses. "Slit drainage" was installed in multiple areas. Slit drainage utilizes a unique two inch pipe that is back filled with straight sand. This design has proven its success on our clay based soils. The fairway drainage on nine and eighteen will now allow for firmer playing conditions especially during extended wet periods.
Installing Drainage SMC 14 Fairway
The unique location of the SMC course provides a challenge for turf survival due to the length and intensity of the winter weather. We are continually developing new methods and practices to prevent winter kill. Keeping the playing surfaces free of standing water is paramount to good in-season playing conditions and winter survival. At the SMC course, fairway drainage work was initiated on eleven, fourteen, and fifteen. Many of the new drainage lines were left open for the winter to assist in water movement during the spring thaw. These areas will be recovered before opening day. 

This winter we have been busy with the continued implementation of the SCC tree management program. For more information and to review this program, read the blog posted on 5/11/14. As it was last year, the focus this winter is on damaged trees that pose a safety hazard and trees that are overgrown and impacting play and the aesthetic of the course.

Golf is a game of options. Many of the trees found next to teeing grounds force the player to play only one type of shot. Opening up the tee shot to multiple options is a sign of a well designed golf course. For example, two white pines were recently removed from the ninth tee. These two white pines forced play to the left from the white and blue tee box. From the back tee, the tee shot was exceptionally narrow due to the overgrown canopy. Players now have the option to draw or fade the ball into the landing area. The next trees to be removed will be the white pines behind the sixteenth green. These four trees have been damaged by the violent storms that have rolled through the area in the past decade. The interior of the trees have signs of rot and are deemed hazardous. 

White Pine behind SCC 16 green with severe
structural damage and rot
From an architectural perspective the number sixteen green sits atop a beautiful rise that provides a panoramic view. It is a common misnomer that all golf greens need some type of backdrop for the purposes of "framing". While in some cases a frame provides focus and depth, in others an open sight-line behind a green can also provides an exciting challenge for golfers. In researching the course history the architect, William F. Mitchell, did not intend for this particular green complex to have a backdrop of trees. As a result, no replacement plan is in place once these damaged trees are cleared.

The Stowe Golf Agronomic Team is excited for the upcoming 2015 golf season and we hope the winter weather is as good to the golf courses as it has been to the skiers and riders. While we continue to enjoy the winter season, we will continue working hard at both Stowe Country Club and Stowe Mountain Club.