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.