2016 Fall Recap

Wow! December has brought above average snowfall for Mount Mansfield this year. The skiing and riding is off to a great start. There are smiles all over the mountain. While the snow has everyone excited for early season fun on the slopes, it is a good time to take a look back at the 2016 golfing season and the activity of the grounds staff.

2016 Headline

The headline story for golf course conditions in Vermont and all of New England was the drought. Many golf courses suffered through the last part of the golf season with diminished to depleted irrigation water supplies. This lead to some turf loss due to extreme drought stress. Stowe Mountain Club (SMC) fared well with the drought. Our water supply comes from Peregrine Lake. Peregrine lake was designed for snow making reserves and holds 111 million gallons of water. For comparison, the golf course will only use 10 million on a very dry year. Coupled with a substantial reserve of water, the irrigation system was designed to cover all playing surfaces from the cart path to the edge of the fescue grass. While Stowe Mountain Club is in a good position to handle drought conditions, the situation at Stowe Country Club (SCC) is much different.

SCC Pond Drained and Ready For Winter Dredging
The pond on the ninth hole is the irrigation water source at SCC. This pond has a holding capacity of 1 million gallons. This size pond is a very small storage capacity for a golf course. What makes the pond usable is the fact that it is fed by a stream that enters the property from the first hole. The issue that occurs in the late summer is that the stream dries up and the pond cannot be recharged. This year we began rationing water in late August and continued through the dry September with minimal capacity to irrigate. Thanks to the hard work of Mark Finch and Matt Jung we hung on during these difficult times and the conditions did not suffer greatly. We did have to suspend the washing of equipment in mid-September because the equipment wash pad is fed by irrigation water. This became an operational challenge but we decided it was necessary to conserve the little water that was left in the pond for turf health.  

Strides are being made to eliminate this unfavorable scenario in the future. One very important water conservation tool installed this summer was the replacement of the old irrigation controllers (See prior blog post). The new controllers with centralized control allowed for precise programing of nightly irrigation cycles. This new system ensures very little waste in irrigation water and reduces the overall electrical consumption of the pump station. This winter we will be dredging the pond to regain water storage capacity. The stream that feeds the pond carries sediment that overtime has filled in the pond. The contractor will do this work in late winter to minimize the damage to the golf course. Lastly, we are designing a pumping system that will utilize the water from the West Branch of the Little River that runs along the fourteenth hole. This secondary water source will fill the irrigation pond when the feeder stream dries up. The pumping capacity of this pump is low enough to have no impact on the health of the river. These investments will assist us with providing great golf course conditions while using the latest technologies to conserve and use the water wisely.

Fall Projects

The fall is a great time to do small construction projects on the golf course. By this time of year  the grass has slowed so that mowing frequency has been reduced which frees up labor to be allocated to such projects. The bonus period for construction on the course occurs in November. By this time, the courses have closed and we have completed most of the winterization projects that are crucial for turf survival. November can be hit and miss when it comes to favorable working weather. This year the November weather gave us a small window to be productive on the golf courses.

SMC Hole 7 Curb Removal
13 Bunker Before
The difference in elevation between the two golf courses was very evident this fall. The weather turned cold and snowy much sooner at SMC than at SCC. As an early winter was setting in at SMC a project we were able to complete was the removal of the curb at the seventh tee. The curb was originally installed to manage cart traffic in order to minimize excessive wear to the turf. As time progressed it became clear that this curb was impacting play in a negative way. The ball from a long left tee shot on the sixth hole would end up catching this curb and rolling all the way to the eighth hole. While an errant shot should not be rewarded, a player should have the opportunity to find the ball and attempt a recovery shot. By removing the curb, a ball will now simply roll off the path onto the seventh tee surrounds providing a player with a manageable recovery opportunity.

13 Bunker During
With the weather window staying open for longer at SCC we initiated three projects. A drain line was installed at the practice facility to alleviate various standing water issues. This drainage project fixed a wet area near the closet target green from the upper tee. On this same pipe we connected a line that will capture water from Sinclair Road that would puddle near the newly paved parking lot. This was not a glamorous project but it was necessary to continue to improve our great practice facility. A second drainage project occurred at the fifth hole approach. A chronic wet area existed below the right green-side bunker. A drain line was installed to dry this area and various drainage laterals were installed to provide additional drainage in the approach. The final project was to repair the right side bunker at the thirteenth green. This bunker was one of the bunkers that puddled for a long period after a rain storm. Additionally, the size of the bunker had shrunk over time. To repair this bunker we installed a center drain line, expanded the contour lines, and added better performing bunker sand. This bunker repair is the continuation of our overall goal to provide great playing surfaces continuously across the entire golf course in all weather conditions.

13 Bunker Final
We look forward to presenting these improvements to the players this spring. Until then, enjoy this good old fashion winter weather!