2017 In Review

Typical storm front this spring/early summer headed for Stowe!
The 2017 golf season did not disappoint with any lack of storyline. When reviewing a golf season in the northeast the weather will always be the main topic. The months of May, June and July brought copious amounts of rain. This period set records with rainfall amounts and most continuous days with rainfall. The total rainfall for this three month period was 25 inches. Compare that number to the annual average rainfall in Vermont of 36 inches and you realize the abnormality. While rain is not good for playing golf, working in it is equally not good. I applaud the agronomic teams for pushing through all those days working in the rain. It became the norm to put your raingear on when leaving the house in the early morning and still have it on arriving home from work. Let's just say Gore-Tex and rubber boots were your friend!

Moving into late summer we experienced some great weather. When fall arrived it was the complete opposite of the spring. The fall period set a new record for the most continuous days without rainfall. It was great golfing and working weather. While drainage systems were important in the spring, in the fall the irrigation system became a crucial tool for great conditions.

White pine blow down next to 12 green
As to not disappoint before year end, Mother Nature unleashed a powerful windstorm on October 31st that caused significant damage in Stowe and surrounding towns. Stowe Mountain Club received very little damage from the storm. At Stowe Country Club it was another story. Many mature pine trees were broken in half and uprooted. Multiple pines lost large limbs and there was a massive amounts of tree litter that fell everywhere. There is no doubt we will be cleaning up from this storm well into the spring of next year.  I've been working on golf courses for close to 30 years and Mother Nature continues to be the one true challenge year after year. There are some years when she plays nice but there are just as many when she lets everyone know who is in charge.

Mark Finch, SCC Superintendent, dormant seeding greens
Even with the wet start both Stowe Country Club and Stowe Mountain Club continued to improve the turf quality and overall playability of the golf courses. It is our goal to always improve and never settle for average. I have always believed in the saying that "good is the enemy of great" and the agronomic team operates in such a way. Each golf course continues to improve by adhering to solid agronomic practices. The ongoing effort to topdress and verticut greens on a regular basis is crucial to providing smooth putting surfaces. Proper aerification practices continue to firm up the playing surface by removing thatch. Turf health is maintained through the use of best available nutrition and pest control products. One agronomic focus that continues at Stowe Mountain Club and Stowe Country Club is the push to grow and promote our creeping bentgrass populations. Creeping bentgrass provides a great playing surface on the greens and fairways. At SMC it is a matter of maintaining the existing bentgrass while at SCC it is about promoting bentgrass. A new process was initiated at SCC this fall to promote bentgrass on the greens. After the course closed for the year the greens were aerated with an eight inch deep solid tine then core aerated with a traditional 3/8 inch hollow tine followed by a topdressing with sand. After this process was complete a specialized seeder planted a high quality creeping bentgrass seed. This type of seeding is referred to as "dormant" seeding. The process involves the seed overwintering as seed and then germinating in the spring when conditions become conducive to growth. This agronomic practice will increase the bentgrass populations on the greens at SCC leading to a better putting surface in the long term.

Sean Hanley laser grading 15 tee tops
At Stowe Country Club, there were multiple projects that occurred this year. The biggest was the renovation of the fifteenth tee complex. This area had been overrun with white pine trees and the teeing surface was mounded due to years of divot mix accumulation. While local and regional contractors were used on the job much of the work was done by the SCC team. Myself, Mark Finch, and crew members worked tirelessly to get this job done on time for the Kirkwood tournament. Much of the work was done in ankle deep mud during the pouring rain. This in-house work included irrigation/drainage installation, sodding, cart path preparation, and finish detail work. In-house construction projects are difficult because of the effort needed to simultaneously stay on top of the routine course maintenance work. We did also rely on the expertise of two regional golf course contractors. NMP Golf  Construction provided a shaper to do the major site work. A good "shaper" is the key to any successful golf construction job. These bulldozer operators have the eye for how a golf hole should look and play. Sean Hanley from On-Course Golf came in for the final laser grading of the tee surfaces. Sean is the contractor that built our upper driving range tee. This new tee and fourteenth green surround has received much praise from the players. As the area matures it will become an even better playing experience. Thanks to all involved in a great project.

Renovation of 15 bunker
Other projects at SCC included the renovation of the second and fifteenth bunkers, four bunkers in total. These projects were completed by the SCC crew. It has been a priority in recent years to renovate a few bunkers every year. The reason for these renovations include poor drainage, continued washout of bunker sand, and loss of contours due to time.  The renovation process involves establishing new outside contour lines, removing old sand, shaping out new bunker floor contours, installing drainage if needed, and  adding new sand that is specified for bunkers. Additional projects included a new cart path on the fifteenth hole that complemented the renovation of the tee and repairing the cart path around the practice green at the clubhouse. The clubhouse landscaping was renovated. Much of the landscaping lost all interest due to over grown lilac trees. Finally, the irrigation pond was dredged.

Spectacular course conditions at SMC
While SMC was not as active with projects, the season was defined by superb conditions. The agronomic team headed by assistant superintendent Zach Fleeger pushed for championship conditions on a daily basis. We heard great comments from the members and players all season. The winter brush cutting done by Zach and fellow assistant Jerry Elliott on the fourteenth and third hole were well received and gave these two holes a fresh new look and feel. Look for more of this great work during the upcoming winter.

As we move into the winter season there are some great projects we plan to accomplish that will continue to improve the golfing experience at both Stowe Mountain Club and Stowe Country Club. I will update the blog through the winter to discuss these projects. Be sure to enter your email on the blog homepage for up to date blog posts. Thanks to all who made the 2017 a successful year on the golf course. All the best to everyone during this holiday season. See you on the slopes or someplace warm playing some golf!

Winter Update

Turf Health
As winter fades away and spring arrives the agronomic team is always focused on how well the golf course turf has survived the harsh winter weather. You may be surprised to learn that this winter was one of the warmest on record. It is hard to believe because December was exceptionally snowy, and showed signs of a long winter ahead, but January ended up having little snowfall and warmer temperatures. February had some snowy weather but was also fairly mild. Now March has been frigid and snowy.

The early snow was good for the turf. Snow provides a layer of protection that allows the turf to breathe. The biggest obstacle to winter turf survival is ice formation. While snow allows for air exchange, the ice layer seals off any ability for the turf to breathe which smothers and kills the turf. There are many variables when it comes to winterkill but the biggest variable is  length of ice cover. The January weather did bring some rain and thaw creating ice. Stowe Country Club (SCC), being at a lower elevation, experienced greater thaws than Stowe Mountain Club (SMC). The eventual total loss of ice and snow due to these thaws has us believing winter damage at SCC will be minimal. SMC has had snow cover on most of the course since late November. The winter thaws produced some melt which created ice under the snow. This scenario provides a higher chance of damage. It is still too early to know with any certainty what we will look like in the spring. The creeping bentgrass varieties at SMC are tolerant of some ice cover. We will have a clearer picture at SMC as April arrives. To assist with survival the team will begin to remove snow from greens in the upcoming weeks. 

SMC Work
Hole 14 rock feature being exposed
Hole 14 brush pile ready to burn
This winter the team focused on two projects that will improve the playing experience. On the fourteenth hole underbrush to the left of the fairway landing area was cleared. There is a large outcropping of rock that was not exposed when the trees leafed out. Opening this area up will give the golfer a feel of width and provide a stunning visual of the beautiful rock formation. One of the goals is to expose and accentuate the natural features and great vistas that SMC golf course property provides. 

On the third hole, focus was placed on pushing back the tree line to the right of the teeing area. These trees and brush were growing in on the golf hole pushing the payers to the left and blocking sight lines to the right side of the fairway. With this area now clear, the player can see the whole fairway and have a visual on balls that land just of the fairway. The overall feeling on the third tee will be much less restrictive and provide a better experience. 

This hard work was conducted by assistant superintendents Zach Fleeger and Jerry Elliot. Winter brush and tree clearing is essential to the long term sustainability of the golfing experience at SMC. The golf course was built throughout a young forest and the perimeter continues to aggressively grow in on the course. Without this work our unique and breathtaking vistas will begin to disappear and the turf quality will suffer from shading and restricted air flow. Winter is the best time to conduct this work, but access is a real challenge. Zach and Jerry spent much of the winter hiking out to these areas pulling a sled full of logging gear. With a thermos full of coffee they would spend the day working hard cutting brush and felling trees, then burning what they cut. This is not easy work in the deep snow on a windy mountain golf course. The motivation for us to initiate this difficult work is knowing we are preserving the beauty of  Stowe Mountain Club golf course for our members and guests to enjoy.  

SCC Work
Olsen House locker room finished product
There was a big effort put forth this winter inside the Olsen house. The Olsen house is the single family house set within the maintenance facility compound. It was purchased fifteen years ago when it went up for sale for the purpose of protecting the future integrity of the golf maintenance compound. Without this property the maintenance operation is severely restricted. With the purchase of the house came the ability for the grounds crew to have running water, a bathroom, and a clean place for lunch. Prior to the house the crew ate lunch in the equipment repair shop that is attached to the red barn. While the addition of the house was a step forward, it is still an old house meant to be lived in. It was not set up to be a space for thirteen grown men to work out of. Our work is dirty. We spend long hours with machinery, maintaining turf, moving soil, cutting brush, etc. The set up of the house is far from ideal for these duties. To add to this, no major renovation has ever been done. To cover up the years of grime every square inch of wall space was painted, areas of floor that get heavy use were painted with grey industrial floor paint, and the upstairs carpet was removed and a laminate floor was installed. The work was done on a small budget and meant to be a quick, inexpensive way to make the space more efficient and demonstrate a professional work space. All of this work was done by our team and while it helped create a sense of pride, it is by no means a permanent solution.

Hole 1 Spruce tree removed (Notice die-back on top)
Hole 16 trees removed (Notice top die-back and thinning)
Great on-course work was also conducted this winter. When there was good snow cover, we ventured out on the course with our tractor that is outfitted with tire chains to continue the important tree removal program. The goal is to remove trees that are diseased or damaged, block vistas, create excessive man hours to clean up debris, negatively impact turf quality, or negatively impact shot quality and choice. This year we removed diseased trees on the first tee and sixteenth rough. Additionally, three large white pines were removed next to the 8th tee. On top of the issues described above, these trees were over gown and impeding any future renovation of the tee. Furthermore, they blocked a great vista of the Worcester Range ridge line from the third tee. 

Two significant projects are currently under way and are scheduled to be substantially complete by opening day. The irrigation pond was dredged to increase storage capacity. The pond had a significant amount of silt accumulation due to the feeder stream dumping sediments into it. The warm winter weather forced our initial plan to be amended. Initially, the sediment was to be hauled off the golf course via an ice road across the first fairway. The ice road is created by packing the snow then plowing it for a few weeks. With the mild winter there was no snow to create the road. When we did get snow, by the time the road was ready it melted due to a thaw. The amended plan was to remove the sediment and stockpile it in between the first and ninth hole. This area of un-mown turf had little aesthetic quality. The sediment will be allowed to dry, shaped out with a bulldozer, and seeded to a good quality seed mix.

The second project is focused on the fourteenth green and fifteenth tee area. This area has been struggling for years because of the row of white pine trees growing close to the green and tee. These trees were planted to provide a border to the Village Green condominiums. At this point in time the pines have grown to a size that they negatively impact the golf course. The only option was their removal. With the pine trees gone, the fifteenth tee can be renovated. The turf on the tee has always struggled due to the close proximity of the trees. In addition, the tee suffers from mounding. This mounding is common in old par three tees because of years of divot mix building up in the middle of the tee. The new tee will have a sand based rootzone and be professionally leveled to provide an exceptional playing experience. The area behind the fourteenth green that was populated by the trees will be filled with dirt and a rolling mound will be installed. Fescue grass will be seeded on the mounds providing a great visual from the approach shot. While the new open look will be different it is the best decision for the long term enjoyment of these two golf holes.

With snow still on the ground, we are preparing for the first window of opportunity to complete these projects at both SMC and SCC. The entire agronomic team looks forward to presenting the final products to the players when the golf season arrives.