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.