Course Notes, 3/21/2021

It has been great to see some of you celebrate the Vernal Equinox (first day of Spring!) by enjoying your golf course here at Elcona. What a beautiful stretch of weather we have for late March golf. Our staff has done a wonderful job cleaning up all the winter sticks and debris from the hellacious ice storm we endured on New Year’s Day, and we have turned our attention to preparing turf and landscape areas for the 2021 golf season.

One question I get a lot is how often are you mowing greens and other playing surfaces? The simple answer is “as needed”. Nighttime temperatures are dipping into the upper 20’s still, and combined with soil temperatures in the upper 30’s/low 40’s, growth is quite slow this time of year. Playing surfaces will be mowed or rolled as the weather and growth dictates, with increased frequencies as April progresses. More than likely, we will be rolling more often than mowing to smooth the green surfaces for play while the grass is quite slow to grow.

Other practices, such as raking bunkers, will be done on an as needed basis. The USGA again has produced a very nice video explaining springtime maintenance, which you can watch here. As I mentioned in my last post, bunker sand will be compacted as staff and schedule allow. The playability of the bunkers is one of our top priorities this season.

I am also excited to welcome back our seasonal employees beginning the first week of April as well! Their return is based on historical dates that have been determined by weather as well as budgetary guidelines set for the year. As it has been the case over the years, we anticipate being fully staffed by Memorial Day. Most of our 2020 staff will be returning, with a couple of new faces being added as well.

As March winds down, you will also notice more roping out on the golf course, for a couple good reasons. Some of the sod installed last fall for the Golf Course Improvement Project has not quite rooted fully yet, and is not ready for play. Most of this sod is located on holes 1 and 2, which were the last areas of the project. All of the new approach and fairway sod areas will be subject to aerifying, rolling, and topdressing to further smooth them out over the next few weeks. Some of the ground settling around drains are roped off for your safety, and Golf Creations will be out to repair these areas the first week of April. Additional roping will also be incorporated this year to increase the playability of the rough around greens, such as around 1 green. Reducing or eliminating cart traffic will stand the turf up much better, allowing for a nicer lie should you find yourself in the rough.

I would also like to remind everyone of some simple, but often overlooked courtesies when it comes to driving golf carts. Courtesies that should be followed all year and especially during the stressful times include: parking 30 feet away from greens and tees, not driving carts where they don’t belong (next to greens/tees and in the tall grass areas), and carefully applying the brakes so that the tires do not lock up and leave skid marks on the paths and turf. All of these help make the rough in these areas much more playable (and should be common sense) but you would be amazed at how many times I witness all of these on a daily basis. Please help our staff take care of your golf course by following these simple courtesies.

One big spring time project we have started is filling in the old practice bunker and drainage pit behind it to further expand the practice tee to the east. We have hauled in over 75 loads of fill dirt from the north end of the property to accomplish this. Over the next few weeks as the schedule and staffing allows, we will be finalizing the grade and plant new bentgrass seed. My goal is to have this tee ready for use in late June or early July.

Finally, we have a few events coming up out the course that you need to be aware of. We will be turning on our irrigation system this Tuesday, March 23, and they may be a few sprinklers running here and there as we bleed all the air our of the piping. We will do our very best to work around any play on the course but you may encounter a sprinkler running here and there. Our staff will also be out applying a fertilizer and crabgrass preventative to the roughs. This time of year, through mid April, is the best time to be applying this control for both the golf course and your lawn as well for a healthy stand of turf all summer long.

Greens aerification will take place Monday, April 5th. We again will be utilizing a small solid tine to incorporate sand into the soil, increase air and water flow into the rootzone, and relieve compaction. Fairway aerification will take place throughout the week of April 5th, again using solid tines. We will be core aerifying tees Monday, April 12th. All of these dates are weather permitting, and any changes to this schedule will be communicated to you via our blog.

As always, if you have any questions related to the golf course, please reach out to me at ryan@elconacc.com. Have a great week and I hope to see you out on the golf course!

Ryan

Course Notes, 3/8/2021

With the warmer temperatures here for a few days this week, many of you have checked in to see what the availability of the golf course is. The answer Tom and I always give is when proper turf and soil conditions allow, we will immediately open. We do our very best to get you out enjoying your golf course as soon as we can while preventing damage to the course that lasts well into the golf season. I understand that other courses are opening in our area, but I can only speak for the turf and soil conditions that we manage here at Elcona. Currently, numerous greens, tees, fairway areas, and bunkers still have much frost in the ground, and we will not be opening this week for play. I will further explain why below.

Tom and I enjoy walking the course in the winter to exercise and discuss any needs of the course. It is a walk that I always enjoy because it gives us a chance to properly assess the conditions and plan any changes or adjustments necessary for the upcoming season. Yesterday was one such walk. Below is are a couple videos I shot on 13 green and the new bunker next to 14 green, demonstrating how shallow the soil has thawed out, even in full sun and the warmth we have experienced in the last 10 days.

The winter of 2020-21 was one that we haven’t seen in a few years: We actually had what we Northern Hoosiers call a winter! Very cold temperatures with bare ground in December, one hellacious ice storm on New Year’s Day, followed by many days of snowfall on top. Before warmer weather arrived a week ago, the frost layer in the soil was about 8-12″ deep on average, and our snowpack reached 20″ here. Melting and thawing this out takes a lot of time, especially in shaded areas. Nighttime temperatures below freezing only delay the thaw out further by refreezing what melted during the day.

Bowser demonstrating snow and frozen soil at hole 7 on Sunday. Shade prolongs thawing out of the golf course!

Why is this so important for us to decide when to open? One simple reason is for playability. We cannot get a cup cutter in the ground to move hole locations, and you certainly would not like the feeling when your wedge impacts a frozen area of sand hitting out of a bunker, although Tom may like the possibility of increased wedge sales. Another important reason is root shear. Increased cart and foot traffic on turf that has thawed near the surface but is still frozen below can rip roots to quite shallow depths, and while the damage may not be evident immediately, the impact of opening too early can last well into the meat of the golf season. The USGA Green Section has an awesome video demonstrating root shear below.

So while temperatures feel like later April, soil conditions are fall behind. This week’s temperature forecast and the good chance of an all day soaking warm rain on Thursday will greatly help thaw out the remaining frost and help us get open, as weird as that sounds. I appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter. I would like nothing more than to see everyone out at Elcona, we will just have to wait a bit longer.

While we wait out the frozen tundra, the staff and I do have areas where we can work without causing damage. Stick and winter clean up is ongoing, and we were able to grind all of our tree stumps from this winter’s tree work. Below is a slo-mo video of our grinder in action. We them remove the grindings and put them in our compost pile, where in 3-4 years they will turn into valuable soil for other projects on the golf course.

All observations are that the golf course wintered very well. One nice change I noticed is our bunkers. Normally, it would take a week or so to repair all of the sand and soil washouts from winter’s precipitation, however the above picture shows the worst washout on the course. I am so thankful for all of your support to get the Golf Course Improvement Project approved and completed last year, and I cannot wait for all of you to experience the fruits of your investment into Elcona.

When we do open, you will be able to play out of all newly sodded areas and bunkers, except where it is painted or roped off. Golf Creations will be coming back out in a couple weeks to perform some “punchlist” items left over from the project, like repairing some settling around drains and one small liner breach on 7 fairway. These areas will be marked as Ground Under Repair for your safety. We do also have fairway sodded areas that need additional time to heal in, such as the area in front of 14 green pictured above. These will be aerified, topdressed, and overseeded to heal in as quickly as possible.

Also, it is important to understand that it will take a few months for us to achieve the sand consistency you expect here at Elcona. New bunker sand can be quite fluffy when first installed, and the excess snow fall received in February was a great first step in packing the sand down. We will be out as much as possible compacting the sand down using our bunker rake tires, as well as wetting down the sand and using a plate compactor. We also purchased newer rake attachments that the Better Billy folks recommend for sand maintenance that will help us achieve the end goal for playability. But all of this will take time. Please bear with us as we find the best combination of techniques to manage your new bunkers, as it will take some time.

If you have any questions, please reach out to me at ryan@elconacc.com. I again appreciate your patience and understanding as we prepare for the 2021 golf season to begin. Have a great week and stay tuned!

Ryan