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