Thursday, September 20, 2018

Intermediates and Rough Surrounds

The Greens Committee and I have been fielding significant questions and concerns from Longue Vue members regarding the intermediate grass (i.e. the first cut and surrounding rough) throughout the property.  Multiple factors have contributed to the decline and turf loss that is evident in this area of the course, symptoms of which began to arise after Labor Day.  The following is my assessment of what has transpired, and my plan of action to address and remedy these conditions moving forward.
The biggest contribution to the decline was a severe outbreak of Gray Leaf Spot on our Ryegrass population within the intermediates.  Gray Leaf Spot is a devastating disease on Perennial Ryegrass during periods of prolonged excessive heat (82-90+), humidity and excessive rainfall.  The disease pathogen is rapid and can easily spread with rain, wind and mechanical traffic.  Although preventive measures were utilized throughout the season with our chemical program (intermediates are included in fairway sprays), the rainy weather leading into the 5 day stretch of heat (above 90) and humidity caused an outbreak.  Once identified, I applied a curative application to the affected areas in hopes of limiting the severity of outbreak, unfortunately, the conditions continued and the rainfall following the remnants of Gordon halting the damage.

However, Gray Leaf Spot is not the only contributing factor to the decline.  No one reading this blog is a stranger to the weather experienced over the region this season.  The record-breaking rainfall has hindered our operations, practices and turf health.  In a perfect world, we are able to manage the water input to promote root growth because a plant under stress will send its roots towards oxygen and water.  The saturated conditions that have prevailed during large stretches of this summer have left the plant suffocating and not growing in is natural healthy state.  Then when you flip the switch and go from those saturated conditions to dry/high heat/humid conditions on grass that is already stressed, only the strongest survive.  The weakest in our case was the Poa.

I'll be completely honest in stating that the stretch of weather around Labor Day and the week that followed was my toughest from a water management standpoint since starting at Longue Vue.  Knowing that our rooting was compromised, it was imperative that we didn't overwater our playing surfaces in efforts to reduce the chance of disease outbreaks such as pythium, brown patch and wet wilt.  With the way our irrigation is setup, the intermediates will only receive true coverage if we water fairways in combination with the rough.  During that stretch, I didn't water fairways at night for 5 days, simply relied on syringing via handwatering or irrigation during the day for playabilty and disease prevention.  In return, much of the poa population in the intermediates (and rough for that matter) suffered.

So there are the causes; disease and the season's weather finally caught up with us.  This is extremely disappointing given the significant progress we had made in developing intermediates since my arrival.  Although inheriting many varieties, we have made great strides in 5 years while developing uniformity, playability and creating aesthetic value.  Outside of purchasing the proper machine to mow and developing a preventive chemical program towards survival and plant health, we simply maintained the multiple varieties (Poa, Bentgrass, Ryegrass and Kentucky Bluegrass) as they existed...the hand we were dealt so to speak.  We did address the uniformity and conditions around greens with the collar/intermediate project by installing low mow bluegrass.  In return, prior to this year we haven't experienced any issues with our intermediates, maybe a few pockets here and there but overall they had remained solid.
Which brings us to recovery.  Regardless of whether this year's weather was a fluke or not, we must do our best to prevent this turf loss from reoccurring.  I believe the answer is to introduce stronger varieties to our intermediates--most notably, the same varieties of Bluegrass that were in the sod purchased for the collar/intermediate project back in year one.  The above picture clearly shows the difference and survival comparison to our existing species.  After a little research, I was able to identify the varieties used and located a blend being sold containing a majority of those in the sod.  In addition to the Bluegrass, a percentage of Tall Fescue will also be added to aid in drought and traffic tolerance.  Work began on Tuesday afternoon with the process of aerifying, broadcast spreading and slit seeding all of the intermediates and surrounding affected areas.  Unfortunately, Bluegrass has a slow germination rate and will take up to 21-28 days to show signs of life.  Therefore, I ask for your patience and try to focus on the big (long term) picture.

In the meantime, it is important despite frustrations that we work together to monitor traffic and play within our intermediates over the next week to 10 days till the seed has established in the soil.  We will keep areas marked and will establish entry and exit points on each fairway.  When playing the hole, I ask that you try to remain and keep cart traffic in the fairway without crossing intermediates.  As we get further along in the process, these restrictions or requests will be lifted.  The main reasoning behind this request is to prevent any seed from making its way onto the fairways.  We spent the first three years eradicating Ryegrass from our fairways with great success and any efforts to prevent contaminating them with a different species will go a long way.  These areas will also be kept moist via handwatering, so please watch for the staff and realize that any cart traffic could lead to rutting.

Outside of intermediates, we will include focus on areas of the rough that have also declined over the recent weeks due to the above mentioned causes.  In closing, I thank you for your continued support, patience and cooperation during a trying and frustrating year.  Every day has seemed to have it's new challenges and struggles, I share your frustrations towards a course we mutually admire and expect only the best when it comes to conditions.  Rest assured, I will continue to address any issues that arise and continue to build towards the future.

As I tell my staff; "We use today to improve on yesterday and build for tomorrow".


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Golf Course Update


Dear Members,


I know that it has been quite sometime between posts and I apologize for that; look for a season recap and fall project posts to start in the upcoming weeks in which I'll also touch on why such a delay in posts.  In meantime, I thought it would be a good idea to update everyone on the state of the course following the remnants of Gordon over the past few days and the game plan for the week.

Needless to say; unless you are a stranger to the region, Pittsburgh and Western Pa received record breaking rainfall over a 72 hour stretch that could even be started 12 hours earlier when the cold front came through this past Thursday dropping .75 inches of rain in a short 30 minute window.  Fast forward 4 days and the property received 6+ inches of rain, including setting the 2nd all time recorded amount of rainfall on Sunday with 3.5 inches.  So where does this leave us? How's the course?


As expected, the course is extremely saturated....we reached field capacity on Saturday morning, which the end result called for a rain shortened Jim Henry.  The continued soaking rain over the next couple of days resulted in standing water and runoff (streams) throughout the property that I personally haven't experienced in my tenure here.  The good news is that we received very little damage in the form of landslides on the property.  The Driving Range tee held up strong and even the drainage on 13 that gave so many problems during our spring rains, handled it like a champ. 




        


Every bunker on the course washed and majority of them still had significant water in them as of Tuesday morning. 


The tree to the left of the fairway on #13 was the only "in-play" tree damage experienced.  A few trees within the wood-lines uprooted as well.

 

Quite a bit of algae formed in lows and runoff points of our putting greens along with other playing surfaces.

So.....what's the gameplan?  And I say this, because our entire week will not be the normal practices that you have grown accustom to.  Because we are so saturated, any damage that could occur would be self inflicted and not to mention the stress being put on a wet, tired plant.

On Monday, we spent the majority of the day (in and out of the rain) addressing the clubhouse and surround grounds.  Today was dictated to restoring the bunkers since the rain has finally stopped.  We began working on the down tree on 13 by cutting up and hauling off by hand due to the limited ability to access with out causing damage with equipment.  The tree on #13 will be a work in progress throughout the week as conditions become more favorable.  We spiked, lightly topdressed and applied ecolite to the areas of algae that had formed.  Finally, we needle tined and topdressed a section of the putting green that has showed signs on thinning.

Moving forward over the remainder of the week, we will place our first cut on greens tomorrow (Wednesday) in three days and start to address the amount of debris down on the course.  All other playing surfaces will be monitored and cuts will follow once deemed dry enough without posing any harm.  With the forecast (including clouds and chances of additional rain), it is highly unlikely that we will mow rough with our machines this week, instead we will address key in play areas via pushmow.  If all stars align and we don't receive any additional rain, I'm hopeful we could cut a few passes around the fairways prior to the weekend if not more.

I ask for you patience during this week and ongoing weather saga that we have experienced.  Like most Superintendents in the region, everyday poses new challenges and our number 1 mindset is the long term health and product that we provide to our memberships.  As always, we will do our best to provide the product that each and everyone of you has grown accustom too!

As for Cart Status over the upcoming days, I am hopeful that we can start Cart Path Only on Wednesday around lunch with strict restrictions via signs, stakes and rope-lines.  This will likely continue for Thursday as well.  With limited sunshine and shorter days, it is going to take awhile for the property to dry out and I hope that all those using carts over the upcoming days use caution and obey these guides to help prevent any long term damage while protecting our asset. 
As always, Thank you for your cooperation and continued support!







Sunday, April 8, 2018

Aerification Update

Dear Members,


First and Foremost, Happy Master's Sunday!  Seeing the wet and cooler conditions in Augusta over the weekend is definitely out of the norm but seems to be the recurring nightmare in Pittsburgh.  The continued unseasonable weather patterns is forcing some changes (postponing) of aerification week that is scheduled to start tomorrow (Mon 4/9).  The combination of rain, snow, low day temps and below freezing temps over the next few days will be problematic towards completing the process in a timely fashion forcing the below alterations towards spring aerification.

Greens

Tuesday (4/10) and Wednesday (4/11) our Contractor will be here to attempt deep-tinning greens because of no alternate dates.  The course will remain open (weather permitting).  For the remainder of the week, the holes will be exposed but the surfaces will be rolled and mowed to provide the best conditions possible. 


Monday (4/16) and Tuesday (4/17) our bi-annual process on green will commence.  The jury is still out on whether we will pull a core or not.  Using a solid tine will be considered if conditions aren't favorable.  As of know, the weather looks promising as warmer temperatures return this upcoming weekend. The course will be open on Wednesday (4/18).




Fairways/Tees/Approaches

Monday (4/23) and Tuesday (4/24) will become the new dates to address these areas.  Unfortunately, these two dates are the only remaining options this Spring from our contractor to pull a core on fairways.  Since we missed last Fall due to weather, I'm optimistic that we can make this happen with only one conflict on the calendar.  While the contractor is working on fairways, the staff will complete the normal process on tees and approaches.  The course will be open on Wednesday (4/25).


I apologize for the inconvenience and rest assured that we are chomping at the bit to get the season going as much as you are.  I truly feel that considering the circumstances this is the best alternative to complete all tasks while providing limited disruption to being open for play.  Thank you for your continued support and understanding of the necessity to complete this process that serves as the foundation towards the season and moving forward. 




Stay tuned for updates or any additional changes.  Enjoy the corner and one of the best back 9s in tournament golf!




Fairways and Dreams,
Josh A. Saunders

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Driving Range Update


Here is a picture update of the progress over the past ten days:


Work began by stripping the sod of existing tee complex.


The largest section of prep work was on the far right side. 



As this is the section that is being raised to accommodate the extension.


 
It took about 3 full days to bring in all the material.  We used the dirt developed from the Maintenance Facility project.


Once the right side began to take shape, stakes were placed to outline the new tee.


 
A view from the main drive to show the amount of material that was brought in.


Picture taken from dead center of the tee on the far right side.



Jim Nagle (our architect) was on property this past Monday to review progress and to address a few tweaks.


Finally on Monday afternoon, the existing putting green and surrounding area was plotted to aid in design purposes of our new putting green.

The overall project remains on schedule.  The remainder of the week will be used to create the cavity of the tee.  Next week, drainage and irrigation will be installed and we should be at the point of adding tee mix towards the end of the week.  


Friday, February 23, 2018

Practice Area Renovation



The Practice Area Renovation that is a part of the 2nd Century Gifting Campaign was recently approved by the Board.  Work is slated to begin next week and I thought it would be a good idea to recap everyone on the project and the sequence of events during construction. 


Driving Range Tees:


Work will begin on the on creating the new Driving Range tee first.  The top three current tiers will be combined to form one large 12,200 sq ft tee with an additional 3,000 sq ft synthetic mat section located on the back side.  Prior to the project, our entire tee square footage was just over 20,000 sq ft.  In addition to the new tee, the bottom two tiers will remain and a portion of the third tier will still be available for use following the project.  This is important to note because of the additional sq ft of hitting space that this will provide in addition to the new tee and the existing tees will answer a lot of questions that the membership may have during the construction when it comes to range use.


The lower tiers will allow the range to be open once the pro shop chooses to open range for the season despite construction.  Use of the lower tees may be limited at times depending on weather, accessibility and contractor requests.  However, in the event of restricted use on the lower tiers, the short iron tee located along the drive across from the shield will be made available for the membership to get some early season practice time.


Getting back to the "contingency" square footage of the lower tiers.  I call it a contingency because the existing tee space will provide space for early and late season practice sessions while reducing damage to new tee for in-season use.  This will also allow us to monitor the new tee for a season.  The second phase of the project down the road would call for the remaining DR tee space to be combined and form a second lower tee. 


The new 3,000 sq ft synthetic mat section will be a welcomed addition during outside parties, tournaments and inclement weather days.  25-30 stations will be made available on those days.  The area above the tees that we have used to stage carts will be regarded and drainage will be installed to improve on the past.


Construction on the tee will likely take 3-4 weeks depending on the weather.  Following completion, a few weeks will be needed to allow the sod to establish prior to use.  However, the mats will be made available at that point.  Goal is to have the grass portion of the new tee open and ready for play on the Opening SWAT weekend of May 5th.


Putting Green:


Work on the putting green will begin following completion of the Driving Range Tee.  The new 9,000 sq ft putting green will double in size and will finally mimic our putting surfaces on the course.  The new surface will be cored and built to a modified USGA spec putting surface to replicate our native pushup surfaces.  Since Poa Annua is not an accessible sod, I've facilitated a lot of questions as to what I'm planning on doing.  Two years ago, I built a 10,000 sq ft nursery on #17 using the cores from aerification.  A combination of harvested sod from the existing putting surfaces and the nursery will be used to provide an identical surface for practicing.


During the construction, the short 9 will be made available for practice putting.  Following completion, which should take 2-3 weeks, an additional 2-3 week window will be needed for sod establishment prior to opening for use.  The goal is to have the putting green open for use during the week of Willie McKay.


Short Game:


The final aspect of the project will be work on the short game.  8 trees have already been removed around the chipping green in advance of construction to create an open growing atmosphere while providing additional space for expansion.  The two bunkers will be reconstructed and formed to mimic our bunkering on the course while providing a different array of shot options.  The bunker located in front of the chipping green will be eliminated to provide an opening into the green.  The approach off of the short 9 chipping green located closest to the clubhouse will be expanded all the way to the chipping green to now provide multiple different shot options up to 60 yards to two different greens.


A new bunker will be constructed to the right (lowerside) of the chipping green.  The new bunker will now allow the membership to practice bunker shots that require carrying a face.  The bunker will also be constructed to allow the option of practicing fairway bunker shots onto the range.


This final phase will be the most problematic when it comes effecting member usage during construction.  Unfortunately, due the timing of the above mentioned scopes, the short 9 chipping green will be the only source of chipping and putting for a few weeks at the tail end of project.  A short term inconvenience with a long term gain!


Once construction begins next week, I plan on giving weekly updates on the progress.  So stay tuned, it's an exciting time at the Vue and a promising start to the 2018 season!


All the Best!