Willow Oaks Country Club Golf Course Updates

Our goal is to keep the membership informed about projects, agronomic practices, and upcoming events on the golf course.


Navigating this Webpage

Maintenance Calendar, Follow us via Email or Social Media, and ways to find more information


Spring Aeration

Golf Course Closed March 27-31


February Golf Course Update

Winter Projects, Bunker Maintenance, and Greens Aeration Schedule


Air Movement and Fan Video

I took this video to show the efficacy and performance of our new Turf Breeze portable 50" Fan.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Qualifying 35 Million Gallons of Water

In a recent blog post I mentioned that we use 35 million gallons of water per year.  35 Million is an average of the last 3 years; during years with a lot of rain we use less, dry years more.  This seems like a lot but let me work on qualifying that number and how the water is used.

We know that we use more water now based on the water usage reports that the club must report to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) every year.  On average between 2004 and 2006 we pumped 10,908,578 gallons/year.  In 2007 our numbers were off because there was no grass on the ground for 6 months but between 2008 and 2010 we have averaged 35,213,042 gallons/year.  There are three main factors that affect the higher use of water and three maintenance issues that this causes.

1.  Our pumps are now larger and can pump more water.  Even if we needed more water in the previous years, we couldn't pump it fast enough.
2.  Our new turf requires more water than the old turf varieties.
3.  We have more turfed areas and in turn more sprinkler heads.

Maintenance associated with pumping more water:
1.  More heads, pipe, wire, satellite boxes, etc. to maintain and keep edged
2.  More water being applied to golf course requires more drainage and more properly draining soils.  The addition of drainage and the application of sand topdressing are two of the many things that we do to combat this.
3.  Water levels in the quarry are much more likely to be depleted

The rest of this post deals with the basics of plant needs and irrigation.  If you are trying to take a nap, it may be a great read but I think it is also very informative.  

Basic Agronomy:  Plants need water to survive.  Some plants need more water than others.  Water is lost due to drainage, transpiration and evaporation.  The last two factors are key and together are known as the Evapotranspiration Rate.  Evapotranspiration (ET) is a term used to describe the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the ground to the atmosphere. Transpiration accounts for the movement of water within a plant and the subsequent loss of water as vapor through stomata (small openings that allow for oxygen and water exchange between the plant and the atmosphere) in its leaves. 

These heads on #11 are an example of head to head coverage.
This loss of water is a vital part of the water cycle as well as the plant life cycle but it also creates a void.  Irrigation fills this void.  We have over 800 sprinkler heads on the golf course and driving range that give us full wall to wall coverage.  These heads are pressured by a 25 HP Pressure Maintenance Pump and two 75 HP Main Pumps.  The pumps deliver 1600 gallons of water per minute at 130 PSI.  Every sprinkler head throws far enough to reach all of the sprinkler heads around it thus giving us complete coverage through overlap.  This is known as head to head coverage.  The heads on the golf course were installed during the renovation and are all brand new Toro 855s or 854s.  These heads deliver 50 gallons per minute or .6" of water per hour.  We use this knowledge as well as the ET rate to decide how much we will water at night.  Any rainfall is also factored into this.  Our weather station (pictured) provides us with a site specific ET rate that allows us to monitor how much water is being lost to ET.  The weather station also gives us rain totals, high, low and current temperatures, relative humidity, dew point, and wind speed.  For example we have lost .20 inches of water to ET in the past 24 hours (this was written on June 28 at 4:00 p.m.)  To combat this, we will need to run the sprinkler heads for 20 minutes to replace that .20" of water.  If we run all of the heads on the golf course for 20 minutes, except for the greens we will use 709,178 gallons.  The computer that controls this process has given me this number.  These 700,000 gallon nights quickly add up to 35 million gallons (This 700,000 does not include the water used at tennis or grounds.)  Not too mention all of the hand watering, syringing, watering in fertilizer and other uses for water on the golf course. Obviously if we feel the turf needs more water than what it is simply losing to ET, we apply more water.
Our Weather Station

Quick Irrigation Facts
-We have to report our Monthly Water Usage totals to DEQ
-Our Pumps are shut down between November 15 and March 15 so we really only pump water for 8 months out of the year
-The outdoor tennis courts and the clubhouse grounds are both irrigated off of our system
- We do all of our heavy watering at night because we don't want to inconvenience play and we lose less to evaporation at night.
-We mainly hand water greens and rarely use overhead irrigation on them.  This is the most efficient, site specific use of water and cuts down on over watering.  We use hand held moisture meters (pictured) to measure the amount of volumetric water content percentage (VMC%) in the green and then use hand watering to adjust these numbers as we see fit.  This will be a good topic for a later blog post. 
Two 3 inch probes measure the VWC%
-We now have about 30 more acres of irrigated turf than on the old golf course
-The quarry to the right of #11 is our only source of water.  We do not pump from the ponds on the golf course.
-We can control every sprinkler head on the golf course with our hand held radio
-Quick math; 800 heads x 50 gallons/minute = 40,000 gallons/minute x 20 minutes = 800,000 gallons of water applied on a night when conditions have been very dry.  The math is not this simple because a lot of the heads have adjusted run times due to localized wet areas or because they are part circles heads.
-A central computer communicates with 19 individual Satellites or Controllers in the field (one per hole + the range.)  These satellites then send a signal through a wire to each individual head.  This signal turns a solenoid on which turns the head on.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

1.45 Inches of Rain

The irony to this is that I am in the process of writing a blog post about irrigation.  The irrigation was shut off last night after the golf course received 1.45 inches of rain yesterday evening.  The storm produced a lot of wash in the bunkers, a lot of large limbs down, and two downed trees.  There is no permanent damage but it will take our full crew at least the entire day to clean up from this storm.  This is where progress is lost and we will be playing catch up in regards to mowing for the rest of the week.  Carts will be restricted to the path all day as well.
18 inch caliper tree snapped in half

Tree snapped in half on the river bank at 5 tee

Large limbs ripped off of trees at 17 tee

Bunker washed on #12.  All contaminated sand has to be removed and all good sand redistributed.  Very labor intensive.

No wash in the fairway bunker on 8.  A new type of liner was installed in this bunker.  Looks great so far!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wildlife on the Golf Course

The golf course is host to a lot of wild animals and birds including deer, squirrels, beaver, fox, hawks, osprey, countless small bird species, blue heron, ducks, geese and even the occasional bald eagle.  It is wonderful to have a natural setting for animals to thrive within the city limits.  Please do not attempt to feed these wild animals as this drops their natural ability to survive and makes them more likely to approach humans.  It brightens my day to see all of these creatures except for the non-migratory Canadian Geese.  The geese have not been as prevalent over the last few weeks.  I am sure you have seen my black lab, Ginny running the golf course but and a large part of the credit goes to Mary Bliley, her border collie Davey, and all of the ladies that walk him in the morning and in the evening.  I believe that the continued harassment of the geese has forced them to move to easier pastures.  Let's hope they stay there. 

This picture is hard to see but it is of two deer and their fawn that ran across #4 this morning.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Course Update, Upcoming Maintenance Days and Green Speeds

I am writing this on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in between syringing greens.  We try our hardest to stay out of the way but sometimes we have to inconvenience golf to syringe the greens.  Thank you for your patience as we work to keep the greens cool on the warm, dry summer days. 

Course Update
The course is progressing nicely as we barrel toward July.  The fairways are in overall good shape, the tee boxes, save a few with soil issues on #11 and 12 are handling the traffic well and greens are holding up very well.  The project work that has been completed is growing in great and you would never know that there were more bunkers on #6, 9 or 18.  It is this time of year that we deal with wilt, bentgrass decline and a lot of traffic on the greens.  In the past, the first green in particular has suffered from a great amount of stress.  This green has a lot of undulation and the low areas hold a great deal of water.  To try and curb this process from happening again, we will be core aerating this green tomorrow as well as some low areas on a few other greens.  We will be using very small tines as to minimize disruption of play.  This process will help dry these areas out as well as provide oxygen to the saturated root systems.  We try our hardest to keep the greens firm and dry but sometimes mother nature does not cooperate and we have to deal with these low, water collecting areas.  I hope that this preventative measure does not overly inconvenience play. 

Friendly reminder:  The course will be closed for maintenance on July 11, 12 and 13.  We will be aerating fairways, venting greens, topdressing fairways, laying sod, and buttoning up some other projects.  This work could not be completed during play and will be very beneficial to the golf course.  We work 12 -14 hour days in order to maximize our closed time.  Thank you for this closed time of maintenance. 

Green Speeds

A wise man once said, "I would rather have healthy greens than fast browns."

I have heard from many people that greens speeds have slowed over the past few weeks.  These people are right; I have seen between 6 to 12 inches less of speed on the stimp meter over the past week and a couple of things have contributed to this. 

Four quick notes.
1.  The speeds have stayed well within our maintenance standards of 10 - 11.5 on the stimp meter. 
2.  We mow greens every day that we are open and continue to double cut when possible. 
3.  We roll the greens 3-4 times per week to help green smoothness and speed
4.  If you play golf in the late afternoon to evening, the greens will be slower than first thing in the morning due to growth.  During big tournaments, i.e. the US Open, the greens are sprayed with growth regulators to prevent growth and keep speeds consistent throughout the day.  We use the same growth regulators, less aggressively, but have to keep our greens growing in order to grow out of stress occurring during the summer months.

We have made two routine mechanical changes to our mowers and two cultural practice changes that have contributed to the drop in speed. 
The first mechanical change is the removal of the groomers that go in between the cutting reel and the front roller.  I have talked about grooming in a previous post.  These groomers help stand up the grass to get a better quality of cut and help keep the grass a little thinner.  This process is aggressive but definitely raises speeds.  When the weather is conducive to healthy greens in the spring and fall, we groom daily.  The added weight of the groomers also gives us a lower effective height of cut.  As the temperatures and other stress factors increase in the late spring and summer, we stop grooming to protect the turf. 
The second mechanical change has been a move to a solid roller on the front of our cutting units.  The front roller is adjustable and the relationship between this adjustable roller and the rear fixed drive roller establishes the height of cut of the mower.  The solid rollers are less aggressive than the grooved rollers that we employ in the spring and fall.  These rollers raise the effective height of cut and in turn greens speeds.  They also reduce the stress from mowing.  All in all, both of these mechanical measures are to prevent thinning and reduce stress on the greens.  Plant health is the number one goal with firm fast greens being a close second.   

The two agronomic or cultural practices that we have been doing that decrease green speed is the application of fertility to keep the greens growing through summer stress and the reduction in the amount of double cutting.  As heat stress starts in the late spring and summer, the plant has to keep growing in order to recover.  We can limit this growth with less fertility in the spring and fall as the plant is making all of its energy from many hours of photosynthesis.  Right now the plant photosynthesizes less due to heat stress.  Since the plant is not making its own energy and is experiencing more stress, we have to up the fertility to keep the plant growing.  The increased growth is usually offset by summer stress and the use of plant growth regulators.  Over the past few weeks we have experienced great growing weather and in turn slower greens.  The second cultural practice of reducing double cutting helps prevents mechanical stress on the plant.  Every time we cut the plant it has to use reserved energy to recover.  The less mowings, the less energy needed to recover, the more stored energy for recovery from summer stress. 

If you are not asleep yet, here are a few pictures detailing the mechanical changes we use during the Summer months.

Toro Flex 21 Walkmower Cutting Unit setup used in the Spring and Fall.  More aggressive cut = faster speeds = more stress.

This is a cutting unit with groomers down and a grooved roller.
Toro Flex 21 Walkmower Cutting Unit setup used in the Summer.  Less aggressive cut = slower speeds = less stress..

The solid roller does not allow the reel to cut as much grass as the grooved roller.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tee Boxes on #11 and #12

On holes 11 and 12, the turf on the green, blue and black tee boxes is obviously weak.  Upon further examination, university research and soil sampling, we have found that the soils underneath the sand capped teeing grounds are acid sulfate soils.  These soils have turned the sand growing medium so acidic that the turf cannot perform well.  Testing has revealed that the 1:1 pH of these sands is anywhere from 3.95 to 4.15.  pH needs to be greater than 6.0 and less than 7.0 to properly grow grass.  If the pH is too low, the plant cannot take up nutrients and will fail.  We have aerated the green, blue and black tee boxes on #11 as well as the blue and black tees on #12 and applied lime to help raise the pH.  Lime will raise the pH slowly over time.   The turf was removed from the green tee box on 12 a few weeks ago and now that we have a good idea about what is going on we will till 500 lbs of lime into that growing medium before we regrass that tee.  The black and blue tees on 11 and 12 also suffer from being too shaded so they will be slow to recover no matter what.  Either way, we have the root of the problem and the solution to this problem.  If lime does not substantially raise the pH to a point where turf can thrive then these tees will have to be reconstructed with better subsoils.  I do not anticipate the need for this. 

Ben is solid tine aerating this tee with an old Toro Aerator.  This machine is 5 years older than Ben but still in working condition.

Hunter is applying lime to the tees on #11 to help raise the pH.  Aerating prior to lime applications will help move the lime down into the soil profile. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Driving Range Putting Green Closed

The Driving Range Putting Green will be closed until Tuesday, June 28 to have a chance to recover from excessive traffic.  This green is in great shape but a little time off will help direct traffic towards the on deck putting green and the clubhouse putting green.  We will be rotating through the greens by closing one a week until the weather improves. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Answering Some Recent Questions

1.  Why is the golf course closed on Mondays?

This is not the first or the last time I will hear this question and it is a very good one.  The reason we are closed on Mondays is to give our team the opportunity to perform valuable maintenance and management practices that would be difficult to complete during play.  For example, yesterday we vented, fertilized, applied a lime application to and topdressed greens.  We also fertilized and aerated green surrounds, fertilized tees and mowed out the range.  The range also received an application of slow release fertilizer.  The range must be closed to mow so this is another great task that is accomplished on closed Mondays. All of these jobs would have been very difficult to complete during play.  We maximize these closed days by working between 12 and 14 hours.

2.  Why were the greens a bright green/blue color last Sunday?

This was a result of spraying the greens Sunday morning.  The green/blue color is a result of a combination of turf tracker dye, which allows us to see where we are spraying and a turf pigment.  The turf pigment triggers some of the plants natural defense mechanisms and encourages photosynthesis and in turn growth.  We were spraying fertilizer and this turf pigment to take advantage of great growing weather last week.  The truth of the matter is that we spray greens once or twice a week but rarely does this occur on the weekend so some golfers may be seeing this for the first time.  For the record, we are not simply 'painting the greens' and the greens are very healthy.

3.  Why do we topdress (apply sand to) the fairways, tees, and greens?

Topdressing has many benefits both to the plant and the golfer.  The sand application helps smooth the surface as well as provide many other benefits.  From a golfers perspective: longer drives, firm up-right turf for excellent club to ball striking performance, swing plane angle superior due to positive foot, leg and hip pivoting on the firmer surface, no plugged lies, less fatigue pushing a cart or carrying your bag, and the use of golf carts more frequently after rains.
From an agronomic perspective: better drainage, deeper rooting, superior wear tolerance, less winter-kill potential, organic matter control, and less scalp potential.  We have already completed one fairway topdressing and our next one is scheduled for July 11, 12, and 13.  Everytime we topdress we try to apply 1/4" of sand or about 500 tons.
As far as greens topdressing is concerned, the turf and golfer experiences a lot of the same benefits.  Improved firmness, better drainage, less scalp potential, thatch control, and an overall smoother surface.  You may see a little sand on the day or two after topdressing but the benefits far out weigh the small inconvenience.  We have already topdressed our greens with 21.5 tons of sand since our Spring Core Aeration.

4.  How is the water level in the quarry doing?

The water level is currently fantastic.  Frequent rains have provided a surplus of irrigation water.  We will cross our fingers that we stay in this great weather pattern.  To do everything that we can to conserve and best utilize our water source, we precisely plan the use of water and never over water if we can help it.  The Green Committee has also formed a water subcommittee to address this situation and a survey of the quarry's deepest points is being completed as we speak.  We really do have a great water source and figuring out the best way to use it will be very beneficial for years to come.  We pump about 35 million gallons of water a year out of the quarry so we should be very thankful for this great water source.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

VSGA Women's Stroke Play Championship

The second round of the VSGA Women's Stroke Play Championship is underway.  We are strictly mowing grass this week and are not involved in a lot of project work.  The event is giving us the opportunity to do a lot of work in grounds and around our maintenance facility. 
I believe the golf course to be in great condition for the event.  I hope the membership comes out to enjoy the course and the wonderful weather after the tee sheet re-opens at 11:00 a.m.  The golf course is peaking right now due to warmer temperatures.  We are not changing any maintenance practices for the Championship other than the fact that we will mow everything out ahead of play everyday. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Course Update

The golf course received 1.35" of rain last night and is in rough shape.  Strong thunderstorms made a real mess of the golf course and washed most of the 57 bunkers.  Our staff will work hard this morning to put the course back together ahead of play but the reality is that some golf will have to be played while we are still working.  Golf Carts will be restricted to the path to prevent damage to the saturated turf.  Due to the heavy rain, the putting greens will be rolling a little bit slower as well.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Great articles from the USGA regarding US Open.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Walkway to #1 Green Renovated

We are trying a new approach on the walking trail behind the first green this year.  This area has worn out every year due to the heavy foot traffic it receives.  In the past, we have regrassed this area with different types of turf and changed our management practices but it has still failed.  This year we stripped the old, damaged turf, tilled in topsoil and organic fertilizer, and resodded the area with T-10 bermuda grass.  This turf is a very aggressive, traffic tolerant grass and we have utilized it in some areas like to the right of #10 and #14 cartpaths.  We then laid a product over the T-10 called the Grass Protecta.  This is a woven rubber material that helps protect the grass from the heavy traffic it receives.  The grass will then grow up through this rubber material and should be very aesthetically pleasing as well as very healthy and safe.  Please be careful walking up and down this trail until the grass grows over.

Sod Prepping this area
Finished Product

Friday, June 3, 2011

#7 finished. Wrapping up a long week.

We are finishing all of the drainage and sod work today by laying the last half acre of sod.  Drainage is complete and sodded on #1, 7, 12 and 16 and will wrap up on 14 and 9 today.  We will have laid roughly an acre of sod this week and installed 800 feet of drainage.  The drainage work and regrading that has been done this week should be a permanent solution to the problem areas on 1, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, and 18.  We will continue to install drainage this winter in problematic areas.
Thank you for your patience during these improvements.  Please play all new sod as Ground Under Repair.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wrapping up #7 green surround.

There will be some exposed soil today that will be sodded tomorrow.  We are using a more shade tolerant grass around this green.  Thank you for playing all of these sodded areas as ground under repair.

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