Highlands Course Update

Greg Jones, GC Superintendent

Highlands greens are notoriously difficult to manage in the summer months due to the underlying soil structure and drainage issues. And, many greens are in locations with little to no natural air movement or sunlight. The fans we have in place give an edge and provide some air movement but nothing like natural air movement across the greens surface. We utilize these fans to mimic natural wind movement which can never be truly copied.

We are in-between years of drill and fill, and this is the year we have to be a little more attentive with our soil moisture due to the lack of 10” deep sand filled channels to help with air, water, and nutrient movement and uptake. Any extra water can have a negative impact on roots and soil temperatures. The greens have been Drilled and Filled six times in the past ten years, and while that has improved our greens, it hasn’t fixed the underlying soil structure completely.

In mid- April we core aerated our greens like we do every spring and fall. Regular core aerification helps to remove thatch and allows water and air movement into the top 5” of the soil. This is beneficial and necessary at least twice annually, but it does not solve deeper soil issues. The drill and fill practice does a much better job of that. This spring, I decided to drill and fill selected areas in corners and low spots where water will collect and sit longer, and this has made a positive difference in these areas. The holes are almost covered over with turf; you may notice them on 1, 6, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 18.

The weather starting in 2020 looked like a carbon copy of 2019. In 2019, we recorded over 96 inches of rain on the golf course. Our normal annual rainfall is a little bit over 46 inches. In 2019, January through the end of May, we had 39 inches of rain. January through the end of May 2020 we have had a bit over 36 inches, with endless days of clouds and cool weather. The concern along with everything else Covid-19 related, was to make sure we didn’t back ourselves into a corner by having the greens too short, with too little help on hand to manage them. The excessive rainfall and cloudy days don’t promote a very good weather pattern to promote deeper rooting, which in turn helps us manage heights and green speeds and any water we apply with our irrigation system.

And then came COVID-19. Nobody was expecting a virus to essentially shut down the world for an extended period. We were told to hold-off on hiring our returning seasonal and summer help for the time being. My summer help usually starts coming on staff around the end of March, and on into April and May, with the last one or two by June 1. The POA had to hold-off hiring for about six weeks, which put us behind. The Golf Maintenance team did not have the normal number of employees during spring aerification, but we all helped each other out and managed to get it done in a timely fashion around mid-April.

It was at this point, not knowing when we would ever be fully staffed, a decision was made to keep the greens height a little bit higher initially in case we didn’t hire as many people back for the summer season. This increase in height would and has allowed us to manage water a little better earlier, which in turn benefits the bent grass greens roots going into summer. Right now, our actual height of cut is less than where we are at the end of August on average, and not much more than where we keep it in the spring, fall and winter months. By doing this now, I have high hopes that we do not have to increase the height later in the summer.

We are using turf groomers that are on the John Deere greens mowers from our fleet. The groomers help control lateral growth movement of the leaf blades, and by doing so, the grass tends to stand up a bit more, improving ball roll and eliminating “grain” in the turf. We groom on a regular basis, and this simple attachment is probably one of the most useful in our Superintendents tool bag.

Lastly, we are in the hand watering part of the season. The staff you see hand watering greens are paying special attention to soil moisture across every green, and only cooling the surface if necessary. We are also hand watering any dry spots so the turf can rehydrate and recover within a few days. Dry spots in random places are a normal occurrence on greens no matter what kind of grass is on them— bent grass or Bermuda. Dry spots and off-color spots mean we are doing our job correctly by not watering too much with sprinklers, and possibly over watering the turf.