A behind the scenes look into maintenance practices including past, present and future development plans of the Lac la Biche Golf Club.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Poa in Full Bloom.

You often here the term poa on golf courses but few actually know what it is or how it can affect daily play. Annual bluegrass (Poa annua L.) is a very common grass species that almost every golf course in North America has. It's very adaptable and can be found on all areas of the golf course including rough, fairways, tees and greens.

In nature,  poa behaves as a true annual. It germinates in spring and/or fall when moisture is adequate and develops quickly, often flowering six to eight weeks after germination. After flowering and setting seed, these annual types die typically from drought and leave dormant viable seed behind to germinate when moisture again becomes available. This efficiency in seed production makes annual bluegrass (poa) a major component of the seed bank of cultivated soils. This seed can remain dormant in the soil profile for up to 6 years.

Many high end golf courses go to great lengths to eliminate Poa. It's a labor intensive, time consuming and expensive practice. So why do it?  Here is a list of the Pros and Cons of Poa annua.

CONS:  -Inconsistent putting speed and roll on the golf green.
               (Greens are slower and do not roll true)
              -Mottled appearance and not aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
                (Poa is light green in color compared to darker green hues of bentgrass)
              -Temper mental growth habit.
                (Does not tolerate too hot, too cold, to wet or too dry conditions)
              -Prone to environmental and cultural stress.
                (Compaction, disease, surface disturbance, traffic, ice and freeze injury,
PROS:   -Usually the first grass to break dormancy from winter.
              -Can provide a true and beautiful putting surface when conditions favor it.
                (ie. Pebble Beach and Oakmont are 100% Poa greens)
              -Naturally reproduce with prolific seed dispersal.
                (Under lush conditions, 14,000-63,000 seeds/ft2/year)
              -Thrives under normal cultural practices.
                (Regular top dressing, verti-cutting and aerating practices)

Poa Seed Heads #6 Greens Collar (June 12, 2011)

My philosophy with regards to poa is one that differs from the high end courses in Alberta. I have a limited budget and work force and accept poa as a fact of life on the course. Over the years I have incorporated bentgrass (A-4) after each core aeration. Currently our greens comprise approximately 60 to 80% poa. It's at this time of year the greens take on a whitish color due to the seed heads. This process will cease in another 3 to 4 weeks and then the greens will take on a darker green most golfers have come to appreciate.  

Poa on #6 Green (June 12, 2011)
 To combat the rougher putting surface the seed heads cause, I lightly topdress the greens on bi-weekly cycles. This helps fill in the voids within the turf canopy and will speed up and smooth out the green. At times this process gets delayed during prolonged periods of wet weather. It's best to topdress the greens during dry conditions so that the sand can be matted in more efficiently. This process is so unobtrusive, golfers don't even know when the greens have been topdressed.

Poa Seed Head (Left) vs. Bentgrass (Right)
(Notice difference in leaf texture and width)

Over the next few years, I plan on over-seeding the greens more often then I do. The addition of our new greens over-seeder the club purchased this month will help immensely in bringing poa populations down to acceptable levels. I am aiming for 40% poa levels but this will take many years to accomplish. We will never be 100% poa free and once a club accepts this, dealing with this overly sensitive grass species will save a lot of time, money and energy. Poa is here to stay so work with it and provide the best possible playing conditions the golf course can financially afford.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

A clASS Act.

#13 Green Divot (June 11, 2011)
It never seizes to amaze me the lack of respect I find on the golf course. It's almost a daily occurance and it will be the subject of a few posts in the near future. In this particular instance, someone decided to take out some frustration right beside the pin. The sad thing is a large tournament had to play with this unnecessary obstacle in their way. In the future for those inclined in perpetrating such stupidity, take your putter in both hands and ram it down hard over your knee. Make sure to listen for that "SNAP!" It will feel so much better and it gives you an excuse to buy another putter since the one you currently broke can't make a short putt. If caught, you will not only be asked to leave but you'll forfeit any future play at our club.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Irrigation Update.

To say the irrigation system has taken up a lot of my time this past month would be an understatement. We last experienced rain on April 28 (12mm or 1/2"). Couple this with warm winds and it's no wonder the knolls and non-irrigated areas are dry and hard. The course and Lakeland County for that matter are in desperate need of precipitation. It's hard to believe but some courses in the Calgary area have experienced major floods and a few of the mountain courses have seen almost 12" of snow. Edmonton has also seen enough rain and are anticipating drier conditions. Apart from the greens, it's tough even keeping the fairways and rough green and lush. The one positive is 10 to 15 yard increases in driving yardage.

On May 12 my irrigation start up procedure involved priming the mainline. Within 5 minutes I had a break on the side of #7 fairway. Not exactly the start I was looking for. So I fired up the tractor and back hoe and began to dig and repair. The break was an easy one to fix and within 3 hours I was ready to continue priming the mainline. Slowly pressuring the system and rechecking my repair, I have another break about 15 feet back of my original repair. So a few curse words later and extension of the trench, I replaced 20 feet of irrigation pipe. Now I'm good to go and none too soon because the course at this time needs water pretty bad.

Once my mainline is primed, I like to prime each fairway individually. This is done through isolation valves located at the tee and green. At the far end of the fairway or green, I'll use a quick coupler key to vent the water which originates at the tee. This greatly eliminates water hammer which is the number one cause of irrigation breaks particularly at start up. The other benefit to priming the fairways this way is that I'm able to flush the lines of potential debris. It's amazing the sorts of debris that may accumulate in the lines. (Pebbles, gravel, metal flakes from the pumps, weeds and even small fish)

So after a 16 hour day, the irrigation system is finally primed and ready to go. I set up the satellite clocks to water tees and greens that night and hope come morning I have no issues. It rarely turns out that I have no issues unfortunately. One of my biggest problems is heads not completely turning off after their cycle (leaking) and/or heads not turning due to plugged drive nozzles. Our irrigation heads are Rainbird 51DR and 91DR which are impact heads. They are loud and best suited to handle brackish water which makes up the bulk of our irrigation pond. These heads are no longer made by Rainbird and over the years I've been replacing them with 900 series rotary heads. These heads are quieter and so far maintenance free considering our water source.

#7 Mainline Break (May 12, 2011)

#7 Mainline Break on 4" Pipe (May 12, 2011)

Cut Out Section of Mainline (May 12, 2011)

#7 Mainline Repair (May 12, 2011)

In the coming weeks, I hope to preform an irrigation audit to  make sure all heads are working properly. In the past 3 weeks, I have replaced 13 heads, 2 isolation valves and have added 4 new quick couplers at greens. In the near future, I'm planning on hand watering greens more often. This will minimize strain on the irrigation pumps and allow better water metering on the greens. The next spell of rain we get, I'll shut down the system and repair another 5 isolation valves and replace approximately 6 more heads.