Monday, January 31, 2011


So here we are, January 31st 2011. Pretty much in the dead middle of winter. The thermometer read 21 degrees below zero this morning when I arrived at work. Every radio and TV station is warning us that "SNOWMEGGEDON" is only about 20 hours away, which...................depending on which station you listen to, may drop as much as 40cm of snow onto our lap. And your probably thinking, must be nice to be a Golf Course Superintendent this time of year! Those guys have the winter off...................right? No grass to mow, no bunkers to rake.

Well, not exactly. It is true winter is usually our time to rest, re-acquaint with our families and take a vacation. In a perfect winter I would come to work and have no stress or worries.

This picture below would be worth a million bucks if I could count on this weather every day from December 1st to March 21st.

This is exactly what the turf, and the Superintendent need. Cold crisp days, with a covering of snow on everything. But every year is a little different.

I am happy to report that as of today everything is pretty much perfect. All pre-winter programs to strengthen and protect the turf for the long winter went perfectly. We currently have no ice build up anywhere, and about 10 or 15 cm of snow covers the turf which acts like a blanket to protect it from the cold winds.

This, as you know is a far cry from last year when at this time we had already been under a layer of ice for 6 weeks. This picture below, taken last January tells a real story. You may recognise this as the 11th green and approach.

Notice the solid ice layer on the approach? If you get ice build up on an area with a slope like we have on 11 approach, you can guess how bad an ice layer we had on the flat areas!

So last year we spent many hours breaking up the ice and removing it from our putting surfaces with our aerifier.

But not every winter is so harsh to us! If you have been watching the news you have seen "LARGE MARGE" is causing all kinds of big problems in Australia with flooding. Our friends on the south east coast are having more snow than ever recorded.

There will be courses with ice damage this spring, but they all seem to be through Ohio and Pennsylvania and possibly east through New England. Unfortunately it's just their turn this year.

In other years we have used the winter to move trees with a tree spade. We use our tractor mounted snow blower to clear haul roads for the truck to move around the course Then we wait for the frost to get deep in the ground, allowing the truck no problem moving around the course without causing any damage.

But beyond these special projects, we have some obvious, and maybe not so obvious, responsibilities.

There are 3 of us who work 12 months of the year in the Turf Department. Kyle, our Assistant Superintendent, Scott, our Equipment Manager and me. Many of the private clubs around us which we have reciprocals with keep 5 and 6 people on all winter.

With an equipment replacement value of 1.2 million dollars you can guess Scott is almost busier during the winter than the summer. He brings all equipment into his work bay, one piece at a time and goes over every part. We have a very good preventative repair program in place.

Scott inspects and replaces any parts starting to wear, rather than waiting until they have failed completely and have to be replaced. This is very time consuming, but imperative to a successful turf operation all season. Without doing Preventative Maintenance, when a part fails, it usually caused other parts attached to it or near it to fail as well. Now we would have a machine broken down, during the season when we need it. This would also mean a longer time frame to repair it and it would tie Scott up from all other equipment. Bushings, bearings, hydraulic hoses, electrical wiring, tires, engines burning oil, all are repaired, even sharpening of all mowers are completed.

If you are concerned we are wasting money by replacing parts that may still have 3 or 4 months of life left in them, I am happy to report we are saving money! Even with all the additional equipment we have added to the fleet over the last 7 years, I am actually spending $10,000 less a year on equipment repairs then the club was spending the year I arrived! (This may be the only line item that hasn't gone up).

Some of the equipment is too large to fit in the Mechanics Bay, so Scott has to carefully plan to maintain the larger equipment in the fall and late spring when the weather is conducive to working outdoors.

Kyle and I are kept busy with a multitude of items. We are responsible for keeping the drive way and parking lots clear of snow and ice. We make sure security can access doors to every building. If the weather is good, we can get outside to prune trees and shrubs. Some trees are taken down, cut up and removed completely. These would include trees which pose a danger and trees which were planted too close and need to be thinned out for the health of the trees around it.

Inside we have a lot of planning and review we go through. We look at all "course furniture" such as tee blocks, flag sticks, ball washers, benches, water coolers, hazard stakes, bunker rakes, fertilizer spreaders.........................well, the list goes on. All these items will need a plan to make them ready for opening day. Do they need sanding and a coat of weather seal? Do they need repainting? Do we need to order parts and do repairs? Maybe we want to replace something on the course with a newer, better version.

Like this chit box by the 10th tee.................

Do you remember what it used to look like?

The design of the new box was worked on a couple of winters ago, and built in March.

Not only do we decide what needs to be done, but must determine what we need in parts and need to get the order in so work can begin. Some items are physically worked on in the winter, others are made ready to be worked on when our first employees start back in the early spring.

We review all maintenance programs completed in the previous year and discuss changes required. This goes for aerification, fertilizer and pesticide applications, mowing schedules, verti-cutting, top dressing, divot filling ETC...

As we review all these things we ask ourselves what can we do to improve the program, to make it more efficient, or end up with better results, or cut costs.
We review all staff and determining what their strengths and weakness are and if we have them performing the right jobs. Maybe they are better suited to a job they have not yet been trained for. We revisit all training each staff member receives.

Did you know each piece of equipment has a four level training regiment for each employee that will use that machine?

Did you know every employee goes through the training every spring even if they have gone through it many time before? Each employee is requires to read the operators manual, then watch a safety/operators video. Then we do a walk through of the controls and circle check. And finally we have written what we call "Site Specific Training". Within this is information about where they should and should not drive. For example some equipment is never allowed to travel up or down the cart path by the 4th or 12th tees for safety reasons. Also within this are things they need to be aware of for the safety of the operator, fellow workers as well as members and their guests. We also have specific items in this document the operator has to know and follow to prevent damaging the turf.

Uniforms, flowers in the gardens, new staff orientations, Health and Safety, all carefully reviewed every winter for additions, improvements and to be sure we are compliant.

Each year I need to have a report compiled and submitted to the Ministry of the Environment in keeping with the requirements of our Permit to Take Water (PTTW). Without this document being successfully complied and submitted on time the course would not be able to take any water from any of the wells on the property which supply water to both the Maintenance and clubhouse or the river for irrigation.

The winter is a very important time for continuing education. Last year I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in a week long program at the prestigious Richard Ivey School of Business, at the University of Western. This specially designed program for Golf Course Superintendents is by invitation only and I was honoured to be included with some of the top Superintendents from not only Canada, but from parts of Europe as well. While attending I found out they were planing on starting another program aimed at the Assistant Superintendents. I quickly make contact with a number of people I know and was able to get Kyle invited to this program which he is attending this week.

We regularly attend seminars or conferences to stay in touch with the latest research and technologies. If you have ever been in my office you have seen the large pile of trade magazines that I never seem to have time to read, so when there is snow on the ground I try to reduce the stack.

We meet with industry representatives for information on products and pricing. The government has banned many products over the last bunch of years and we need to know what we can replace them with that will do the same job, and not increase costs anymore than necessary. Sales representative are pretty good about introducing us to products which may be usable in place of a banned product, but they don't always inform us about weaknesses these new products may have, so there is always research to be done on all new products.

We start to review resumes and conduct interviews for the new hires to the upcoming season.

I guess if I had to sum up the winter work in one sentence, I would tell you "winter is a time for planning, and the summer is a time for implementation".

And we even find time to feed the Deer and Wild Turkeys.

So, what is the single best thing about the winter for me? Probably having weekends off!
Hope you are all having a wonderful winter.

Monday, January 3, 2011



Before the Christmas break we tackled a project which I was a little nervous about. The rain shelter between 16 tee and 17 green had become unstable after a strong wind storm this past season. We found that due to the wooden support posts rotting, the strength of these posts were compromised. We could see one post had actually rotted clear through and had shifted out about 8 inches. This shift had caused the roof at the opposite end of the shelter to be pulled away from it's support.
So why was I nervous? Well, we had a significant amount of weight on the roof from the frame construction and a layer of old asphalt shingles which were covered with cedar shake shingles. I had no way of knowing how much this weighed, but I did know it was currently being supported by only 3 posts, (one of which had rotted through completely), and I knew removing the roof to replace the support posts would triple, if not quadruple the cost to get this shelter fixed. I was also acutely aware if we had a problem and the roof shifted while one of the posts was removed, we probably had no way of stopping the roof from collapsing to the ground which would have significant cost repercussions, and it would put the safety of anyone near the shelter at great risk.

This corner of the roof closest to the pond near 16 tee was not being supported at all!

The support post in the centre of the roof was on a precarious angle due to post closest to the 17th green which had rotted out and shifted.

Notice the twist to the entire shelter, and how the roof on the left side of this picture is sagging.

Even the wind break inside which strengthens the structure is being pulled away.

This post is rotted through and had shifted the left by about 8 inches.

Below is a picture of the first two posts we removed, both were rotted clean through!

So as I planned my objectives for this project I had some goals that I felt we needed to attain to make this completely successful.

1) Replace all rotten, warped, or damaged lumber.
2) Rebuild it with stronger materials.
3) Make all repairs using in house staff.
4) Construct it so it will not require repairs in my life time barring a tornado!
5) Make it maintenance free so we are not having to do any maintenance to it.
6) Make it look attractive, and if possible blend it into the existing landscape so it was not as noticeable!
7) Accomplish all these without removing the roof.

So, step one, shore up the roof so we can remove the old posts.

We used two sections of scaffolding at either end of the shelter. After making sure the scaffold was properly supported under each foot, we leveled out the scaffold so we know the weight of the roof would be straight down reducing the likely hood of the roof shifting. We screwed 3 pieces of 2x6 x 14 foot spruce together and installed one on either side of the scaffold, and used jacks under each end to take about half the weight off the legs and transfer that weight to the scaffolding.

To be extra cautious we then installed a jack post under the 2x6 so we now had 2 points of support once the post is removed.

It didn't surprise me when the weight was taken off the rotten post I was able to pull it off the shelter with one hand! In this photo we have the first post removed, and have this corner supported by one jack on the scaffold and a jack post outside of that. We slowly raised this corner of the roof until it was level. Once we had it where we wanted, we were ready to install the new post.
We did this one post at a time. Even after a new post had been installed we kept the extra support jacks in place. Not until the entire shelter was complete did we remove these supports.

Here we are about to install the 4th of 5 support posts. We replaced the 4x4 posts with 6x6, and used hemlock which is cost effective, it is the hardest softwood available, and has a great rustic look. No paint will be used, and after 5 or 7 years if we don't like the grayish colour it will get over time, we can simply power wash it to restore its natural look.

Many people mistakenly think encasing wood in concrete stops or reduces the wood from rotting because you are keeping soil off the wood. The problem is water still easily gets between the concrete and the wood. As long as the soils are not saturated you would be better to encase the posts with 3/4 inch gravel which allows the air to get at the wood.

We opted to install a post saddle which we concreted in. Moisture which gets between the post and the saddle will be minimized as the sun and air will help to dry it out.

So, I am happy to report all went well and we accomplished all of our goals, and the rain shelter went from this..............................

.........................To this! A much better look I'm sure you will agree. I anticipate rebuilding one rain shelter a year until all have been rebuilt.

On another note, I am happy to report we have not had any ice build up the way we have had over the last two winters! Although I am waiting patiently for a cover of snow to protect the turf from the drying effect the cold north wind can have, at this point we are in great shape. We have installed tarps on the 9 greens which are most susceptible to dessication due to the wind so we are currently feeling good about the current weather conditions.

Finally, a "HUGE CONGRATULATIONS" to our Assistant Superintendent Kyle Young and his wife Brianne who welcomed their first child into the world just before Christmas. It is unlikely Brianne will be returning to the turf crew in 2011 as she has a new priority. Thanks for all your work over the last 5 years Brianne, and best of luck in your new roll as Mommy to Dawson!

You will be missed!

Watch for my next Blog entry which will answer what is probably the most asked question that every golf course superintendent gets......................."What do you do in the winter"?