Monday, December 2, 2013

Migrating south for the winter?? I wish!

It's not uncommon for Ontario golfers to think that once the course closes for the season, the turf department brings in the flag sticks and tee blocks and goes home for the winter.
 Nothing could be further from the truth.
 It took us almost a full week to bring in, clean, inventory and put away all of our course furniture, and then our winter work has just begun. It took another two days to fully winterize the irrigation system. We have also leveled low sprinkler heads, added, removed and relocated other heads and valves to better suit the layout of the newly added range and practice facility. Additionally, we aerified our sand greens with ½ inch hollow tines to continue removal of the organic layer, and all 18 greens were then deep tine verti-drained and top dressed. A final dormant fertilizer was also applied to all greens.
Course clean up of leaves and branches continued through last week from the significant number of weak and messy silver maples we have across the property.
The new driveway has been marked with T-bar to help keep snow removal equipment off our new practice facility. Snow fence has been installed to help snow drift onto the new greens and range tee which will act like a blanket, keeping the cold, desiccating north winds off our tender seedlings.
I have put significant time and effort into preparing the 2014 capital and operations budget. Properly building the  budget requires me to detail the time, equipment, supplies and labour required to complete every task we intend to perform next season in the most economical way possible, while providing the high level of course conditioning expected by our members. It's never an easy task.
Construction of a new path has been completed for better access to the first tee and parking lot area by power carts. We are also enlarging the 12th black/blue tee deck. With the amount of play this par 3 tee receives in a season I’m proud that we were able to keep any turf on the deck at all. When complete this project will double the overall tee surface, improving this area significantly. In addition, we have stripped the sod off the back of the 7th green so that we can re-grade to establish better surface drainage to allow water to escape without pooling. The early arrival of snow and freezing temperatures have put the brakes on these last two projects (and allowed me to stay in the office long enough to finally do a Blog entry), possibly until spring arrives. But that does not mean we get to put our feet up.
Fill being placed at the back of 12 tee
 Jobs on the to-do list:
I have been working diligently to prepare for the Ontario Government regulated public Integrated Pest Management (IPM), meeting which requires us to compile all pesticide applications and detail where, when, and why they were applied. We also report the total active ingredient of each product we use over the season and put it into a presentation for the general public. Once completed, I prepare for the follow up audit mandated by the IPM Council of Canada which confirms all our reporting is accurate. In all, a tedious and costly program.
Perhaps the biggest job of all is safely completing all the tree work required. Winter is always the season to evaluate the health of our trees and execute a plan for pruning and if required, removal. This winter may mark the most significant tree work in any single year in Whitevale's history. This is due to a number of reasons. First, any tree that is a safety concern or hazard must be taken down before it comes down on its own. At no time will we take a chance with the safety of our members, their guests or our staff.
To the untrained eye this tree looked solid, but inside significant rot made it a hazard
Second, any tree that is either dead or in significant decline will also be removed. This accounts for a significant number of trees which must be dealt with. Austrian pines have been killed or are near death due to a disease called Diplodia. We have slowly been removing these pines for the last 8 years, but this winter we have many more that must come down than in previous years. Emerald Ash Borer is a devastating insect that is killing ash trees all over southern Ontario. This will be the most noticeable of the removals to members, with trees on the left side of 8 and right side of 15 being removed.
Lastly, but most significantly, are trees that cause shade to our putting surfaces. While we all have attachment to trees for different reasons, I cannot let a tree that is causing turf decline on any of our putting surfaces take priority over the health of our greens. Trees that were not an issue 5 or 10 years ago have grown significantly and now need major pruning or removal. It is clear that plantings undertaken for the first 40 year of the club's life were not done with the consideration of the size of the tree at maturity, or its location with regard to the morning sun. The sun is in a different location in the sky depending on what season we are in, and this needs to be taken into consideration when we are talking about shaded green sites. Some trees cause significant shade this time of year but are not an issue during the growing season, and vice-versa. In the 30 years I have been managing turf grass, I have not once regretted the removal of a tree I have cut down with my trusty chain saw. Safe to say, I have never met a chain saw I didn’t like. We continue to strategically plan tree variety and sites requiring trees, and are planting new trees yearly. In the years after course renovations were complete, we invested over $100,000 in new plantings around the club, and this will continue with a capital commitment of $13,000 in new plantings during 2014. Tress are an asset, but only if the right species is put in the right location.
Significant shade on a sunny day wont even melt off the lightest layer of snow by mid day
In conclusion, here's an update of Whitevale’s practice facility. I owe everyone involved a big thank you; from Thomas McBroom, to the Vergeer boys to my staff. Everyone put in a committed effort to complete the job within our fair weather window. When this area has had a chance to mature, I have no question it will be the envy of almost all private clubs in the GTA.

A sneak peek at the chipping green when we removed the tarp to apply winter fungicide and fertilizer shows significant green fuzz! We have seen great germination across all seeded areas and anticipate an explosion of green growth as soon as soil temperatures jump in the spring. I know the spring will bring a flood of members asking the same question……..”When is the practice facility going to open”? Of course I have an answer for you right now….”Not until its ready”! The best the winter can do for us is to give us frost in the ground and a layer of snow and stay cold, so far exactly what we have got. The worst would be no snow cover and significant cold temperatures and wind which would cause desiccation and the ultimate death of some of the tender seedlings. Mother Nature cannot be controlled, but as always the turf department is at the ready to respond to whatever comes our way.

One last note, I have decided to start “tweeting” on Twitter. While there may not be a lot for me to tweet about until spring, if you’d like to follow me, you can find me @BlairWhitevale.

Hope you enjoy the winter; I’m heading to sharpen my chain saw.

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