Monday, November 9, 2015

Preparing the Golf Course for Winter

While I don't like thinking about it, images like the one of #13 above are sure to be around the corner.  Soil temperatures are hovering in the low 40 degree range already, and I believe I saw a rain/snow mix forecasted for later on this week.  While most forecasts have our winter being warmer and drier than last year, we still will experience very cold and snowy days out here.  The last two winters we have experienced were learning experiences for all turf managers in Michiana, myself included,  and I wanted to share a few things we do to ensure that I give the turf all the resources it needs to survive. These solutions do effect playability somewhat for any late fall golf, but are the best management practices for maximizing winter turf survival.

  • Raising mower heights.  When the weather forecasts dictate a prolonged cold snap, I will raise the height of cut on greens from the normal height of .120" to .135".  Raising height of cut allows more leaf surface for the turf to maximize their photosynthetic capabilities and carbohydrate storage.  Raising height will also lessen stress to the plant and create a deeper root system going into winter.  While raising heights may not create the speeds that summer brings, it is best for the long term health of the greens going into winter. 

Open Vertidrain holes

  • Late season aerification.  On November 2nd, our annual Vertidrain process was completed.  These extra holes create three advantages:  additional channels for spring root growth, aid in relieving any deeper compaction within the rootzone soil profile, and extra drainage capabilities for ice/snow melt to prevent ice formation on the plant surfaces.  

  • Fertility and Plant Protectants.  While we limit nutrients on finely maintained turf during the season to provide great playing conditions, the fall is the best time to feed the turf to maximize carbohydrate storage going into winter.  The more carbs the plant stores, the quicker it will break dormancy when temperatures warm up in the spring.  Nitrogen, potassium, and bio stimulants were applied to fill this vital need this month.  Plant protectants are applied to prevent damage from fungal diseases such as Pink Snow Mold.  

Topdressing protecting the crowns

  • Topdressing.  When growth has ceased for the year, we will apply a thick coating of sand topdressing to bury the crowns and as much leaf tissue as possible.  This sand helps protect and insulate the crown of the plant from any extreme cold temperatures.  This practice was another way more damage was prevented from last winter's ice layer. 

So what if the winter of 2015/16 is similar to 2014?  We know our process for snow and ice removal should it become necessary, and we know that the most important practice is to constantly monitor the green for melting after removal, to prevent any crown hydration injury from water re-freezing.  If any significant ice layers form, we will implement our removal program if the layer is still present after 30 days of formation.  This gives us plenty of time before the 45 day threshold is reached and toxic gas levels start to become detrimental to the Poa.  


November Course Notes and Happenings

While the leaf colors exceeded beauty and expectations, they are dropping as fast as we can mulch them.  As I sit in my office on this frosty morning, I estimate we are about 70% done with this quite time consuming process.  The contrast in colors this time of year between turf and leaves are spectacular though!  Here's hoping that we have a few days this month for all of you to come out and enjoy the golf course.

The Vertidrain process on #9
Our contractor was out on November 2nd to Vertidrain our greens.  This process is a solid tine aerification that reaches a depth of 8-9 inches.  The benefits of this late season process is to create channels for new root growth and late fall/early spring drainage.  This process also further smoothed the greens from October's core aerification, and we applied an additional 20 tons of sand as well to fill in any open areas.

Map of Indiana's Drought status, as of 10/27/15
A few of you were asking why the October core aerification was slow to heal this year.  There are a few reasons why our greens are slower to heal perhaps compared to other courses in the area, no matter the frequency we roll them or amount of fertilizer or water we apply.  One major reason is that the turf composition on the greens are 80-90% Poa annua, whose growth habit is non-spreading, unlike Creeping Bentgrass, which is the main turf composition on tees and fairways here. The other major factor is the schedule of timing of this necessary practice.  October soil temperatures are 15-20 degrees on average below those of September, and we lose over 90 minutes of daylight over the course of the month.  The 2 mornings where the low was below freezing really slowed down both the metabolism and growth rate of the plant!  Finally, October was quite the dry month here, where most of Elkhart County is considered now in a moderate drought situation.  Rain water is 10x more acidic than our irrigation water, and that increased acidity makes additional nutrients available to the plant in the soil. Hopefully this provides a bit of agronomic reasoning behind the healing process and its timing.  If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me either at 574-295-6374 or by email at  I am more than happy to discuss anything golf course related!

We do have a couple of small projects that the staff and I have or will be starting this month, along with beginning our annual tree work.  The first project involved the cart path entry at 10 green.  All of you have noticed the poor turf conditions that exist at the beginning of that path due to the heavy traffic from both maintenance equipment and golf carts.  What we did here is utilize old rubber matting from Chef Casey's kitchen and placed it at the main entry point, then covered it with a soil/seed mixture.  The thought here is to allow the mat to absorb the brunt of the weight associated with the traffic and allow for increased turf density and vigor there.  The seed will germinate next year and we will use this area as an experiment that hopefully will allow us to learn how to better manage these areas.
Mats placed in hole below turf surface
Poor turf and soil removed at entry point
Seed/soil mix filled on top for new turf
We also are building a new forward tee on the right side of #2, just before the beginning of the fairway.  The new tee will measure 320 yards to the center of the green.  The white tees will then move permanently where the forward tees are located currently.  I will have more information and pictures on this project later this month.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

2015 Audubon Review

October is the time of year where I start to take stock in all of our programs, review my notes from throughout the year, and begin forming plans for 2016.  One area that is always on my thoughts is Elcona's Audubon program.  This year our goal was to complete 4 main projects, two of them were centered around increasing pollinator populations.

Nesting evidence on #14 
This past winter, my assistant Kyle and I built 3 wood duck homes and placed them along ponds on #'s 3 and 14, as well as deep in the woods north of 13.  Both houses had evidence of bird activity this year, as the picture on the left shows, but this nest building was from other birds.  One observation from a member was that #3's house was located too close to golf traffic and made it unattractive for wood ducks, which I agree with.  We will be moving it farther south away from #4 tee.  My hope is that someday ducks will utilize these as safe havens to produce their offspring.

Seed to Feed Garden, June 15
Yellow squash
The Seed to Feed garden that I have mentioned multiple times over the past year was a dual achieving project.  One obvious achievement was that, thanks to all members who volunteered their time to maintain it, 6,129 pounds of cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini, and Dickinson pumpkins were harvested and given to our local food pantries.  That is an awesome amount of produce for our first year.  Also, the garden also served to increase the area for pollinating insects.  One third of our world's food supply is dependent on the help of pollinating insects.  Their populations have decreased some 30% over the last few years, due to multiple biotic and abiotic stresses.  By planting many areas of flowering plants, Elcona can help sustain the local bee population and continue to be a good steward of our community's ecosystem.

Milkweed stand left right of 17
Monarch caterpillar on Milkweed

There were spots in our native areas that we left unmown all year that contained significant milkweed populations.  Milkweed is the main food source for Monarch butterfly caterpillars.  This provided some nice habitat areas for these butterflies to flourish and complete their transformation to butterflies.

Rain garden, July 25th

Bee on a Purple coneflower

We have also multiple areas of wildflower plantings that are in various stages of maturity.  The rain garden that was built in 2012 thrived again this year, with some plants (swamp milkweed) reaching 10 feet in height! There were days that over 100 bees and other pollinators could be seen flying flower to flower, a neat sight for sure.

Area for 2015 plug plantings
Butterfly weed plugs

Wildflower plugs, consisting of cone flower, butterfly weed, and foxglove beardstongue species, were planted west of 12 green.  These plus will, over time, spread via their seed and also provide some great color for that area of the golf course.

Designated OP area on #16
We also seeded additional wildflowers to the left of 16 in our designated "Operation Pollinator" area, as a test of establishment in this fashion.  While this area does not look like much is going on except for fox tail and thistle populations going wild, we are seeing 8 species of different wildflowers taking shape, as the pictures below indicate.  The areas that I planted plugs in last year produced some flowers this year, and began to spread in area, albeit very slowly.

Greg Stump pointing out Coreopsis plants
Black eyed Susan
Gallardia species 
Bachelor Button species

My plan of attack in this area for next year is to renovate the areas that have weeds and grasses in them, and reseed with a wildflower/bluestem seed mixture.  This will decrease the thick grassy weeds and thistle and hopefully provide a more uniform stand of grasses and flowers.  Also, we will be much more proactive in removing any weeds in this area that do germinate.  Finally, we will widen the area of play to create a little more space between the native area and the fairway for any wayward lay up shots, as currently there is only 12 yards between the two.

Our final project was to invite a local birding group for a nature walk along the club's nature trails.  In late May I hosted two individuals from the South Bend/Elkhart Audubon Society, and while they were impressed with Elcona's property and efforts, we were not able to get on their calendar for this year.  Tentatively, we are on their 2016 calendar for a group visit.

Speaking of 2016, Elcona's Audubon committee is meeting this month and will consider many ideas that I will share as the year draws closer to an end.  You can be sure that all will further emphasize Elcona's commitment to both its local ecosystem and the well being of our community. I appreciate your continued support and participation in Elcona's Audubon program, and for giving me the opportunity to learn and grow as a steward of this great property.  If you have any questions, please contact me at


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Course Notes,10/1/15

Oak tree left of 1 green succumbed to oak wilt
I am sure most of you have noticed the oak tree near 1 green that has rapidly defoliated over the last two months.  I have had a couple of outside experts look at this tree in the last couple of weeks and their consensus is that the tree succumbed to Oak Wilt.   Oak wilt is a fungal disease that affects the vascular system of the tree, and is spread via insects and by root grafts (or conjoined roots of two oak trees) in the soil.  We will be removing this tree when the ground freezes as part of our annual tree work and monitor the surrounding oaks for potential infection.

The staff and I have begun the process of preparing the turf for winter.  We have aerified tees and are in the process of aerifying cart path entrance and exit points, which help alleviate the strain that turf takes from in-season play.

As a reminder, greens aerification will take place on October 8th and 9th, weather permitting.  The first day we will be working on the front 9 greens and the large practice green, with the other 10 greens aerified the following day.  If there are any changes due to weather, I will communicate those to you via the blog.  Fairways will be aerified the week of October 12th, again weather permitting.  The staff and I appreciate your patience and understanding during this necessary agronomic procedure.  If you would like more information on the benefits of aerification, please click here for a great video from the USGA that identify the methods and reasoning behind aerification.

Fall is the best time to apply fertilizer to any turf, whether it be your lawn, or the turf out on the golf course.  Applications have already taken place to tees and green surrounds.  Greens and fairways will be receiving additional feeding through our sprayers as the month progresses to help build carbohydrate storage in the plant for winter.

If you have any questions, please email me at


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

MRTF Golf Day September 28th

On September 28th, Elcona is hosting the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation's annual Golf Day.  In previous blog posts that you can read here and here, Greg and I have highlighted the great efforts that this foundation has performed to further develop and grow turf research in Indiana and the US.  As I wrote in March, I thank all of you for Elcona's long standing support of the MRTF and its efforts.

The MRTF has a few openings for its Golf Day fundraiser on the 28th.  The Golf Day is one of the MRTF's largest fundraising events and is always an entertaining, fun day on the golf course.  The event begins with a box lunch and registration from 10:30 til 11:55, followed by a shotgun start at 12:00 p.m.  The golf format is "Elcona Best Ball", meaning 1 net score counts on the par 5's, 2 net on the par 4's, and 3 net on the par 3's.  An awards reception follows golf, where industry leaders will speak and hand out prizes.  Cost is $125 per person, and includes golf and two drink tickets.   Additional details on the event can be found by clicking here.

If you are interested in getting a foursome together and playing on the 28th, you can register online at, or email me at and I can help sign you up.

Thank you again for all of your support of turf research here in Indiana, and I hope to see you on the 28th!


September Course Notes and Happenings

We are halfway through September already.  The month has provided some great weather to get out and enjoy the golf course.  Last Friday's rain was quite the damper on the Boys and Girls Club Ryder Cup fundraiser, but provided me the opportunity to take a couple pictures of this nice rainbow over the course in the morning, ahead of the rain.  This sight was one reminder of many the awe-inspiring images that I have the opportunity to see and enjoy on a daily basis.

 The picture to the left, is not one of those images I enjoy seeing.  This is damage left by a raccoon or skunk, forging for food.  This time of year white grubs are close to the turf surface, and areas that are normally untreated, like this area near the woods on 13, provide areas for animals to dig in search of their next meal.  Mole activity is increased this time of year as well, for the same reason: grubs are a source of food for them. We are treating these areas as needed to eliminate the food source so that damage to turf is minimized, and also will be seeding the damaged turf.  These areas will be marked as ground under repair for the time being.

The picture to the right is on the north side of 13.  The damage to the turf is a result of 2 quick acting fungal diseases:  grey leaf spot and foliar pythium.  We have treated these areas to knockdown any additional fungal activity, and will be seeding this area later today.  Again, this area will be marked as ground under repair until the turf stand recovers.

Finally, a few of you have asked about the differing, inconsistent lies received on any given hole in the turf surrounding the green.  In 2012, the intermediate strips around the greens were removed and replaced with 100% Kentucky bluegrass.  This turf was quite stringy last year and in places still allows a ball to sink down lower than other areas outside of this newer sod, which is compromised mainly of a mix of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, Poa annua, and roughstalk bluegrass.

In this blog post I wrote last year, I described the possible scenarios that allowed shots to sink into the bluegrass around the green.  2 weeks ago, we applied slow release fertilizer to promote new growth near the crowns of the plant to help support the ball and keep it from sinking down below.  Throughout the month we will be aerifying the surrounds with solid tines to alleviate compaction and increase the health of this turf by introducing fresh oxygen to the rootzone and allowing new channels for root growth and development.

If you have questions about anything on the golf course, please feel free to contact me at the maintenance shop, or email me at  Thanks, and have a great day!


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tee Aerification Postponement

With the current muggy, cloudy conditions and the increasing chances of rain in the forecast for today, we will be postponing tee aerification.  We will perform this necessary practice on Monday, September 21st, which is a closed day for the golf course.

Cores removed from aerification must be completely dry for us to remove them successfully without making a muddy mess.  It is my opinion that we will not have an adequate drying window today.

Thanks for your understanding!


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

August Course Notes and Happenings

It has been a while since I last posted, and much has gone on since my last post.  Another successful Walter O. Wells Invitational has come and gone, and the staff and I congratulate all of the flight winners.  Well played!

The summer has taken a dramatic turn in the weather.  Gone are the cool, wet days of June and early July, and more temperate dry weather has taken hold across the entire region, which is great for firmer conditions on the golf course.  The staff and I have had many days of syringing greens in the afternoon to keep them cool.  Some of the summer stresses have returned as well on four of these greens: 1,9,13, and 18.  Areas of these greens had anthractnose develop on the turf, which is a fungal disease that can cause damage if not held in check.  The anthractnose has affected just the Poa annua turf.

On Monday, we spiked these playing surfaces to further vent them, and topdressed with sand.  The purpose of this is to increase oxygen flow to the roots and dry the profile out to eliminate the environmental conditions needed for the disease to thrive.  We also have began using a dedicated mower for these greens, with a slight increase in height (.005") to better allow the turf to recover from the damage caused.  This is a temporary solution that should alleviate the current situation.  These steps are the best management practices to deal with anthracnose.  As soon as the disease is held in check, we will be repairing any damage that does not recover fully and return the green to normal maintenance practices, and my goal for that is next week.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me at

The Elcona Seed to Feed Garden has continued to thrive over the past few weeks as well.  In the last two weeks, over 3600 pounds of produce has been harvested, which is tremendous.  The zucchini and yellow squash has looked great, and the pumpkins have begun to shoot from the blooms and take shape.  Volunteers are always welcome to help with the weekly harvest and care, everyone meets at 5:30 every Thursday night.  The garden is located north of the Short Game area, along the dirt road to the north of the barn.


Monday, June 15, 2015

June Happenings

 While the weather in the last week has been more conducive for ducks, the staff has been busy with their latest project for the summer:  refurbishing bunker sand.  This year, 8 green side bunkers have been approved to have a make over:  removing all of the contaminated sand and replaced with fresh sand.

Our staff excited to refurbish
Sand all removed to base layer

Sand from 11 added to 7 fairway bunker
These bunkers are:  The right green side bunker on #1, the left green side bunker on 2, the top 2 bunkers next to 5 green, the right green side bunker on 7, the right green side bunker on 11, and both the left green side and the bottom right green side bunkers on 14.  The staff finished the bunker on 11 today and will be working on the bunkers on 1 and 2 this week.

The sand that is removed has been contaminated over the years by severe washouts that mix the sand with silt, causing the color to become darker and playability compromised.  Sand that is not overly contaminated is taken to a fairway bunker that is low in sand and spread out there.  For example, the sand from 11 bunker was placed in two fairway bunkers on 7.

Faces being compacted
The finished product on 11

When sand is added, we are using both our bunker rake and a hand tamper to compact the sand to a proper level.  The bottoms of the bunkers are compacted to a 4" layer (recommended by the USGA) and the faces are at a 2" layer when compacted.  We will be picking these bunkers off as our schedule and course needs allow us to do.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

New tree tags for Imprelis catalog
Also, we have been updating the tree tags on trees impacted by Imprelis.  Over the years, the tags and the markings on them have weathered, and for ease of cataloging and observing any potential changes in symptoms, we are updating them accordingly.  We went with a metallic tag to more permanently identify these trees and a larger color coding tag to more easily identify the stage they have been rated in.  Again, if you have any questions, please contact me.

Have a great week and lets hope for some drier weather!


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rounds 4 Research

As many of you know, I am a graduate of Purdue University's Turf Science program, and currently serve on the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation's Board of Directors as its Vice President.  The sole purpose of the MRTF is to support turf research and education at Purdue University for the betterment in Indiana, the Midwest, and nationally.  Some of that research and information has been posted by both Greg and I here and here.  Again, I thank each and every one of you as a member of Elcona for your continued support of both the MRTF and Evans Scholars programs on an annual basis, helping support and grow the game of golf and the surfaces it is played on.

One new program that the MRTF is participating this year in is called Rounds 4 Research, which is ran by the Environmental Institute for Golf.  Member facilities donate rounds to be auctioned off online, and 80% of the proceeds raised are donated to a designated turfgrass foundation to further turf research and education.  More information on Rounds 4 Research can be found at

This year's auction includes packages at some exclusive facilities nationwide, including Bandon Dunes, many TPC courses, Pinehurst, Trump National, and the Greenbriar Resort to name a few. Here in Indiana, Elcona is a proud donor as well as the French Lick Resort, Pine Valley CC, Tippy Lake CC, Victoria National, and 13 other facilities.

From now until June 21, bidding is open on these packages and there are many great deals to be had. The auction is at  If you like to travel and play different courses around the state and nationally, this auction can offer you a great deal and provide continued support to the turf programs across the country so they can continue to provide cutting edge turf research to turf managers like myself.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Cart Path Paving Complete!

The cart paths along 2 green, 15 green, 3 tee and green, 8 green, 12 green, 14 green, and 15 tee have all been completed today by NiBlock.  I appreciated their hustle and hard work getting all of these done in a day.

Over the next few days, our staff will be replacing the sod along the sides that were removed to get all paths back to an 8' width and smoothing any entry and exit points so that the transition from path to sod is consistent with the other paths on the golf course.  Until we can reach all of these areas, please use caution when driving onto and off of the new paths to save both your body and Elcona's golf carts.  Thank you for your consideration.

Also, we do have some truck ruts to repair in front of 2 tee.  In looking at all the possible ways to route the asphalt trucks to 2 green and 15 green, this way was the best case scenario.  I did not want these extremely heavy trucks on the paths near 3 and 16 tee that were paved 2 years ago and risk damaging them with all the weight.  Our staff will be filling in these ruts with soil tomorrow, and sodding them later this week.  If you have any questions, please contact me.  Thank you, and have a great week!


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Course and Project Update, 5/31/15

A soggy end to the month of May
What a way to end the month of May.  As I am writing this, we have received 3.25" of rain in the past 24 hours.  With exception of the bunkers, the course took this rain very well.  The sandy soil that Mr. Sims gave Elcona is some of the best draining in the region and I am fortunate to have it.

The green, tee, and bunker surrounds I wrote about here are slowly pushing new growth and coming back from their injury.  In select areas where growth is not at the rate that I was expecting, we will be aerifying small holes into the surface to break the preemergent herbicide barrier, and slit seeding to try and fill those areas better.  I appreciate everyone's patience with the recovery of these areas.

The terrace project is reaching its final days.  Work focused this past week on construction of the fire pit.  This required over 100 cuts into the stone to make the 6 foot diameter circle for the insert, as well as some custom cutting to make vents and the valves fit seamlessly into the stone.  When, finished, the fire feature will be 18" tall.  The fire insert itself is a 36" penta-style burner with a layer of lava rock topped with realistic-looking logs.  Stay tuned for pictures of the final look!

One of the neat sights around the property each May are the new additions to the wildlife families on course.  The new litters of turkeys have started to roam the course, and the above picture was taken by our head golf professional, Tom Thome.  We think this fawn was born the night before out near the halfway house.  This demonstrates another example of the sanctuary golf courses can be in providing safe, quality habitats for native wildlife.  

Finally, Niblock will be here on Monday to start resurfacing cart paths along 2 and 15 green, hole # 3 and 4 tee, hole #8, around 12 green, and from 14 green to 15 tee.  You may have noticed our staff removing sod along these paths over the last couple of days.  Over the years, turf growth has narrowed paths from their original 8 foot width.  Niblock will be overlaying these areas with an additional 2" of asphalt. This work is expected to leak into Tuesday and if there is a need to re-route traffic, we will communicate that to you.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  Have a great week and I will see you out on the golf  course!