The recent rain has washed away much of the snow revealing a golf course that appears to have overwintered well. As the temperatures begin to warm, it is an opportune time to provide the membership with a golf course update. This report will focus on how the golf course overwintered, work completed over the last few months, spring projects, and some preliminary thoughts on when the golf course facilities may open.
Winters are Changing
For the past several years, I have noted how the winter weather, specifically when we experience cold temperatures or precipitation events, or the severity to which they occur, continues to differ from the historical norm. The winter of 2022-2023 continued that trend and was milder than usual. We do not have any frost in the ground and up until mid-February we did not have any significant snow accumulation. The snow arrived in the months of February and March, which has been the trend for the past several years.
Based on what I have seen over the past few days, the golf course has wintered well. The one thing the weather this winter has produced more of is snow mold. The amount of snow mold in our untreated rough areas is higher than in a normal year. Outside of the untreated rough areas, all other surfaces on the golf course came out clean without any snow mold.
In general, now that our greens are bentgrass and have internal drainage, I am generally less concerned about them, than I was when they were poa annua. I tend to be more concerned with low-lying areas on fairways where water can sit for extended periods of time. However, in reviewing the current 14-day forecast, temperatures appear to be stable, and there do not appear to be any significant temperature swings (a daytime temperature of 12 C to a nighttime temperature of -15 C), which means there is a low risk of hydration injury.
The most popular question I’m asked at this time of year is, “When is the golf course going to open?” Unfortunately, it is a little too early to make a prediction with any accuracy. I can say that last year at this time, the course was completely snow free, so Spring is off to a slower start. As soon as we have more information regarding opening timelines for the golf course and Practice Tee, we will communicate them to the membership. Members are reminded that the Short Course remains open for their year-round use.
It has been a productive off-season in the Course & Grounds department. While most members are aware of what we do on the golf course in the winter, there are a lot of other tasks being completed behind the scenes that members do not see.
Below is a list of some of the things that occur during the off-season:
Clean, repair (if necessary), and paint all golf course accessories.
Complete and submit annual pesticide and water-taking summaries per regulatory requirements.
Each piece of equipment (golf carts, utility carts, walk mowers, ride-on mowers, and tractors) comes through the shop for an annual mechanical service. They also have their mowing units rebuilt, sharpened, and adjusted for spring. If you would like to learn a little more about what happens in the Equipment Shop CLICK HERE to watch this USGA video:
Plant health programs for the upcoming season are built and requests for proposals are sent to vendors.
Members of the team attend continuing education conferences and trade shows. This year members of the team attended the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) Conference and Trade Show, the Canadian Golf Course Management Conference and the Ontario Turfgrass Symposium.
Recruitment of seasonal team members for the upcoming season.
Snow plowing of the club parking lot and maintenance of the Winter Trails.
This list gives you a snapshot of what happens behind the scenes in the Course & Grounds department throughout the winter. This spring we are planning to host a Course & Grounds open house to provide interested members with an opportunity to see our facilities. More information will be forthcoming next month about the open house.
Tree Management Plan
During the off-season, our primary on-course work is focused on tree management. Over the past three years, it has been the implementation of our Tree Management Plan that involved removals for a variety of reasons including poor species (for example Norway Maples), reducing crowding and highlighting specimen trees. To date, we are about 85% complete in implementing the removals component of the plan. As we move forward, planting will continue to be based on recommendations from Martin Ebert, our golf course architect. A full report based on Martin’s planting recommendations will be presented to the Course & Grounds Committee this spring. An updated copy of the Tree Management Plan has been posted to the HGCC website.
Tree Removals at 7 West
I would like to take a moment to address the tree removals that occurred at 7 West green and 8 West tees this past winter. As most members will remember, 7 West green continued to underperform last summer and it was clear that additional improvements to the growing environment were necessary to ensure an healthy putting surface. The white tee on 8 West also struggled in its recovery from divoting throughout the season. The primary challenges were a lack of morning sunlight and limited air movement in this area.
With the approval of the Course & Grounds Committee and the Board of Directors, additional trees were removed from the right side of 7 West green to increase morning sunlight on the green. This also included the two Oaks that were on the back right of 7 West green, as they cast shade on 8 West tees, as well as trees to the left of the 8 West tees, to create a corridor for air movement.
While I appreciate that some members may find these removals upsetting, and that is understandable, these removals were done with the goal of improving the health of 7 West green and 8 West tees, which is of critical importance. It is worth noting that one of the large Oaks behind 7 West green was rotten to the core and was an unknown safety hazard.
The rotten Oak tree trunk behind 7 West green.
As we look to the next few weeks, we have several projects that we are planning to complete prior to opening the golf course. They are:
Collection Area Mitigation Plan
During his visit last fall, our golf course architect had an opportunity to observe firsthand the challenges that members encounter on the approaches to 2 South and 6 West. Martin put together a proposal to improve these areas and we are planning to complete the work this spring.
Martin also recommended that we remove the bird bath (the area that collects and holds water) in the approach of 2 West, so we will be completing this work at the same time as the collection areas. Given the nature of the work, we have retained a small contractor to assist with the earth and sod work.
Fairway Grass Line Changes
One of the other recommendations that came out of Martin’s visit last fall was a series of fairway grassing line changes. He feels these changes will help complete his vision for the golf course. We reviewed the changes on the ground with Martin last November and we are planning to do a sod flip this spring. In essence, we will be lifting areas of bluegrass and replacing them with bentgrass or lifting bentgrass and replacing it with bluegrass. We will primarily be able to use our own sod in this exchange process, and we will need to import only a small amount of sod to complete the project.
This process will be carried out as soon as the snow is gone, and the ground is dry enough to cut sod. In the short term, we will need to rope off these areas. By Victoria Day weekend the sod will be well-established, and it should be difficult to tell that the process even happened.
New 9 South Walking Path
The new walking path designed by Martin will also be installed this spring. The goal is also to have it completed prior to opening.
Over the past several years there has been a lot of discussion around improving the historically wet areas on the golf course. During the Golf Course Improvement Plan project, we installed a significant amount of drainage in the worst spots - 1 South, 3 South, and 8 East and they are much improved. However, we have not yet addressed areas like the lower fairway on 3 or 7 West and 3 South requires additional drainage to augment what has already been installed. We have retained Kelly Ami Inc, a firm of consulting agricultural engineers, to assist us with developing a plan to address these more challenging areas. This company has specialized in solving golf course drainage problems throughout Canada and the United States since 1986. They have helped over 150 golf clubs solve drainage issues and they come highly recommended. Their team is scheduled to visit HGCC within the next several weeks to review the key areas of the course. They will produce drainage proposals that we can implement moving forward.
As is typically the case, we have several projects planned this spring. The nice thing about these projects, being largely sod-based, is that by Victoria Day weekend we will not even know they happened. As soon as the weather permits, we will get them underway and it will not be long now until the temperatures warm and we are able to announce the start of another golf season.
I look forward to seeing everyone soon! As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com
Jordan Kitchen, AGS
Golf Course Superintendent