Thursday, December 27, 2012

You never know what you'll find...

While cutting up a pine tree from between #15 and #16 fairways, we ran across a golf ball that had obviously been lost some years ago.

Based on the rings on the tree, we estimate it was lost sometime between 1988 and 1992!  If you are missing a Hogan 1 with a logo on it, let me know (although we "damaged" it a bit with the chainsaw)!

You just never know what you'll find on a golf course...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Go Figure...

It figures that on what the Mayan's have predicted is the last day of our existance, winter finally arrived at CCC!  Last night Winter Storm "Draco" impacted the Midwest causing travel woes and general headaches for millions of folks trying to get from point "A" to point "B".  Here in Champaign we only saw an inch or so of snow, but howling winds that made it seem like much more.  I was finally able to get the plow out and push some snow around, which is good therepy for this Minnesota native!

Assuming the Mayans were wrong about the world ending today, and I think they were, the cold weather that Draco has ushered in will prove to be a benefit to our winter productivity on the golf course.  We have some large sweetgum logs to bring in yet and have plans for more tree work that will be easier if the ground is frozen.

As far as the Doomsday is concerned, odds are you are reading this sometime after December 21st, 2012.  If you are, then we made it!  Having read several articles on this date and what it means, it seems that today truely is special.  Today, the winter solstice, the Earth is in perfect alignment with the exact center of the Milky Way, where scientists have recently discovered a black hole.  Some believe that this alignment will cause a polar shift in the Earth's mantle, causing apocalyptic world wide catastrophies.  This alignment, along with many other celestial events was predicted by the Mayans thousands of years ago.  According to their Long Count calander, today marks the end of the 12th Baktun, a period consisting of 144,000 days. This date is specifically identified as  It also marks the beginning of the 13th Baktun, also known as "" which ironically "restarts" the Mayan calander.  It is sort of akin to the odometer on your car "flipping" back to all zeros.  There is research that shows that the Mayans actually looked at today as not the end of the world, but a period of cleansing and rebirth.  A new beginning. To me this is a better outlook than one of doom and death!

Ironically this day falls at the end of a work week preceeding a long Christmas weekend, the holiest of all Christian holidays.  It falls during a time in our country where clarity, cleansing, and "a new beginning" may be needed more than ever before, with Hurricane Sandy, the shooting in Newtown CT, and the impending Fiscal Cliff that has so many Americans losing hope that 2013 will be better than 2012. This day falls on a day that preceeds four to five days that will likely be spent with family and friends, away from the stress and monotony of our daily work lives, and hopefully in some state of relaxation.  I challenge you to take this time to heed the Mayans advice and look inward.  Cleanse, strive for clarity, and search for a new beginning.  Spend the Christmas holiday weekend reconnecting with family members and friends who you have lost touch with, taking stock in the things we have and the people we love.  Enjoy this time of rebirth.

With any luck the world will not end, but will get better.  All of us will return to work with renewed vigor and a more positive outlook on life.  Life will carry on and the 13th Baktun will prove to be prosperous!

Here's hoping you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Lights and Trees

If you have been by the club lately at night you have surely notice the place is glowing under the light of nearly 80,000 mini lights.  The remnants of our summer staff along with our full timers spent close to three weeks putting up the lights and it shows!

On the course we have begun our tree work for the winter.  We have removed several trees already including a Sweetgum that had developed a pretty severe split (see picture) and was becoming quite dangerous.  Because the ground is still soft, we are not able to get our chipping equipment out on the course so we will "stage" branches in anticipation of upcoming frozen ground conditions. We will continue tree work throughout the winter, prioritizing dangerous trees, and will hopefully be able to make a positive impact on course aesthetics and turf conditions next season.

Split in a Sweetgum right of #11 fairway

Lucy supervised the removal of the Sweetgum.  Just one
less place for the squirrels to hide!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012: A Summer to Remember

Ask anyone who spent any time outdoors this summer and they will tell you that 2012 was brutal. We should have known, as March brought with it temperatures in the low 90’s and was relatively dry. Despite a cool snap in April, summer was here and it was set to challenge golf course personnel in ways we have not been challenged since 1988, some even say the dust bowl. We broke records all summer with the high heat and lack of rain, and the efforts put forth by the CCC Grounds Staff were monumental. Below are some “interesting facts” about the summer of 2012…

- Starting in March, it was confirmed that Illinois had just come off the third warmest winter on record.

- Also in March, Central Illinois was added to the US Drought Monitor as being “abnormally dry”.

- March became the warmest March on record with an average temperature of 54.7 degrees. A full 14.1 degrees above normal!

- After a relatively cool April, May became the 5th warmest on record. A warm May finished off the warmest spring on record. Year-to-date, 2012 had become the warmest January to May on record.

- By the end of June, Champaign County was in a moderate drought and was verging on a severe drought according to the US Drought Monitor. At this point 89% of the state was in some sort of drought.

- July went into the record books as being the 2nd hottest and 4th driest on record. Only the dust bowl years eclipsed these records. The US Drought Monitor indicated that 71% of the state (including Champaign County) was in a D3 or “extreme” drought. Crop loss reports began piling up.

- During the month of July, we used just over 7.5 million gallons of water to keep CCC alive. One third of this amount or 2.5 million gallons were used through hand watering with hoses. On many occasions we had six staff members at a time hand watering dry areas to keep them alive. This proved to be a game changer in our quest to keep CCC green.

- The month of August finally gave us “normal” conditions with the average temperature 0.1 degree below normal and rainfall at 95% of normal.

- September actually was slightly below normal for temperatures and above normal for precipitation. Discussions of the drought subsiding were common and turf recovery went into high gear.

Despite broken records, a historical drought, and a summer that started in March, we survived. Water was king this summer and courses that didn’t use it enough or who ran short suffered miserably. I feel fortunate that we have ample water available to us however we will always be vigilant on how much we use. We saw first hand this July that, while we have plenty of water available, it is not free! Our approach to hand water as much as we did not only helped save our turf, but saved a considerable amount of water in the process. I spoke to many superintendents during the summer about irrigation practices and found that many courses in our area were using upwards of 500,000 gallons of water each night to keep up with the drought. We never topped 250,000 gallons per night at CCC.

In retrospect, 2012 was a good year. On the heels of two seasons of turf loss we made it through a very difficult summer in good shape. The difference? We were in control of the water for the entire season! A member told me this summer “this place loves to be dry!” and I would have to say that he was spot on with that statement. Our major turf loss comes during times of too much water and high temperatures. Our course cannot shed water fast enough, remains saturated for long periods of time, and suffers through wet stretches. When we are in control of the water, we see far healthier turf!

Looking ahead, no one knows what 2013 will bring. My hope is that it will bring moderate temperatures with occasional light rain… only at night… and only when we need it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Three weeks ago we were having a record breaking spring with all phenological things springing to life two to three weeks ahead of schedule.  As such, we decided to aerate our greens two weeks early and take advantage of the weather that had become the norm for the past couple weeks.  Aerification went well and we were able to use our new ProCore 648 aerator, which performed perfectly.  Hole quality was incredible and we pulled very healthy 1/2" cores.  After topdressing and cleaning them up, the greens were set for a quick recovery and satisfied golfers...

Then it got cold!  Since aerification we have been thrust back to "normal" spring temperatures which included four nights of frosty or near frosty temperatures immediately following aerification.  This cold snap effectively halted the growth of our greens and along with it the recovery from aerification. 

Today marks the beginning of a warming trend that has already spurred growth on our greens, which we have noticed through a remarkable increase in our clipping yield when we mow.  I am hopeful that within the next week we will see nearly full closure of our aerification holes and putting will become smooth and true.  As it is in the golf course maintenance industry, we are so often at the mercy of Mother Nature!  Frustrating at times, but the forecast looks good for recovery to begin!

Looking down on a green you can see holes that are beginning to disappear.

This picture shows a patch of a more cold tolerant variety of bent that has
already healed.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Very Dry!

The crew was hard at work today getting the course mowed and ready for the Easter weekend, but Assistant Superintendent Ben Christie and I spent most of the day chasing wilt.  Yes, we are hand watering dry spots in April!  Already I have run several full irrigation cycles on the golf course and I will be turning it up tonight in preparation for Monday's greens aerification.  Never before have I seen the golf course this dry so early in the year!  With the 10 day forcast showing little signs of any precipitation, we will continue to pump water to keep up with dry turf.  Keep your fingers crossed for rain in the next week or so... 

Below are some interesting pictures that sort of sum up the spring we are having.

A world map of temperature departures from normal.  According
to this map, we are the "hottest place on earth" when compared to
average temperatures for this time of year.

Already the State Climatologist is posting U.S. Drought Monitor
figures.  Champaign is on the edge of an "abnormally dry" area.
With no rain in the forcast, we will likely move into a "moderate
drought" in the next week or so.

Assistant Superintendent Ben Christie monitors and waters dry
spots on #16 green.  We are already having to spend afternoons
watching our turf for signs of wilt.

Goose Patrol

I couldn't resist posting this...

Lucy, my 2 year old Brittany, has been honing her skills as the resident "goose chaser." With her speed, tenacity, and increasing fearlessness she has been harassing the geese at every opportunity.  I took this video the other day when we came upon our nesting pair off the nest and in the #13 pond.

Apologies for the sloppy camera work, but you'll still probably appreciate the hard work that Lucy gives!  It's hard to believe that not quite 12 months ago she was recovering from achilles re-attachment surgery!


Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Spring of Plenty!

 During this unusually warm spring, the golf course seems to be moving in double time towards summer conditions.  We have already made our spring crabgrass preventative application, an application we normally wouldn't be making for another couple of weeks! Because of a potentially longer season, we will be following up our crabgrass application with a second application later this spring.  This "split application" will allow the herbicide to outlast the window of crabgrass germination.  Next on tap is a much earlier than normal grub control application. 

This warm spring has also brought with it plenty of "plenty's"!  Our flowering trees have come into full bloom and "plentiful" hardly describes them right now.  It has been rare to see our trees in such a showy bloom!  Our other deciduous trees have also decided to leaf out early.  Many of our maples seem to have almost come into their summer leaf out.  Last week I was noticing how many leaves were already on our silver maples, but when I looked closer I found that there were very few leaves, but "plenty" of seeds!  Not a good sign for the weeks to come!  We will have our blowers working overtime to keep up with what will surely be a bumper crop of maple seeds this year.

Last, but certainly not least, are the Poa annua seedheads.  This spring we elected to not make our spring growth regulator application to control seedheads, partly because the timing of the application came and went so fast, but also because of the fact that the seedheads came on so early that they will be finishing up before many golfers begin to play with regularity.  Allowing Poa to produce a seedhead helps in our longterm battle against Poa in that the plant expends a considerable amount of its stored energy producing that seedhead.  A weaker plant gives bentgrass a bit of a competitive advantage later in the growing season.  The amount of seed produced by the Poa does present a problem if it were to germinate, but it is merely a drop in the bucket when you consider the amount of Poa seed already in our soil.  My hope is to prevent the Poa seed from germinating through the use of pre-emergant herbicides, and continue to give bentrass the competitive edge through our cultural programs and our Velocity program.

Flowering crabs and a redbud near #17 green are in full display.

At first glance, our silver maples seem to be leafing out early.

Upon closer inspection, it is obvious these aren't leaves!!

The emergence of Poa seedheads is earlier and heavier than usual.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mowing Right Along...

Not many of us in the golf course industry have seen a spring quite like this one.  With a week of 70's behind us and the 7 day forcast showing highs in the 70's and even a couple 80's there is no doubt we will be seeing our golf course come into its own much earlier this year than any that I can remember.  Tomorrow will mark our third mowing of the greens this year, and next week we will likely begin mowing every other day.  My gut tells me that we will still have a significant cool down yet this spring, and dare I say some "wintery precipitation" could still fall, but we will certainly enjoy this preview of what I hope to be a great year.
Alan puts the first cut of the year on #17 fairway.

Assistant Superintendent Ben Christie works on
smoothing the root pruning trenches.  These will
get seeded in April.

A downside of the early spring is that we have spent
so much time mowing grass that our winter crew hasn't
been able to finish our winter cleanup yet.

Another victim of an early spring is an unprepared bunker.
We will be bringing back some seasonal help next week to
start getting bunkers ready for the year.  Golfers will have to
show patience while we finish our prep work.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

First cut of 2012!

March 7th could be one of the earliest "first cuts" in the eight seasons I've been at CCC.  The non-winter we had and the recent warm temperatures have caused some growth and greening up on the golf course.  We mowed greens only today and will likely get collars and approaches mowed yet this week.  I am not in a huge hurry to mow tees and fairways partly because we have about a week's worth of cleanup to do after two days of nearly constant 35mph wind!  Any weakly attached branch managed to find its way to the ground, including half of a tree next to the practice range and a crab apple near the 18th green. We will likely be spending some time during the next week cleaning the branches up and slowly get around to mowing tees and fairways as areas become clean enough to mow.  In the next few weeks we will start bringing back part of our seasonal crew to help prepare the rest of the course for the season.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sectional Management

A couple difficult growing seasons in a row are great for exposing the weaknesses in your management programs on the golf course.  Whether it is a re-evaluation of agronomic programs, confirmation that you are doing things right, or exposing the need to completely re-think your approach, many times there are changes that are needed.

This winter we are doing just that, tweaking some agronomic programs, tree root pruning in areas that turf suffers from tree root competition, and changing our philosophy in how we attack the management of our golf course.

For years,  our crew has been spread throughout the golf course.  Often times our crew has been assigned jobs that "start on #1 and finish on #18" encompassing one small element of the entire golf course.  This approach works, and is widely used, but has it's weaknesses.  Pride in work and ownership have been two areas that I have seen slip recently and I think it has its root in the fact that most of my staff does everything everywhere!  In many cases I have five or six people doing the same repeated task throughout the week and when something goes wrong, it becomes the norm to just blame one of the other guys!  Frustrating for sure, and with the recent difficult growing seasons it has come to a head.

To address this problem we are going to tackle the golf course a little differently this year.  We are going to a "Sectional Management" philosophy that will hopefully inspire our staff to take ownership in their work and at the very least create some accountability that will help in the efficiency of our management of the staff.  Here's how it will work...

We have broken the golf course up into four sections, and have included the clubhouse grounds and practice range as the fifth.  Each section will be the responsibility of two staff members (one for the clubhouse section).  This "sectional team" will have the responsibility of everything in their section, with the exception of large area mowing (fairways and rough), and chemical applications.  All of the green and tee mowing will be their responsibility.  They will tend to their bunkers and fix edges that need to be repaired.  They will be responsible for all of the "detail work" in their section.  Expectations will be thoroughly spelled out and will be constantly checked for quality.  The trade off for the employee is that, provided they are keeping up with their expected duties, they will have a great deal of freedom in how they go about meeting those expectations.  Autonomy and a sense of accomplishment will be their reward for doing their job well.  As a manager, the sectional approach will drastically improve my ability to efficiently manage our staff.  I will always have a "go to guy" for things I see on the golf course.

Training will be critical, along with establishing and enforcing our expectations.  If Ben and I do our jobs, the net result will be a more engaged, more efficient staff who provide consistantly better conditions on the golf course!

Because of this new philosophy and other off season changes, I am more excited about the upcoming year than I have been in a long while!!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Welcome Ben Christie!

Ben Christie started this week as our new Assistant Superintendent.  Ben grew up just blocks from the Club and attended Champaign Central High School.  He spent several years working his way up through the ranks at the University of Illinois Orange and Blue Courses where he eventually landed the position of Second Assistant Superintendent.  Working for former CCC Assistant Superintendent Allen Wall, Ben was able to gain valuable working knowledge of the art of golf course management and was frequently given the reigns to run the crew.  With Ben's local ties to the Club and his willingness to learn, I am confident that he will be a great addition to the management team at CCC.   I look forward to this season and beyond working with Ben! 

During his first week at the Club we have put Ben to work!  We removed several White Pines from the back and right side of #15 tee, opening it up to some air movement and some morning sun.  We have a few more trees to prune in this area and the memorial garden behind the tee will be reduced in size.  These changes will have a drastic impact on our ability to grow bentgrass on this tee!  Standing on the tee, you will feel a little less crowded by the pines to the right.

Also this week, we begun work on our Section Bays in the Quonset building.  These bays will house all of the tools needed to maintain each of the four "sections" on our golf course.  Next week I will write about our new "Sectional" approach to managing our golf course.  I believe this new approach will translate to consistantly better conditions on the course and clubhouse grounds.  Stay tuned for more information!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I Gave Up...

I can't help but feeling that the winter we are having is slowly slipping away.  We are now into the second week of February and the ground remains completely unfrozen.  With the long range forcast calling for continued "above average" temperatures, I have given up the notion that we will get frozen ground suitable for tree work.  With that in mind, we have officially begun an abbreviated "tree season" where we will be pruning or removing trees from the course that pose safety hazards, are adversely effecting turf conditions, or are effecting golfers' ability to navigate a hole.

We have quite a few trees that are simply dying or are already dead that will be near the top of our removal list, and have many more that have outgrown their location and are overhanging a tee or fairway, or are inhibiting the growth of a nearby, more desireable tree.  With proper pruning and selective removals we will highlight "specimen trees" by eliminating the clutter.

 We ventured off the cartpath with our dumptruck to help speed up the process, but will likely keep it at ourshop and haul branched in with carts and trailers due to the soft ground.  It is difficult to see in the above picture, but we did a little damage to the turf just getting our equipment set up on the grass.  This is where frozen ground makes tree trimming much easier.
Because of the soft conditions, we are forced to "piece down" as many limbs as possible, leaving them piled at the base of the tree to act as a cushion for larger limbs and logs.  This process also adds significantly to the amount of time it takes to remove a tree.  With frozen ground we are more likely to drop the tree and then cut it up on the ground.  This way is much safer and much more efficient.  Unless we see frozen ground, we will continue to drop trees in small pieces.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Frosty but not Frozen

I'm starting to worry that we won't have winter, but more of just an extended Indian Summer of sorts.  While this warmer than average "off season" has been pleasant to work in, it has greatly inhibited our ability to get tree pruning and removal equipment onto the golf course.  We have an abundance of tree work to do and so far have not been able to start because ground conditions have been too wet and too soft.  This morning we had some freezing fog roll through that turned everything white and frigid looking (see pictures), but our ground is still soft and wet.

With the extended forcast looking like more of the same, we will likely give up on waiting for the ground to freeze and begin an abbreviated tree program.  Instead of bringing our truck and chipper to the trees, we will leave it at the shop or on the perimeter of the course and bring trees to the chipper.  This will be much slower and less efficient, but will avoid the damage that the heavy equipment will cause to the course.  Maybe we'll have a cold snap later this month and in March that will allow some better progress.

 The freezing fog seemed to produce a real life
black and white photo

 Our driving range netting looked almost solid with
frost crystals

A close up of the frost crystals.  Mother Nature's
lattice work!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Addressing "the root" of the problem...

Having gone through a couple difficult summers in a row, we have noticed the full impact our trees have on the golf course, specifically through competition for both sunlight and water and nutrients.  This past year it was painfully obvious that where tree roots and turf are fighting for the same inputs, the trees prevail.  It has been shown that a mature tree can use in excess of 200 gallons of water per day, with Oaks, Elms, and Silver Maples being near the top of the charts.  This is not good news for the turf at Champaign Country Club.  These three species make up a large majority of our trees and in many cases we have 80' to 100' trees just yards off the fairways. 

To address this issue we have embarked (pardon the pun) on an aggressive tree root pruning program that will involve nearly every tree that is near a fairway, tee, or a green.  We accomplish the pruning through the use of a trencher that will physically sever the roots of the trees.  Having spoken to colleagues and other industry experts I am confident that the root pruning will not only improve the turf in the effected areas, but will not adversely effect the trees being pruned.  While we will address 90% of the root issues this winter, it is important to note that we plan on re-pruning many of these areas every three or so years to keep the invasive roots at bay.  Future prunings will likely be done with less damaging equipment.  Below are some pictures of the process.

 Some areas we "spot pruned" by individual trees that have
caused turf issues (above), while others we simply trenched
down the entire tree line (below).

Notice in the above picture the solid mass of roots along the
right edge of the trench.  Pruning these roots will eliminate thousands
of roots that have been competing with our turf!