Based on course conditions last season, there have been comments and questions as to what may be expected this coming season. The golf course is coming out of winter very well. There is very little winter damage and very little pest damage at this time. It is going to be a very good season for golf and the golf course is going to be in excellent condition. In the following paragraphs, I will detail some of our past programs and describe our objectives for this season and the future.
For the entirety of the existence of Iron Horse Golf Club, we have been fighting a little weed called Poa Annua, also known as Annual Bluegrass. The entire point of fighting that weed is based on the detrimental effect that weed has on our Creeping Bentgrass putting greens in this particular climate. Specifically, Poa Annua grows faster and more upright than Bentgrass, so as the day progresses, the difference in the height causes greens to become bumpy and slow. Poa Annua is a prolific seed head producer, causing further surface irregularities and visual dissatisfaction. During times of disease stress in the summer, Poa Annua is more susceptible to infection. During times of extreme cold or excessive ice cover in the winter, Poa Annua is much more sensitive, which can lead to death and undesirable bare areas. Even with it’s weaknesses, it is very adept at infiltrating other turfgrasses because it is such a prolific seed producer and it thrives in cold, moist soil. Keeping it out of our Kentucky Bluegrass tees and fairways, and ultimately our Creeping Bentgrass putting greens, has always been our goal. Our cultural, chemical, and fertility plans have been based on favoring the turfgrass we want while trying to eradicate Poa Annua.
There is no magic chemical that can remove Annual Bluegrass from Kentucky Bluegrass or Creeping Bentgrass without causing some degree of damage to the beneficial turf. Usually we can control the amount of damage to an absolute minimum that goes mostly unnoticed. Last season we saw what happens when cultural practices (such as aerification) cross paths with our chemical program and then are strongly influenced by really bad weather, lack of snow cover and extremely cold temperatures in late November. Cold air gets into the aerification holes and kills the roots of the Kentucky Bluegrass resulting in significant thin turf areas. Highly chemically regulated turf cannot recover until the chemicals release their grip. The result is an entire summer season with minimal recovery, only turning the corner finally in late September.
Our response to better manage the risk has been to completely change the way we manage the turf for this season. We applied no chemicals for Poa Annua in the Fall of 2019 and will not apply any this Spring. We did not want to run the risk of leaving any open aerification holes going into winter so we have scheduled aerification in the Spring where it should be. We are focusing solely on growing the turf that we have.
We have been extremely successful at keeping our greens clean from Poa Annua for 20 years due to countless hours of picking and plugging Poa Annua plants by hand. This traditional eradication method will continue. Will we experience more Poa Annua in the Kentucky Bluegrass around the greens and on the fairways? Yes, but it will take a few years to really build up and we will re-evaluate our position on chemical control at that time.
Beginning in mid to late April, we will be aerifying tees and fairways. Along with an aggressive fertility and sand topdressing plan, this will ensure that all of the ‘thinness’ from the past season is replaced by lush Kentucky Bluegrass. Greens were aerified in the Fall using new technology, a method called ‘dryjecting’. This involves machines that blast a hole in the green using high pressure water and then dry sand and soil amendments are immediately dropped down a tube to fill the holes. This method leaves no chance of having open holes going into winter that could potentially attract cold air and root death. This was very successful this past Fall and will continue in the future.
Iron Horse is located in a very unique microclimate that has both benefits and drawbacks when growing turfgrass. At this elevation and tucked into the side of the mountains, the growing season is much shorter than it is just a few hundred feet down below in the valley. We receive more rain, we receive more snow, and we receive less help from the sun due to the deep forest and hills that surround us. It is not uncommon for our turf growth to be 4 weeks behind the other golf courses in the area each Spring. To this point, we must do everything we can to get the most out of the sun that we have. Each year we are aggressively removing trees that cast shade on trouble spots on the course. You will notice that we have been especially focused on holes 4 and 5 this year, as they have areas that are always in shade and always wet. We plan to focus on hole 8 this Spring to see if we can get more sunlight on that situation. The problem with tree work is that it seems so drastic because there is no way to just cut down part of a tree. These trees have been growing, mostly unnoticed, for twenty years since this course was established. Most of them have added 10 to 30 feet to their height and width in that amount of time. That is a huge difference when it comes to shadow casting and a huge difference to how far their root systems extend into our turfgrass areas.
Our golf course was built on rocky subsoil and capped with a really heavy, black topsoil. This topsoil is very elastic and ‘mushy’ when it is moist and becomes very hard when it dries out. We have spent time every year aerifying the fairways and topdressing with sand to build up a decent layer that stands up to cart and mower traffic and offers a firm playing surface. We intend to begin implementing the same strategy in the rough. We have many areas in the rough that have been affected by worm castings…which cause our mowers to bounce…which causes washboarding in the soft topsoil when it is moist. We have tried to address these areas on a small scale over the years, but if we really want to solve this problem, we are going to need to be more aggressive. Part of this process will involve lowering the height of the rough in the most severely affected areas before we aerify them and use that material to smooth out the washboarding. We should be able to accomplish the topdressing and smoothing if we take the height down to match the intermediate height cut of 1” that surrounds every fairway.
As the weather warms up and the turfgrass begins to grow, we will be making further evaluations of the fairway on the 8th hole. We removed the 2 feet of snow from this hole in late February to give it the best chance of drying out as soon as possible in the Spring. We plan on installing new drainage on the half of the hole nearest the green. We also plan on adding sand and incorporating it into the topsoil to improve the firmness and playability of the entire hole. This will be followed by sod from Eastern Washington that comes in at the shorter cut fairway height on large rolls. The entire hole can be sodded in 1 to 2 days once all of the preparations are complete. This project is very dependent on the supply chain that is obviously affected by Covid-19. There is the possibility that some of these suppliers may not be able to work at the time we are trying to accomplish this. We will do everything we can to make it happen.
We look forward to this golf season and seeing everyone out on the course.
Kevin Phillips and the Golf Course Maintenance Team