Bunker rake trial

In an effort to improve bunker conditions after a golfer makes a bunker shot, it was suggested that we try wider bunker rakes in the bunkers. I have purchased 4 different models, pictured below(#5 is the current rake on the course) and have numbered them accordingly.

They have been placed  on holes # 1 ,2, 5, 10, 14 &16.

I will be working with Mike Viscusi to make up a quick pole that we can email out at the end of the season. Your feedback on this experiment will give us insight on making changes for the 2019 season.


Aerification Update

Green aerification went well considering the weather. It did take us to Wednesday to complete do to the weather. Greens 2,15,& 16 were handle differently than the others due to the disease level on 15 & 16, and # 2 being under water recently. We used smaller diameter tines on those greens and hand topdressed them. This was the first time we ever attempted this and they seem to have handled it fine. The other greens were aerated as planned and are doing well. We did have an irrigation issue on 12 that has been resolved and the green is expected to fully recover. We plan on over seeding them and adding additional topdressing to a select few where the topdressing has settled into the holes.

Weed control on fairways 1-9 was completed early last week. The bermudagrass is showing signs of discoloration. This is good. It may take an additional application in the future to complete the task. We began aerification last Thursday on the front nine fairways. This was due to the marginal weather earlier in the week. 2 & 5 just need some additional clean up work to be complete. With the hot weather upon us, we will shift today’s aerification to solid tines(no cores) to 3 & 7 landing areas and the large part of 8. This is normal procedure for these fairways and will reduce the chances of damage due to the heat.

And to further complicate aerification, the computer controlled operating system (Rainbird) has totally failed. I have diagnosed it to an interface that is located in my office. I’m waiting for Rainbird representatives to assist me in further troubleshooting and or to confirm my findings on the interface. In the meantime, all watering can be completed during daytime hours as the pump station is 100% functional. Even if the irrigation system becomes fully operational, we need to exercise caution with this heat. We may have to postpone further aerification to later in the year. We did plan on aerating approaches also during this two week stretch as many of them have become weak from the summer weather and may attempt to get some of them done later this week.

I will keep everyone up to date with progress on both aerification and the irrigation system. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions and concerns.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

This past weeks rain and overcast weather did the roughs wonder bringing most of it back from dormancy. There are some areas that were taken out by disease that will need overseeding later in the season to get it filled in. But overall I see a vast improvement in the majority of rough areas. We did struggle with keeping up with some of the mowing last week. Mowing fine turf under those conditions risk mechanical damage to the plants which can lead to stress and other problems.

Which leads me to the stress some of the greens came under when the irrigation pump transformer was damaged in the storm on July 3. I mentioned in my last blog about the problem and some areas on the golf course had some wilt on them and I expected a full recovery. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen without some additional inputs from us and some patience from the membership.

If you recall my blogs from last June and July in which we had an irrigation problem and some greens had wilt on them. I explained wilt in detail and showed how 14 green in particular, had recovered nicely in a matter of a few weeks from the wilt damage.This was my expectations for the newly stressed greens.

The recently injured greens appeared to improving as new growth was visible and some of the older leafs turning yellow and dying off, typical of wilt damage. At the end of last week we noticed more leaves turning yellow and a rust/orange color developing down in the turf canopy. I knew that color from 2004, anthracnose!

Anthracnose is a disease that infects weaken annual bluegrass and in extreme cases creeping bentgrass. We battled it on some greens back in 2003 and 2004 and haven’t seen it since. It slowly takes out the leaves and if left unchecked, will spread into the crown of the plants which will lead to death.

We did determine that it was only foliar on the annual bluegrass at this point and we applied a fungicide accordingly. This weeks damp and humid weather caused an additional flare up and has left some thinning areas on #11 and #16 greens. We sprayed again this past Friday along with spiking and overseeding these two greens. To promote recovery, we will be reducing inputs on them, increasing fungicide and fertilizer applications, continue spiking and over seeding, topdressing and carefully monitoring moisture levels. So these greens may play slightly slower than the others or be a bit bumpy at times.

I will keep everyone updated on our progress. Please check the “member’s only” section of the website for daily course conditions.

Around the golf course

The last six weeks have been extremely busy for the Green Dept. Completion of the winter projects consisting of 6 tee and the bunkers on 13 took us right up to Presidents Day. The Monday before Presidents Day, Mother Nature unleashed some heavy rains which washed out the bunkers. They had to be repaired before Thursday along with other detailed grooming that was necessary to showcase the course. Judging by the compliments I received, we were successful. Much credit is owed to the Green Dept staff that worked sunup to sundown the 3 days leading up to that Thursday! Thank you guys!

We were able to catch our breath for a few days after Presidents Day before the heat and humidity rolled in bringing with it some new challenges for us. The first one was the decline of some patches of turf in the fairways. Being up to date with the preventive spray program and being very specific to a certain variety(s) of ryegrass. The areas appeared to have brown patch disease which should of been covered by our spray program, but i had my doubts on what exactly was happening.

right side 14 fairway

When in doubt, I’ll send a sample or two up to Rutgers Turf Diagnostic Laboratory for answers. They answered my question alright. These patches of turf were infected by an disease that I’ve never heard of in my 37 years in the business, “Bipoloris sorokiniana”! Searching around the internet revealed its primarily a problem in the crop industry and of southern golf courses. This is the exact reason I rotate ryegrass varieties from year to year, if we only used one or two varieties the damage would be much more widespread. I do suspect some turf loss is inevitable with this heat though. We will adjust the fungicide program to include keeping this disease in check along with preventive applications for gray leaf spot as hurricane season is upon us!


very defined spots on 7 fairway taken on 7/11/18

The second challenge was discovering the left side of the lower sixth tee turning brown overnight on us!

summer patch, left side 6 tee


We try to monitor moisture levels everyday the sun is out this time of the year and the tee had adequate moisture the morning we found it turning brown. This usually is an indicator of a dysfunctional root system. Being early in the first heat wave I suspected a disease. Either pythium root rot or summer patch. Both diseases attack the roots and can only be confirmed by a turf diagnostic lab. Rutgers once again confirmed our suspicion of summer patch. We do spray greens and approaches for summer patch as it is a bluegrass/tall fescue specific disease and most of the tees at Bala are a combination of creeping bentgrass and ryegrass. Six tee being the exception at this point being sodded to Kentucky Bluegrass. We are on a tight spray schedule with the tee and will be nursing it along to get it though the summer at which point we’ll aerate and over seed it to ryegrass.

The latest challenge came last Tuesday in the form of an isolated thunderstorm. The one inch of rain in the 15 minute span did minor flooding of bunkers but the high winds which accompanied the storm took down 5 trees along # 10 and numerous branches throughout the course. I had four staff members volunteer to come in and help clean up on the 4th of July. My sincere thanks to Tom Brian, Isaac and Aaron!  We rented a larger chipper and have finished the clean up as of yesterday.

The worst part of the storm had to be the lightening! The clubhouse lost phone service, and to my understanding to the Pro Shop also, along with the Clubs server being knocked off line. We can also add to the list, damage to the irrigation system and the loss of the main transformer for the pump station!  The initial test after the storm revealed half of the irrigation system was inoperable electronically. As many of you know, we have been down this road before with electrical storms. On Thursday morning we began diagnosing the system to find the fused cable devices  that we have been installing over the years have done their job and protected most of the system from catastrophic damage!  The extend of the damage so far has been just one decoder but we still need to diagnose 5 more fairway heads. We replaced all of the burnt fuse’s and had the system back up and running electronically on Thursday. When we went to field test all of the stations, we found the irrigation pump wasn’t working. I preformed a check on all the supply lines and fuses and found a bad 200 amp fuse in the main cutoff switch at the loading dock. There was a spare fuss in the cabinet which I promptly replaced and up and running came the pump station! Success or at least I thought! We were only able to water and check on the system….. only for an hour as the transformer that supplies the pump station caught on fire and was destroyed! Luck would have it that rain was forecasted for Friday and I was able to find a company to replace the transformer late Friday afternoon! We did some testing on Saturday morning and started to pressurize the system on Sunday morning with the computer set to operate Sunday evening. Inspecting the monitoring log on Monday morning revealed the system worked electronically with the exception of the broken fairway heads. There was some wilt on some greens, tees and fairways from this incident. We have spent time this week making sure the recovery process is swift and complete.

Going forward in this dry spell you can expect to see more hand watering, syringing of greens and roller bases through out the course on most days. This is necessary to put water only where its needed and to make up for any deficiencies in the irrigation system coverage. We all appreciate your patience during these practices as we do our best not to interfere with play.

I’m currently working on next years budget in which I will request financial support for green surround improvements, tee leveling, bunker restorations and tree removals around tees.


Wet Weather Woes

Outside of disrupting the busy golf schedule and rearranging our usual spring mowing patterns, the recent rains have brought Mother Natures aerators, earthworms, to the surface. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending how you look at this, these guys are usually beneficial to the environment. They are a sign of healthy soil and create passages into the soil which allows water, air and nutrients to the root systems. In most circumstances they go unnoticed in home lawns, gardens and throughout most areas of the golf course. That is until we get into very wet weather like we did the week before last.

Their castings which are a by product of their digestive system have wreak havoc on low cut surfaces like fairways and tees! Their castings which have a heavy soil content create half dollar size spots in the fairways and tees that smother the grass when rolled over by carts and more so, mowing equipment.

worm casting 15 fairwayThe casting also create chaos with the mowing equipment as they can be drawn into the reels, dulling the blades and build up on the rollers which can alter the height of cut. They are as much as a challenge to your game as they are to us while we try to provide superior playing conditions.

15 fairway worm mud

The photo above shows the mud being smeared on turf causing dulling of the mowers and poor lies!

So what can we do about these animals? Our choices are very limited! There are no insecticides labeled in the U.S. to control them. There are studies that indicate topdressing fairways with angular sand encourages them to move to the roughs where the soil is less abrasive. This is a very expensive option! There is also an organic fertilizer that contains tea seed meal which has been shown to have some success when applied on the onset of a steady rain, irrigation is apparently not effective in washing in the fertilizer. The cost isn’t cheap either, about $400.00/acre the last time I checked(we currently treat 20 acres of fairways or $8000.00/treatment). Reading other Superintendent blogs, this product must be applied while they are active on the surface and must be watered in with at least 1/2″ of natural rain. It has no residual so supplementing irrigation after a rain doesn’t seem to work. So the application guidelines are narrow for such an expensive product. In the past we have discussed including this option in the budget but determined to adapt to the problem as it doesn’t occur ever year.

There are a couple of fungicides that appear to irritate them to the point of moving them off site. There isn’t much research on this, just general observations throughout the industry. We do use them in the spring and late fall on the fairways and I do believe it helps, just not under the pressure we had here with the 4’+ rain we received over that week.

I will be adding the problem to the next Green Committee meeting agenda for discussion. We will add an additional fertilizer application to the fairways that received the most damage to hasten their recovery and hope for some drier weather, although the forecast for the next 5 days doesn’t indicate any relieve!


Spring Back

Even with temperatures in the 90″s the week before last,and close to 90 this past Tuesday, Mother Nature is taking her time to wake up from winter. There are both positives and negatives to this roller coaster of a “spring” as we have been able to capitalize on both sides of the spectrum.

There is no doubt that the cooler temperatures delayed growth in all plant material. From trees, to flowers (we just received our order of annuals today, our goal is to have them planted by Mother’s Day, not delivered after Mother’s Day) to the turf! Slow growth of the turf did allow faster than  normal green speeds along with reduced mowing frequency on feature areas of the golf course i.e. greens tees, fairways and roughs. These conditions positively allowed us to continue with course clean up,  finish the right side bunker on 13,

and completed the leveling project on the front tee on 6.

On the negative side, green aerification holes took forever to fill in in spite of using smaller diameter tines, the new sod around some of the greens has just started to show new growth and some areas in the fairways and roughs that we have seeded this spring have been extremely slow to fill in.

Overall The Green Department has been able to have a productive spring. In addition to completing the aforementioned projects, we have been able to complete greens aerification and the stairs at the first tee, keep up with mowing the rough, finish cleaning up from the winter storms and plant new trees and shrubs at the clubhouse and by the green dept compound.

Our plans for the next 28 days are to level the upper tee on 6, complete the bunker renovation on the left side of 13 and prepare for both the Ladies members/guest and Presidents’ Day (Mother Nature may have different plans judging by the rain we have received over the last 7 days).

I would like to make you aware of the disruption that will take place while renovating the last bunker on 13. The bunker was rebuilt by an outside contractor back in 1999. The bunker cavity/shape are fine. We don’t plan on making any chances to the shape of it. They installed a minimal amount of drainage in the bunker back then and we should be able to save the pipe that leads out of the bunker. We will be extending the pipe up through the center of the bunker to a catch basin right located on the right front edge of the bunker similar to the one we installed on the right side bunker and installing a couple of branch drain lines throughout the bunker cavity. What the contractor failed to address in 1999 was the surface runoff from 13 fairway. The red line in the picture below shows the current path of runoff which washes out and floods the bunker with a minimal amount of rain. The yellow line in the photo shows where we plan on grading in a new swale to direct most of the surface water by the bunker and out toward the driveway. Hence this will be the larger area of disturbance that I referred to earlier.

view of existing water path and proposed swale from inside the bunker

existing water path and proposed swale from 13 fairway

Area of disturbance for new swale and drain basin(s)

With good weather, I can see us finishing up this project in ten days.

After Presidents’ Day, we have committed to adjusting the curb along 3 landing area which is before the pond. We will be removing most, if not all of the existing asphalt curb and replacing it with Belgian blocks installed on an angle that will deflect balls up into the air instead of back toward the hill. We will also be installing the same block along the cart path on 9 after the pond wall where the sand bags currently sit. I will elaborate more on these projects in an upcoming blog.

Only the strong survive!

It is that time of the year in which we encourage growth of the greens to ensure they are strong enough to withstand the stresses of aerification, the summer weather, being manicured daily, and having thousands of members and guest playing on them.

The best way to encourage growth is through fertilizing. If you’ve been out playing lately or plan on playing this week, you’ll notice that the greens are off color especially when compare to the approaches, tees, fairways and roughs. They are very hungry right now! Their current state of slow growth is the main reason they are rolling so quickly. The recent drier weather, the few mowing’s and rollings we have done, have also added to their quickness!

I have receive many positive comments on the recent conditions of the greens, and as much as I would like this to continue, the greens would never survive the summer like this. So the balancing act of fertilizer, growth regulation, insect, disease and weed control, moisture management, aerification, topdressing, mowing and rolling has begun! And I can not forget to mention the largest input, the mother of all mother’s, Mother Nature!

The first input will be aerification of the greens, which is now scheduled for this Wednesday and Thursday April 18 &19. We will be using a 1/4″ open tine on a quad pattern of 2″x2″ spacing, it will look like this when the cores have been removed.

A light topdressing will follow to primarily smooth the surface, trying to fill the little holes is next to impossible. Rolling will be next followed up with a granular, slow-release fertilizer and water. It will take 5-7 days for the fertilizer to kick in. During this time the greens will be regaining their smoothness but also slowing down in speed. Depending on the weather, the greens should be healed in 14 days. Once healed we will initiate the growth regulator program for the season.

While I’m on the subject of green speed, we will be monitoring this more this season in an effort to find a acceptable speed that will enable us to maintain consistency between greens without challenging the health of the turf. I will go into more detail on this subject in a future blog.

On to other golf course news. We were able to finish the stairs on the 1st. tee last week with the warm temperatures. We officially opened them this past Saturday.

And the forward teeing surface on 6 tee was sodded last week also.

The sod will need to root for three weeks before opening it to play. During that time we will be mowing, rolling and topdressing it. I’m hoping Monday’s heavy rain helped settle the irrigation trench so we can finish up the tee’s perimeter with tall fescue sod. This will not affect the timing of the opening of the tee itself.

Rounding of the corners of the tees is in progress. We have mowed out the expanded areas along with rounding out the square corners. We are going to schedule aeration of the expanded tee surfaces during the last week of April. This will be followed up with a heavy rolling of the areas to expedite matching  the two surfaces. There is a substantial height difference between the new and existing tee surfaces. This process will have little affect on play ability and will bring uniformity to both the new and old surfaces.

You may have noticed some red lines along the fairways. This is our annual realignment of the fairways that is completed during the first few mowings of the season. Most movement is minimal and will not affect your game. We did take the liberty of shortening 4 fairway back to the first sprinkler head as we feel the fairway was to close to the tee, even for high handicap players and the irrigation coverage before the first head always presented a challenge maintaining quality turf during the summer months.

Work will resume on #13 bunkers this week. Our goal is to have them completed in the next three weeks. We have plenty to do on them, grading, drainage, sod and new sand. Of course Mother Nature will have to cooperate for us the reach our goal. Keep your fingers crossed!

Spring off to a slow start.

Unless your working in the Green Department! We cant move quick enough to get the golf course ready for the upcoming season which officially starts this Sunday, April 1st.

If you were in the Philadelphia area for the month of March, you know we spent most of the month under snow cover. The turf that was breaking dormancy in February ( we mowed greens on February 28) has since gone back into dormancy and will require fewer mowing’s to maintain the proper heights. We are out today mowing greens, collars, approaches and fairways with the hope of stimulating growth which is necessary to withstand the wear and tear of play. Lets all keep our fingers crossed for more seasonal weather.

While most of the month of March was spent cleaning up the golf course, we were able to trench for the new irrigation on 6 tee.

And install pipe, wires valves and heads.

isolation and snap valve’s

front head waiting to be leveled, wired and back filled.

My goal is to sod the top of the tee next week and let it root for 3 weeks before opening it and begin working on the back tee. I will ask that once it is open, that you please limit your practice swings on the new sod and if possible use a tee as all tee markers will be located on the lower tee till the back tee is completed.

While the new tee is growing in, we plan on jumping into the bunkers on 13. Unfortunately this project as received no attention over the last 30 days due to the weather. Our new completion date is April 27 for the bunkers.

Warmer, drier weather will allow us to complete the stairs on 1 tee also. We need to add some more stone to the landing areas before we can install the porous pave material.

During March’s Green Committee meeting, the committee approved the recommendation of rounding off corners of the tees. This was a suggestion from the ” Restoration and Master Plan” provided by Wayne Morrison. Wayne was hired by the club to give his professional opinion of improving the integrity of your William Flynn design.

William Flynn:

In fitting a course to all classes in everyday play it is necessary to maintain relative values in the holes. This can only be done by using two and in some instances three tees to a hole-the various players using the tee that fits their particular game.”

“A great many players are averse to using forward tees perhaps because they were originally christened “ladies tees” but regardless of that fact it seems that a great deal more enjoyment could be had if golfers used the tee on the various holes that really suited their game.”  

Wayne Morrison:

Tees –Rounded Corners

Existing and any proposed tees should be maintained with rounded corners with minimal linear geometry. Square or rectangular tees are not only difficult and more time consuming to mow but are unsightly and not in keeping with the naturalized intent of William Flynn. Tees that blend with the natural terrain are a better choice than forcing a geometric shape. Tees should harmonize with the landscape and not stand out as a man-made addition.”

Rounding the corners will save labor while mowing but we will take advantage of this process by increasing tee space by reclaiming teeing area that has been lost over the years from mowing. This loss happens on all features (greens, tees, fairways, etc.) of a golf course from operators not continually mowing up to the edge due to fear of scalping the surrounding rough. Using 12 tee as an example, I believe the time we save mowing rounded corners on tees will be somewhat offset by mowing of slightly larger tees.

left side 12 tee

right side 12 tee

One last note, we are delaying opening the grass tee at the Short Game Area until warmer weather arrives. The tee always receives heavy traffic this time of year. Without the temperatures needed to germinate new seed, the divots will linger well into the spring. I will post the opening on the “daily course conditions” page on website.

Winter update

The moderate February weather gave the green department false hope in having a smooth transition into the the spring. As I mowed greens on February 28th, I noted how little clean up would have to be preformed on the golf course before the season opens on April 1st. This minimal amount of clean up would allow us to focus on the four winter projects that are in progress with a goal of having most of them completed by April 1st.

The plan was to bring back 5 crew members from layoff this week and begin general golf course clean up along with installing new irrigation at 6 tee and installing sod on the top of the lower tee on 6. While the new sod knitted in, we would focus our attention on rebuilding the bunkers on 13, continuing addressing the 19 stumps that remain from the tree health program and finishing up the stairs on 1 tee……

Then enters winter storm Riley! This Nor’easter brought chaos to Philadelphia and the immediate Bala Cynwyd area in particular! Wind gust over 60 mph downed 7 trees throughout the golf course, damaged another half dozen trees and coated the entire golf course with tree debris!

back of 10 green

15 fairway

Fortunately #10 green only received minor damage with #15 fairway suffering modest damage under the weight of the tree trunk falling on the saturated soil. There are multiple branches down and trees that are heavily damaged and will have to be removed. The crew of 8 have begun cleaning up the golf course and was able to open the front nine on Monday afternoon and the back nine Tuesday afternoon with only 10 green being closed. A possible bright side of the storm is the 21 trees that were removed over the winter were deemed dead, declining or dangerous. I feel the golf course would of suffered more damage if we had left these trees standing and a couple of them are on the long term removal list!

Moving forward but not as fast as we’d like as winter storm Quinn is currently unloading 8″-12″ inches of heavy wet snow and predicted wind gust of 25 mph over the area. This will definitely slow us down a bit but we should be able to continue with the tree clean up as the snow melts. And when the snow does melt we’ll resume more detailed clean up of the course along with completing the following winter projects.

Stairs at #1 tee.

All of the wood work is complete. Some back filling on the sides is needed along with filling the landing areas in with stone and ‘Porous Pave”. It should be noted that the “Porous Pave” material needs temperatures above 45 degrees for a 24 hour period for installation. This is the same materiel that is in the landing areas on the stairs leading from 4 green to 5 tee.

#6 Tee leveling.

The top of the lower tee just needs to be floated before new sod is installed. Once installed the tee will need up to 3 weeks before it can be opened for play. When the tee is opened, we will move on to leveling of the back tee. We have all the materials for the new irrigation of the tees. This will be completed as soon as the snow melts and can be done under wet conditions.

Bunker rebuild on #13

Most of the old sand has been removed from both bunkers and stockpiled for future use as fairway topdressing. The next step is grading around the outside of the bunkers to control runoff from running into the bunkers and creating washouts. The left side bunker will require a substantial amount of grading and both bunkers will have catch basins located out side the bunkers. These will tie into the internal drain lines that we’ll install inside the bunkers. Once all of this is completed, new sand will be added and compacted before opening for play.

Tree removals

Between the Green Dept and the Arborist, 21 trees were removed before the storms. 90% of the trees have been cleaned and remove from the course. 5 stumps have been grounded and the grindings removed. These holes will need to be back filled and seeded or sodded depending on location. That leaves one removal, behind 15 green, and grinding, clean up and back filling of 14 more stumps. Plus all the clean up from the winter storm(s).

I will be providing regular updates on a timely basis on these projects. We’ll do our best to have a smooth transition into spring, at the very least, it will be a very busy spring thanks to Mother Nature!