Friday, September 21, 2018

Robert J. Root

From the membership, staff, and particularly the staff of the Green Department at Tacoma Country and Golf Club, our deepest sympathies are with the Root family as we mourn the loss of Robert J. Root. 

Throughout the long history of this fine Club, many individuals have fallen victim to the lure of the beautiful grounds.  I consider myself to be one of those as I've spent almost my entire professional career here, and if the good Lord sees it my way I will spend the rest of it in the same capacity. For me there is just something about Tacoma that words cannot describe.  With that said there is still no greater example of a "Tacoma man" than Bob Root.  In 1952, Bob was hired by Tacoma's legendary, pioneering Golf Course Superintendent Henry LandIn 1969 Bob was promoted to Superintendent and held that position for more than a decade.  When I was hired in 1993 as Assistant Superintendent, Bob was still on the staff and I got to know him very well.  He was a wealth of knowledge in regards to anything and everything about this 120 acre slice of heaven.  All said, Bob's employment with Tacoma lasted over 46 years.  His love affair with Tacoma lasted till his last day on earth.  Throughout his retirement he would have his lovely wife Judy drive him to the Club just to look around.  He came by many times to get parts for his beautiful vintage putting green mower which he used to keep his lawn at home in immaculate condition.  I have to say that every time we shook hands, I was always left with an indescribable feeling of respect. After all he and I lived with the same affliction, a hopeless love for the golf course at Tacoma.  He will be missed.
Bob as night waterman (early 1950's)
Bob (right) getting ready to cut some grass (early 1950's)
Click HERE to see the 1969 Club newsletter announcing his promotion to Superintendent.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Irrigation System-History

You may have heard that we're making plans for a new golf course irrigation system.  This is certainly a major project and I'm sure people have many questions about it.  Beginning with this blog post I'm going to make a series of posts on the subject which I hope will answer these questions.  This post is a history lesson.  To understand where we're heading, it's important to understand where we've been.  Tacoma is one of the oldest golf clubs in the country so I think you might find the history of it's irrigation system pretty interesting. 
This picture was taken sometime after the American Lake course opened in 1905 and sometime before the installation of the first irrigation system in 1923.  Golf in those days was played during fall, winter and spring since the golf course wasn't very playable during the summer months.  Without rain the prairie soils where too hard and rocky for golf.  The idea of "year-around golf" at Tacoma was realized with the advancements in irrigation technology.  The first underground irrigation system at Tacoma was installed in 1923 using wood stave pipe (Click HERE for some really cool images of wood stave pipe).  Below is an image of the 1923 "as built" for that system.  Click HERE to download it if you'd like to take a closer look at the entire map.
 Notice there is no pipe in the fairways.   The system worked by delivering water to a series of spigots where a greenkeeper would attach a watering device like the TORO serpent (see below).
The source of the water was American Lake but water was pumped up to a water tower and gravity provided the power to pressurize the pipe line.  Check out this 1946 picture of the Club and you can see the tall water tower near the clubhouse and lake shore.
This wood pipe system was in operation for 30 years and I can tell you that it probably wasn't replaced because the wood pipe went bad.  We have uncovered a lot of this wood pipe over the years and the stuff is still in very good condition and very difficult to break or cut. Here's a pic of some of this pipe that we unearthed during the 2013 bunker renovation.
The wood pipe was good pipe but it's one big limitation was the inability to handle high pressure.  You can imagine that in the 30 years this system was in operation considerable advancements were made in irrigation technology.  Specifically, the ability to pump water efficiently and reliably revolutionized irrigation.  In 1953 the Club installed a new system with pipe that could handle higher pressure and power the newer sprinklers.  Below is an image of the "as built" for that system.  Click HERE to download the entire image if you want to take a closer look.
Notice now with this system the pipe is right down the middle of the fairways and around every green.  This system utilized high pressure sprinklers which could throw water 100 feet or essentially the entire width of each fairway.  This was a manual system meaning that each sprinkler had to be started and stopped by hand, thus these were the days of the night waterperson.  The night waterperson was that greenkeeper who came on shift in the middle of the night to set sprinklers.  Here's a 1979 aerial showing what the course looked like in the summer during those days.
The 1953 manual system clearly had some limitations.  Only the fairways were irrigated and the control over the amount of water applied was poor at best.  Still, this system served the Club for 35 years and in 1989 the Club invested in a system which was much more advanced.  That 1989 system is what we're currently running and it's completely automated with computer control.  Below is a picture of the "as built" for this system.  As you can see there is an impressive network of underground pipes and wires.  
I can run sprinklers and make adjustments from any computer remotely and even use my smart phone for most operations.  Literally every square inch of the property is irrigated.  So why are we replacing it?  That's what I'm going to explain over the next few blog posts.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


This is a picture of one of the greens at Swinley Forest Golf Club in England. The backdrop for this green is a huge thicket of Rhododendron.  This backdrop is not only attractive, it's also the most perfect vegetative buffer. It's perfect because it's dense, evergreen, and just the right height.  It's tall enough to hide or screen something in the background that you don't want to see, and not so tall that it will ever cause serious shade problems on the putting surface.  All too often vegetative buffers are designed using trees which ultimately grow to a height which cause serious shade problems. Such is the case at Tacoma where in the past the Douglas fir tree was planted extensively to screen the perimeter of the property.  The Douglas fir is an invasive native tree which grows rapidly and when it's planted in the wrong place it quickly can cause serious shade problems.  The trees planted between the freeway and the Club's boundary are starting to become a real problem in regard to shade.  The Club's Tree Management Plan is addressing this serious issue.  I thought I'd share some of what we've done so far.
This picture of 12 goes back to 2009.  In 2010, a sewer pipeline was installed along the east property line and that project involved removing hundreds of trees including those behind the 12th green.  This was great for improving growing conditions on the 12th green but it really exposed the view of the freeway and the fence-line.  Here's what it looked like after the trees were removed.  
You can imagine at the time there was a huge desire to quickly replant something to buffer the new unsightly backdrop.  We had to come up with a planting plan and in fact this exercise back in 2010 was the catalyst for creating the Club's Tree Management Plan.  You see at the time the Club didn't have a plan to deal with the growing problem of shade which was inevitably going to cause serious damage to the golf course playing surfaces.  When the sewer project came about, it was clear that we needed a plan, not only to restore the grounds impacted by the project, but to deal with the rapidly growing trees throughout the property.  We made some mistakes when we replanted after the sewer project, but we also got some things right.  Here's what 12 looks like today.  Good buffering of the fence-line with evergreen shrubs that will never cause a shade problem for the putting surface.  
Next case in point look at the work we did on #3 tee.  This was the first project following the approval of the current Tree Management Plan which clearly defines the Club's strategy in regard to buffer plantings.  Here's what it looked like before tree removal.  The goal here was to improve growing conditions for the teeing grounds and then buffering the view of the maintenance facility.  
Below is what this area looks like today.  Great buffering of the maintenance facility and lots of sunlight for the turf.  In fact the growing conditions are so good here that soon we will be removing this cart path as we've done with great success in other areas.  I should note that yes we are using trees in the new buffers, but we're only using species which when mature do not achieve a height that would cause a shade problem in the future.
Next case in point and in that same general area, check out this project we completed around #2 green.  Here's a look at the site before tree removal and buffer planting.  The project goal was to improve growing conditions for the putting green, and plant a buffer to screen the view of traffic on the road in the background.
There has been several tree removal projects for this particular putting surface and in this phase, 5 large firs were removed to capture a greater amount of morning light.  Here's what it looks like today.  Great buffering of the background and now the sward we have on this putting green is as good as any on the rest of the playing field.
Lastly, let's look at a very recent project near the south end of the property.  This is the 14th green before we performed any tree removal.  The goal with this project was to improve growing conditions on the putting surface and establish a buffer to screen the view of cars on Thorne Lane.
Here's the same view today.  Check out the obvious increase in sunlight, and the buffer planting is very effective which is cool considering it was just planted.  I can't wait to take this same picture in 5 years.
So this is pretty exciting stuff in my opinion.  The Tree Management Plan is not just about preserving the oak savanna or tree removal for improved growing conditions.  It specifically addresses the serious issue of the Club's perimeter where there is a need for an effective, sustainable privacy screen.  So you might be curious which area we're going to be working on next.  Click HERE for the Tree Management Strategic Plan which is a summary of the plan's upcoming projects.