Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bushed Bunkers

Seems like just yesterday we were rebuilding all the bunkers on the golf course. The truth is our bunkers are no longer "new". Believe it or not this picture was taken nearly 6 years ago.  That may or may not sound like a long time to you but lets look at it another way.  If we assume the golf course sees about 15,000 rounds a year (which I think is very conservative) and just one out of ten golfers hit into this bunker on #6 (I think that is definitely conservative), then that means at least 9,000 people have played from this bunker.  That means 9,000 times someone has walked into this bunker and 9,000 times someone has walked out of this bunker.  Let's not forget that almost every day one of my staff walks into this bunker in order to ready it for play.  Each time someone enters a bunker they take several steps around it so it's not a stretch to assume that there has been tens of thousands of steps taken around this bunker. Maybe this doesn't sound like a big deal to you but when I look at it this way I'm not at all surprised that some of the bunkers are looking tired and worn out.  Some of the bunkers are simply bushed and need help.
Specifically, look at the edges of the bunkers.  Even on steep areas like you see here, there are mashed down edges caused by people entering and exiting. These mashed down areas have become steps and are getting used as such over and over.  This is starting to cause a serious problem.  Balls are literally getting hung up in these areas which is a serious penalty.  Bunkers are supposed to be a penalty but the incidence of "unplayable lies" is becoming way to frequent. I'm telling you all this to say that we are taking serious steps to resolve the situation.  Here's a brief description of what we are doing.  
The first thing we do is pull away the sand from the edge so we can get a good look at what needs to be done and also so we can set the sand aside to be used again once repairs are finished.  Then we cut out the edge of the bunker so that we once again have a nice vertical face that clearly defines the hazard and hopefully permits balls to enter the bunker and roll down away from the face.  Some of these cuts we're making are pretty severe but our goal is to minimize the disturbance and retain as much of the bunker's original "character" as possible.


The sand that was set aside is then raked up to the new edge.  With the mashed down edges removed the bunker has a more defined look but it's a little harder of a step in and out in these areas.  That's hopefully going to encourage people to enter and exit where they should which is on the low side of the bunker, but one thing I've learned is if a golfer is capable of jumping in and out over a high lip they will do so in order to reduce the disturbance of bunker sand and therefore reduce the amount of raking required after they've taken the shot.  Here's a picture of how this bunker looked when we finished up repairs.
  Our unique bunkers come with some unique challenges but we're also addressing a common issue that occurs on virtually all bunkers and that is "sand blast build up".  This occurs from blasting out sand from repeated bunker shots.  The blasted out sand can build up quickly on a bunker which sees a lot of action.  There's no surprise this problem is most common on practice bunkers.  Here's a couple of pictures I took this week as we removed the build up of sand on the face of our practice bunker.  
before we started the project
During the project
project completed

Sunday, December 3, 2017

#3 Green....A work in progress

Growing grass in the Pacific Northwest is often easy.  Growing Championship caliber putting turf in the Pacific Northwest is often not easy and downright impossible without adequate sunlight and air flow.  We've proven this time and time again over the years by selectively removing trees and then watching poor quality turf turn into something to behold.  One of the best examples of this work is that which has been done around Tacoma's 3rd green.  Let's go back to 2007 when we first started getting serious about addressing the shade issues on the golf course.  Here's what the surface of #3 green looked like after a cold winter.
You can see that there was a lot of grass on the surface but obviously there was some areas where there wasn't any grass.  A putting surface like this most certainly does not provide good consistent performance.  Now some golfers are perfectly comfortable playing golf on a poor quality surface like this and this condition is pretty common in the Pacific Northwest where we find a lot of trees and subsequently a lot of shade.  But if you have the resources and the desire for exceptional putting greens, this shade induced condition does not need to be tolerated.  That's the attitude we took a decade ago.  We decided we wanted the best putting greens possible and that meant facing "head on" the issue of the invasive Douglas fir trees which were depriving the turf of precious sunlight.  To resolve our shade issues we contracted Arborcom to perform a shade analysis of the putting greens on #2 and #6.  At that time those two greens were by far the worst putting surfaces on the property.  The Arborcom study taught us all we needed to know in order to fix those two greens.  It also taught us so much about sunlight requirements and how the sun moves over the property that we've been able to develop tree management strategies for all the putting greens.  Now we have a comprehensive Tree Management Plan for the entire golf course.  Due to budget constraints we've only been able to tackle a couple of projects each year but it never fails that each year with each project I am blown away by the positive impact of more sunlight and air flow as a result of tree removal.  On #3 the first project or phase 1 was completed in 2010 and it involved removing 25 trees to the east of the putting surface in order to recapture some morning sunlight which is the best quality sunlight.  Here's a before and after pic of that area east of the putting green which is basically right around the 4th tee.
That project made such a positive impact to the quality of the 3rd green and it really made a very poor putting surface into something pretty good in just one growing season.  After two years of observation it was clear that the green still needed more sunlight so phase 2 was initiated which involved removing another 6 trees directly behind the green.  That project provided about 1 hour of mid day sunlight and made a huge difference, but then the following year the golf course went through an award winning renovation which resulted in the expansion of short grass around the back of the green.  The expansion of short grass meant that there needed to be an expansion of quality sunlight so last year we initiated a third phase of tree removal around the putting green.  The results of this most recent project is absolutely amazing.  First click here to see my blog post from last fall which detailed the project and showed just how bad the turf was around the back of the putting surface.  Now here's a before and after pic which clearly shows that the area behind the green has been thinned out. 

The "after" picture reveals a couple of things.  First of all notice the nice grove of oak trees which were released by the project.  Protecting our threatened native oak trees is a major focus of the Club's tree management plan.  Secondly, check out the nice view of the fourth hole which was revealed.  Here's a close up of that new vista.

Lastly, look at the results of the projects prime directive which was to improve the turf quality around the back of the green.  Here's a look at that area today which was thin, and mushy just a year ago.
The improvement is really remarkable.  We've received over 8 inches of rain in the last 4 weeks and this area is healthy and firm.   Needless to say the putting green has also improved from this recent project. The power of sunlight and air flow never ceases to amaze me.  

Friday, November 3, 2017

Sand Dams

Here's a picture of the green on #3 after a good rain.  Notice there's a puddle on the front of the green.  This puddle is not there because there's a low spot on the putting surface.  This puddle is there because all the spots around it are higher.  Let me explain. We all know that in order to have good playing surfaces we must topdress the turf with sand.  The longer grass that surrounds the putting surface absorbs more sand than the closely mowed grass that's on the putting surface.  In addition we normally mow greens with baskets and therefore remove some sand each time we mow them.  So it happens gradually but over time the longer grass areas get built up with more sand than the short grass areas.  Eventually these raised areas can cause problems one of which is trapping water on the edge of a putting surface.  That's why this condition is called a sand dam, or since the area around the greens is sometimes called the collar, we sometimes call them collar dams.  
So there's a couple of ways of dealing with this problem but when it becomes severe like on #3, the sure fire way is to physically remove all the built up sand.  In order to do that the first step was to remove the sod.
After that we cut some trenches in the area in order to establish the necessary grade which will allow water to run off the front of the green.  
That yellow stick is a "smart level" which tells us the exact grade.  In this case we set the grade at 3% which is more than adequate for moving surface water efficiently.  After cutting the ditch to the desired grade we then removed the surrounding sand making sure to match the grade of the ditch. I took this picture with Brian standing in the ditch to show just how much sand we had to remove.  In the end we removed over 7 yards of sand.  That would weigh about 10 tons.  The last step was putting the sod back and here's how it looks today.
So no more sand dam and no more puddle.  Some of you might be saying "who cares" because you don't play golf during the rainy season, but there's more to it than that since now this area plays as it should year around.  Here's a diagram I made to show you what I'm talking about.  This is a cross section of the approach and putting green showing the sand dam holding back a puddle of water.
Now forget about the puddle and imagine hitting your shot into this green.  If you're attempting to land a shot short and have it release onto the green, you're going to be really frustrated when there's a collar dam present.  Look at this next diagram.  If your ball lands on spot "A" the ball will launch forward.  If your ball lands on spot "B" it might release just the way you imagined it.  If your ball lands on spot "C", the ball might check up and not even get onto the green.
Now imagine hitting into the same green but without the sand dam.  This last diagram shows how the approach should look.  You can imagine that whether your ball lands on spot "A", "B", or "C", the reaction of the ball is going to be nearly the same and therefore predictable which is undoubtedly the way the original designer intended.  
By the way we also removed the sand dam on #6 and #14 (see pictures below).  When we get the opportunity we're going to work on #5.