Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Golf in Alaska: Part Three of the Alaska Adventure

For the last leg of my trip, Marty Baumann and I planned on heading up to Wasilla and Palmer to visit a few of the courses I saw during my last trip. Marty had some chores to do first thing, so I took the time to meet with Matt Leseman at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s Moose Run Golf Course. 

Matt is a 17 year GCSAA member and has worked his way up the ladder to become superintendent. Joint Base Elmendorf- Richardson had three golf courses on site. Eagleglen, which was 18 holes, belonged to Elmendorf AFB and was contained inside the base. Moose Run is 36 holes and belonged to Richardson Army Base. It is located just outside the perimeter of the base. Due to budgeting, one of the courses had to be shut down, and the decision came to shut down Eagleglen. They chose to keep Moose Run since it had 36 holes and was located outside the boarder of the base, which made it easier for the general public to access.

As I mentioned in part one of this series, equipment is always hard to get, so Moose Run had a windfall and inherited another complete set of equipment from Eagleglen. Whatever Matt decided he didn't need, they auctioned off to the public. Matt’s maintenance facility rivals any I have ever seen. He even had a D-7 Caterpillar. Storage wasn't an issue. He had created structures using cargo boxes and roofing trusses, seen in the lower right of the collage above. Each box was dedicated to certain materials. One was for blowers and string trimmers; another was just for surplus rain gear; and another for golf course accessories.

Matt had to get to a meeting regarding Eagleglen, but he managed to make time for a tour of his course. For some reason the architect must have not liked the Army because he made one of the most difficult courses I have seen. There was a 640-yard par five! I’ve seen this in Colorado before, but then you’re over a mile high and the ball travels considerably further. This course was at sea level. The black tees were rated 140, and the blue was 134.
Amos Stephens, Marty Baumann, John Krull, John Bayne
I drove back to Anchorage Golf Course and picked up Marty and his assistant John Krull. Marty asked if John could tag along to see some of the other golf courses in the area since he is fairly new to the job.

We drove to Wasilla first to visit with Amos Stevens at Settlers Bay Golf Club. Amos is a 16-year GCSAA member and serves as the clubs superintendent and general manager. Amos was eager to learn and asked tons of questions with note pad in hand. We spent a good part of the morning touring his course and discussed everything form covering the greens in the winter to helping him find a good pump guy that can service his pump station. As we looked at the greens I noticed they were in much better condition than when I visited two years ago. He explained that the winter makes all the difference. These were the first greens that I have seen in Alaska that were cut at 1/8”. I asked him what he had done differently, and he said he learned a new fertilization technique at the conference in San Diego; and it has helped him tremendously. That was music to my ears of course.

One of the things we discussed was coming up with a webcast/forum on winterizing your putting greens. Many areas in the NW, including Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Alaska have a tremendous amount of snow and ice. He said he would love the opportunity to discuss, in a live online format, issues with other superintendents who share the same experience and how they deal with their greens each year. I told him I would discuss it with Lisa (GCSAA's senior manager of e-learning programs) and see what we could do. I really think it could be helpful to many superintendents. I have found that supers learn best from each other and this would be the perfect format to do so.

Our next stop was at a small family run golf course called Fish Hook Golf Club. Two years ago we stopped to visit with the owner, Skip Pellitier, but were unable to meet with him. His son Ryan met us and informed us that his dad suffered a massive heart attack last year and passed away. The course is now run by Ryan and his sister.  Their father built the 9-hole course three holes at a time from what was once a pasture. There would be no insult if you were to refer to this course as a pasture golf course. As a matter of fact there is even a website called PastureGolf.com, and Fish Hook was featured.

Ryan Pellitier (left)
The greens were cut as low as they needed to differentiate from the fairways, and the fairways were cut just enough to be different from the rough. Grass survival is the key to success in Alaska, and Ryan happened to have a couple greens with fine fescue on them. These greens were coming out of the winter without any damage, so Ryan was thinking he may try to convert all of his greens to fine fescue. As I drove through the course I couldn't help but think of what golf courses must have looked like 100 years ago. I bet if I could go back in time this course would be right there. What I found most gratifying was that there were lots of people pulling their buggy and golf clubs and were having a terrific time. To me this was almost golf in its purest form.

Finally we stopped in to visit with George Collum and Dirk Sture at Palmer Golf Course. Due to their exposure to the elements and the proximity to glacial winds, this course normally doesn't fare so well after the winter. But this winter was unusual in that the snow stuck on the ground here where it didn't in other parts of the Anchorage area, and they never really had the ice accumulation. The greens were in outstanding condition, and they were reaping the benefits of lots of play. We had a quick visit with George and Dirk, catching up since my last visit, then headed back to Anchorage.

After this year and my previous visit to Alaska, I have developed an appreciation for what these guys are doing each and every year to bring the game of golf to the Alaskan population. I am happy to report that golf is alive and well in Alaska. You could almost call Alaska the Vegas of golf, where you can play a round of golf 24/7 during the peak of the season.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Golf on the Kenai Peninsula: Part Two of my Alaska Site Visits

Mt McKinley
I left rainy Fairbanks, where it had dumped 2 inches during my two-day stay, and headed to Anchorage for the second half of my trip. Apparently it’s not very common, but I managed to catch a peek of Mt McKinley, North America’s tallest peak at 20,322 feet. I could sense the weather was changing for the good.

When I arrived in Anchorage, I picked up Anchorage Golf Course Superintendent Marty Baumann, and we headed down to the Kenai Peninsula to Soldotna. 

Our first stop was at a course called Birch Ridge. The course is maintained by a gentleman they call Kenai Bill. Bill is from a golf background, primarily from the Southwest. Similar to Howie in Fairbanks, Bill winters in Palm Springs and starts working on the course some time in April. Bill gave Marty and me a complete tour that eventually lead us to meeting Pat McCowan, Birch Ridge's owner. I was able to spend a few minutes with Pat before he had to tee off, and I explained how a GCSAA membership could benefit Bill through online education and the ability to participate in the online forums, where he could bounce ice damage questions off of fellow superintendents.

Kenai Bill
I was impressed how much Bill was able to do with so little. His only irrigation is a 2-inch black poly pipe that runs above ground behind each putting green and tee box. There is a small spigot where he can attach a garden hose and run water to the green or tee box using an impact sprinkler. When I looked at the conditions of Bill's greens, I realized that he was probably watering in a way most all of us would prefer to water, long and infrequently. 

Bill shared some of his techniques for maintenance, and most would find it crude, but I found it very effective. Here is a picture of Bill's aerifier. He does all 18 greens himself, and it usually takes a few days. Notice the back brace, tthe result of lugging that thing around. 

Bill's biggest struggle is having to resurface his greens each year. This is common among most golf courses in Alaska. In the lower 48, the winter of 2013-14 was devastating to greens across the Midwest and parts of the South. But in Alaska, it is the norm each year. Nine feet of frost is common in the winters, and any precipitation that comes as rain after the frost has set in generally means ice on the ground. This last winter Alaska saw unseasonably warm temperatures, but that meant a lot of ice buildup. Over all, I was impressed how quickly Bill was able to get his greens back in play and how good they looked. 


Birch Ridge Golf Course


Our next stop was at Kenai Golf Course. We didn't have any connections other than the folks we met as we walked into the clubhouse. The owners were away, but we had a nice conversation with the gal behind the counter and a gentleman doing some touch-up painting. Kenai Golf Course is the only full-service golf facility on the peninsula with a full practice facility and catering services. It sounds like they do a fair amount of business. 

While we were there, a couple young gals came in to hit some balls.They said they had never played the game before and thought they would try hitting some balls just for kicks. It was nice to witness a couple golf fans in the making. Marty and I grabbed a score card and walked out and looked at a few holes. The layout looked interesting, and the conditions were pretty darn good. I got the sense that when the fish weren't in, golf courses were busy.

My next post will cover the course I visited in the Anchorage vicinity One in particular may be one of the toughest courses I have ever seen!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Golf in Fairbanks Alaska: Part One of the Alaska Adventure

Since most of the NW associations take the summer off for meetings, it is a great time for me to travel to various areas of the region and visit with superintendents at their own courses. In my next few blog posts I would like to highlight some of these trips and introduce the superintendents that I meet along the way.
George Howe, CGCS (third from the left) and crew

In July I managed to visit just over half the golf courses in the state of Alaska on my five day trip. I started in Fairbanks on July 1, where there are three golf courses.  It was raining so hard only two courses were open and accessible. My first stop was at Chena Bend Golf Course, which is located on the military base Fort Wainwright. I met with George Howe, CGCS. George is a 33-year member and is Alaska’s one and only CGCS. We managed to find time in between rain events to tour the course.

George explained the history of the course and what he goes through each year to prepare for in-season play. I soon realized why they call the mosquito Alaska’s state bird. There was a constant swarm around me, and I was bit several times around my head and neck. We returned to the shop where I met his crew, and we started a discussion on available labor in the area. The armed services have implemented a hiring policy of doing background checks on every perspective employee, which usually takes 90 days to complete. As you can imagine, in Fairbanks the season is pretty much done by the time the approval is given to hire someone. George is working every angle and is trying to start the process no later than January to get people in place for the season. As they stood at the moment, the staff was down probably four to five members, and they were getting behind on routine maintenance.
Chena Band GC, Fairbanks AK

My next stop was North Star Golf Club, touted to be the northern most golf course in North America. I was surprised my phone’s navigator was actually able to get me there, but once I arrived I found the gates locked and nobody was around. The rain was still pounding and from what I heard, most of the ground at North Star has a layer of permafrost under it, so nothing drains fast. I changed course and headed to the third course in Fairbanks: Fairbanks Golf Club.

I arrived at Fairbanks Golf Club and found the same situation. The course was empty, but there were a few cars at the clubhouse, so I entered to see if Howie Thies, the owner was in. I was told that Howie was not going to be in for a while, so I took the opportunity to have lunch while I was there and take in the US World Cup Game. While there, James Contreras, the head PGA professional came in and introduced himself to me. James winters in Arizona and works at Fairbanks Golf Club during the summers. James said that over the last two years since Howie has owned the course, play has increased significantly. Howie and his partners have put money into the course and have built a quality restaurant to go along with it. Howie seems to have a knack at promoting and has been very successful in doing so.

Soon Howie arrived, and we sat down and talked about the course. I was able to explain to him my role as the NW field staff representative, as well as the role GCSAA can take in managing his facility. I explained that through membership, he can take advantage of our online learning, as well as get his first year's GIS registration free. He is a member of the GCOA, but never considered a GCSAA membership.

The rain let up enough for us to take a quick tour of the course. I noticed a few strange things, such as fence posts being ejected from the ground and large holes and bumps in the turf. Howie explained that is how the ground works with the constant freeze and thaw. He has areas of permafrost that can shove rocks through the surface or even fence posts out of the ground. One year there may be a bump in the ground, and the next it’s a hole in the ground.  It’s just what they have to deal with.
Fairbanks Golf Club
The conversation eventually led to a ski race competition called the Arctic Man, which Howie states he started over 25 years ago. The first year Howie said they had around 500 people attending. Last year they had over 15,000. The competition has grown to be one of Alaska’s premier events. Now I understand where Howie’s knack for promotions comes from.


I asked George and Howie how they managed to procure and care for their equipment. I noticed there were a lot of Toro and John Deere pieces; and what I found out is that most of the Toro that is circulating around has either been resold from the military bases, since they have a national contract with Toro, or found on the internet and shipped by barge. John Deere has been able to successfully work through its local Deere distributors and ship parts and whole goods directly to their outlets. George prefers John Deere, even though Toro has the Armed Services contract, simply for the fact that he is able to source the John Deere parts locally.

I stopped in to have dinner at a local restaurant and in came a couple whosat next to me. We started a conversation, and I quickly learned that this gentleman was the vice president and store manager for Craig Taylor Equipment, Alaska’s Deere dealership. Rich Dunham explained that with the local Deere stores in every major Alaska city, they are able to inventory commonly used parts and ship whole goods with their regular inventory of snow machines and snow plows. Rich knew all of the local golf superintendents that I had just met and was happy to see that GCSAA was here to support them as well.

My next stop was the Kenai Peninsula, and that trip will be documented in part two of my Alaska adventure!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Are you water quality testing?

So you say your course is environmentally friendly? You're keeping detailed records of all your pesticide applications. You manage your facility from a strict IPM plan, and you have adopted your state’s latest and greatest BMPs. Maybe you have even been recognized by your community or received an award for your environmental prowess.

Let’s now put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s say you are an activist from the local environmental watch dog group and the superintendent from the local golf course just happens to meet you. He touts all the great things happening at his golf course. You are impressed as he rattles off his accomplishments including the wonderful nest boxes and his latest community outreach program.

Then you ask him about the fate of all those chemical applications being made to the lush green fairways, greens and tees and ask, “How can you prove the chemicals aren’t getting to the creek that runs through the property?” The superintendent replies, “Turf is one of nature’s best filters, and nothing ever reaches the stream.” You reply, “Prove it!”

It was the year 2000, and that’s the scenario that went through my mind when I was building Stone Creek Golf Club. Luckily the Oregon Golf Course Superintendents Association had just completed its first edition of the BMP document, the OGCSA Environmental Stewardship Guidelines, winner of the GCSAA Presidents Award.

The first component that stood out was the water quality monitoring section. The late Dr. Michael Hindahl was the main author of the Oregon guidelines, and he was writing custom environmental plans based on the Oregon guidelines. I submitted a request to the Stone Creeks owners, which at that time included a group of investors and Clackamas County, that we hire Dr. Hindahl to write such a document -- and they didn’t flinch at the $10,000 price tag. It was never a question of whether they could afford to do it, the response was that they couldn’t afford not to do it.


Written into the plan was the water quality monitoring protocol. Dr. Hindahl came out to the property twice annually, spring and fall, and took water samples, which were tested for nitrates, orthophosphates and any pesticide that was applied within six months prior to the test. This wasn’t cheap, ranging between $3,000 and $4,000 per test. The difference in price was based on the type of chemistry I was applying. Over the next 12 years I easily spent close to $100,000 on water testing alone. Was it a waste of money? If you ask Clackamas County, which bought out the investors after the first year, they still say it was worth every penny. I had accumulated 10 years of data before I began to back off because I had set a baseline of no detections. If anyone had ever stopped me and asked if I could prove that the pesticides I was applying weren’t getting into the adjacent stream, I had proof!

The reason why I had a third party take the water sample and follow a strict chain of command was to prevent any questions as to the validity of the test. Currently in Oregon there is a local firm that is offering the service as an inclusive package deal, avoiding the unknown by offering a battery of tests for a single price. In an ever-increasing budgeted industry, this can be a tough pill to swallow. If cost is an issue, then perhaps you can just test for nitrates and orthophosphates. The cost will be significantly lower.

Water quality testing will give your property and its owners a piece of mind knowing that your course and the surrounding environment are in good hands.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Siting your birdboxes

A great way for golf courses to get started promoting wildlife habitat is to construct and place nesting boxes. But did you know that placing a box in the wrong place can attract marauding species such as European Starlings and House Sparrows? If left unchecked, the result can be a proliferation of these species and a reduction in the birds that actually need the boxes for nesting.

The most common nest boxes that I have seen in the NW Region are tailored for Western and Mountain Bluebirds. Historically bluebirds have been threatened by the removal of their natural habitat, such as dead trees. Groups across the country have been successful in building bluebird nesting boxes to a certain specification and monitoring their progress. One such group in the Willamette Valley is called the Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project (PBRP). I became familiar with them while working for Russell Vandehey, CGCS at The Oregon Golf Club in West Linn, Ore. As his assistant, I took it upon myself to discover why we had more than 20 bird boxes on the property yet none were being inhabited by bluebirds. I acquainted myself with the PBRP and soon learned it’s all about location.
House Sparrows
 Photo Robert Scott

Bluebirds are particular about choosing a nest box or a tree cavity to feed their young. If bluebirds are seen in the area during nesting season (April through August), chances are good that if you put up a nesting box they will use it. It’s all about the available food in the area in which to feed their young, as well as the competition for nesting sites. Often conflicts over nest boxes will result in the loss of eggs and young birds, as well as the killing of the adults. The most likely culprit will be House Sparrows. This species doesn’t normally require cavities to nest, but if given the opportunity they will take a nesting box over anything else. If nest boxes are placed in an area where House Sparrows are present, it will present an immediate danger to the survival of the bluebirds and their young. House Sparrows can have up to three broods of young, thus increasing the pressure on the bluebird population. This is why bluebirds are not commonly seen in urban settings. The sparrow competition is just too great. If you have a large population of House Sparrows, then I would strongly suggest not putting up any boxes until the population has subsided. Please refer to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, NestWatch for further resources in dealing with non-native species.

Fence posts make great locations
The location of your nesting box can dictate the type of bird that will use it. If you want to attract Tree Swallows, place boxes near a pond. If you want to attract House Wrens, Chickadees or Nuthatches, you can place boxes near heavy brush and undergrowth. Bluebirds prefer to hunt from a perch and like semi-open grassland. Fence lines or vineyards make excellent perching sites. If perching sites are not in the area, a simple T-shaped perching stick can be mounted on the back of the nesting box. Lawns make great areas for bluebird to hunt; this is why golf courses can be such desired locations. Since birds will be feeding their young during nesting times, all pesticide use should be curtailed around areas where they will be gathering their insects.

Be sure to leave your boxes up year around. Pairs will often scout for nesting sites in the fall and come back in the spring. They may also utilize the box to roost during the winter months. It is also important to clean out the boxes after each season. Boxes are designed to have a cavity, and if nests are built upon older nests, the eggs and the young are close to the opening and can become vulnerable to predation. If your boxes remain empty for two years in a single location, move them to another spot -- perhaps further away from traffic, or just turn the direction of the opening. Always be sure the opening is facing away from the prevailing wind; generally toward the east is a good rule of thumb.

Russell Vandehey, CGCS, inspects a successful nesting box.
Remember that providing nesting boxes isn’t a one-time effort. You need to monitor them on a regular basis. If you find it hard to get around to the boxes, then perhaps you can designate someone on your staff or a volunteer to make a round once a month or so. It's important to be sure wasps or mice aren’t taking up residence.

Check around your local areas for bluebird conservation groups. The PBRP will actually come out and band your young before they fledge so the population can be monitored. This also provides a wonderful opportunity to network with conservation leaders. Invite a local school or a scout troop to participate by helping construct your boxes and take part in siting them. This could be a great learning module to complement your First Green Program.

Providing nesting boxes can be a rewarding endeavor and open the door to many opportunities. Now go out there and help those birds proliferate!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jason Oliver Memorial Scholarship established

Once in a lifetime you come across an individual who exceeds all expectations, and you know this person will be doing special things with his or her life. Unfortunately, Jason Oliver's life ended much too soon. In Jason's short time on this earth he touched many lives, and through their generous support, the Jason Oliver Memorial Scholarship was established. 
This endowed fund is held at the Oregon State University Foundation and will create an opportunity to promote the education of future turfgrass managers while honoring the memory of another.

Recipients will be undergraduate and graduate students who carry a GPA of 3.25 or above and are studying in OSU’s turf management program within the department of horticulture in the college of agricultural sciences.

Jason Oliver had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and education. He met every learning opportunity with excitement and passion. Jason wanted to be the very best in everything he pursued. His ability to rise to challenges and excel in the classroom and on the golf course (be it playing golf or working on the course) was extraordinary for a person of his age. With hard work, a positive attitude and his persistent nature, Jason put himself through college on scholarships alone. His efforts paid off as he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 3.83 GPA.

During his employment at Stanford, Jason continued his dedication to the golf industry by serving on the Assistant Superintendent Committee of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, as well as serving as the Assistant Superintendent Director for the Northern California Chapter of the GCSAA Board of Directors.

Jason was well on his way to reaching his dream of becoming a Certified Golf Course Superintendent. He also wanted to become the youngest president in the history of GCSAA.  He is greatly missed by family and friends, but his hard work and passion can live on in perpetuity through this scholarship.
JASON’S AWARDS & ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Academic
Employment
§  College of Ag Deans List: 2003-2007
§  Graduation honors: Magna Cum Laude
§  USGA Green Section Intern
§  Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship
§  GCSAA Allan MacCurrach Scholarship
§  Trans Mississippi Turfgrass Scholarship
§  Royal Oaks Country Club Vancouver, Wash.
§  Pronghorn Golf Club Bend, Ore.
§  Cornerstone Golf Club Montrose, Colo.
§  The Olympic Club San Francisco, Calif.
§  Stanford University Golf Course Palo Alto, Calif.
If you wish to contribute, please make your check payable to “OSU Foundation” with Jason Oliver Memorial Scholarship on the memo line. Address: 850 SW 35th St., Corvallis, OR 97333

For more information, contact OSU Foundation Development Officer Jack Holpuch at jack.holpuch@oregonstate.edu or 541-737-9636. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Honesty over victory

I witnessed something in my son this weekend that I feel compelled to share.

We have heard stories of PGA golfers who call a penalty stroke on themselves and lose a chance at victory - like Brian Davis did at the Verizon Heritage in 2010. Davis was in a playoff against Jim Furyk and was pretty much an unknown on the Tour. He could have easily gotten away with grazing a stray weed on his backswing, but instead of going forward and having the opportunity to win his first PGA event, he had the officials review the backswing. Sure enough, he did in fact contact the weed, which was visible only in slow-motion. He conceded, and Jim Furyk won the tournament. Davis knew that honesty was much more important than victory.

My youngest son, Henry, attends 7th grade at a small, but highly accomplished, Oregon City charter school called Springwater Environmental Sciences School. This year, as part of its pre-capstone project, the entire class participated in a robotics course. There were four teams, and each was responsible for developing, constructing and programming its own robot. The teams began working on their robots in December, and it all culminated this weekend at the Evergreen Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore. The competition took place among the rockets and jets, which couldn't have been a better setting.


There were more than 30 teams competing, and many were of high school age. This was Springwater’s first year to ever compete in a robotics competition, so expectations weren't exactly high. As the day unfolded, Henry’s team suddenly found themselves at the top of the leaderboard with two of the other Springwater teams. By the time the first round was completed, three of the four Springwater teams were in the top eight. Henry’s team managed to hold on to the 8th spot.

If you are familiar with robotics tournaments, you will know that alliances are very important throughout the competition. Much of your success depends on your alliances. After the first round, one team leader from each team is chosen to go to a meeting with the officials to be versed on the procedures for the semi-finals.  Henry was chosen to be the representative for his team. The top four teams get to choose two teams that they would like to go into an alliance with, so it was a sure thing that Henry’s team was going to the semi-finals.

Henry had no way of conferring with his teammates or even his teachers, and he knew that his robot was damaged and the battery would be dead after the first round of the semi-finals. As the top four teams were selecting their alliances, Henry knew that if his team were selected, they would bring down the other team, which most likely would have been from a different school. He also knew that his teammates didn't understand the status of their robot and they were looking forward to competing in the semi-finals as one of the contest's greatest underdogs.

Teams cheered as each of the alliance selections were made. Finally the fourth team selected: “We graciously select team number 7939 from Springwater.” Henry’s school began to cheer, and his classmates gave each other high fives. Henry grabbed the microphone and replied, “We respectfully decline.” There was a sudden hush over the crowd and a big "Ooh . . ." Henry just stood there, straight faced, probably holding back a floodgate of tears while the selecting team had to scramble to find another pick. There was confusion amongst the Springwater teachers and the students since nobody knew what Henry was doing.

Henry made his way back to his classmates and had to explain that if they had accepted, their robot would have just sat there and would not have functioned properly. He felt that it wouldn't have been fair to the other teams in the alliance. One of his teammates didn't understand his choice and didn't stay to cheer on his schoolmates who were still in the competition. His other teammate patted him on the back and told him that he made the right choice. Following the competition, the organizer of the tournament came up to Henry and told him he had made a very difficult but correct decision and said that she was very proud of him. Henry knew in his heart that honesty was much more important than victory.

I couldn't have been more proud of my son at that moment. We work in an industry based on honor, and golf can play a large role in our youth today. So don't tell me that all of those golf lessons Henry took from PGA Pro Ted Westling at Stone Creek were for nothing.