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Carson Letot in Ireland

A cog in the wheel...

Posted in On the course 20 August 2013 · 4,423 views

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I finally got to see what all the aerating talk was about this week when I participated in my first greens aerating project. In the past six years, I have always had to leave my summer job to go back to school before aeration started. This year, however, we aerated the greens a little earlier than in the States, so I was able to see the project from start to finish. The role I played was core management. This meant that myself, and my colleague Alan were to work with one of the coring machine operators and clear each green of all cores and extra debris.


At Mount Juliet, we do most everything we can by hand, to limit the invasive nature of larger equipment. With the aerating process, it is hand work from start to finish. Two Ryan GA-24 aerators are followed by two two-man "core management" teams, who in turn are followed by the topdressing crew.


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Topdressing is done the old fashioned way: by shovel. Three wheelbarrow operators move back and forth from the Ty-Crop sand hauler, dumping piles of sand on the green in specific spots designated by the three shovel-wielding 'topdressers'. The topdressers then spread the sand out in an even layer across the entire green. The sand is allowed to dry and is then raked in with bunker rakes by crews of two per green. 


The entire process took a little over two days. Had we had a bit more sunlight, the greens would have been in great shape by the end of the week, but, due to some cloudy and damp weather, it took just a little longer for the surfaces to get back in playing order.


I liked that I was able to mesh right into the process so easily, just like a small cog in a big wheel. Even though it was my first time, I felt as though I was able to keep right up with the rest of the crew, making for a solid team effort through both days. In the future, Id like to try different jobs, but, for this years experience, it was a great way to see first-hand how much material was getting removed, and what the recovery process looks like for the stand of turf on the green. 


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The final product after topdressing.

Saving money on the war with Silver Moss

Posted in On the course 13 August 2013 · 9,352 views

Posted ImageBryum argenteum, otherwise known as Silver Moss, has been setting up residence in the greens at Mount Juliet lately. There are many reasons why this bryophyte is most unwelcome at our course, but the chief concern is that once silver moss is allowed to establish, it can come back the next year and flourish, leaving the putting surface uneven and more susceptible to traffic wear.


At first, the higher levels of moss were contained only to two greens here, each being in a shaded area with a water source close by. But within a month, it was beginning to pop up in abundance on other greens as well. So the time to act was at hand.


Posted ImageSilver Moss is a relatively shallow growing plant. If caught early, it is only the size of a small coin in area, so we decided to try and plug it out. Our tool for this job was the Accuform Turf Plugger. Similar to a cup cutter, this tool lets you cut small plugs and store each one up the hallow shaft. The shaft holds approximately 16-18 plugs, so this lets you pick out a considerable number of small patches at once.


The task was assigned on a rotating basis to each employee for five days a week over a three week span. The days I plugged, I was averaging around 120 plugs of moss removed per green. The end result was that moss population was considerably reduced on the greens that we chose to target. So you can see how, if let go a few more weeks, how large the community of silver moss would have grown.


Seeing the results of the project, I began to wonder if the amount of time and manpower needed for manual moss removal was indeed more economical than applying chemical controls. Carfentrazone (Quicksilver®) is a proven herbicide that if applied with the right weather and dosage can control silver moss.


Posted ImageAfter doing the math, we realized that one man plugging for eight hours a day, five days a week for three weeks only cost (in labor) about a third the price of a single application of Quicksilver (Carfentrazone) to all eighteen greens.


It's amazing how a small bit of patience and some manpower can save so much money. The task is quite easy, and I really like getting to scout the greens. You get an up-close look at what's happening in the turf, and can see directly whats happening below the stand in the sand due to weather and green maintenance. 

Some good luck at Croke Park...

Posted in Excursions 01 August 2013 · 73,898 views

As I counted up the days I had left to explore Ireland, I realized that the chances of getting up to Croke Park in Dublin to see the field and a game of Gaelic football were dwindling. But, just as I was losing hope, I saw a Facebook post from the GCSAI about open slots for volunteers for the match day on Saturday. Immediately, I contacted the organizer of the volunteers and I got a spot on the volunteer crew.


That was the easy part.


Getting to the stadium on game day proved more difficult. After missing a bus, taking another one twenty minutes too far, and walking around the entire stadium twice to find the right gate, I began to think I'd missed my opportunity. The Irish hospitality, however, came through in the clutch.


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A security guard pointed me in the right direction of the gate, a gentleman in the ticket booth gave me a wristband pass after hearing my story, and then directed me to the tunnel under the stadium, and a stadium garda showed me the ramp to the field. A human map if you will.


I arrived a bit late, but the other volunteers received me warmly, nonetheless. From there, the day flew by! I got a small tour of the main office for Pitch Management, I got to finally see the grow lights that I hear so much about on European fields, and I met Stuart Wilson, head superintendent, or, Pitch Manager here overseas.


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The grow lights at the ready, under the stadium.


Stuart set me up with my job for the day of fixing divots between matches and at halftime of each match. This gave me the perfect opportunity to see the field up close, and get not only pictures, but divots to study. I can't imagine a better way to see a field than to be on it, working the turf by hand.


Between matches, I got to talk a little turf with Stuart. He was the assistant manager at Emirates Stadium (Arsenal F.C.) and Aviva before coming to Croke Park. So we talked a little about both operations at Croke and at Emirates.


Croke Park is home to the Gaelic Sports in Dublin, and hosts over 75 different events during the year... from hurling to Gaelic football, to concerts like One Direction next year. With this kind of intense schedule, Stuart is not just maintaining a pitch for one game a week, he sometimes only has a one day turnaround to take the field from post-match condition to game-ready shape.


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Gaelic football.


Upon seeing the pitch up close, you can hardly tell it goes through such a rigorous season. It's a pristine stand of four different varieties of ryegrass that all work in harmony to bring out the best in the field no matter the weather. The turf however, doesn't do all the work, Stuart has three full time crew members, and ten 'divoters' who all work to keep the field in prime condition.


After going over the turf and the business of keeping up with a busy schedule, he shared a couple of the tricks he has implemented to have the pitch in top shape. A regular fertilizer program balancing slow release granular applications and spoon-fed foliar applications is the foundation, but a seaweed treatment with Seanypth brings out just the right color. A natural look.


On concert days, a plastic flooring called Rola Trac is vital for preserving the turf. Concerts take a heavy toll on fields, but the Rola Trac not only takes the brunt of the traffic, but acts as a small greenhouse for the turf underneath. He said it keeps a little warmth for the stand, like a grow mat for the field.


I eventually had to leave the stadium, but I didn't leave empty-handed. I met Johnny, Brian, Trevor, and Paddy... all superintendents in the east of Ireland, and great guys to volunteer with for a match day. And I had the opportunity to meet Stuart, a great mind in the field of turf, who manages one of the great pitches in Europe. Hopefully Ill get to come back up to work another match and soak up a little more of the hallowed ground. 

Defending the course from more than pests and disease...

Posted in On the course 23 July 2013 · 3,722 views

From the first day of the season till the last, turf managers are always on the lookout for signs of forces trying to take over the course. This can range from grubs in the soil to dollar spot spreading across a fairway. Sometimes, however, we have to look at defending on other fronts.


At Mount Juliet, high traffic has started to show its teeth. Normally, golfers keep the buggies on the cart path and pull into rough from time to time to chase an errant shot. But this week we found evidence of a buggy in the fairway by way of the tracks. These were not traditional tracks, however. It appeared as though the tires of the cart were on fire! The turf was scorched where the cart had driven through a traditionally dry area. The damage normally would only be only some packed-down grass, but this was different.


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Aidan, the course superintendent, came to the conclusion that it was a combination of events that led to the strange tracks. The area was very dry to begin with, due to the extreme heat thats been present for the last three weeks in Ireland. When the area was hand watered, it left the turf well saturated going into the hottest part of the afternoon. When the temperatures heated up, it warmed the moisture on the turf accordingly, creating a near steam-like layer on the blades of grass. And at this, the most vulnerable point in the day for the turf, was when various buggies and carts were driven through the patch, beating up the turf when it was weaker than it ever would have been normally. To defend this in the future, better routing plans will be put into place to make sure buggies avoid these tender patches of recovering turf.


The pull carts, electric trolleys, and buggies are all tools used to make a round of golf more enjoyable for the golfer. They're a great way to let people get more out of the game, and should definitely have a place at the course. But, there needs to always be compromises in place to make sure they're used in the proper way.


Traffic routing devices like ropes, stakes, and hoops like the ones we use here at Mount Juliet are simple tools to help in traffic control. What also needs to happen is that the tools need to not have a bite, but have a powerful bark. The clubhouse can help in this effort by posting signs making the visiting golfers not only aware of the traffic control devices in place, but the theory behind them.


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Traffic-control hoops in place amidst the bunkers at Mount Juliet.


Theyre not there to create a prison for the players work in; theyre there to give the turf the best chance to survive and flourish. In the future, Id like to push education for the common golfers on why we as turf managers do what we do, especially on issues where compromising is the key to survival. 

A Piece of Heaven...

Posted in Excursions 18 July 2013 · 3,680 views

It's amazing what a simple email can do. Just a small electronic note started the communication that led to the single best day I've had in Ireland thus far.


Posted ImagePart of my plan while I'm here is to see more of Ireland's golf courses. I had heard a lot of buzz about Old Head of Kinsale, on the south coast just past Cork. Jon Kiger had told me that TurfNet had previously visited there, and said that the staff at the club was very nice and welcoming. So, I emailed the superintendent, Neil Deasy, to see if I could conduct a small interview with him and tour some of the facilities at the course. Within a short time, we had a date scheduled for myself and my colleague Alan to visit.


When you crest the hill overlooking the peninsula that is Old Head, your jaw drops. Anyone who has ever been here will know what I mean. Incredibly dramatic. As you drive up, you immediately see huge cliffs on either side of the course, and the ocean all around. I was in awe, to say the least.


From the time we pulled our clubs out of the car, Alan and I were treated like kings for the rest of the day. Every single staff member at Old Head, from the bag drop attendant to the starter, to Neil, to the bartender in the clubhouse, was as friendly as you could imagine, truly living up to the Irish standard.


Posted ImageAlan and I met Neil in the clubhouse, and from there made our way to the maintenance facility. Straight away, I noticed the shop was very tidy and well organized. This seemed to be a theme at the Head. Everything in the right place, from mowers in the shop to the greens on the course. We saw all the buildings and chatted a little about the course and the challenges it poses.


Due to the location, wind and salt can really wreak havoc. Neil explained that wind from the southeast had been plaguing them as of late. There was no way of eliminating it, so they have to work with it. Keep moisture levels up in the turf that gets the brunt of the breeze, flush greens when needed, and in some cases, replace greens. With the location comes a great responsibility to maintain a good stand of turf.


After our tour, we got out onto the course, and for four hours it was like I was in another world.


Not only did I play the best golf I have played all summer, but the course was spectacular. The greens were really consistent, and in great shape for the intense heat and drought we've been having for the last two weeks.


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Hole #12 at Old Head of Kinsale


After we finished up, we got a pint in the clubhouse and sat out on the deck that overlooked the course. It was difficult to leave. I've played some dramatic course in the states, but Old Head Golf Links was by far the most spectacular layout I've ever been on. Pair that with the warm reception from the staff there and the incredible hospitality extended to us from Neil, our trip to Kinsale was more than I could have ever dreamed of. I got to play an amazing course and talk turf with a true professional.


If you make the trip to Ireland and you play golf, you need to experience The Old Head of Kinsale. 

All the pieces falling into place...

Posted in On the course 11 July 2013 · 3,853 views

The course has been tightening up over the last few weeks in anticipation of the Captains' Prizes event, which is very much like a club championship but carries the weight of a member-guest event regarding perfect maintenance.


Over 200 golfers compete for the Captain's and Lady Captain's prizes on a Friday afternoon and Saturday in late June. The event concludes Saturday evening with the awarding of the Prizes at a festive banquet which usually continues into the early hours with dancing and the odd verse of song from the revellers. No competitions are scheduled for Sunday as Saturday is usually a late night.

The Captains' Prizes event is very much like a club championship but carries the weight of a member-guest event regarding perfect maintenance.

The maintenance schedule on the golf course is fairly similar to the usual routine, but the timing for every procedure fits perfectly into place so the course 'pops' by the time the all-important tournament rolls around.


One such procedure is fertilizer application. These are on a regular schedule here at Mount Juliet, but small tweaks are made to the regular mix in order to adapt for weather, turf needs or aesthetic demands.


The pre-event application to fairways was fairly standard, made by a broadcast spreader on the back of the tractor. The greens, however, required a bit more finesse to properly feed.


Two crews of two are typically sent out to leap-frog their way around the eighteen holes. One man operates the spray gun, while the other is on the hose. The gun operator must be well trained to spray on an even coat of the mix that is agitating in the tank. The mix itself consisted of 14 kg of Plant Marvel (28-8-18), ten liters of MegAlex (3-0-0), seventeen liters of six percent Iron, and a little dye. 


The operator of the spray gun walks back and forth making the application while the other crew member is there to keep the hose off the newly fertilized turf and out of the walk path of the person spraying.


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A crew member making the application.


Just as with topdressing by hand, we spray the greens by hand because it requires less fuel and reduces traffic on the greens compared other application techniques.


The turf obviously had a change in color due to the dye, but the greens perked up in growth and natural color in a few days and lasted well past the Captains Prize event. One American visitor remarked that the famous green color in Ireland had to come from something like this!


In truth, the dye may have seemed like cheating, but the real color and health of the turf came because of a well designed and well timed fertilizing schedule that fit the needs of both the turf and the players on the course. 


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The size of spray hose used.


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A mat is placed under the stationary spray vehicle to protect the turf from engine heat.

Watching Golf, and Walking Through History...

Posted in Excursions 07 July 2013 · 3,621 views

Last weekend was full of sightseeing. From the historical village in Wexford to Carton House Golf Club in Maynooth, I got a little taste of history in Ireland, and some sport as well.


Posted ImageOn Saturday, Alan and I made our way up to the Irish Open, being hosted at the Montgomerie Course at Carton House. This course is one of two at the resort, and is celebrating its tenth birthday this year, along with the honor of hosting the Irish Open, Irelands only European Tour stop. We arrived a bit late, but made up for time by racing back to the 16th tee to watch the last five groups come through. I was rather sad to see some of the bigger names at the event miss the cut, and miss seeing Alvaro Quiros, one of my favorite international golfers, before he completed his round. But that being said, Alan and I did get a few hours of seeing some great golf action.


The course was in great shape, and the crowds were pretty decent despite seeing some of the more popular players failing to make the weekend.


The highlight of the day however, was on our way out. We were making our way past the tent village out to the car when I stopped by the range and noticed a large crowd gathered around a couple golfers. I got in a little closer, and realized it was Alvaro! I waited for a small gap to open up, and then slipped into a spot right on the fence. We were there for almost an hour, but it seemed like seconds.


Posted ImageI got to see one of the longest hitters in the world go through an entire range session, culminating in a small show for the crowd. Alvaro pulled out the driver, adjusted the loft down, and bombed a couple drives farther than I have ever seen a human being hit a golf ball. One bounced, and landed up against the fence at the end of the range, which sat 375 yards away from the tees. I couldn't believe it. Seeing such a display of power, coupled with an audience that was cheering like it was a World Cup match, was something I'll never forget.


Posted ImageThe next day, Catherine and I headed to Wexford to check out the Irish Heritage Village. The village is a woodland park that lets you walk through the history of Ireland in the form of little villages, burial sites, and even a working mill. The tour was really informative, and I learned quite a lot about how culture in Ireland and the structures that people built changed from the Stone Age all the way to the Vikings.


I would definitely recommend a weekend like this one to anyone who visits Ireland. The village in Wexford was very informative, and was quite affordable. The Irish Open, was free for me because I am a GCSAI member, but would also be very affordable for a normal visitor. Just as a pairing of something sweet and something salty usually goes together, some contemporary sport and a walk through history go quite nicely together to make for a great weekend. 

Killing two birds with a not-so-obvious stone

Posted in On the course 01 July 2013 · 4,631 views

At every golf course I've ever worked at, theres always been a pest that seems like the 'chief' problem. At Egypt Valley it was the skunks; at Teton Pines it was the voles; and here at Mount Juliet, its the crows. But each one of the problem creatures were not actually the real pest. The real offenders were what these troublemakers were looking for to eat. Last week this became very apparent to me by way of finally seeing what the crows were looking for.


Posted ImageSince being at Mount Juliet, I have noticed a very large crow population in the area. These birds normally only cause distress to the golfers by way of their shrill calls or theft of a snack (I personally witnessed a crow fly off with a fully intact Snickers bar from a buggy cup holder), but here, I started noticing more and more damage that was being left behind in their wake. They were targeting fairways and tee boxes, and leaving fairly large amounts of damage. It looked as though someone was coming in overnight and doing a very sloppy aerification job. The crows beaks are the same size as a one inch tine, but are much more abrasive than any steel tine we use.


It looked as though someone was coming in overnight and doing a very sloppy aerification job. The crows beaks are the same size as a one inch tine...


Posted ImageI did a little research, and confirmed with the course assistant superintendent Robert that they were searching for leather jackets, or the immature larval stage of the European Crane Fly. This made sense, but it hit home when I looked at a piece of sod that was pulled up from the 18th fairway, and saw for myself hundreds of dormant leatherjackets. Now I know why the crows were coming in by the hundreds to invade our course. It was like a free buffet for easy prey!


Posted ImageAn application was made a day later of Chlorpyrifos, or, Dursban, which is an insecticide thats purpose is to neutralize the leather jackets, or European Crane Fly larvae. Another application was made later to just ensure coverage, and at the end of the week, the crow populations were already thinning at Mount Juliet, and the flocks were moving on to other woodlands. Through a little more inquiry, I found out that this is an annual application that normally made around a period of elevated rainfall, to water in the pesticide. Due to the alarmingly high population of crane fly that was discovered, however, we felt as though the time was right to take preemptive measures instead of reactive ones that might have come too late.


There were many times that I wanted to dispatch the crows myself because of their excessive noise and damage, but I now know that sometimes the problem isn't the obvious pest... the real problem is what is attracting the obvious pest to the area.


I will take this lesson with me wherever I go, because sometimes a little patience can pay off in not only in energy, but time and money. 

A Spartan reunion in Dublin...

Posted in Excursions 24 June 2013 · 9,552 views

Posted ImageMy friend Josh, a fellow student at Michigan State, decided to visit Dublin this weekend. Hes studying abroad in Spain, and took this weekend off to visit some of his friends and myself. I took a bus up to Dublin after work Saturday morning, and met up with him, and another friend in the afternoon. The name of the game this weekend was to see a couple sites and do some relaxing.


Posted ImageWe began at the Guinness Storehouse. This building was the original site of Arthur Guinnesss brewery. Now, its a massive museum of Guinness paraphernalia and behind the scenes looks at how Guinness original stout is made. It was not only nice to walk at my own pace through the tour, but the sheer size was also a plus. There were many levels to the storehouse, which all culminated at the Gravity Bar... at the top of the building, with a nearly 360 degree view of Dublin. The view was great, and the free pint of Stout was the best I've had. Not sure if it was the atmosphere, or truly the Storehouse has the best, but it was a great pint and a great way to finish the tour.


Posted ImageWe made our way out of the Storehouse and down to Trinity College to relax for a bit. This wont be the last time I'll be at the college, so I wasn't too hasty to the see the entire campus. I did however, see the colleges park. Even from my perspective as a budding turf professional, whos very used to heavily judging fields and parks, I can safely say this was the nicest collegiate field at a leisure park that I've ever seen. It looked as though they may use it for some track and field like activities, but never the less, it was like sitting on a fairway. The weather was great, so we picnicked there for the afternoon.


Later that night, we met up with some other Michigan State students who are interning abroad, and went out to a couple bars. Its been great to talk to so many people who are native to Ireland, but this weekend was a nice change-up. Being able to connect with some fellow Spartans was a great luxury, as well as the perfect pint of Guinness. 

The "green" part of greenkeeping...

Posted in On the course 18 June 2013 · 4,119 views

A well-tended putting surface can make or break a golf course. At Mount Juliet, we place our greens at the top of our priority list. And it for this reason that our course has such a great reputation, and holds up so well, even in the cold and the rain. Golfers may fight the elements, but not the greens. The first step in green maintenance is mowing, but here at Mount Juliet, topdressing is what sets up the rest of the schedule for greens maintenance.


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Topdressing is done by hand with shovels.


Every other week through most of the growing season, light topdressing is done to every green. A little less than 1 mm is spread out, and then dragged in with a metal rake mat. A small difference between Mount Juliet, and other courses however, is that the topdressing is done by hand. Skilled crew members take shovels, and spread the sand out in a uniform layer over the entire green. They really do make it look very easy, but in reality, achieving such a uniform layer of sand takes a long time to perfect. The sand is a washed, medium coarse textured sand, that comes in from the south of Ireland. When the topdressing is completed, the focus can shift from sand to turf.


Mount Juliet uses Jacobsen walk-mowers, but has two different fleets. One for post topdressing use, and one for normal use. The post-topdressing mowers are a standard reel type, set at 3.5 mm. The sand can be harsh on the reels in post topdressing mows, so these older mowers are used for a couple days after topdressing. When the sand has settled in the turf, and the green returns to its normal state of growth, the other mowers with the groomers are used. These mowers have groomers in front of the reels to ensure stolon cuts, and promote healthy vertical growth. The groomers are set at 2.5 mm, and the bedknife is at 3.3 mm. The heights are changed from time to time depending on growth, weather, and course needs, but at Mount Juliet, the concern isn't green speed, its green quality.


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Regular walk mower setup on left, with groomer on right.


Fertilizing is also done by hand, like topdressing. A team of two men use a hose with a gun attached to spray a mix of nitrogen and potassium at small, spoon-feeding amounts. Right now the focus is on potassium, but this can change depending on time of year and weather demands. The wind can be very tricky to work with when fertilizing in this fashion, but the course leaves a couple days window to fertilize, just in case one day has weather that doesn't cooperate, and another is more suitable.


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Fertilizer rigs.


The greens here at Mount Juliet were grown in with the A-4 variety of creeping bentgrass, but over the years, a large amount of annual bluegrass has set in. With our regular rainfall, and consistent green maintenance however, the bluegrass is kept in check, and blends in with the bentgrass to create a very uniform surface. 

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