Tuesday, April 25, 2017

2016 In Review: Welcome to Water Wick

The WaterWick drainage system trench with minimal disruption to the playing surface.
If you played Adams Pointe last summer from about late July on, you undoubtedly noticed some issues with a number of our fairways. Several factors contributed to the decline of our bentgrass, most notably excess water and heat.

The 2016 golfing season started off relatively normal. Temperatures and rainfall stayed right around average through April. The month of May started off average, but with a wet final two weeks, we finished 2 inches above average in precipitation. Typically, this extra precipitation leading into summer would be cause for concern, but we deal in extremes in this part of the country, and last June was extreme to say the least. Every single day hit 85 degrees or above, with 18 days at 93 or higher. During the heatwave, we went a stretch of 22 consecutive days without precipitation and ended the month with 1.45 inches of rain, or 3 inches below average. Despite the record warmth of June, course conditions remained excellent. We can manage moisture levels far more easily when it is hot and dry, rather than hot and wet; It’s easy for us to continue watering but much harder to get rid of excess moisture. And although the days were warm, we were still getting needed relief at night with the average low for the month at 67 degrees.

The floodgates opened in July. In the first three days of the month, we received 4.75 inches of rain. Three days later, we picked up another half inch. The following week, 3.7 inches of rain fell, and by July 17, we had received 8.95 inches of rain, or 3.75 inches above the monthly average.

Water sits on No.15 fairway after one of the many downpours of 2016.
Then the heat turned on. The average high temperature from July 17 through July 25 was 97 degrees, and the average low for that same span was 76 degrees. This time frame caused the most damage. With saturated soils, these temperatures essentially "bake" the turf roots, causing soil temperatures far greater than bentgrass can withstand.

And high soil temperature wasn’t the only factor. Due to the design of our fairways, almost all holes drain toward the middle, causing these areas to stay saturated longer. Poa annua then thrives in these areas early and is the first to turn south when the temperatures increase. What is under the fairways also plays a large factor. With the exception of our greens, our soils are very heavy clay. This prohibits adequate water movement and drainage and causes areas to stay more wet than they would in sandy soil. Adding in compaction from foot and cart traffic, lack of air movement from trees and/or weather patterns, and the constant disease pressures, your Adams Pointe crew had quite the stressful summer.  

With July’s initial rainfall, we began doing all we could to slow down the inevitable decline. We started flagging heads for Aerwaying on July 6, beginning July 7 with the holes that traditionally suffered the most. Below is a slow motion video showing the Aerway process. The blades slice narrow channels in the turf, allowing enhanced water movement and increased oxygen to the root zone. Volume warning here.

It was a slow process that, with interruptions due to storms the following week, took us about six days to complete. Seeing those storms in the forecast, we also planned a fairway application of a soil penetrating surfactant. This application helped improve vertical and lateral infiltration through the soil profile. This was another slow process, but we were able to complete it by July 14, just as we hit 8.9 inches of rain for the month.

#6 Fairway - July 31, 2016
#6 Fairway - August 31, 2016
We ended August with 9.6 inches of rain, almost 4 inches above average. In the latter half of the month, we started seeing cooler overnight temperatures, providing desperately needed relief to the turf. Starting August 16, we began seeding fairway areas that declined through the summer. As you can see in the picture above, by the end of August, we had made a lot of progress in the recovery efforts. In mid-September, we began laying sod in the areas that were not established with seed. In the span of a couple weeks, we were able to lay more than 6,000 square feet of bentgrass sod. We took sod from the No. Four fairway and were able to reestablish that hole with seed very quickly, with optimal growing conditions in September/October. 

After spending the off season weighing options about how to address the summer decline of our fairways in a cost-effective and minimally disruptive way, we decided on the Water Wick Drainage System. The Water Wick system is essentially a vibratory plow that creates a trench through the soil while injecting gravel into that trench. The process creates new channels for water to drain, thereby aiding our existing drainage. On March 16, we trenched more than 4,700 feet across nine of our most troublesome holes. Volume warnings again.

We again focused on areas that traditionally show the most stress during the summer and trenched along both the existing drainage lines and areas around our drainage boxes. In order to avoid damage to our boxes, we trenched those by hand. Once at the box, we simply drilled a few holes in the side to allow water to escape. Here's a short video showing the water after the first hole is drilled.

After connecting trenches to boxes, we went back through and sodded some of the bigger gravel areas. Any smaller trenches with exposed gravel should grow over quickly, creating a drainage system that is virtually invisible to our patrons. While the Water Wick system can utilize up to three plows at a time, we were only able to use one plow at a time, because of our extreme clay soils. Due to this and other time constraints, we were only able to complete half of what we had hoped for this spring. The current plan is to go back at it this fall, trenching on the other side of the drainage lines we did this spring, as well as a few holes we didn't get to.

As with any option available, this is not a fix-all; We will never make it through any season without experiencing some turf loss. What we will do is continue to remain observant, informed, and proactive to produce the best playing conditions possible year-round. We’re looking forward to seeing the improvements from the Water Wick system this season, and we’re just hoping it doesn't immediately get tested with 20 inches of rain!