Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Starting out Slowly

The anticipation brought on by the arrival of spring and Masters week is always subdued when you are located on the shores of a Great Lake.  As excited as we all are to get the season going, it has been and will continue to be a slow start to the year.  The long term forecast doesn't contain much to be excited about just yet, so patient we will remain.

This post will give details about some forthcoming changes to the golf course this season.  With the numerous changes made to the employment standards act over the past few months, golf course operators across the province have been forced to make changes in the manner with which they maintain their properties.  To give one such example, all GolfNorth properties - 30 in Ontario - are instituting a Rake, Clean and Place rule for this golf season as they halt all bunker raking.  A significant change to how golf courses are cared for, but necessary in today's golf climate.

Although I would argue that we are not taking such a drastic change to the operation of Sawmill Creek, some changes have been required to ensure that we can provide the best possible playing conditions on a daily basis.  The mandate set out for this department has not changed, and as such we will put forth the best product that we possibly can.  The following is a list of changes that you will notice this season:

  • Ball Washers have been removed - If we don't putt with a dirty ball, I will ask the question as to how a ball becomes dirty between the green and tee?  With the age of our ball washers, and the surprising amount of time it takes annually to care for and maintain a ball washer, this was an easy decision to cut out of the turf program
  • 1 tee block as opposed to 2 - New tee blocks have been constructed for this season which are taller for visibility purposes, these new blocks will serve a few functions.  By only placing one block on the deck, it will allow for players to expand the possibility of teeing area on a daily manner, but will also cut down on the number of times staff have to handle each block.  With 4 different teeing grounds per hole at Sawmill Creek, the amount of time spent entering and exiting a mower can add up significantly; this decision will save time during maintenance practices
  • New Garbage Stations - With the removal of the ball washers, we have also removed the garbage bins located from every hole.  There will now be 4 stations located on the golf course to place garbage into, at spots designed to capture as many hole intersections as possible,  We will have two bins in each station with one being for garbage and the other for beer cans only.  Jim has done a marvelous job at turning these former fruit bins into beautiful rustic containers!
  • Hole Changing - Hole changing was always done on an "as-needed" basis; generally around the 150-200 golfer range.  Although this will remain the goal going forward, inevitably it may be stretched at times.  Weekends will especially become tough to change positions as frequently as years' past.  
  • Bunker Raking - We will still be maintaining bunkers and aiming to fully rake a couple of times per week.  The difference you may notice is our inability to rake following weather events.  A part of the new labour laws do not allow for schedule changes without notice (although we are exempt from some of these laws in weather extreme events).  As an example, we know that Friday's through Sunday are short staffed days in the Turf Department this season and should we experience torrential rain event over these days, it will not be possible to put everything back together immediately.  You may be notified occasionally of a local rule taking place on days such as this where we do implement a Rake, Clean and Place
  • Vergeer Golf Returns - By the end of May we should welcome back Derrick Vergeer and his team to complete the fairway bunkers on #6, as well as complete the seeding of all filled bunkers.  This should wrap up the project we started a year and a half ago.
  • Increased Garden Presence - We have given Shelley some much needed help for the 2018 season, as she will be joined by a full-time helper to enhance and beautify our property.  Stay tuned on this one for some exciting eye-popping changes!
There will be a learning curve for everyone; staff and members alike, but with an open-mind I am confident that we can all become accustomed to the new way of operating this golf course.  With our entire turf staff returning in some capacity for 2018 (yay!) we have a skilled bunch of eager and motivated individuals who are just as committed as ever to provide you with a great experience.  

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at jamie.downton@sawmill-creek.com


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Aeration Update

A cool, crisp, soggy day is the perfect time to update the ol' blog, so here is a quick rundown of how our greens' aeration went last week....

In a single word: GREAT!

The weather was perfect, we had no mechanical issues, and the task wrapped up on Wednesday afternoon.  Although the size of the cores being pulled were a bit smaller than I had hoped for, we still managed to remove quite a bit of thatch.  

It has been almost 7 days since we completed the greens, and most of the holes have already healed up.  The final application of fertilizer was put down yesterday morning, just in time for today's rain.

Coinciding with the completion of aeration, was the raising of the height of cut on the greens.  You will inevitably notice that the green speed will be slowing considerably, as we prepare the plant for the upcoming winter season.  

We started the aeration of the tee decks yesterday, and managed to get in a handful before our aerator decided it had had enough.  I am unsure when we will restart the process, and may even wait until we start the fairways at the end of the month before resuming.

As we approach the end of the year, we unfortunately have to say goodbye to our seasonal staff.  I would like to to thank both Jake and Dan for their efforts this season.  Both of which were some of the best rookies' to ever perform here in the Turf Department, and they will be missed greatly.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Summer has left us

As is the norm in these parts, it appears as though summer has left us rather quickly.  The pst couple of weeks have presented highs in the high teens and lows dipping to single digits.  The weird weather year of 2017 continues...

As is also the case, I often sit at my computer at this time of year, and wonder how it has been 6 weeks since my last update.  There is no point in making excuses, it is what it is, so let's just begin.....

I would like to begin by thanking the small army of support that we received from resident's and members during the GAO Juvenile Championships last month.  For us to put our best foot forward and showcase the club, it is always imperative to have a few extra set of hands available, and we could not have done so without you.  Thank you.

I am sure you have noticed that the fescue has begun its annual trimming.  We will continue to cut the fescue over the next three weeks, in an attempt to clean it up as much as possible prior to our herbicide applications.

It is also that time of year when the aerators come out of storage, and start the very important task of allowing our turf plants to breathe.  We have started with some non-invasive slicing to the fairways, and will continue with the coring of the rough, tees, greens and fairways as we finish off the year.  There will be some disruption to playing areas at times, and if the weather is wet, do not be surprised if things get a little muddy.  As always, this is short term pain, for long term gain.

Greens aeration will begin on October 2nd, and I do anticipate this taking 3-4 days to complete.

On a final note, I know many of you are aware of the loss we had in the turf department last month, with the Turf dog Kayda.  Kayda had been with me for more than 10 years, and had been by my side from my beginnings as a Superintendent.  She was responsible for keeping us relatively goose free, and her presence is already missed (there have been hundreds of geese out on the course the past few mornings).  Although it was sudden and unexpected, Kayda left us doing exactly what she loved; running the course.  In fact, the day she passed away, she refused to ride in the cart with me - she just never gave up.  The dog lived to work, and we all enjoyed her presence in the shop every day.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to shoot me a line at jamie.downton@sawmill-creek.com

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Perfectly Imperfect

It has been an incredible run of 4 days now without any measurable precipitation; a trend which appears to be coming to an end with the forecast showing four days of storms rolling in.  Generally the forecast can be spotty at best, but being that tomorrow is Thursday, and it has seemingly rained every Thursday this season, I am placing bets that we will see it once again this week...

I will admit to my brain working overtime this season in the amount of refection, and analysis of our operation in the turf department.  The turf team is well aware of some of the newly implemented processes this season, and for whatever reason, I am really rattling my own cage in pushing the envelope as to how we do things.  I am no longer satisfied with the typical "that's' how we've always done it" mentality, and have gone searching for improvements.

Case in point, the current state of our putting greens.  They are rolling great, hitting our target green speeds 90% of the time, growth rates are typical, disease pressure has been minimal, and they just received a great topdressing on Monday.  All things considered, they are acting the way we have become accustomed to over time.

However, have a look at this photo and tell me how some areas of our putting greens look.....

What do you think?  Is that a good or bad look?  Do we even care what they look like, so long as they putt great?

So here's the deal; contrary to popular belief, this is not a bad infestation of dollar spot.  This is simply the Poa annua throwing a tantrum, screaming for food.  Poa is that needy child; the always hungry, always thirsty, always has to go to the washroom the second you pull out of your driveway type of thing.  It wants food, it wants water, and it wants it now!

And I've got some news for it - IT'S NOT GETTING ANY!

With the issues we have had the past two seasons in the quantity of Poa infestation, one of the best management strategies is to quit catering to the needs of the less desirable plant, and start favouring the species you want to thrive.  Bentgrass is less needy; it does not need to be fed as often, it does not need to drink near as much (which has been tough to control in a wet year), and is simply more hardy.  By us not tending to the needs of the Poa and giving it what it wants, you will be able to see the bent outcompete the Poa as it begins to undergo stress.  And this is where we are today.

This does not mean that we will be 100% bentgrass after a single season of this type of management, and certainly the weather will dictate how we can proceed, but it does give our bentgrass the opportunity to fight back.  There is no knockout cure, but this is one round in which we can compete.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, July 10, 2017

Why is there garbage in roadside ditches?

After a brief flirtation with hot and dry conditions last month, the summer of 2017 has proven largely a warm and wet affair thus far.  This can create challenging conditions for turf managers to cope with, as stressors are increased on turf health in times like this.

If you are questioning why the odd title for this blog post, there really is a simple answer.  You see, we as a golf community often question the need for the constant reminders to golfers, in adherence of common etiquette matters.  Why do we need to remind someone to look after the mess they made such as in the photo below?  And I think the answer is simple; we are, as a species, inherently lazy.  How else can you explain this?  Or how can you explain the volume of roadside garbage, or the fact that most corner lot homeowners, experience wear and tear on their property from those cutting across their property to reach the sidewalk on the other side?

We all know that these actions are wrong, yet unless we are being monitored, unless we believe that we are going to get caught "breaking the rules" so to speak, we do not think twice about saving ourselves the extra effort....

 But enough of my psychological ramblings for today....

With the heavy rains yet again upon us, we took the opportunity to get out in front of them this morning, to break the crust which has been thickening on our fairways, and slice them open a bit to allow for some fresh air.  The process is not very intrusive whatsoever, however, the payback is large.

You may notice that a few of our collars have taken on a not so glamourous appearance recently.  They look as though they are burnt out, and starving for water.  This is not the case however, as these areas have been attacked by the Annual Bluegrass Weevil (ABW).  The ABW burrows itself into the crown of a plant, and starts munching away.  When we experience any sort of high heat or environmental stress situation, these areas succumb to their injuries, and give off the appearance that you see below.

The great news about this is, however, the ABW only chews on Poa plants, and thus keeps our bentgrass population healthy.  So look on the bright side; this give us the opportunity to reclaim these areas as bentgrass!

Thanks for reading, 


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sudden Summer

A cool and wet spring has flipped, seemingly overnight, and has brought us sweltering heat, and drought like conditions.....summer is upon us.

Full cycle daily irrigation is upon us; as is the presence of hoses taking care of business on our fine turf areas.  Hand watering will always be a necessary practice in an attempt to keep uniformity during these stressful drought periods on the turf.  

I will say (while knocking on every piece of wood in the near vicinity), that our irrigation system is performing spectacularly.  Any issues we have had have been self induced, and programs run when we ask them, as is the pump station.  I would hate to think where we would be if this was not the case......

In the past month, many of our filled in bunkers were sodded and now in play.  There are still about 10 bunkers that have been partially filled in, which require either fill or sod.  We will be tackling these as we can allocate resources to them, but in the meantime please treat these as ground under repair.

If you have not been following the US Open coverage this week, check it out.  I have been retweeting interesting perspectives and challenges that are currently being faced in Wisconsin. There has been a fascinating storyline developing about the fescue, and the challenges that they have faced.  Many of these challenges are shared between Erin Hills and ourselves, including the challenge of dealing with thick fescue in areas which experience irrigation overspray.  The only difference is, Sawmill Creek does not have 400 volunteers on the turf crew this week to address thick fescue......

The bunkers continue to hold up well, and we have seen a marked improvement in member care; thank you.  We have pulled back a little bit on maintenance for the time being in an effort to accomplish projects (ie. mulch, sod jobs, etc)., so it has become even more imperative for you to follow through on your duty to rake a bunker prior to walking away.  There will be a short video released at some point, detailing the manner in which we will ask you to enter, exit and rake a bunker.

Beautiful fescue on #4

Thanks for reading, 


Friday, May 19, 2017

Revisiting our favourite topic - Poa

The unofficial start of summer begins this weekend with the arrival of the May long weekend here at The Saw.  We had a taste of summer for a few days, but reality kicked us this morning with the near 30 degree drop....it is a cool one out there.

I have cheated with today's blog post, and have stolen a post I made last year about Poa.  The concept, the causes, and solutions are all the same.  It is an unfortunate part of putting green management and we are just entering the ugly seed head phase.

So without further adieu, here is the still relevant post about Poa....



Poor Anna

Poa Annua (or Po Anna/Poor Anna as Johnny Miller often calls it), is an invasive species of turf which all turf types are susceptible to.  It is a weed, plain and simple.

So why have I brought this  up today?

There has been plenty of questions brought to me in the last two weeks about why our greens are bumpy at times, or have a shade of white/yellow tinge to them.  As you can see from the photo below from our 10th green, there is a mixture of a few different colours, which equates to a few different turf species, including several biotypes of Poa Annua (annual bluegrass).

We have had an increase in the amount of Poa in our greens in 2016.  There could be numerous reasons for this, from the timing of last fall's aeration, or the cold spring, in which the bentgrass refused to wake up, allowing the Poa to grab a hold first, or any number of things.  The fact of the matter is, I can't give one specific reason why this year has been worse than others, but there is no question that our Poa population has significantly increased.  For a course such as Sawmill Creek, that is 20+ years old, this is an unfortunate reality to putting green management; Poa will eventually rear its ugly head.

The million dollar question to the Poa problem is, what are you going to do about it?  And that is a question that I cannot give a straight answer to.  There is no magic bullet that we can apply to the turf, and walk away knowing that our problem is solved.  We simply don't have access to that tool.

Instead, all we can attempt to do is make the best agronomic decisions possible, in the interest of promoting bentgrass and not the Poa. They are two very different plants, and require two very different management strategies.

 How we can promote the bentgrass is by stressing out the Poa by means of starvation of both water and nutrients.  Perhaps we cut back a bit on both, which will favour the bentgrass, while annoying the Poa.  My favourite technique is to head out on a hot day in the summer, and hit our greens with a heavy cultural practice such as a topdressing or a vertical mowing.  This occasionally can harm the Poa enough to allow the bent an avenue to take back over, but I will admit, this year, with the Poa population so high, it may cause some adverse conditions briefly.

The biggest problem as I see it with Poa, is that over a couple of rough weeks each season, Poa goes to seed.  This year, that seed production has now been ongoing for 2 weeks, and is really strong, hence the mottled appearance, and at times bumpy greens.  It is a nuisance, but does eventually go away.  

If you do have some spare time on your hands, and are curious about the life and times of Poa Annua, here is a link to the USGA website talking about Poa.  USGA - Poa  If you recall last year's US Open, you'll remember that Poa was a highly talked about issue during the event at Chamber's Bay, and a quick Google search about the matter will give you tonnes of reading material as well about the downfalls of Poa.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Doing what we can

We are entering our second straight full day of sun!  A new record for the past 6 weeks....

We were very fortunate at The Saw this past weekend to escape unscathed from the torrential rains which have tormented everywhere east of us.  In total we saw about 2 inches fall over the 3 day period.  This of course leaves us wet, but certainly not extreme as is the case in many other places.

Our daily routines have essentially been a crap shoot the past few weeks.  What the turf crew can accomplish may not be what we want ideally, but what we can.  Somehow, the fellas have kept up with the rapid growth rates in our rough and have kept it from becoming a hay field!  

There are many items on our to do list seeking attention and will eventually be crossed off, it has simply been a matter lately of trying to stay productive despite Mother Nature's best efforts.  By all accounts, I am happy to have some of the lesser priority items crossed off our lists, and look forward to getting back to some of the bunker renovation tidy up as soon as we can start playing in dry dirt!

Let's hope the warmth isn't far behind this sun......

Thanks for reading, 


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Waiting for Warmth

A typical Camlachie spring is taking place; cold, wet and waiting for the southerly flow of warm winds.  Some of our maintained turf areas have started to awaken, but true to form, our greens are lagging behind....

The Turf Department continues to plug away at some projects however, as we have maintained focus on reclaiming Ground Under Repair areas from our bunker renovation.  We are planning on bringing in sod for some filled in bunkers, however, some we will make an attempt to seed first (I will always choose seeding over sod for long-term turf health).  Please keep all traffic - foot and cart - out of these areas while we attempt to establish them.

In speaking of foot traffic, how do you like this photo below from this past week?  To summarize, 100% of the rounds we had done this chilly day were Sawmill Creek members........such a lack of respect for your course, and fellow member.  The Turf Department will not be raking bunkers daily; areas like this may be present for days on end if you do not do your duty as a golfer.

During the bunker renovation, we made great progress in tracking golf course drainage lines, and learning how water moved around the property.  This helps immensely when we run into issues such as a backed up tile such as we have experienced this spring on #17.  With the addition of the clean out ports, and the knowledge we gained as to drain line positioning, it makes finding issues achievable. 

After the tile was exposed, we were able to trace the line towards the pond, and the outlet.  What we found was this......

 A 100%  clogged drain tile!  The mass of roots inside was absolutely incredible!

Problem solved.

Now in the meantime, while we had a shovel in the ground, we also discovered a pond overflow line, that will drain the pond at 16/17 when it is too high, and dump it into the creek; a project I have long had on our to do lists.

2 Birds, 1 Stone.

I love it when that happens ;)

Thanks for reading, 


Friday, April 7, 2017

Uphill and into the Wind

The course is officially open for 2017!  And true to form, we had snow on the ground within 48 hours of the flags being put out.....the rule stays true....

It has been a tough  week for the few brave souls of the turf department.  We were able to get a couple of cuts down on the greens, a cleanup cut of the tees and aprons, and the installation of many course supplies.  This has been a bit of a challenge, as the weather really has not been conducive to productivity.  In fact, our greens mower was actually forced to traverse the course in reverse, as we simply could not gain forward traction with the wet conditions!

The weekend forecast looks fantastic however, and will hopefully begin to dry the place out a bit, but do not be surprised if carts are kept away for a few days still.

We have installed new cups and flag sticks out onto the course as our previous supplies had worn down over their 5 year use.  This will mean, however, that they are a bit sticky when you pull the flags.  If you look closely at the cup, as in the picture below, you will notice that there are notches in the flagstick and cup, to allow the flag to "lock" into place.  Occasionally this will mean you need to turn the flag stick ever so slightly to lock the flag in place, but this ensures that the flag will stay in place during windy days such as today!

With the weather constraints we have experienced this week, we have only managed to get into about half of the green side bunkers so far.  I have been very impressed with their playability in both the bunkers which have been raked, and especially those which have not.  With the extreme wet conditions out on the course, it is incredible that we have bunkers looking, and playing in the manner in which we do.  Here are a couple of shots showcasing them in all of their beauty!

We will be back into these bunkers at the start of next week, as we bring in a few more of our teammates to give us a hand.  If you do encounter a bunker that has not been worked up yet, give it a shot....you will be pleasantly surprised with how playable the are, even after a long winter!

Here's to better weather ahead!

Thanks for reading,