Brown on Brown at Overlake GCC

I'd like to introduce Turfhugger readers to Cory, Scott and Overlake GCC

Cory Brown (figures he has that last name) has been an Assistant Superintendent for over 10 years, the last 5 of which have been spent at Overlake Golf and Country Club, in Medina, Washington. Scott Stambaugh has been Superintendent at golf courses in California and Washington and the Superintendent of Overlake GCC for the past 6 years. 
In conversation with Cory about Overlakes firm, "brown" conditions, I asked if he could share with Turfhugger readers a little about their experiences so far. Thanks guys. (Also, check out this local news story about their ACSP efforts)

I have been the Assistant Golf Course Superintendent at Overlake Golf and Country Club for a little over five years now, and have seen our programs grow during that time. To be honest, the dry and firm condition we maintain the course in begins with playability. Of course all of the usual environmental and turf health reasons for maintaining dry, firm turf apply, but beyond that the soil conditions and climate at Overlake present some interesting challenges. We have extremely heavy blue clay soils which can make the course much wetter and softer than desired in the winter.

The club began an extensive topdressing program during the 1980's which has drastically improved conditions year round. However, we still struggle with wet areas around sprinkler heads in the summer. Due to the poor soil, any irrigation inefficiencies are magnified as the soil will hold on to any excess moisture. When I started at the club, our Golf Course Superintendent Scott Stambaugh had only been at the club for a little less than a year. A new irrigation system was just being completed when he started so our input into the design was nonexistent. Scott was in the process of educating the members that even with a brand new irrigation system the course would still be a bit brown in areas. Unfortunately, prior to the new system, I understand that soft spots in the fairways were the order of the day.

Check out that Salt'N'Peppa cut!

The members understand that due to soil conditions and the amount of winter rainfall in the Seattle area it is very difficult to maintain the course in a dry condition from October to May, but now they are  starting to understand that when we get the opportunity in the summer to dry the course out we will take advantage of that even if it means some brown areas in the fairways. Keeping the course in this condition requires careful monitoring of the irrigation system, checking soil moisture (we bought two spectrum TDR-300 moisture meters this year and they have been a great tool), and devoting staff to spot watering fairways (there is a fine line between dormant and dead with Poa). We apply a fungicide application in the summer to prevent anthracnose. In addition, we have been slit seeding Perennial ryegrass into the fairways which is much more drought and disease tolerant than Poa. We have been very happy with these programs to date, and are continually looking at ways to expand and improve them. I could see eventually cutting our fungicide applications on the fairways as all we are protecting is the Poa, but we still have very high Poa populations and could expect to lose a lot of turf if we went that route now.

Letting her grow

Our newest program was something that Scott and I had talked about for a long time with the new irrigation system. We questioned why a wall to wall system on a classic course? We have reduced irrigation by introducing many "native" grass areas throughout the course, but this year we took it one step further as we continue to streamline our operation and improve our efficiency. While we don't directly pay for irrigation water, we do pay for the electricity to pump water, as well as the cost of fertilizing, mowing and blowing rough areas. We also seem to hear comments about our rough areas being too thick, long, and difficult to play from. We took this opportunity to greatly reduce our rough fertilization and irrigation programs this year, even eliminating it in some areas altogether. It is still in a trial period, but the early results have been very positive. It has allowed us to realize we had many sprinkler heads in incorrect programs and have been working to rectify that. The course plays extremely firm and fast, is in fantastic condition from tee to green, and is very brown and firm on the perimeters. In my opinion the variety of colors and shades from green to brown on the course are beautiful, and we have not had a single negative comment from the membership.

In the end, education has been the most important part of the program. Overlake is in the midst of a Golf Course Improvement Plan with Golf Course Architect Jeff Mingay (Yes that's a Mingay Bunker pic above). The plan emphasizes the return of the course to the classic A.V. Macan design intent which emphasized firm and fast playing conditions to utilize the ground game to best approach his extremely challenging greens. Fortunately, the membership has been extremely supportive and is embracing this transformation.

1 Comments so far

As a member at Overlake, I certainly support the work Cory and Scott have been doing to make the course play faster and firmer. These conditions are best for all categories of players--the firm fairway conditions help the course play shorter for the higher handicap players yet firmer greens and meaningful rough put a premium on accuracy for the better player. And it's all a welcome relief from plugging drivers the other nine months of the year. Great job, gents. Keep it going.