Saturday, April 26, 2014

Winter Damage 2013/2014

"There's a lot of dead grass on golf courses this spring. How come the Links looks so good?"

The winter of 2013/2014 was one of the harshest on record. Almost every golf course in the mid-west suffered some turf loss especially on greens. Reports are coming in from golf courses across the region and the news for some is devastating. A number of golf courses have lost so much turf they have decided to close  and re-seed the greens. A number of courses are playing temporary greens until the turf that is left recovers.

Record cold and snow left many golf courses with dead turf on their greens.

The turf at the Village Links came through the winter with few problems. So why did the winter weather affect some courses more than others? Was it luck?

It's mid-April and the trees haven't started leafing out. As soil temperatures rise the turf begins to green up and we find the Village Links came through the winter in decent shape.
Indeed, we were very lucky to not have significant turf loss after the record 2013/2014 winter. So why didn't we have major turf loss?

Luck. We were lucky. A number of very good golf courses with good superintendents performing state of the art maintenance practices  lost turf. Often the difference  between healthy and dead turf is so minute. A couple of degrees colder at one location or slight drainage issues at another can be the difference between success and failure.

Poa annua. We don't have very much poa annua on our golf course. Poa annua is a nuisance turf that is prevalent on most golf course in the U.S. We have been on an aggressive program at the Village Links to eliminate poa anuua since 2007. Virtually all the turf that died this winter was poa annua. Golf courses that had a lot of poa had a much greater risk of losing turf.

Top dressing. In late November we apply a moderately heavy layer of sand top dressing to the greens. This extra layer provides a little extra protection to the delicate turf on greens.

One of the reasons poa annua is susceptible to winter damage is it's shallow roots. The poa plant on the right only has roots 1.5" long. The bent grass plant to the left has 6" roots. Poa plants are easily injured when air temperatures dip below -5°.
There are several things that happened this winter that resulted in dead poa. The first was 2 periods of warm weather early in the winter followed by a 30°+ plunge in temperatures. Winter started out very cold with temperatures 10° to 15° below normal. On December 28, 2013 the temperature rose to 49°. The rise in temperature caused Poa annua to briefly start to grow. The temperature dipped to -1° two days later. The crowns of Poa plants which were gorged with water from the sudden warm-up were damaged when the freezing temperatures suddenly returned. The same thing happened on February 18, 2014 when there was a 3 day period of temperatures in the upper 40's followed by cold temperatures including -2° on February 26th. Most superintendents knew trouble was brewing. The February thaw also resulted in a layer of ice up to 3" thick on many greens. The ice layer sealed off the turf below which caused further injury. The third thing that hurt turf this winter was high winds. Most of the snow this winter had very little moisture content. It was a light fluffy snow that was easily blown around by high winds. There were several times this winter when high winds stripped the snow off the golf course exposing mounded areas. The high winds continued to blow causing the plants to 'freeze dry' resulting in further turf loss.

This is how many greens in our region looked in early March. The lighter colored spots are Poa annua and they are not looking too healthy.

By the first week of April the bent grass was greening up and it was obvious that most Poa annua did not survive.

This close up shows a few sprigs of bent grass emerging from the dead Poa plants. Many greens in the mid-west have up to 90% Poa annua on their greens. The harsh winter weather = dead  Poa greens. Yes, we were lucky.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Winter Weather

"I bet the record snow this winter is great for the golf course."

Golf course turf never benefits from winter weather but some winter conditions harm the turf more than others. This winter started off with below normal temperatures beginning in mid-October. For the next 4 months temperatures averaged 9° below normal daily highs. We have had nearly 70" of snow during the same period.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. 

About the only Good we can take from this winter is the extreme cold temperatures. The cold froze the soil to a 24" to 30" depth. Deep freezing cause the soil to contract, expand and heave opening up fissures for air and water movement for healthy root growth. Extreme cold can also reduce the numbers of over-wintering larvae and grubs that cause harm to turf during the growing season.

Deep frost fractures and opens the soil just like solid tine aeration. This allows roots access to air, water and nutrients.

Extreme cold temperatures reduce populations of overwintering grubs and larvae.

The Bad. Much of the snowfall this winter has had low moisture content. Very high winds in December scoured the light and fluffy snow off the tops of bunker and green banks and many of the high spots on greens. The exposed turf was subjected to wind speeds of 40 + MPH and below zero temperatures. This combination can cause plant dessication. Turf that is exposed to these conditions for a long period of time will often die.

Turf on wind-swept mounds are exposed to this winter's extreme cold and drying winds. Some turf loss is possible.
Disease is also a concern this winter. Gray Snow Mold (Typhula: T. incarnata and T. ishikariensis) can occur when there is snow cover for at least 60 days. Pink Snow Mold (Michrodochium nivale) is more common and occurs as snow melts in the early spring. We applied a preventive treatment for snow mold in mid-November on greens and tees. It is likely there will be a snow mold outbreak on fairway turf. The good news is affected fairway turf will recover within 7 to 10 days once spring temperatures warm. 

Irregular shaped rings emerge as the snow melts. Pink Snow Mold often kills turf on green and tee surfaces. Fairway turf usually recovers quickly from Pink Snow Mold.

The Ugly. The greatest winter damage to the golf course playing surfaces comes from prolonged ice build-up. There have been 2 brief warm-ups this winter. Both warm periods came with heavy rain followed quickly with extreme cold. As a result, layers of ice formed in large patches on greens, tees and fairways. There are many areas where the ice is up to 3" thick. Thick ice can seal off the turf from the air above. Even during the winter, dormant turf contains decaying organic matter. The decaying process produces gasses which are toxic to the grass plants trapped under the ice. Large concentrations of gas can kill turf.

Layers of ice cover many sections of the golf course. This photo shows the back two thirds of 18 green encased in ice. Breaking up and removing the ice mechanically will certainly damage the turf so it is best to leave it alone. Although this situation looks troublesome, there are some cracks in the ice layer which may be large enough to let harmful gasses escape. This ice is opaque which is also a good sign. Clear ice acts like a greenhouse allowing more sunlight through which warms the underlying turf and increases gasses from decomposition. 
This winter is shaping up to be the coldest and snowiest of all time and reminds us that we have no control over Mother Nature. Whatever turf conditions exist in the Spring, we will get the golf course back in shape quickly for our golfing guests.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Micro Greens

Assorted micro greens
We are expanding our effort to supply our Reserve 22 Restaurant with produce grown at the golf course. Growing produce onsite means our chef has the freshest possible ingredients to create meals for our guests. Raising produce locally also reduces our carbon footprint since the need to ship produce supplied from traditional growers hundreds of miles away is eliminated.

This winter we began growing organic micro greens. Micro greens are the young seedlings of edible herbs and vegetables. They are harvested 10 to 14 days after germination and are only 1" to 2" tall. Micro greens have a stem, two cotyledon leaves and one or two sets of true leaves.

True leaves are emerging from the center of the stems. The pair of rounded leaves (coyledon leaves) are the first pair to sprout at germination.
These 'French Breakfast' Radish are ready to harvest 8 days after germination.

Micro greens have intense flavors for their size. Studies have also confirmed they contain 4 to 40 times more nutritional value than the same plant in it's mature form.

Red Garnet Amaranth is perfect as a micro green garnish. It has a mild flavor with a fuschia stem and leaves.      

'Mizuna Red Streaks' Mustard adds a peppery mustard flavor to salads.

We have also added 'Dark Opal' Basil and Arugula to our micro green offering. If you would like to check out our organic in-season produce and micro greens, come visit us at

Reserve 22 (630) 469-5550

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Green Construction

Hey, why are you using sand for the new green?
 How are you going to grow any grass?

We recently completed construction on a new practice putting green near the first tee of the 18 hole golf course. The current 18 hole putting green will be removed if our clubhouse master plan is approved. We built the green now so it will be ready to use by late May 2013.

Building a putting green is not that difficult but to have a successful project there are many things to address before you start construction.

Like much of the Village Links, the clubhouse site is situated in a flood plain. Everything we build is subject to flooding during major rain events. The lowest section of the new green will only be under water for a few hours during a 100 year flood which is not ideal but we know the turf will survive at the elevation we chose.

We wanted the new putting green to have the same general contours as the current greens on the 18 hole golf course. It is important to our players to be able to practice on a green that is similar to the greens they will find on the golf course. A practice putting green gets much more wear from constant use so we needed to be careful not to have any severe slopes on the green which would not be able to survive during the stress of summer. There are plenty of challenging cup locations to practice your putting. The 9,200 square foot green slopes 2' from the east edge to the west edge. The northwest section has a larger mound to practice those tough side-hill putts.

The putting green is in a great location. It is closer to the first tee than the present green. It will be much easier to get in a few practice putts even if you are running a few minutes late for your tee time. Much of the new patio and the hospitality room will overlook the green. There is good air circulation at the site and minimal shade from trees, so turf conditions should be great.

Greens Construction

Green construction begins by transferring the Golf Course Architect's design on paper to the future putting green site. The entire area is staked out showing where the existing soils need to be lowered and raised. The sub-base of the green is constructed 16" lower than the final green surface. The base is perfectly parallel to the exact contours of the new green putting surface. The process we use to build our golf greens was developed by The United States Golf Association (USGA) more than 40 years ago. The USGA process insures a long-lasting quality putting green.

The sub-base is graded smooth in preparation for drain tile installation.

A drain tile grid is installed using 4" perforated tile 15' on center.

The drain tile grid is designed to remove rain falling at a rate of several inches per hour. The grid is placed to intercept water flowing across the surface of the sub-base. Tile lines are placed no more than 15' apart and are also located at the green perimeter.
The entire drain tile grid is filled with washed pea gravel.

A 4" deep layer of bridging gravel is spread over the entire sub-base.

The bridging stone is a 4" deep layer of washed pea gravel that is screened to a specific size. The gravel layer allows the greens mix to bridge the pore spaces between the pea gravel so sand will not clog up the drain tiles. Stakes are placed evenly using a 10' grid to insure the gravel is placed in a consistent 4" layer.

Root zone mix is spread over the layer of bridging gravel using light weight equipment.

A 12" deep layer of root zone mix is spread over the drainage system and bridging gravel layer. Care is taken to make sure the gravel layer is not disturbed while installing the root zone material. The 9,200 square foot practice green required 500 tons of root zone mix. The root zone mix is 90% sand mixed with 10% peat moss. The mix is tested by a soils laboratory to make sure it meets the USGA Specifications for particle size distribution and other physical attributes. Sand is the primary component of the root zone mix because it allows water, air and nutrients to move easily through the profile. Ten percent organic matter is added to the sand to help hold water soluble nutrients in the root zone during turf establishment.    

 A distinct edge is created separating the greens mix from the surrounding topsoil. Once the 2 surfaces are leveled, the construction boards are removed.

Readings are taken to insure the proper surface elevations are 
maintained during final grading. 

 Irrigation sprinklers are installed around the perimeter of the green.

 The newly installed irrigation is tied into the existing pipe and wiring.

A well designed and installed irrigation system is key to maintaining good turf conditions. Proper size pipe, wire and sprinkler head spacing provide an even distribution of water for the plants. Since the putting green is located near buildings and other golf course features, we installed sprinklers with an adjustable irrigation pattern to keep the water off the adjacent buildings and restaurant patio.

The future putting surface is fertilized with 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft.

Once the seed begins to germinate, the green is fertilized with small amounts of fertilizer every 4 to 7 days. The frequent fertilizer schedule is required to keep nutrients in the sandy root zone mix which is prone to leaching until roots are established. Fertilizing continues for approximately 60 days.
Seed is applied at a rate of1.5 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft.

The putting green has been seeded to the same A-4 Creeping Bentgrass variety used on our 18 hole greens. The A-4 variety was developed to produce an excellent putting surface that stands up to our heavy play, is resistant to disease and matches the characteristics of our existing greens. The seed begins germination after 3 days. 

 The green surface is rolled smooth after seeding.

 Low-mow bluegrass sod is placed around the perimeter of the green as the finishing touch..

 Twenty days after seeding, the green begins filling in nicely. 
The first mowing will be in one week.

It takes 160 days of active growing weather for the turf to mature enough to handle daily traffic. We hope to open the green in late May 2013.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012


What's the scoop? I heard you're feeding food scraps to worms.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of composting. The most basic method of composting began two thousand years ago back in the days of the Roman Empire. Organic waste would be placed in a pile after the harvest and would break down into compost by the next growing season. The composted waste material would then be spread around new crops as a source of nutrients. Modern day composting has evolved to produce compost more efficiently but the basics remain the same. Waste material is broken down by the microbial action of fungi and bacteria into plant nourishing nitrates and nitrites. Standard composting is a fairly slow process which can take up to 6 months.

There is a process called vermicomposting that is much more efficient and quicker than standard composting methods. vermicomposting is a composting method that relies on worms to process waste material.Worms native to the Glen Ellyn area are not very efficient breaking down plant material but there are a few non-native varieties that have voracious appetites for waste and are commonly known as Red Wigglers. The two red wiggler species available in the U.S. are Eisenia foetida and Eisenia andrei. Neither of these worm species can survive our cold winters so they need to be protected to survive our normal winter temperatures.

           Vermicomposting worms turn waste into compost much faster than the traditional composting process.

Large scale vermicomposting has been practiced in Canada, parts of Europe, Japan and the Philippines for many years. For the most part, only small scale vermicomposting is performed in the U.S. It's estimated more than 60,000 homes in the U.S. use some form of indoor vermicomposting. There are several types of worm composters available for homeowners who wish to turn their kitchen scraps into a composted material to use in their gardens. Small scale indoor vermicomposters can process a several pounds of kitchen scraps per week.

We are looking for a way to compost the majority of the restaurant waste produced at the Village Links Golf Course. It is estimated that 78% of restaurant waste could be recycled by vermicomposting. Everything from cardboard, to egg shells and egg cartons to vegetable scraps to coffee grounds and filters are easily processed in a vermicomposter. We are currently performing a small scale test to see how effective the vermicomposting process is.

Our test vermicomposter is made from simple plastic storage bins.

A view from the top shows compost and food scraps.  
We started composting waste 2 months ago and so far it looks like all is going well. We alternate layers of shredded paper/card board with food waste. Any 'clean' food waste can be composted. The system we utilize doesn't effectively compost meats, oils or fats. There is virtually no odor from the covered bin. If anything, there is a slight smell of fresh earth.

A blend of food scraps and coffee grounds are mixed with high-carbon items such as shredded paper and cardboard.

If all goes well with our small-scale experiment, we will construct or purchase a larger unit that can handle all of the compostable waste produced at our restaurant. Waste generated at the Village Links Restaurant and Halfway House will be brought to our maintenance yard each day where the composter will operate.

Eisenia foetida worms can compost food items like stale bread and potato peels rapidly. A large scale bin containing 100 lbs. of worms can process 75 to 100 pounds of waste per day.

Large scale industrial flow through vermicomposters are self contained units that eliminate odors and exclude nuisance wildlife. Flow through systems are easy to use. As organic waste is added, the worms process the waste leaving behind nutrient rich worm castings. The worms continue to move upward as new waste is added. Every few days, worm castings are harvested from the bottom of the unit. The resulting worm castings will be used to amend our flower bed soil mix and will be dried and spread on high traffic turf areas on the golf course.

Sustainable Agricultural Technologies Inc. produces industrial size vemicomposters used by schools, prisons and hospital cafeterias. This 5' X 6' unit is capable of processing 75 to 100 pounds of food waste each day.

It is our hope this program will divert substantial amounts of food scraps and kitchen waste from the landfill and provide us with some free organic fertilizer we can utilize on the golf course.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Emerald Ash Borer

The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Agrilus planipennis was discovered in the western suburbs of Chicago several years ago and is an immediate threat to ash trees in the Glen Ellyn area. The EAB is a non-native pest first discovered in this country in Michigan 10 years ago. The pest is currently in 14 states and has killed an estimated 100 million trees to date. The entire genus of ash Fraxinus is at risk in North America.

The Village Links of Glen Ellyn has 420 ash trees on the property which is approximately 10% of our golf course tree inventory. While many experts feel it is not possible or too costly to protect ash trees from the EAB, it has been shown that if treatment is started early enough, ash trees can survive the current EAB infestation. The key is to begin treatment before the EAB becomes established in a tree and once treatment begins it needs to continue into the future. We have decided it is worth the expense and effort to protect our ash tree population.

It is important to understand the EAB life cycle if you want to keep it at bay. The adult beetles shown below emerge from an infected tree from mid May until late June. The adult beetle stage of the EAB does not cause any damage. They mate and lay approximately 200 eggs on the bark of a nearby ash tree. The eggs hatch into larvae which burrow through the bark and begin feeding on the tree's cambium layer located between the bark and the wood of the tree. This vascular layer is where water and sap flows from the roots to the tree top. If enough larvae are feeding in this layer, sap will stop flowing and the tree will die. The cambium layer is also the only route an insecticide can travel to kill the EAB larvae. That is why it is so important to begin treatment before a tree is infected. The larvae continue to feed on the cambium layer all summer and fall growing to about 1/2" in length. The EAB over winters in the larval stage, feeds for a short time in the spring, then pupates into the beetle form where it emerges to complete the life cycle.   

 Emerald Ash Borers Adults collected June 27, 2011

So how does the average homeowner decide what steps to take if they have an ash tree. The first step would be to identify the trees on your property to see if you have an ash tree. Remember, the EAB can kill all ash trees so it doesn't matter what type of ash tree you have. 

 This is a typical leaf cluster from an ash tree. Note the leaves join the stem in pairs. Many other trees have single alternating leaves staggered along the stem.

Once you have determined you have an ash tree in your yard you should assess it's over-all health and value in your landscape to help you figure if it's worth the expense and effort to keep your tree(s) protected. Is your tree currently healthy or does it have declining and broken branches? Does it have proper form or is it misshapen due to improper pruning or storm damage? Is the tree a prominent part of your landscape or is it hidden among a cluster of other trees? Is the tree in the proper location or is causing problems because it it too close to your house? If you want to keep the tree, you must take action now and continue treating your tree for the foreseeable future.

One of the symptoms of EAB is the formation of branch suckers close to or on the tree trunk. This tree in the Raintree Subdivision shows no other symptoms and may respond to treatment if immediate action is taken.

 This ash tree has been infected for 2 years. The entire interior branching structure has died making it a poor choice to try and save.

 This tree has been infected for 4 years. Only the trunk and a few branches on the right side are still alive.

This tree was treated with insecticide but not until it was infected with EAB for 2 years. Sadly, this ash tree will not recover.

Remember, if your tree is already 20% to 40% infected with EAB, it will most likely die even with treatment. There are several treatment options for preventing and controlling EAB. Professional tree care companies have access to insecticides that may be injected into the tree, applied as a bark penetrant or applied as a soil drench. The only EAB insecticide available to a homeowner is Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub Insect Control. It is important to follow the label instructions when using this product. It is recommended the product be applied in the mid to late spring or in the mid fall period. The product is easy to apply. The insecticide comes in a small water soluble packet which is placed in a 5 gallon bucket of water. The packet quickly dissolves releasing the powder containing the insecticide. Simply stir the product thoroughly and pour around the base of the ash tree. It is best to make the application on a sunny day when there is a moderate amount of moisture in the soil.
For more information on EAB:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Organic Produce

"I heard you're growing tomatoes. Why don't you just stick to growing grass? Isn't that tough enough?"

Yes, we primarily grow grass but growing produce is a natural extension of our goal of operating the golf course in an environmentally sensitive manner. In the spring of 2011, we decided to see if we could successfully raise produce for the Village Links Restaurant. Our goal the first year is to break even on our investment of materials and labor. We feel if we break even on our costs the project is well worth doing because of the many benefits of raising your own produce. The vegetables we grow are naturally organic. No pesticides or chemicals are used on the plants. The growing method we employ uses much less water than traditional growing methods. Growing our own produce means no transportation costs and no fuel is used to deliver our produce. The produce we grow is also fresher and tastes better.

 Earthbox® containers on wood pallets.

We chose to grow our produce using the Earthbox® System. The system employs a raised container which wicks water from a reservoir at the base. The benefit of the bottom reservoir is that water is always available to the plant in ample supply but you cannot over-water your plants. Plants grown in Earthboxes® grow faster and larger than plants grown in traditional soil gardens because potting soil is used in the system.

One issue gardeners face in the Chicago area is the relatively short growing season. It takes up to 75 days for many vegetable plants to begin producing produce.To 'lengthen' the growing season we decided to place our Earthboxes® on wood pallets. This allows us to bring the plants indoors when there is the threat of frost and freezing temperatures. It takes less than 30 seconds to move a pallet of 3 Earthboxes® indoors. Protecting plants which are susceptible to frost extends the traditional growing season by a month in the spring and a month in the fall.

Plants are started by seed indoors during the late winter months.

It is very inexpensive to grow vegetable plants from seed. Growing your own plants also means you can control the types of produce you want and can have the plants ready to plant on your own timetable. Also, the plants you purchase from the store are rarely organic. 

 Butter Crunch Leaf Lettuce.

Plants grow quickly in the raised containers. Lettuce, parsley, arugula and cilantro mature in a few weeks.  Once the plants mature, they are harvested and new transplants are put into the Earthbox® containers. The containers last at least 10 years. The soil mix can be reused for at least 5 years before it needs to be replaced.

Lettuce seedlings ready for transplant.

We work with Mike Atkins, our restaurant manager, to choose vegetables which are easily grown, can be adapted to his recipes and can help offset his food costs. In 2011 we are growing a few varieties of lettuce, zucchini, several types of tomatoes, parsley, jalapeno peppers, arugula, bell peppers, basil, cucumbers and banana peppers.

 The first yellow pepper will be ready to harvest by June 1st.

 Tomato blossoms signal harvest is only a few weeks away.

 Trellises are in place to train the tomato plants.

Fresh arugula transplants will be used as a garnish and added to salads for a zesty taste.

 Our restaurant will realize significant savings when they no longer have to purchase expensive herbs like basil.

June Update - Four weeks later, the basil is a prolific producer.
 June Update - Four weeks later, the tomatoes are 5' high.

June Update - The 1st tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

July Update - Produce is harvested in the morning and is served
fresh within hours of being picked.

10 to 20 lb.s of produce is harvested each day. A typical harvest includes cucumber, zucchini, jalapeno peppers, banana peppers, tomatoes, parsley and gourmet bell peppers.