Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nature vs. Nurture

The golf industry in Southeastern Michigan has had a very interesting spring.  You’ve probably heard the horror stories about damaged greens and massive turf loss.  Many courses opened up with a few temporary greens, some opened with all temporary greens.  The UMGC was fortunate enough to open with all 18 greens rolling.  We did have some minor damage to 3 greens but we feel lucky and proud of the course conditions at the end of the spring.  

This begs the question though:  Can we, for certain, attribute the present conditions of the UMGC to something other than luck or good fortune?  It is incredibly presumptuous to think that we are exempt from Mother Nature’s awesome power to humble.  After all, during the golf season, superintendents and greenskeepers alike waltz with her with the hopes of controlling water, heat and turf diseases.  At the UMGC, we like to think of this relationship not so much as a dog fight vying for control but rather a concert of humility and power.  Make no mistake; nature is the predominant player—no matter what this chemical rep says or that hubris filled superintendent claims.  With respect to nature, we do carry out maintenance practices that are well thought out and minimally invasive.  We do prioritize the health of the turf in the fall before it goes into dormancy.  We do put our course to bed as clean and orderly as we possibly can.  These are things that we can control.  These are things we own to promote a healthy golf course. 

Fairways, tees and rough all came out of winter in great shape!  Especially the rough!  We had planned to keep a more consistent height of cut in the rough during the week by mowing twice a week at 2.25”.  We found that this wasn’t enough.  The rough was healthy and aesthetically pleasing, but played too aggressively for our golfing community.  The answer was lowering the height to 1.75” and cutting 3 times a week.  Sometimes, healthy turf, especially in the rough, is a curse as much as a blessing.  This frequency of mowing is demanding on machines, people and sometimes isn’t in the cards dealt by the aforementioned. 

However, the amount of acreage designated as rough is decreased this year due to newly added "natural areas." These areas are carefully shaped to give the course texture and add an interesting visual element. They are also a cornerstone of our sustainability efforts. Less mowing equates to a smaller carbon footprint. Natural areas also provide a venue for native Michigan grasses and wildlife to flourish.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"One must maintain a little bittle of summer, even in the middle of winter." - Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

Polar vortex, mini ice age, climate change… call it what you want.  This winter in Michigan, has been legitimized by colder than usual temperatures, greater than normal snowfall and the absence of warm days that melt accumulation.  Spring is supposedly around the corner but when I got to work this morning it was a whopping -4°F. 

At the UMGC, we are obviously concerned with what goes on underneath this white blanket.  Historically, in this area of the country, we get “thaws” several times during the winter months.   This season we have not had one since December 15th, 2013. 

18th Green at the UMGC

We have been monitoring the health of our greens underneath the ice by taking plugs and planting them in paper cups.  Greenskeeper  Dean Noworyta fabricated a sharpened steel shaft with a solid plunger to remove iced plugs on greens with minimal damage done.  He has been removing samples every Wednesday since the 3rd of February.  Thus far, every plug has been healthy and coming out dormancy with vigor. 

Research compiled the USGA tells us that bentgrass and bluegrass have a great ability to tolerate ice for up to 120 days.  On the other hand, Poa annua is notorious for having very little tolerance to icy conditions of 45-90 days.   The samples taken at the UMGC (with poa annua present) show no signs of ice damage. 

  February 19th sample after one week of growth

The crew at the golf course will continue to monitor the greens weekly for the remainder of this harsh Michigan winter.  For more information please refer to the MSU Turf Blog. 


Scott Rockov

Superintendent, University of Michigan Golf Course    

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Good Things Come In Small Packages

Every season, at the UMGC, we have a couple of temporary staff members that show an elevated amount of interest and passion about the golf course.  Some have aspirations of working in the industry and some just got bit by the UMGC bug.  These people are a joy to work with because of their dedication and positive attitudes.  All of their efforts and excellent work warrants commendation. 

These few also thrive on challenges.  Greg Wnuk, recent graduate of University of Michigan, had the opportunity to design and execute his “UMGC senior thesis.”  The project, dubbed “Mini Six”, is a 1/120th scale model of the green complex of #6 at the course. 

The model is a living, growing and maintained piece of bentgrass turf that was reclaimed from the #6 green expansion project, which is the signature hole at the UMGC.  It features a “soil profile window” that has an irrigation head (fully operational), drain tile and distinct layers of aggregate soils.  The topography of the green was surveyed in the fall and converted to the scale model.  It will be displayed and maintained for viewing.

Plywood box lined with plastic and reinforced with tension rods to hold the total weight of 175lbs

Live drainage trenched into the clay base to ensure the proper movement of water in the model

Bunkers are molded to spec with modeling clay to be later filled with sand

The original sod, harvested 3 months prior, was kept dormant until planted on top of final grade

View of green from a ½” tall golfer

Upcoming potential projects for inspired young groundskeepers include pollinator gardens in natural areas, butterfly gardens, bat houses and, tree cataloguing/gps/tagging.  We look forward to this upcoming season with new and returning employees that could carry out these inspired projects!  

Here are some extra photos of the project.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Our signature hole #6, at the UMGC, has gone through an expansion project that increased the area of the upper shelf by 40%. This green expansion is a key element to changes that have been seen on the course in recent years.  We are fortunate, at the UMGC, to have such a rich historical record of the golf course that dates back to 1931. The project reclaims a large area that would have been included in the original 1931 MacKenzie design of #6 green. 

The row of pines and shrubbery that were a later addition to the course were removed and sodded over with fescue. The entire redesign of the top of #6 is a call back to the great architect’s plan and philosophy. MacKenzie made a career switch to golf course architecture from medicine. He thought of golf as a social game that was good for people’s health. Our hope is that this project will help open up the course to the camaraderie among players that is so inherent in the great game of golf. 

Hole #6 is one of the many projects included in the UMGC's Master Plan. Other future plans include the removal of declining and dead trees, transplanting of existing trees and planting of new trees. As well as, green expansions and green restorations. The UMGC's Master Plan is a multi-year plan that intends to create a more enjoyable golf course while respecting the course's history and tradition. Come play the UMGC in the spring of 2014 and let us know what you think.

#6 Green before ground is broken on project

Amending the soil in preparation for bentgrass sod 

Dean Noworyta limbing a spruce before felling it

All areas almost ready for sod!

Mark Richards preping the transition edge from existing green to new sod

Grading the area to be sodded

Greg Wnuk seaming the bentgrass sod

 Rolling the finished product

Completed project!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Tale of Two Courses

The month of September is a welcomed time at the UMGC. The crew can breathe a little easier knowing that the shorter days and falling temperatures relieve stress on the turf. The grass grows a little slower and the risk of turf disease lessens. It is also the month that football and varsity golf starts. Our wolverines hit the links and take the field at the big house and we, here at the course, do our part to support them in every way.  

Football Saturdays reveal the dualistic nature of the UMGC in the fall. Friday, the course is the number 8 college course in the nation according to Golfweek. Saturday, the course is a top-ten college football tailgating destination with a few thousand parked cars and around ten thousand football fans. 

By Sunday at 10 am we are back to the number 8 college course in the country. The whole process is timed and executed to a tee by the grounds crew at the course.  

It could be likened to having a gigantic blowout bash while your parents are on vacation and then having their house cleaned up and spotless by the time they get back the next morning—6-8 times a year. The only difference is that we aren’t misbehaving by hosting tailgaters—quite the opposite-- we are happily providing a place for our beloved football fans to celebrate the tradition of Michigan Football.

Check out our YouTube video and watch the golf course transform during the Under the Lights weekend.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Team... The Team... The Team!

One of the most important objectives at the University of Michigan Golf Course is to help the golf teams win championships. This spring, renowned golf course architect and Alister McKenzie expert Mike Devries designed and built a McKenzie style putting green for the Men's and Women's golf teams at the Weisfeld Family Golf Center. The University of Michigan Alum Devries has designed several great courses in Michigan such as Kingsley Club, Greywalls, Pilgrim's Run and Mines Golf Course. He has also overseen a restoration at another Alister McKenzie gem, Meadow Club in Fairfax, California.

The green has a flat upper shelf that is designed for straight putting practice and a challenging lower shelf which allows for heavy breaking putts and downhill practice.

The University of Michigan Golf Course maintenance crew made the final touches. They were responsible for sodding the banks around the green and growing in the green surface. With great weather and a great crew, the teams will be putting on their new green in no time.

Check out the pictures!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Winter Warriors

I’ve been working on golf courses for 27 years.  Every winter, without fail, I am asked the same question when I tell some people what I do for a living: “what do you do in the winter?”  If I were not in this industry I would have trouble imagining what is done on a snow and ice covered huge plot of land.  After all, no one in Michigan is mowing their lawn or planting flower beds during those cold months

Following are some examples of the off-season work that is paramount to the success of a golf course…

Mechanic, Dave Yeager, is hard at work overhauling the entire fleet of equipment.  He has quite the winter work load.  Over one hundred machines get overhauled and tuned up from December 1st to the beginning of April.  Dave prides himself as a problem solver… he often, in the winter, implements new ideas and techniques to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of daily work at the UMGC.

Arborists, Dean Noworyta and Steve LeDuc, are sawing away.   Every winter, there are many trees on the course that demand attention.  Some have run their life course, some have diseases, some need dead growth pruning, some are overgrown and their root systems are compromising the integrity of our original 1930 greens.  The trees that require work are identified throughout the growing season, the information is compiled and a master plan is set in place before the winter even hits.   It seems like a brutal job but the project is perfectly suited for the winter: frozen turf is beneficial because it allows the use of large equipment and the felling of large trees (without destroying playing surfaces.)  Also, if anyone has ever been a lumberjack before, you know that you sweat no matter the temperature and work up quite the appetite (lumberjacks are known to burn up to 5000 calories a day). 

Snow crew leader, Mark Richards, is in charge of snow removal for the athletic campus.  The golf course is used throughout the winter in different capacities… as a parking lot for games at Crisler Arena and as a space for meetings and events.  It is also the new home of Event Management.  The safety of our guests and employees is of the upmost importance to the department.  That being said, snow removal is a consistent responsibility that requires a lot of man power every week during the winter.   

At the UMGC we have hundreds of golf carts—but none more important than the maintenance fleet.  They take a beating every year hauling equipment and materials, pulling trailers and driving over rough terrain.  On average, they get 3500 miles put on them every summer.  They need body work and paint every winter. 

The Weisfeld Family Practice Center is one of the newest buildings on athletic campus.  It houses the university Men’s and Women’s golf teams and is available to them year round for training purposes.  Every morning, Greenskeeper Steve Plunkett, maintains the facility.  This includes brushing, cleaning and rolling the artificial turf in the indoor putting/chipping bay and making sure that the student athletes can train in perfect conditions throughout the whole facility.

Just as the arrival of spring provides us with a growing season and golfers, the winter brings with it the uninterrupted time and project management that enables our course to be one of the leaders and best!  Our winter warriors, clad in thermal wear and safety harnesses, smeared in mechanics grease prove that the staff at the UMGC is always at home and working hard no matter what season it is.