Defending the Turf: An Iowa Golf Course Saves Opening Day

Nov. 1, 2001
Facing wave after wave of pounding summer storms that seemed to never end and the prospect of reshaping and reseeding bare slopes of the new Sport Hill Country Club a third and fourth time, golf course superintendent Greg Kelting fought back with the best erosion-fighting weapon he could find: 2,000 rolls of biodegradable wood-fiber blankets. That action not only saved high-priced soil and seed, it also helped keep the construction work on schedule and the course opening on time this past June. In turn, the decision helped protect project profitability by keeping critical cash flowing.
The privately owned golf course is located on the south edge of Williamsburg, amid a rural setting in east-central Iowa where the silt soils are deep and dark and ideal for growing turfgrass, not to mention bin-busting food and feed crops. The nine-hole, 6,748-yd. championship-style course, designed by Golf Resources Inc. of Dallas, TX, features bent grass tees, fairways, and greens. An unusual choice for nine-hole courses in the Hawkeye State, the luxurious, cool-season bent grass is a favorite turfgrass among golfers for the improved playing characteristics of its low, dense growth and fine texture. It stands up well for a desirable lie of the ball. Because it’s irrigated, divots are softer and the ball rolls better on the surface. Although it’s a better turf for golfers than bluegrass and perennial rye grass, it’s also considerably more expensive to buy. That extra cost added to Kelting’s sense of urgency in protecting his newly built fairways, roughs and tees, and green surrounds from washing away during a summer of unusually long and heavy wet weather.Completely irrigated, the course offers players a lush environment and the convenience of 8-ft.-wide concrete paths between holes. Rolling hills, wide separation between holes, areas of wildflowers and native prairie grasses, a small stream, and three constructed ponds add to the course’s appeal. The 75-ac. facility replaces a 46-ac. course built in a cornfield in 1960.Landscapes Unlimited of Lincoln, NE, began construction of the new course in August 1999. Excavating and earthmoving activities continued until early the following summer. There was little rain that spring to hamper the work. That changed dramatically in late June, when the first of nearly three months of stormy weather hit the area, disrupting the mechanical seeding schedule and requiring costly landscape repairs.“The rain might last an hour or most of the day,” Kelting recalls. “Some storms packed a lot of rain into a short period. The rain could carve out a 1-foot-deep channel quickly, devastating the slope within an hour and ruining a day’s worth of seeding work. We might have only two days between storms, which also slowed drying of the soil and seeding. We were struggling. We’d take one step forward, the rain would fall, and we’d be two steps back. Only one section of one fairway survived the original seeding.”
The runoff from the downpours overwhelmed the sediment control measures. For example, a series of about 15 silt fences placed on contours along one 600-ft.-long swale, as well as the straw bales placed around a sediment basin at the low end, were completely destroyed by the sediment load.In late June, with rain continuing to dominate weather forecasts, Kelting turned to Futerra erosion control/revegetation blankets, manufactured by Profile Products LLC of Buffalo Grove, IL, to defend the slopes from the attacking rain and stormwater runoff. The lightweight, nonwoven blanket, composed mostly of virgin wood fiber with a small amount of synthetic fibers for added strength, absorbs the energy of raindrop impact and prevents underlying soil particles from dislodging. A photodegradable polypropylene netting, with openings of about 0.75 in., is laminated to the surface of the blanket. The blanket is designed to degrade completely on-site as vegetation grows up through the fibers. The wood fibers themselves add organic matter to the soil surface as they degrade naturally.Kelting had some evidence of Futerra’s performance as compared to straw or excelsior erosion control blankets; scientists at Utah State University’s Utah Water Research Laboratory tested the three types of blankets using a soil-filled tilting test flume and a rainfall simulator. In one trial, the three products were installed on a 3:1 slope and subjected to 5 in. of simulated rainfall in one hour. Delivering a C-factor of 0.01175, Futerra reduced the rate of water runoff 9% compared to a widely used blanket and 21% compared to another competitive product. Soil covered with one of the competitive products eroded at a rate 21-26 times higher than when covered with Futerra. Another trial involved a steeper slope (2:1) and a higher rate of simulated rainfall (5.33 in. in 40 minutes). The Futerra treatment resulted in 21% less water runoff than other erosion control products. The rate of soil loss was also significantly higher than on the Futerra plot. “When the Futerra blanket is wet, it acts like a soggy tissue paper to drape over and adhere to the soil,”explains Jeff Martenson, president of Martenson Turf Products in Waterman, IL, which supplied the product for the project. “Many people don’t realize the amount of underwashing that can occur with other types of erosion control blankets that are more rigid.” The wood-fiber blanket is flexible and can bond to irregular soil surfaces, eliminating places for water to collect under the blanket and gaining velocity and erosive power as it runs downhill.The thin profile works well for golf course applications as well. “A thick blanket can interfere with mowing,” Martenson points out. “Once turf grows up through the Futerra blanket, you can run a reel mower over the top without hitting the blanket.”