The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Winter winds add a new 'hazard' at local golf course: drifts of dirt


March 10, 2021

Looking west from the Chinook Golf Course this photos shows some of the drifts of topsoil deposited during a wind event in early February. The drifts, some three feet tall, were created when the caragana bushes along the west edge of fairway # 3 slowed the wind. These tallest drifts are on the rough but some of the blown dirt made it to the fairway further east. Many drifts in this area are over existing snowpack so removal of the dirt will begin later when the area is sufficiently dried.

A new, unintentional hazard for local golfers has been added to the Chinook Golf Course northwest of town. A wind event north of Chinook in early February equated to a Category I Hurricane with 75 mile per hour winds. Those winds left drifts of dirt, some more than three feet high on the west edge of the course along the number #3 fairway, and left problem deposits on other greens as well. I first noticed the drifts during some early spring walks I made out along Stephens Road. Jim Gallus, who has played the course for 50 years and recently retired as the greenskeeper said he had never seen dirt blown to such extremes on to the course.

Mike Seymour, Head Greenskeeper and Course Maintenance Supervisor, said of more immediate concern than the problem along the west fairway is topsoil blown on to greens number #2, #8 and to a lesser extent on green #9. Seymour explained he, new club staff, some club board members and volunteers from the club membership have been using different methods to try and get the dirt off the greens. He explained, "We've tried blowing the dirt off with leaf blowers, even using shop vacs to vacuum up the dirt. The topsoil particles blown on to the greens are extremely small and we're working to get the blown in dirt removed before it gets wet and really damages the greens."

The drifts of dirt along the fairway (to green #3) on the west edge of the course are visually more dramatic but of less immediate concern. The tee for that hole is adjacent to the access road to the club house, near the entrance to the course off Stephens Road. The fairway runs north uphill along the west edge of the course to the hole on the crest of the hill in the northwest corner of the course. A row of caragana bushes, acting as a wind break and boundary for the course, slowed the wind and the drifts resulted. Some of the drifts of dirt are three plus feet high.

Mike Seymour thinks some sort of bladed equipment will be necessary to scrape the dirt off the #3 fairway into berms, then loaded by bucketed-equipment and hauled to the west edge of the course for storage. He said J.D. Goodrich Excavation has agreed to help with some of the equipment work and that John Pike Construction has also helped on projects at the course. The stored dirt will be used later for projects around the course. Seymour added a local rancher has loaned a harrow that might be used to "break up the blown in dirt on the fairways, where it is not so thick, before it gets wet and begins to ball up."

Jim Gallus, the retired greenskeeper, said there are sprinkler heads under some of the areas covered by the dirt on the fairway. The sprinklers will need to be located and marked to assure they are protected as machines are used to remove the blown in dirt. The deeper drifts are in the rough between the bushes along the boundary and the #3 fairway, where grass is purposefully left longer.

Seymour said some of the drifted dirt from the rough could be used to construct a new tee box at the lower end of the #3 fairway. He added, "Sometimes when you're given lemons you have to make lemonade." "Once the dirt work is done," he added, "we could sod the new box and it would be ready for use in a couple of weeks." The smaller drifts may be left and stabilized with special ssgrass plantings.

As the start of golf season looms with the approach of spring, there might have to be some temporary modifications of how hole #3, especially, is played. One possibility mentioned is to 'shorten' the hole by creating a temporary tee that would allow players to avoid the areas on the fairway most affected by the drifted dirt.

Mike Jones is shown using a leaf blower to remove topsoil deposited on several greens at the Chinook Golf Course during an early February wind event. The photo shows below the dust cloud (at the tip of the blower) where unwanted topsoil was removed. Per Mike Seymour, Superintendent of Maintenance at the course, because the particles of topsoil are so small they can cause damage to the green, especially if the topsoil gets wet before it can be removed.

The work to remove the dirt drifts on the fairway and adjoining rough is contingent on weather. The blown in topsoil is very fine, was compacted by the wind and deposited on snowpack already in place. For those reasons it may be a while before the area is dry enough to begin removing the dirt. It could be May before serious removal of the dirt drifts can start.

Kody Farmer, a board member for the club, said he was gratified by volunteer help from club members and board members as well. He added, "We advertised the Assistant Greenskeeper position and were fortunate to hire Mike Jones to assist Mike Seymour. We have a good staff and enthusiastic volunteers eager to take on these challenges." Seymour added he appreciated the "corps of volunteers, both club members and board members, already working to solve the problem."

As for the upcoming golfing season, Mike Seymour added, "I'm asking golfers to follow the changes as we make them on the course and to be patient as we work through these problems. And we're open to ideas and suggestions on ways to fix the problems on the course. We're definitely in uncharted waters on these latest challenges on the course."


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