Sunday, July 15, 2018

Goldilocks Time

If you play the course early in the day, and think the fairways are soft, they very well may be.  When we go through periods that require us to rely exclusively on the irrigation system, moisture uniformity is difficult to achieve, often leaving some areas too firm (aka, dry), and others on the softer side.

There are several factors which contribute to consistent moisture levels--or lack thereof.  For example, the soils on the golf course are quite varied, ranging from fast-draining gravel, to dense clay.  The golf course's topography also leads to exposed mounds drying more quickly than their surrounding swales.  However, probably the single greatest factor impacting moisture uniformity is the irrigation system.

Laurel Creek's irrigation system was designed in the 1980's, and has sprinklers spaced 80' apart.  That is a good chunk of land for a head to cover, and conditions can differ greatly within that area.  Generally speaking, irrigation systems in our region work well to supplement rainfall, not replace it.

In the picture below, you can see some pretty dry turf only 20-30' from the closest sprinkler.

Given the limitations of the system, it will take a full eight hour irrigation cycle to run greens, tees, fairways, and the primary rough for an average of just 15 minutes per sprinkler.  At this time of year, with moisture loss around .25" per day, we are operating in a deficit irrigation mode.  That is, even when running a full cycle, we are not replacing all of the water lost each day.

Where sprinkler coverage is incomplete, portable roller base sprinklers are used to supplement.

Hand watering is another primary way we target specific areas without running the irrigation system excessively.  It is not unusual for us to devote over 1,000 man hours in a season to hand watering.

Without question, water management is one of the most challenging parts of properly maintaining the golf course right now.  Too much water is not good for plant health or playability, and too little water can obviously have its consequences as well.  While this may lead to that Goldilocks feeling (it's too wet here, it's too dry there), the good news is that sooner or later the heat will break and the rain will come.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

It's always something...

As we worked through the heat wave last week, overall, it looked like the course was holding up well.  Of course, that would be the time that some Fairy Ring disease came roaring in on several of the greens.  When Fairy Ring shows up, there is no need for a petri dish and microscope to diagnose the problem, as this fungus is quite easily identifiable.

There can be several visible signs of the fungi at work:  a dark green circle caused by a release of nitrogen in the soil, mushrooms may form on the turf surface, or the fungi may cause the perimeter of the ring to become hydrophobic, causing the turf to wilt. 

Moisture level on the edge of the Fairy Ring.

Significantly higher moisture inside the ring.

A combination of fungicides and wetting agents labeled for the control of this fungus have been applied.  However, these rings are persistent, and with the low fertility regimen we have the greens on, the rings really stand out.  The pictures above were taken the day after treatment, and the "10.3" reading is actually an improvement, and encouraging.

We always try to look ahead, and have an idea of what may be a potential issue.  So, why did the Fairy Ring come as a bit of a surprise?  Well, in looking at our application records, it has been six years since we have had a problem with Fairy Ring.

In trying to better prepare for the future, it would be great to have a solid disease prediction model for Fairy Ring.  One thing that jumps out between the past two times we have seen the disease are temperatures.  When you look at the end of June and beginning of July, 2012, the conditions parallel what we have experienced this year--some really hot, humid weather.  It was the exact same time frame when we last saw Fairy Ring, in 2012.
July, 2012, started out hot!

While it's never fun dealing with these issues, it's somewhat consoling to know we're not in this alone.  A local turf industry consultant recently said that he has seen more Fairy Ring in the past 10 days than in the past three years.  This picture (from a different course) is definitely impressive:

We certainly won't shed a tear if we don't see Fairy Ring again until 2024, and thanks to some experience and solid record-keeping, we should be better prepared when it does arrive.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Time to play some defense...

For those that grow grass which is cut as low as 1/10", and has to endure a whole lot of traffic daily, we are in the midst of a stretch of nasty weather.  With the exception of the lower practice tee, all of the turf on the golf course is considered to be "cool-season" grass, and the temperatures outside are anything but cool right now.

Up until this point in the season, we have easily been able to push conditions without much concern.  Double mowing greens and rolling several days each week have been standard practice.  However, now it's time to back off--just a bit.  We will continue to mow greens each and every day at the same height of cut, but until the heat breaks, we won't add the additional stress of a second mow, or putting the roller on the greens.  Any mechanical injury caused at this time, will be very difficult for the turf to recover from.

What else do we do when the seven day forecast shows nothing but 90's with some really high humidity?   We definitely apply plant protectants preventatively to the greens, tees, and fairways.  This weather is perfect for some turf diseases like Pythium blight, which can do a whole lot of damage in a hurry.

Another real challenge now is water management on the golf course.  As a whole, we saw quite a bit of rain during the month of June.  However, 85% of that rain came in the first 10 days of the month, and things have been more "miss" than "hit" since then.  When relying on the irrigation system, we don't have the same coverage uniformity that rain provides.  With this really hot and sticky weather, too much water can be worse for the grass than too little water.

It was a cool spring, with many people asking, "When is it going to warm up?"  Hmm, perhaps we should be careful what we wish for!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Stay in line

This is the time of year when the practice tee takes a pounding.  Thousands of balls are hit, which means thousands of divots are taken, and it can be a challenge to get the turf to recover quickly.

One way you can help to ensure that there will be good grass to practice from throughout the season, is by practicing in a linear pattern.  Just take a look at this picture provided by the USGA:

As you can see, the linear pattern uses a much smaller area than the scattered pattern, and will fill in much faster than the concentrated pattern.

We have another excellent example of the linear pattern in use, right here.  The picture below was taken after Laurel Creek member, Dr. Mark Walker, hit 150 balls.

So, when practicing, please remember to stay in line!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Seeing spots

It's the time of year when we are seeing spots--brown spots, that is.  What's the cause of these?  There is always a laundry list of potential problems, including fungus, insects, heat, too much water, not enough water, and traffic.  Often times, what you observe above the ground, on the foliage, is a reflection of what's happening beneath the surface.  So when we see a spot looking a bit "off", one of the first things we check for is soil moisture.

Remember that last week, from Sunday night into Monday morning, we received 4" of rain, so it might seem unnecessary to check for moisture.  However, in this case, it looks like all of that water didn't make it much past the surface, as the light colored soil is bone dry.

More spots can certainly be seen on the fairways we didn't treat for Take-all Patch last fall.  However, the picture below is really a twofer.  Yes, the mottled Bentgrass is being damaged by the disease, but the yellowing Poa in the center is the target of a troublesome (or in this rare case, helpful) insect, the Annual Bluegrass Weevil.

Here's one more spot, from #16 fairway, to consider.  What's different about this?  The cause of the discolored turf doesn't appear to be lack of water, a fungus, or insect.  No, this spot looks like it's suffering from a case of "too much of a good thing."  The darker green ring outside the brown area is indicative of some kind of fertilization--maybe from a heron, or maybe from a human.

While finding off-colored spots isn't our favorite thing in the summer, it is always better when we understand the cause of a problem, as we can then develop a plan to make the turf happy and healthy once again.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Conflicting interests...

From the moment the last tine exits the turf during spring aerification, it feels like someone hit the stopwatch, as the countdown to the Member-Guest tournament begins.  The goals of getting the greens to fill in and heal, then have them rolling well for the tournament, are often at odds with each other.  To be blunt, we need to go from the absolute worst the greens will putt, to the best they will putt.  This is where the challenge begins...

Just prior to aerification, we will back off on the use of plant growth regulators, and begin applying small amounts of fertilizer.  100% of our greens fertility is sprayed on, allowing us to carefully mange growth.  Part of the reasoning here, is that we can always add more, but once fertilizer is applied, it's hard to take it back.

On average, between the hollow tine aerification, and the Dryject process, we applied 9,000 pounds of sand per green.  Clearly, in order to fill in from this, we need to encourage the greens to grow.  It seems pretty simple that if we get them growing aggressively, they will fill in quickly.

 However, when you consider that more grass = more friction = slower green speeds, when preparing the greens for a tournament, we are typically looking to minimize clipping yield, not encourage growth.  Thus, we have a balancing act.

The picture below was taken five days after aerification, and while the holes are starting to get some grass covering them, we were still miles away from anything close to normal.

Monitoring the progress of aerification holes filling in, can really feel like you're watching paint dry.  As the days go by, we are able to slowly lower the mowing height, and get the putting surfaces back on their strict diet, and exercise regimen.  Finally, beginning Tuesday of Member-Guest week, it is double mowing and rolling every day.

The picture below was taken on day one of the event.  They're not quite "ludicrous speed," but rolling pretty well.

Rollin', rollin', rollin'...

So, how tight is the margin between aerification and spring Member-Guest?  Well, due to scheduling, this year we had one less day between aerification and the tournament.  At times like this, a single day can lead to quite a bit of stress.

Fortunately, waiting until May to aerify, gives us the best chance of hitting some "Goldilocks" growing weather--not too hot, and not too cold.  While nobody enjoys aerified greens, this process is the best way to set us up for another successful summer, and really good greens going forward.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Great news--we've got Take-all Patch!

If you recall, during the the past few years, we have had sporadic outbreaks of a root-borne turf disease, Take-all Patch, in late spring.  As the pathogen is compromising the plant's root system, by the time you see symptoms on the foliage, the damage is already done.  In an effort to prevent disease development, we initiated trials last fall, which included changes to fertility, cultural practices (aimed at reducing organic matter content), and fungicide applications.

Well, we've never been so happy to see turf disease.  Hmm, maybe we should rephrase that:  It is very helpful that we are seeing turf disease in the untreated areas.  Since Take-all patch can be hit or miss, had this been a year when we saw little or no Take-all anywhere on the golf course, it would have been impossible to know if the preventative treatments made last fall worked, or not.  Fortunately, (sort of) we are seeing a good deal of Take-all in many of the same locations as we have in prior years.
There is plenty of Take-all on #13 fairway.

However, the really good news is that we are seeing no Take-all on the tee and fairway areas we treated with a combination of fungicides last fall.  A comparison of spring, 2017 and spring, 2018 in these pictures speaks volumes:
#3 Legends tee in spring, 2017.

#3 Legends tee in spring, 2018.

#7 approach in spring, 2017.

#7 approach in spring, 2018.

We always try to make solid long-term plans in managing the golf course.  But it was still somewhat surprising to see that the fungicide applications made a full seven months ago, between Halloween and Thanksgiving, could have such a profound effect on turf health this year, as we are now past Memorial Day and entering the summer months. 

Given the relatively short residual activity of today's plant protectants, it certainly shows that the correct timing of fungicide applications is critical in helping to control Take-all.  It is also worth noting that after consulting with several sources on a best management plan for Take-all Patch, it was Steve McDonald, of Turfgrass Disease Solutions, that recommended the combination of fungicides which were so effective.

So, what does this mean going forward?  Well, for this year, we will still have some Take-all to deal with in the untreated areas.  However, in looking ahead, we have a good game plan for the future.  We will most definitely expand the use of this fungicide program in the fall, and look forward to seeing even less Take-all in 2019!