Thursday, May 31, 2012

Despicable Dollar Spot

Dollar Spot is the most common turfgrass disease around. Traditionally, the disease is easy to diagnose both by the lesions it inflicts on the grass blades, as well as the tell-tale mycelium that can be seen in the early morning. People often refer to this as having the appearance of a white cobweb. Interestingly, over the past few weeks, we have seen some Dollar Spot damage on the fairways, however it was not widespread, and there was no sign of mycelium. All indications were that a fungicide application in early May knocked down the disease, and we were just seeing the remnants of earlier activity. As the days passed though, we saw no recovery in these areas, and the patches of turf with Dollar Spot damage were slowly growing larger.

Dollar Spot disease on a fairway.
Since we weren't seeing any clear signs of active disease in the field, a plug was taken from a fairway and placed in a plastic bag outside for 24 hours. As you can see in the picture below, the greenhouse effect of our home made incubation chamber did the trick in forcing the pathogen to show itself.  There was no question that this was, indeed, quite active, and a fungicide application was made to take care of this problem. 

An abundant quantity of mycelium on this plug.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Practice Tee Improvements

Since last year, major improvements have taken place to the practice facility.  Mats were installed last fall at the rear of the upper practice tee, allowing use of the range under most any weather conditions.  Over the winter, the lower practice tee surface was stripped, drainage was installed, it was re-graded, and re-sodded.  The new hitting surface is a cold-tolerant variety of Bermudagrass with the feel of Bentgrass.

This type of turf is now being used at several courses in the Philadelphia area such as Philadelphia and Huntingdon Valley Country Clubs, as well as providing the playing surface for Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and the Philadelphia Union's PPL Park.

With extreme weather conditions during the past couple of summers, this turf will be perfect since it will thrive during the heat, when the cool season grasses are slow to recover.  Its growth is so aggressive that no seed is needed for the divoted areas to fill in.

The lower practice tee is open for use.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Need for Speed

Green speed is a subject which almost all golfers like to weigh in on.  It’s unlikely that Edward Stimpson knew what kind of controversy his simple wooden “stimpmeter” was going to create, when he invented it in 1935.  Because of the interest in this aspect of the game, it's worth taking a moment to consider how dramatically green speeds have changed over the years, and how today’s speeds are achieved.

By the numbers
In a recent article published by  the USGA, they cited the speeds for the 1978 US Open, held at Cherry Hills Country Club, ranged from 9’ on the Stimpmeter on Thursday to a (then) lightning fast 9' 8" on Sunday!

Clearly, we’ve seen dramatic increases in green speed, and not just at major tournament venues.  When Laurel Creek hosted the Nike Tour event in 1996, the required green speed was 10' 6"— over a foot faster than Open speeds from 1978.  And where are we today?  On a daily basis, Laurel Creek’s greens consistently exceed the speeds for the '78 US Open and Nike event by a wide margin.   Average weekday green speeds are over 10', weekends are over 11', and greens can top 12' for tournaments.

Good or bad?
So, are these speeds good for the game of golf?  The answer probably depends on who you ask.   Some will tell you that slower greens required more putting skill than fast greens.  However, many golfers today enjoy being able to start their ball on a line and just watch it continue to roll until it drops out of sight.

A definite downside to faster greens is the loss of pin placements on older courses.  Small, severely sloped greens which were designed 100 years ago may be limited to two or three "fair" hole locations when the greens are quick.  Another issue with super fast greens is that it can slow play when golfers must look at each putt from every angle, and three (or four) putting becomes commonplace. 

How do they do that?
So, how have these speed changes been achieved?   Simply, through the use of many different forms of technology.  This includes breeding for improved varieties of turfgrass which can tolerate lower heights of cut, better growing mediums, with better drainage, more accurate irrigation, better plant protectants, the use of plant growth regulators, regular rolling, and precision mowing equipment.

Still, from a maintenance perspective, keeping a plant alive when mowed at .100", requires much greater inputs than a generation ago when .150" was the norm for private clubs and public courses often mowed at .250".  The downside of lower heights is less leaf surface for photosynthesis, which leads to a shorter root system, and ultimately, less margin for error.  This is why the phrase, “speed kills,” doesn’t just apply to cars.

The future  
 Industry professionals often ask, why do we push our greens to the edge?  The answer is probably, because we can.  The tools mentioned above along with golfers’ desire for faster greens has created this dramatic change.
Like the golf ball that keeps rolling and rolling, many people wonder if speed increases will ever stop.  It’s hard to think that we will ever turn things back to the green speeds of the 1960s or 1970s.  A point to ponder though is what will the expectations be for the next generation?  Today's junior golfers are learning the game on greens which run 10'+ on a daily basis.   Will they be expecting greens to be 18' for their Member-Guest event? 
Again, just because we can do it, doesn't make it a good thing.  Looking back to Payne Stewart's problems at The Olympic Club in 1998, and the 2004 Open at Shinnecock, things have really changed from the '78 Open setup...and faster isn’t always better.
The Stimpmeter

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Value of Verticutting

Normally, when we cut the greens, the mower’s blades work horizontally, removing leaf tissue which dares to creep above the height of 0.100”.   (Yes, that is one-tenth of one inch above the surface, and yes, we do set the mowers using a gauge which measures in thousandths of an inch.)  However, despite this extremely low mowing height, some turf will elude the blades due to its prostrate growth habits.  Years ago, this could lead to “grainy” greens.  This is where verticutting comes into play. 

But what exactly is verticutting?  Well, by definition, verticutting is the thinning of turfgrass by blades or wire tines that cut perpendicular to the soil surface.  As shown in the picture, verticutting blades resemble “throwing stars,” assembled in a helix shape.  When the blade depth is set at, or just below the putting surface, the process is often referred to as "grooming."  During the growing season this practice is performed once or twice per month as needed.  Following the verticutting, the greens are mowed as usual, and within a day, you can’t see the lines at all.
What are the benefits of verticutting?  Verticutting provides several benefits.  For the plant, it helps with thatch removal, and promotes new growth of shoots, which leads to a denser stand of turf.  And for the golfer, the result of verticutting is a surface which is immediately smoother, and with increased density and less lateral grain, a faster one.
With this cultural practice being used throughout the United States, one has to question if there is even a grain of truth to Johnny Miller’s frequent pronouncements that a course’s greens have grain.
Verticutting units attach to our triplex mowers and replace the greens cutting units.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Wildlife at Laurel Creek

If you've been on the course in the early morning, you may have seen some members of this crew wandering around.  They seem to enjoy the wetlands corridor, and have been spotted from #2 to #14, however this is the first time we've seen them actually on a green.  With three toms and two hens on #12 green, we got an added helping of organic fertilizer applied.  Interestingly, all it took was the mention of Chef Ray, and they quickly decided to depart!
More evidence that golf courses provide a great habitat for wildlife.