Friday, August 31, 2012

What's With the Flags?

As you play the course over the next couple of weeks, you will probably notice small marking flags on some of the tees.   We are preparing for the next phase of the tee irrigation improvement project, and these flags are used to show the location of new sprinklers and valves

This year we will be installing smaller, more efficient sprinklers on #2, 5, 8, 12, and 13 tees.  The contractor is scheduled to begin work on September 10, and is hoping to have the work completed in two weeks.
Marking flags are used to show the location of new sprinklers.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How Do You Stop Etiolation?

After dealing with some significant thinning of several greens the past two summers caused by etiolation, we got through 2012 with minimal turf damage.  How?  Well, it certainly was not because of a lack of weather-related stress on the turf, as July tied or broke several heat records.

First, what exactly is etiolation? 

Basically, the symptoms of etiolation in turf are thin, pale and elongated plants, similar to what you’d see in white asparagus.  Eventually, the weakened turf can collapse and die.  On putting greens, samples exhibiting these symptoms also tend to have high bacteria counts, which can clog the plant’s "blood stream."  This is where the debate among members of the scientific community occurs:  Is the bacteria a cause of the etiolation and subsequent wilt, or merely a secondary pathogen, that is taking advantage of an already weakened plant?

Whether the bacteria is a cause or effect, is not important from our perspective.  Regardless of the actual cause, preventing, controlling, and managing etiolation has become the goal.  With that in mind, over the past two years we’ve worked at developing a set of best management practices in dealing with etiolation in the greens by researching countless articles, attending seminars, discussing the issue with other course managers, consultants and scientists from around the country, and even offered the use of our practice green for a USGA funded study.

A possible solution 

One plant pathologist believes there is a connection between the occurrence of etiolation and turf fertility.  While we have always kept the greens fairly lean, his recommendation was to cut back on the amount of Nitrogen applied even further.  This seems to have been a key.

However, this method is not without some risk.  Because a putting green is built largely out of sand, which has little nutrient holding capacity, as we entered the summer, it was like sending a marathon runner off to race without having a good carbohydrate supply to use for energy--essentially, the turf got the equivalent of an occasional sports drink to make it through the summer. To put this into perspective, your home lawn would typically receive 1 lb. of Nitrogen /1,000 square feet per application of fertilizer.  While applying that much Nitrogen to a putting green in-season would never be a wise idea, we are now applying a miniscule rate of 0.03 lb./1,000 square feet. 

Counterintuitive measures

In addition to this lean fertility program, we also stayed very aggressive with our mowing and rolling regimen throughout the summer.  Raising the height of cut is a well documented way of decreasing plant stress, but we chose not to do that.  And, from June 6 through August 13, the greens were mowed a minimum of once (and often twice) per day, every day.  The idea behind these decisions was that etiolation is much like a plant growing out of control.  If we didn’t mow every day, there was a high likelihood that we would "scalp" the turf when we resumed mowing.

When you step back and look at some of the practices, they are counterintuitive to maintaining a healthy green, and so go against some of the rules of thumb of how to decrease plant stress.  For example, mowing is a stress on the turf.  And yet, in this case, if we chose not to mow, an even greater physical injury to the plant would occur.  So how do you stop etiolation?  In our case, the answer seems to be, by not managing the turf in a conventional manner.   

Looking ahead

As we near the end of summer, we can exhale a bit as the turf is enjoying cooler nights, and recovering well.  However, Mother Nature always has some new tricks for us, so we need to continue to research and understand the causes and the solutions to etiolation, as well as the many other enemies of good turf, that would try to keep all of us from enjoying the beauty of a great day on the greens. 
In this picture from 2011, patches of etiolated Bentgrass can be seen in the collar.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Greens Aerification Update

We aerified the greens at the beginning of the week using the 1/4" tines, and by operating the aerifiers at their slowest speed, we were able to create 81 holes per square foot.  While this may sound like a lot, given the tiny size of the holes, less than 3% of the surface is actually being cored.  Here's the math:

.125 X .125 X 3.14 = .049 X 81 = 3.974/144 = 2.76%

These tines help to provide some much needed stress relief for the greens after a long hot summer.  However, with the USGA recommending that 15-20% of a green's surface be disturbed annually by aerification or deep verticutting,  slightly larger tines will be used in October to impact a greater percentage of the surface.
Just four days after aerification, the greens are healing nicely.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

If You Can Measure It... can manage it.  And today, thanks to some state of the art technology, we have many more ways to measure what's taking place on the golf course than in the past.

Like many people, we use weather radar to see when storms are approaching.  Years ago, we had to have a satellite dish and subscription service to get this timely information about the weather.  In contrast to that, today, anyone with a smart phone can quickly know when bad weather is about to hit the course.

Another piece of equipment we use daily is our on-site weather station. One of the important things this provides us is the evapotranspiration rate.  As the name implies, this is the combination of moisture lost due to evaporation and transpiration.   
The weather station is located behind #17 green.

While the weather station is recording what's happening above the surface, we also have sensors underground that provide some key information.  Currently, sensors are located on #9 tee, #9 fairway, and #1 green.  These measure soil temperature, moisture level and salinity at both a 2" and 8" depth.  They then transmit this information wirelessly to a repeater which sends it to the golf course maintenance building.  This information can be accessed from any place with an internet connection.

Temperature, moisture, and salinity from #1 green can be seen in this graph.
While we still make use of a good old soil probe on a regular basis, this high-tech equipment provides us with an enormous amount of information, allowing objective decision making with regard to proper timing and application of irrigation, plant protectants, and fertilization.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Quick Healer

Not to beat the subject to death, but take a look at how fast the Bermudagrass fills in.  The picture on top was taken the day after the divots were created, and the picture below is the same area just 14 days later.  The only thing we have to do with the Bermudagrass tee, is to fill in the divots with a sand mix, and level off the area. 

In contrast to this, the upper tee's turf takes a whole lot more work to maintain.  The divot mix used up top includes: sand mix, pennmulch, fertilizer, seed, and dye.  All of these ingredients are carefully measured and put into a cement mixer.  If that wasn't enough, we also use a tractor-mounted seeder on the upper tee weekly, and have been hand-watering it daily to encourage seed germination.

In a tough summer like this, it's nice to have a small piece of the course that is relatively easy to maintain.
The fresh divots.

The same spot 14 days later.