Lose a Battle to Win the War

August 11, 2010

This article comes to us from Ty McClellan, USGA Green Section Record Mid-Continent Region Agronomist.

In this case, the ‘battle’ is playability, i.e. putting green smoothness and speed, and the ‘war’ is turfgrass survival. With the summer’s weather challenges, some courses have already lost major portions of rough and fairways to natural physiological decline or flooding. Reports of greens being lost are on the rise and these facilities are now faced with re-grassing this fall. For others, the fight continues.

Root depth on greens is generally two inches or less, and heat indexes in recent weeks have exceeded 115°F with average daily relative humidities just shy of 100%. Soil temperatures are frequently in the mid-90s and above. (Note: Bentgrass root dieback begins when soil temperatures reach about 86°F.) Most of the weaker species that possess lower thresholds to environmental extremes, such as Poa annua, have long disappeared from greens and surrounds. Arguably the most difficult to manage area of the golf course, even during favorable conditions, putting green collars have been decimated regardless of species. For many, the only objective now is to preserve what bentgrass remains on the greens and what Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue continues to hang on in the surrounds.

Given continuing weather extremes, golfers should forego high expectations for their bentgrass greens for the sake of preserving turf that remains. Look beyond today (August) so that golf can be enjoyed tomorrow (this fall).

Since my last USGA Regional Update in early July titled "Feeling the Heat", extreme conditions have only intensified with even more heat and rain. The perfect storm for turfgrass decline continues and on a devastating path. Areas in the upper Mid-Continent Region are still in the midst of record-breaking rainfall totals and heat waves. For most of the region, 10- and 30-day forecasts are not encouraging. Fortunately, it is August meaning day lengths are getting shorter and September is around the corner. We just have to get there.

Given the harshness of environmental extremes across several geographic regions this summer, some great resources have been generated and can be found below:

- Many recent USGA Regional Updates discuss summer struggles and outline excellent recommendations for survival. (http://www.usga.org/Content.aspx?id=26223)

- USGA Senior Agronomist Chris Hartwiger developed a webcast, “Bad to Worse for Creeping Bentgrass - Seven Steps to Help Your Greens Make it Through the Summer” that includes seven survival recommendations: 1) proper and continuous use of fans (i.e. 24 hours/day), 2) venting the greens when possible via non-disruptive aeration, 3) raising the mowing height and using solid front rollers, 4) mowing less frequently and rolling instead, 5) increasing the use of fungicides, 6) taking irrigation management to the highest level possible, and 7) reducing traffic on the greens. http://webcast.usga.org/usga/Bentgrass_greens_survival_Hartwiger.wmv

- Virtually every disease known, and even a few new ones, have been prevalent on cool-season turfgrasses under duress this summer. For instance, there have been a few titles on turf diseases over the last two weeks, and a daily blog by five contributing university turfgrass pathologists nationwide states, “Dead Bentgrass Makes Headlines”, “Heat + Rain = Dead Grass”, “No Wind = Dead Grass”, “Heat Wreaking Havoc on Courses Nationwide”, “Relentless Heat and Humidity” and “Stress, Stress, Stress.” http://turfdiseases.blogspot.com

This has been a trying summer for all. Cool-season turfgrass are in a fragile state and superintendents and their staffs are feeling the effects of long hours and touch-and-go circumstances. Now is the time to rely on the wisdom of your superintendent and support the recommendations from professionals. Slower greens are still quite playable and enjoyable. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to enjoy hole locations in areas of the green that otherwise are not available when greens are fast. Respect course closure and cart restriction policies when saturated course conditions exist.

Know what is at stake and adjust your expectations of playability now in order to fight another day. Your fall golf season may just depend on it.

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, do not hesitate to contact either of the Mid-Continent regional offices: Ty McClellan at tmcclellan@usga.org or (630) 340-5853 or Bud White at budwhite@usga.org or (972) 662-1138.