COURSE CARE
Extreme Conditions Call For Conservative Actions August 10, 2010 By Keith Happ

One of the first questions asked during Turf Advisory Service visits is “What are you seeing out there?” The easy answer is: We are seeing it all.  Torrential rain, scorching sun, high humidity, low humidity, saturated soils and drought stress are just a few examples.  Throw in golfers’ pleas for green speed, and you have the ingredients for a lot of dead turf.    

Courses separated by only a few miles have experienced dramatically different weather this season, reinforcing the need to prepare for the worst case scenario every year.  Compromised agronomic practices in the spring, for example, delayed or omitted spring aeration, the result being weak turf health this summer.  These dynamic issues require ongoing adjustments.  When the weather is difficult, backing off is not a sign of weakness, it is sound judgment.

There is no substitute for sound agronomics.  Developing and sustaining a balance between air and water in the soil profile is essential for the turf to survive during extremes.   It is no coincidence that turf managers who were allowed to prepare aggressively, using basic and sound agronomic practices in the spring (i.e., timely spring core aeration, topdressing and appropriate fertility), have tolerated the weather much better than those who could not.  Courses that have been able to vent the soil using small-diameter solid tine treatments on an as-needed basis are doing well.  Venting is an essential procedure when soils are saturated, allowing for gas exchange and stimulating excess moisture evaporation. 

It is also no coincidence that courses that installed adequate internal drainage systems have tolerated the precipitation.  When it comes to investments in infrastructure, there is no better money spent.  Having control of soil moisture is like having an insurance policy, and with that there is a much wider margin for error.  The weather can’t be controlled, but we can control how well we prepare for weather extremes. 

Turf managers who backed off on mechanical activities by using a single cut, rolling only when necessary, and raising mowing heights have experienced far less turf damage and decline.  So far this season, playing a little defense and being conservative has separated those who have experienced turf stress with those who have suffered turf loss. 

The Mid-Atlantic Region agronomists are part of your agronomic support team.  If you have a question or concern, especially now, contact us.  Stan Zontek, (szontek@usga.org) or Darin Bevard (dbevard@usga.org) at (610) 558-9066 or Keith Happ at (khapp@usga.org) at (412) 341-5922.

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