COURSE CARE
Common Challenges June 10, 2014 By John H. Foy

It was a tough winter and spring for many courses in North Florida and across the south into Texas. Areas that experienced morning and/or afternoon shade during the fall and spring have been especially hard hit and much slower to recover. These are the same areas where coarse-textured fairway and rough bermudagrasses are encroaching into the putting greens at an increased rate.

In addition to making Course Consulting Service visits in the Florida Region, Todd Lowe and I have also been helping out in the Mid-Continent Region. Visits were most recently made in Shreveport, La. and East Texas where challenges very similar to those being experienced in North Florida have been observed. The biggest challenge in both regions has been re-establishment of dense, healthy bermudagrass turf and good-quality course conditions after a cold, wet winter and spring. In general, turf growth and course conditions are four to six weeks behind normal for late May to early June. However, sustained bermudagrass growth has now resumed and course conditions are steadily improving, but superintendents are dealing with another common challenge–a lack of understanding and patience by some golfers.

A common challenge for courses in both the Florida and Mid-Continent Regions is shade. Bermudagrass is one of the least shade-tolerant turf species used and requires a minimum of eight hours of sunlight, especially with close-cut putting greens, to maintain a dense, healthy turf cover. Having examined several problem putting greens using the SunSeeker app, a common observation has been made. While problem greens often meet or exceed the minimum sunlight requirement during the summer; lower sun angles during the fall, winter, and early spring cause trees and vegetation that are not immediately adjacent to the greens to reduce the amount and quality of sunlight the turf receives. During the fall when the minimum eight-hour sunlight requirement is not met, reduced photosynthesis causes reduced carbohydrate production and storage which results in bermudagrass transitioning into winter in a weakened state.

Most of the problem putting greens examined during recent visits experienced some degree of shade during the winter. However, although it certainly did not help matters, winter shade was probably not responsible for an increase in low-temperature kill. Furthermore, the same trees and vegetation that cause shade problems in the fall also cause shading in March, April and May which has inhibited the resumption of bermudagrass growth and the ability to re-establish a dense, healthy turf cover. The SunSeeker app has been extremely helpful in documenting and educating course officials and golfers about shade problems. Yet, as to be expected, some are still resistant to pruning and selective tree removal that is necessary to alleviate fall, winter and spring shade problems.

Encroachment of coarse-textured fairway and rough cultivars into the perimeters of putting greens is another common challenge experienced on all bermudagrass-based golf courses. In perimeter areas where the base bermudagrass has emerged from winter in a weak, thin condition, encroachment of coarse-textured bermudagrass types occurs at an increased rate. There are no selective herbicide treatments that control one bermudagrass encroaching into another thus, mechanical edging and hand pulling stolons is a standard recommendation. A proactive encroachment-control program is strongly encouraged. However, even with a proactive encroachment-control program the progressive loss of putting surface occurs and eventually perimeter renovation work will be required.

Source: John Foy (jfoy@usga.org)

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