Early Season Golfer And Disease Concerns
The Florida winter golf season is underway. While increased play is now occurring, rounds and membership levels are still down at many courses compared to just two years ago. The national recession may have bottomed out, but many courses and clubs throughout the state continue to deal with very challenging times. Hopefully, there will be progressive improvement as we move through the winter season.
With reduced revenues, cuts in operating budgets and capital expenditures have been mandated at essentially all facilities. However, based on Turf Advisory Service visits over the past three to four weeks, appropriate and good quality course conditioning for daily play is being provided. Many courses are operating with reduced staff, and this has required reductions in grooming and manicuring practices of perimeter areas and hazards. So far, this change has not been noticed by most golfers.
In the central and northern part of the state, elimination or reductions in large acreage winter overseeding programs also has been a common cost saving measure. Large acreage overseeding is not an economic, agronomic, or environmentally sustainable course management practice. As bermudagrass enters into a semi- to fully-dormant stage, which is the normal response to colder temperatures, quality conditioning can still be provided over the next three to four months. Aggressive and ongoing traffic management must be employed during the time when active turf growth is not occurring, and recovery from wear damage cannot occur, regardless of inputs. While we still have a ways to go, golfers are beginning to understand and accept that green color is not a critical factor in course conditioning and quality.
Unfortunately, however, unrealistic demands and expectations for fast to very fast putting green speeds have been a concern at some courses. In Florida, slow, soft, and wet putting green conditions in the fall was a legitimate concern when establishing a winter overseeding cover on Tifdwarf bermudagrass putting greens. This concern was compounded by the fact that putting greens at northern golf courses were in superb condition and were used as a basis of comparison for golfers returning to their Florida courses. Today with ultradwarf bermudagrass cultivars now being the base turf on putting greens at the majority of Florida courses, winter overseeding is no longer necessary, and thus it is possible to routinely provide a smooth and true ball roll along with putting speeds in the range of 9.5 to 10.5 ft. This is certainly appropriate conditioning for the vast majority of golfers. There are always a few golfers who tend to be the most vocal and always demanding faster putting speeds. With more frequent double cutting or cutting and rolling, faster putting speeds can be maintained. Along with the necessary equipment, additional labor hours and time must be available to routinely conduct these practices, although, this incurs additional cost.
While the ultradwarf bermudagrass cultivars can tolerate extremely low heights of cut, during the late summer and fall, sufficient leaf surface area must be present for sustained growth, photosynthesis, carbohydrate production, and storage. This is critically important for properly preparing the base turf to survive the late fall, winter, and spring months. Maintaining slightly elevated heights of cut during the fall is necessary, and once cooler temperatures prevail, putting speeds will increase. If turf health and coverage is compromised or sacrificed early on, producing a full recovery during the winter is not possible.
Over the past two to three weeks, putting green disease outbreaks have been another concern in the central to southern part of the state. Going back to October, rainfall has been well below average, however, the persistence of warm and humid conditions, along with reduced sunlight intensity, resulted in moderate to severe outbreaks of leaf spot disease on putting greens, tees, and fairway areas. While not necessarily desirable, continuation or implementation of fungicide treatments is advised. Extreme care also needs to be exercised with nitrogen fertilization and supplemental irrigation so as not to further favor disease development. If a disease problem is suspected, submit samples to the University of Florida’s Rapid Turfgrass Diagnostic Service. For more information on this tool, access their website at http://turfpath.ifas.ufl.edu/.
Source: John Foy, firstname.lastname@example.org or 772-546-2620.