On The Road With The USGA - August 2008
At mid-August, many superintendents begin to anticipate the end of the season. Time to order a new set of tines for the aerator that will be used in a few weeks and time to reflect upon how much our original plans for fertilizing and managing greens needed to be radically changed throughout the season.
I have not visited many courses recently where the superintendents were happy with the appearance and growth rate of turf on greens. Many of the "perfect" fertilizer programs painstakingly planned and developed last winter had to be completely re-tooled in response to unforeseen circumstances. Winter injury, a deluge of rain during early June, slow recovery of aeration holes during a very cold spring, unanticipated growth regulator effects and other issues forced turf managers to alter the way they fertilized the turf. In many instances, nutrient management was reactive instead of proactive.
You couldn't win. Sometimes the reaction to slow aeration recovery and winter injury was to make repeated applications of mostly slow release nitrogen. However, the fertilizer just sat there until mid July when hot, humid weather finally arrived. When temperatures soared so did the rate of turf growth. Soft, fat grass plants were difficult to whip into shape without scalping the turf. Too much grass on the greens was the common complaint from players.
Other courses met the challenge of no or slow spring growth by fertilizing lightly and frequently with quick release nitrogen, thinking they were clever enough to avoid the dreaded hot weather surge in growth. Then the 10+ inches of rain that plagued the upper Midwest during early June washed all that soluble fertilizer completely out of the root zone. The 4 th of July arrives and greens look and perform as if they haven't seen any nitrogen in years. Spindly, chlorotic Poa annua and bentgrass are begging for fertilizer, while our intuition and experience tells us that August 1 st isn't exactly the right time to drop a pound bomb of nitrogen on the greens just a week before the club championship. So you spray a little fertilizer and the rate that usually lasts a week to 10 days only perks up the turf for 48 hrs. Frustration sets in and you wonder if your weak, yellow greens can survive all the beating it will take to produce extra speed and firmness for next week's major club event. The only people enjoying this scenario are those emptying clipping from baskets only once every couple of holes.
It has been a kooky summer and just when you think things cannot get any stranger, the assistant pro calls to tell you the 9-hole ladies league was in the shop complaining that the greens have become really slow lately. After all, aren't they really about the last group of players who actually seem to have fun out golfing together each week without getting all caught up with the quest for perfection on the course.
Seasons like this help to remind us that Mother Nature still rules when it comes to our turf management decision making process. To paraphrase Robert Burnsâ€¦"the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
Source: Bob Vavrek, firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-797-8743