Golf in Florida is a year-round proposition; but for clubs and courses in the central to southern part of the state, the majority of rounds are played between October and May. Providing consistent and top-quality conditioning throughout the winter play season does present some very unique challenges. With the majority of play occurring when warm season turfgrasses, such as bermudagrass and seashore paspalum, are not actively growing, aggressive and disruptive cultural management programs are needed through the summer months to ensure that the turf cover is properly prepared to survive the winter season. Over the past three or four years, many private clubs throughout the region have implemented programs to try to increase play during the summer, and in turn, revenues. When summertime programs are deferred or eliminated in order to minimize disruptions and inconveniences, there are ultimately agronomic consequences.
During many TAS visits conducted in Florida this fall, providing firm and dry course conditions has been a primary topic of discussion. There are a variety of reasons why there has been a shift in the general management philosophy of maintaining wall-to-wall lush green turf, which inevitably means soft and wet course conditions to firm and dry course conditions. In addition to being best for the game of golf, the ongoing need to reduce fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation inputs, and in turn control operating costs to the degree possible is one of the main reasons for the shift in course management philosophies.
A key consideration in being able to provide firm and dry playing surfaces is controlling the annual accumulation of thatch/organic matter that occurs with warm season turfgrasses in a sub-tropical region and an 8- to 10-month growing season. This simply reiterates the need for conducting aggressive cultural management practices of core aeration, verticutting and topdressing during the summer to physically reduce and control organic matter accumulation.
However, even when sound and aggressive summertime cultural management programs are in place, providing firm and dry course conditions consistently throughout the winter play season in Florida is really not possible. This is because of environmental conditions and going through three rather distinct seasons. Beginning in October, the migration of northern golfers starts to occur, and naturally it is the goal at all clubs and courses to have completed summertime projects and final course preparations for the winter season by this time. However, afternoon thunderstorms are still occurring, and also the Atlantic hurricane season does not officially end until November 30th. Even when direct storm hits are not experienced, the combination of thunderstorms and heavy rain producing tropical waves coming up from the Caribbean, results in saturated course conditions. October of 2011 was a classic example of the difficulties that can be experienced in maintaining firm and dry course conditions when 20 to 30-inches of rainfall occurs.
Then there is a transition from the wet to the dry season during the latter part of November and December. During this transition, it is possible to gradually develop firmer and drier course conditions; however, astute supplemental irrigation is still a must because of the shallow root system that typically exists as a result of moisture saturated conditions at the end of the rainy season. During this time, evapo-transpiration (E/T) rates are going down, yet relative humidity can still be quite high. This results in dew and surface moisture not drying off quickly in the mornings. Once the transition from the wet season is completed in early to mid-January, it is then possible to provide firm and dry course conditions through the rest of the Florida winter golf season.
Maintaining firm and dry course conditions is best for both the game and the environment. However, because the weather is still a primary controlling factor in all agricultural endeavors, which definitely includes golf courses, consistently producing the desired type of course conditioning is not always possible. As discussed above, this is definitely the case as far as the winter play season in Florida because of the three seasonal weather patterns that occurs throughout the primary play season.
Finally, reports of outbreaks of disease activity on bermudagrass putting greens and seashore paspalum tees, fairways and roughs have been received from a number of courses in the central and southern part of the state. Naturally, being on guard and timely preventative fungicide treatments is advised to avoid a setback heading into the peak of the winter season and when environmental conditions are not conducive to producing a quick recovery response.