Summertime Means Cultivation Time In Florida

By John Foy, director, Florida region
June 20, 2012

Verticutting of fairways and core aeration of putting greens are disruptive but necessary practices that must be conducted during the summertime on Florida golf courses.

For a lot of year-round south Florida residents, the summer does not come soon enough because the roadways are not as congested with vehicles with northern license plates and they can go out to dinner and not have an hour-long wait to be seated. For golfers, green fees are much more affordable, it is easy to get a tee time, and the courses are not so crowded that it takes five hours or longer to get in a round. However, there is still a lot of griping and moaning by golfers during the summertime. 

This is not because of hot temperatures and high humidity or needing to regularly check the Tropical Updates on the Weather Channel for the possible development of a hurricane. It is because the maintenance staff is routinely poking holes and conducting other practices that disrupt the condition and quality of the playing surfaces. 

There is no argument that cultural management practices such as core aeration and verticutting are very disruptive and a major inconvenience. Also, contrary to what some people believe, course superintendents do not hate golfers and do not conduct these practices out of spite. This is very hot and dirty work that would not be conducted unless absolutely necessary. 

These disruptive practices are necessary for alleviating soil compaction from peak winter season play and preventing excess organic matter accumulation that is a consequence of an 8 to 10 month growing season. Furthermore, bermudagrass playing surfaces need to be aggressively “worked” to produce optimum conditioning. Based on experiences over the years, the best results and fastest recovery occurs when the majority of the very aggressive cultural management practices are completed in the early to midsummer and before the onset of intense environmental stresses that typically prevail during the latter part of the summer in Florida.  

The ultradwarf bermudagrass cultivars Champion, Mini-Verde and TifEagle, are particularly prone to producing high volumes of organic matter near the surface of the green. This is true even with very judicious nitrogen fertilization. Thus, along with frequent light topdressing to help dilute the organic material, core aeration of ultradwarf bermudagrass putting greens is an absolute necessity to maintain healthy turfgrass and good putting quality.  

The recommended target for a putting green coring program is to impact at least 20 to 25 percent of the total surface area annually. Depending on tine size and the number of holes per square foot produced, three to four core aerations between May and October are advised for most courses in South Florida.  

When it comes to bermudagrass fairways, two to three core aerations over the summer are recommended. Verticutting aids in controlling surface organic matter, but is also needed to maintaining turfgrass density and promote the upright growth habit that provides great lies for fairway shots. At some courses, contract verticutting services are used for severe/deep verticutting of the fairways once or twice each year. However, an alternative approach that has been gaining popularity is conducting lighter, monthly replications using standard fairway mowing equipment equipped with verticutting reels. In addition to being a very effective surface grooming strategy, this is not as disruptive and reduces debris disposal problems.  

Finally, annual verticutting of bermudagrass roughs is generally not an option at most courses. A good practice for maintaining a dense and consistent surface condition is to scalp the roughs to a height of cut of 0.75 to 1.0-inch in the early summer. It is suggested to maintain this reduced height of cut for at least a couple of weeks (or three or four mowing replications) and then raise the height of cut to 1.25-inch for the rest of the summer. There will be some initial complaints about all of the brown discolored turf, but after a couple of weeks a uniform green color does redevelop. After scalping, the golfers will really appreciate being able to quickly find their ball and not be penalized as severely for their errant shots. 

Source: John Foy (jfoy@usga.org) or 772.546.2620

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