Golfers To Their Superintendent: “You’re Never Happy”

By Elliott L. Dowling, agronomist, Mid-Atlantic Region
October 1, 2013

Under periods of drought stress, seed will be slow to germinate. Continue the use of supplemental, overhead irrigation. Once adequate rainfall is received, areas such as this practice tee will be quick to recover.

In reference to the weather, “You’re never happy” is a phrase spoken all too often by golfers to their respected superintendents. The season started slow with unseasonably cool, wet weather. During this time, plants did not have ample time to harden, a natural process whereby plants transition out of winter dormancy and acclimate, or prepare, for summer. Many superintendents wished for warmer, drier weather to condition the golf course and get the season started. 

July brought another challenging extreme: heat. Although short lived, extreme high temperatures coupled with overly saturated soils caused turf decline throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Many golfers, recalling their superintendent’s wish for warm weather, are thinking this is exactly what was needed. Unfortunately, warm and dry is far different from extremely hot and wet. The latter is what occurred and this is a lethal combination for cool-season turfgrasses. 

Now, we have our third extreme: dry. I am sure many golfers heard their superintendents complain about the wet weather. “We need the rain to stop. The course is too wet to mow.” These are two phrases that were spoken quite frequently in July. Since the latter part of July, the Mid-Atlantic region has received little rain. The Philadelphia airport indicates 13.24 inches fell in July. This is nearly double what has been reported for August and September. For September, much of the region is at least three inches below normal rainfall with the exception being portions of western Pennsylvania. 

The current weather pattern has been great for playability, and golfers are certainly enjoying it. However, the downside is that for many golf facilities, areas that experienced damage early this summer are slower to recover because of the lack of rain. Having an ample supply of irrigation water is important but cannot replace natural rain to promote recovery. It is also very important to remember that irrigation systems are typically designed to supplement average rainfall amounts. When extended dry spells occur, some reduction in turfgrass quality and appearance should be expected. Rainwater is simply better than irrigation water in almost every respect. 

Recent visits to golf facilities usually include a tour of the practice tee. Complaints are that the tee is not recovering fast enough, despite intensive seeding efforts. Similar scenarios can be seen on heavily used teeing grounds and areas of fairways that experienced damage this summer. Seed germination and growth is slow. It is practically impossible to keep surfaces moist enough to germinate seed, but dry enough to maintain desired playability. This is especially difficult in the absence of rainfall. This makes for a delicate balancing act for superintendents to be sure. 

The job of a golf course superintendent is difficult, especially when Mother Nature rears her ugly head. This summer can be described as one of extremes. Until adequate moisture is experienced from natural rain, damaged areas will continue to be slow to recover. The good news is, once rain returns to the region, these areas should bounce back relatively quickly. In the meantime, site-specific overhead irrigation or even hand watering may be required to promote recovery. 

Source: Elliott L. Dowling (

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

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