Is The Worst Over?

By Stanley J. Zontek, director, Mid-Atlantic Region
August 3, 2011

July soil temperatures from a course in Richmond, Virginia shows just how hot soil temperatures became along with the air temperatures.  With the elevated levels, the roots of cool-season grasses become less functional. 

It's official, July, 2011 was the hottest month for the number of days above 90 degrees F in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Seemingly everyone in the country is dealing with oppressive heat and humidity and it has taken a toll on golf course turf. 

The following update will pass on a few agronomic points that worked or didn’t work this summer (in no special order):

Location, Location, Location.  The worst damaged greens were generally located in areas of shade or pockets of poor air circulation.  Grass growing in the shade is always weaker than grass growing in full sunlight. 

With prolonged heat stress, weaker greens suffered.  The solution is simple, clear underbrush, selectively remove trees, or install a fan. 

Water Management.  Over-watered greens suffered more than carefully irrigated, hand watered greens.  At the risk of causing a controversy, it is difficult to lightly syringe a green with the perimeter irrigation system.  Better water control is achieved with hand watering/hand syringing. 

Most often this is a budget item, but when it is as hot as it has been, too much water is worse than too little water.  Grass recovers better from dry wilt than it will from wet wilt. 

Soil Moisture Meters.  These devices have proved to be an effective way to monitor soil moisture and to carefully irrigate greens.  They also have helped to train staff to know when and how much to hand water an area as well as when to skip an area and recheck it later as greens dry through the day.  While expensive, they are a good investment.  Bad grass is much more expensive.

Conservative Turfgrass Management.  While every golf course reacts differently in the heat, following a conservative putting green management program saved grass. 


  • Mowing and rolling programs, i.e., mow greens one day, roll the next, Consider skipping a day of mowing and rolling altogether to help reduce turf stress. 
  • Switching to solid rollers and slightly raising mowing heights helped the grass survive.  Did the greens putt a bit slower?  Yes, however the old agronomic adage is worth repeating, “slow grass is better than no grass.” 
  • Compressed spray schedules, spoonfeeding and light growth regulator applications all have worked well. 
  • Surface aeration and venting helped the turf. 


Disease problems would have been worse if we had a hot, humid and wet summer.

This summer, turfgrass management in many parts of the United States is an absolute challenge, and we still have more days of weather stress to get through.  Hopefully, some of these points will help everyone appreciate that maintenance work does not stop in the heat, but it changes to a much more careful management program. 

The golfers can help by understanding and expecting less in terms of green speed and many details of golf course manicuring, which have to be deferred with so much handwork needed to keep the greens alive. 

The Mid-Atlantic Region agronomists are part of your agronomic support team.  If you have a question or concern, give us a call or send an e-mail.  You can reach Stan Zontek ( and Darin Bevard ( at 610/ 558-9066 or Keith Happ ( at 412/ 341-5922.


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