A Rough Time Of It

By Jim Skorulski, senior agronomist Northeast Region
October 17, 2012

Many New England golf facilities find themselves having to seed and renovate larger areas of rough damaged by disease, drought stress, insect damage or traffic.


Most of New England experienced its first killing frost/freeze of the season last weekend. For most, this marks the true beginning of the end of the 2012 growing season. The season’s drought and record heat created many challenges and pushed maintenance crews hard from the beginning of spring. The lack of natural precipitation in summer was, in hindsight, a good thing for golf courses considering the high temperatures. Humidity seemed unusually high through August and early September ramping up disease pressure, namely dollar spot and gray leaf spot, at golf courses. The majority of golf courses fared well despite the weather challenges and primary playing areas are in good condition as winter approaches. The one exception has been rough areas where the cumulative effects of drought, insect damage, disease (gray leaf spot) and increased weed pressure still remain noticeable and have caught the attention of golfers.

The demise of rough areas is not new. Let’s face it, there are only so many resources available and those are used first on primary play areas as they should be. However, the appearance and playability of the rough areas is on the radar, especially following a summer like this when traditional low maintenance programs were not effective. I anticipate that turf managers will continue to feel more pressure to improve the appearance and uniformity of rough areas going forward so be prepared with ideas on how to accomplish that or defend the practices currently in place.

The inputs required to upgrade the quality of the roughs are no secret to any experienced turf manager. The challenge is finding the resources and equipment needed to extend management programs to these large acreage areas. That may involve initiating some major regrassing programs to replace unwanted annual bluegrass and creeping bentgrass, extending irrigation coverage, implementing more aggressive shatter tine and core cultivation practices, managing cart traffic, removing trees, root pruning, and extending fertility and pest management programs. The programs required are comprehensive and will come at cost. Some memberships may not be able or willing to support those added programs and higher costs and that is fine so long as they too are willing to accept playing conditions and appearance that are less than perfect. Some would say it is a good thing when the biggest complaints we hear involve the roughs, because this is usually an indicator that the higher priority areas of the golf course are in quality condition and not a concern.

On another note, annual bluegrass weevils remain active in the region. I observed feeding damage on greens and collars on a Connecticut golf course earlier this week. The good news is the larvae have little chance of surviving the winter but the superintendent is not going to take any chances! The cooler temperatures, rain events and extended periods of dew have brought earthworms back to the surface in a big way. Their castings are making a mess. Those that have implemented topdressing programs are experiencing less surface activity. Applications of the Early Bird product, when timed with a soaking rain, continues to work fairly well. Mowing heights should be increased by this point if they have not yet been, to improve the plant’s ability to accumulate carbohydrates that will be required to survive the winter ahead. Finally, monitor the fall shade patterns closely and use that information to plan the next round of tree removal work.

The Rough Dilemma In the Mid-Atlantic Region provides additional information regarding rough management programs.

Source: Northeast Region Green Section - Dave Oatis, director doatis@usga.org; Adam Moeller, agronomist amoeller@usga.org; Jim Skorulski, senior agronomist jskorulski@usga.org.


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