Course Care: Show Me The Data

Research any product before committing to a purchase

By Todd Lowe, USGA Green Section
January 16, 2013

Using a 4x4 piece of plywood over a nursery green is a good way of evaluating the effectiveness of applied products. (Courtesy Travis Moore, Club at Sonterra)

A memorable moment in the movie Jerry Maguire took place when Tom Cruise’s character had a meeting with a client who ended the conversation by repeatedly shouting, “Show me the money!”

A similar scene has taken place between vendors in the turfgrass industry and me when they discuss details of their products’ attributes. It usually begins low key, as the salesperson discusses the product’s applications and mentions several superintendents who use the products on a regular basis. It then escalates, producing a multitude of claims from reducing thatch, reducing nematodes/diseases, increasing nutrient availability, to simply improving overall turf health and playability.

This leads me to repeatedly exclaim, “Show me the data!” There are many well-respected salespersons in our industry who supply a variety of products, such as fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to sustain high-quality golf course turf. Some of these products have been thoroughly tested through years of university trials before reaching the marketplace. However, there are a host of biostimulants, hormones, soil microbes, and amendments that are simply packaged and sold without any university research to substantiate their claims. Most of these products do not harm turf, but are they worth the cost?

Hippocrates stated it best when he said, “Science begets knowledge, opinion ignorance.” Independent research is needed to document whether or not a product provides some benefit to turf. In the absence of scientific fact, we are left to formulate our own opinions. USGA agronomists are non-partial and are not financially motivated by their recommendations. As such, we rely on data gathered by university scientists in research trials or empirical observations from fellow golf course superintendents to make sound agronomic recommendations for golf courses.

Research studies are generally designed and evaluated by scientists in replicated field plots. Greenhouse trials are helpful, but the most useful data come from turf plots maintained as near to “real world” conditions as possible. It is also recommended that these studies be conducted on turfgrass in similar regions. Data from potato crops in Idaho does not quite correlate to bermudagrass putting greens in Florida!

Most superintendents do not utilize untreated check plots, so it is difficult to evaluate whether the treatment or some other factor like weather or mechanical cultivation had a greater impact on turf response than the product applied. One superintendent remarked how well the greens performed after an application of soil amendment “X.” However, the same treated greens were deep-tined to incorporate the amendment. So, did the amendment or deep-tine aeration have the most impact on turf quality?

Without untreated check plots with deep-tine aeration only, it is impossible to know. In the absence of university trials or reliable testimonials, we recommend performing on-site research trials at your golf course. Nursery greens are ideal for studying products. If the product is for tees, fairways or roughs, then an out-of-sight location on the practice area or driving range might be suitable. It is imperative to include untreated check plots by covering an area of turf during application. This can be as easy as laying down a sheet of plywood on the turf prior to application.

Make sure to mark the corners of the untreated area with turf paint so that treatment effects can be evaluated. Be aware that some products contain fertilizer, and make sure that the transient improvement is not simply a reaction to additional nitrogen. Evaluate the color, but also turf density and rooting as well.

Golf course maintenance budgets are continually scrutinized, forcing superintendents to focus on the basics and leaving less room for “non-essential products.” Before spending resources on items that may provide marginal benefits to your course, request nonbiased data from reputable turfgrass scientists, or perform your own on-site trials with untreated check plots.

Todd Lowe is a senior agronomist in the Green Section’s Florida Region. Email him at tlowe@usga.org.

Partner Links
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
Chevron
   

The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.

Chevron image
Rolex
   

Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.



Rolex image
IBM
   

IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website, www.usopen.com, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit http://www.usopen.com/IBM

AmEx image
Lexus
   

Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

At each U.S. Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, Lexus provides spectators with access to unique experiences ranging from the opportunity to have a picture taken with both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open trophies to autograph signings with legendary Lexus Golf Ambassadors in the Lexus Performance Drive Pavilion.

For more information on Lexus, visit http://www.lexus.com/

AmEx image
American Express
   

Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

For more information on American Express visit www.americanexpress.com/entertainment


AmEx image