FTGA Highlights: Part II February 27, 2015

FTGA Highlights: Part II

Rethinking Wintertime Bermudagrass Fairway Management in Florida
By John H. Foy, Director
November 26, 2008

Skyrocketing material costs and the current economic woes plaguing the country are concerns at all golf courses. This is especially the case in Florida, given the large number of real estate development facilities and the housing market implosion. Thus, during most TAS visits, controlling or, more accurately, cutting operating costs has been a primary discussion topic. At many courses, along with eliminating overtime, hiring freezes have been implemented. This requires task scheduling adjustments be made, and some jobs will have to be accomplished while play is underway, performed on a less frequent basis, or eliminated all together.

Cutting back on fertilization and pest control treatments, along with elimination of large acreage winter overseeding programs also are areas being targeted for cost savings. In South Florida, above average rainfall during the latter part of the summer resulted in a two year drought coming to an end and lifting of water use restrictions. However, because of previous concerns about water use restrictions being made permanent, the decision had already been made at a number of courses to discontinue fairway overseeding programs.

For many years in Florida, and in an effort to accommodate golfer demands and expectations for lush green fairways during the primary winter play season, overseeding or over-fertilization and irrigation have been heavily relied upon practices. With elimination of overseeding and cutting back on fertilization, naturally there are concerns about providing an acceptable quality product through the winter and early spring months. Yet, with economics now being a controlling factor in course management programs, an opportunity presents itself to educate golfers that even though every square foot of the fairways and roughs is not lush and green, appropriate and good quality conditioning can still be provided. Not only will firmer, drier fairways benefit golfers with increased ball roll, there also is the opportunity to conserve resources and pursue a more sustainable overall course management philosophy.

Fertilization is an area getting a lot of attention when rethinking winter bermudagrass fairway management. Spoon feeding fairway fertilization programs have rapidly gained popularity because of the results being achieved, and the cost savings. To maintain sufficient levels of available nutrients, in particular potassium, granular bulk applications are periodically conducted and serve as a base. This base program is supplemented on a regular basis with low rates of soluble, readily- available nitrogen to support sustained, but not excessive shoot growth. The micronutrients iron and manganese also are routinely included in these supplemental treatments for maximizing green color without causing flushes of excessive growth. However, instead of utilizing fertigation for accomplishing these supplemental treatments, spray applications are being conducted.

While fertigation has long been a common practice on Florida golf courses, when water use restrictions are in place it is not as viable a tool. Also, during the fall and winter months when turfgrass water use rates are typically low, it is not always desirable or necessary to run irrigation cycles. Compared to fertigation, spraying of nutrients is a much more precise and efficient strategy. There are a number of fertilizer formulations available that can be used in spoon feeding of fairways at a reasonable cost in the range of $20 to $35 per acre, and typically applications are required on an every 7 to 21-day interval. While significant material costs are not incurred, some additional time and labor is required for making broadcast spray applications on all of the fairways.

As a final note, in the 1970's and early 1980's, the use of the micronutrient iron on bermudagrass fairways was a common practice for color retention in the fall and promoting a faster green up response in the spring. In our complex and sophisticated world, have we forgotten about simple and basic things that still work quite successfully?

Source: John Foy,jfoy@usga.organd 772-546-2620