I remember the first time I saw a moisture meter on a golf course. As a seasoned hose dragger, I was particularly curious and pondered its potential to make my life easier. Still, I was skeptical about this new technology – after all, a quick look at our typically dry greens sometime around lunch seemed to work fine for letting us know if it was time to start hand watering. It wasn’t until I gave it a try as part of our moisture management program that I realized the value of this new tool. This sentiment about the now-ubiquitous moisture meter is not unlike skepticism occasionally heard today about measuring clipping volume and other forms of putting green data collection. What will I do with the data? We don’t have time to collect data. My greens are great, why change anything? These are valid considerations, but the trend certainly seems to point toward increasing use of data collection and analysis in golf course management. Superintendents that commit to data collection preach the return on investment from spending just a little extra time and effort collecting putting green management data like green speed, clipping volume, firmness and percent organic matter. So why is there still resistance in the industry and can we address some of those concerns?
Our USGA agronomists recently asked some superintendents who haven’t considered data collection, or were hesitant to give it a try, what their reasoning was. Some responses were expected and some were slightly surprising, but it also became apparent that there are misconceptions about what is required to gather meaningful data and the potential impact this information can have on putting green management. We heard several of the same questions and concerns repeatedly and our hope is that by highlighting and addressing them, we can provide some insight into the process of data collection and analysis and explain the potential benefits. Let’s look at some of the key issues that are keeping superintendents from collecting data for putting green management and see if we can put some of those concerns to rest.
I just don’t have time
In today’s world of labor shortages and packed golf courses, most maintenance teams are already stressed for time, so hesitation about adding data collection into the mix is understandable. This was by far the most common concern so it’s crucial to delve into the time commitment involved with data collection.
Jared Nemitz, director of golf course and grounds at the Ford Field and River Club in Savannah, Georgia, started collecting and analyzing putting green surface management data over 14 years ago on ultradwarf bermudagrass greens. He emphasizes how it wouldn’t be possible without the maintenance team’s cooperation. Nemitz explained that, “When you create the process, you get the whole team involved and it takes very little time at that point. Everybody on staff knows their role. The mowing team measures the clippings and relays the data to our first assistant who plugs the numbers into the spreadsheet, adds a few notes – like how many times did you cut it – and it’s done.”
A key reason why many superintendents worry about data collection involving a significant time commitment is the misconception that you need to measure something like clipping volume every day from every green to obtain useful information. You can certainly do that, and it’s interesting to see that data, but a daily process on every green may not be practical for some courses. Collecting clipping volume or green speed from select greens on certain days to observe trends in putting green response to various practices and inputs can still be extremely valuable and it will require less time. A common approach is to collect data from one or more “average” greens along with the best- or worst-performing greens, or even just from a green close to the shop to make it easier to record the data.