Golf has been treated to quite a summer in 2018. Early in the season it was windy, blisteringly cold and dry, then came prolonged periods of cold and wet weather. Summer brought dry heat and drought followed by heat and humidity with rainfall in seemingly endless quantities. Mother Nature really hasn't held back this year, the challenging weather just keeps coming.
Nearly every course visited by USGA Agronomists in the Northeast this year has had some dents and dings. Weeds are prolific, turf has been lost in low-lying areas and dollar spot outbreaks have been epic. Nevertheless, most courses have been able to avoid widespread devastation. Here are some key observations from the summer:
Anthracnose and Summer Patch
Both diseases have caused damage in 2018, but thanks to research funded by the USGA and other organizations, superintendents are better equipped to manage these diseases. Anthracnose and summer patch have nibbled away at Poa annua – which may not be a bad thing for many courses – but improved understanding of these diseases, and the adoption of best management practices, have helped most courses avoid catastrophic damage.
Most courses have higher weed populations this year than many can remember. Preemergence herbicides did not provide the duration of control that most expected. The reason is simple: products broke down earlier than normal due to prolonged heat and repeated, heavy rain events. Combine a short duration of control with turf thinning and many courses now have higher weed populations.
Courses that experienced heavy weed infestation this year will experience far more weed pressure next year and beyond. A bumper crop of weed seeds was produced this year. They have been spread far and wide, where they sit patiently waiting for next season, so plan accordingly.
Nutsedge and kyllinga also has very problematic, particularly in tees, fairways and rough. These weeds can develop into dense mats in the turf that make chemical control difficult. Furthermore, superintendents need to be mindful that removing large patches of nutsedge or kyllinga with herbicides likely will require the area to be reestablished with sod or overseeding.
Lastly, crabgrass has ignored long-standing climatic boundaries and moved farther north than most years. This weed has been observed as far north as Maine and even southern Canada.
Ballmarks appear regardless of the weather, but they are more obvious and slower to heal when greens are wet and soft due to rainfall. This short video will help convey the importance of ball mark repair and demonstrates the proper technique.
It Could Have Been Worse
The weather patterns during 2018 have been experienced before, but damage was much more severe in years past. The following are a few key factors that are improving turf performance:
- Turf research and education is helping superintendents reduce the risk of winter injury and predict, prevent and manage diseases better than ever. Everyone in golf owes a debt of gratitude to turfgrass research programs and the extraordinarily talented turfgrass researchers. Please dig deep when asked to contribute to research funds in the future.
- Superintendents have a higher level of expertise due to training, education and – sometimes painful – experience. Knowing when not to do something may be the most important lesson of all.
- Better tools have also improved management. New aerators, topdressers, mowers, application equipment, soil moisture meters and plant growth regulators have all had positive impacts.
- Sand modification, installing drainage and other soil-management techniques have improved the performance of old, soil-based greens.
One upside of the challenging season is that there have been some great quotes from frustrated superintendents. Here are a few favorites from 2018:
- “It rained like crazy last night, we got 4 inches of dollar spot!”
- “My monostand of crabgrass is now being invaded by goosegrass!”
- “Legislation is currently pending in several northeastern states as to whether nutsedge should be named the state flower.”
- “Crabgrass, often jokingly referred to as South Jersey Bent, could be renamed Southern Canadian Bent or Southern Maine Bent.”
- “When's it gonna end?”
Keep in mind that better turf and better playing conditions may be defined in some years as losing less grass and experiencing less long-term disruption.
Northeast Region Agronomists:
David A. Oatis, regional director – firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Moeller, director, Green Section Education – email@example.com
James E. Skorulski, agronomist – firstname.lastname@example.org
Elliott Dowling, agronomist – email@example.com
Paul Jacobs, agronomist – firstname.lastname@example.org