It Feels Like Spring In The West February 3, 2015 By Brian Whitlark, agronomist, West Region

Heavy traffic on the first green at Chambers Bay led to overall stand density issues. The density and health of the fescue on the first green at Chambers Bay has improved significantly as a result of proactive programs initiated by the agronomic staff.

Much of the northeastern part of the country may be under snow, but golfers in the western U.S. are enjoying one of the warmest and driest Januaries on record. Larry Gilhuly, agronomist based in Washington, remarked that golfers hit the links playing in short-sleeved shirts, which is usually unheard of this time of year.

Finer Fescue at Chambers Bay  

Gilhuly, who is working with Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open, noted that the recent trend of warm weather has benefited the greens at Chambers Bay. Through the concerted effort of Kemper Sports – led by Matt Allen, general manager, Eric Johnson, director of agronomy, and Josh Lewis, superintendent – and Pierce County, the owners of Chambers Bay, the greens have dramatically improved. Traffic during the 2013/14 winter and very heavy traffic during all of 2014 led to overall stand-density issues on most of the greens – some greens suffering from severe turf loss. Recognizing these issues, the staff overseeded and covered the greens where necessary to promote improved fescue density and health. Where needed, alternate greens were used during the overseeding process. Such programs have resulted in substantial improvements in wintertime putting green turf populations.

In addition to improvements in overall turf density, a recent tour of the golf course showed very impressive firmness values when using the USGA Trufirm. Light topdressing programs conducted through last year and this winter are paying off and virtually every green is statistically the same firmness. Firm and fast has been the mantra of USGA championships. We hope Mother Nature cooperates with a little bit of wind and no rain to make the 2015 U.S. Open one of the most memorable championships on this true links course. So far, Mother Nature has been very cooperative.

California Water 

Pat Gross, director of the West Region, noted the following developments on the California water situation:

Despite a wet December, January has been the driest month on record in California – which does not bode well for a state that remains almost entirely in extreme or exceptional drought (US Drought Monitor, Updated January 27, 2015). The California Department of Water Resources characterized the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as “dismally meager.” Without significant rain and snow pack over the next three months, California could be facing a fourth straight year of drought.

Golf & Water: Evolving Best Management Practices  

On February 3 a conference was held at Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena that brought together members of the Southern California Golf Association, Golf Course Superintendents Association of Southern California and the Watershed Health Organization. Mike Huck gave the keynote address where he talked about the future of golf course irrigation in the Southwest. A few of the key points he made include:

  • Advancements in water treatment technology will benefit golf courses.
  • A key issue for the industry will be getting more golf courses connected to recycled water, which is completely dependent on building the distribution system to deliver recycled water to golf courses.
  • Just like current incentive programs that pay golf courses for removing turf, Huck sees the potential for incentive programs to get golf courses to build on-site water reclamation facilities as a way to bypass the problem of limited distribution pipelines.

Tree Management in the Southwest  

Dr. Tanya Quist, professor of plant sciences at the University of Arizona, and Rebecca Senior, assistant in extension at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension office in Phoenix, offered a number of helpful tips for managing native and arid-adapted trees in the desert southwest during the winter months. A few highlights are offed below:

  • Conduct major tree pruning while trees are dormant, which typically lasts until the second or third week of February.
  • When pruning, do not remove more than 25 percent of the tree density and be mindful of the south side of trees to avoid sun scold.
  • On young trees, leave small branches projecting from the trunk of the tree. The small branches will produce leaves – thus increasing photosynthetic activity – and catch wind which consequently invokes a response from trees to produce stronger wood.

Those looking for several resources to find low water-use, desert-adapted trees, grasses and shrubs, click on the following sites:

Initiate Transition Strategies in February  

In the southwest February is a critical month to begin strategies to slowly and deliberately reduce growth and thin overseeded ryegrass to encourage the underlying bermudagrass.

  • Begin light, vertical mowing on overseeded areas. Set verticutting blades even with the height of cut or slightly below. The goal is to thin ryegrass without compromising appearance or playability.
  • Lower the height of cut on fairways to 0.500 inch or lower. If lowering heights is not an option, consider outfitting mowers with brushes or groomers.
  • If roughs are overseeded, lower the mowing height below 1.0 inch.
  • Brush overseeded greens to slowly thin the overseeded species.
  • Initiate growth regulator applications at low rates – e.g., 6-8 ounces per acre of Embark® 2-S, or 50-70 ounces per acre of Embark T&O.

Source: Brian Whitlark (