Saturday, August 21, 2010

Weather and Tournament Stresses & Recovery Efforts

It's been ten days since the last post (Western Am. Recap) and we've now (hopefully) seen the extent of the stress caused by both extremely difficult weather conditions (high heat, humidity, and moisture the past 7-8 weeks) and an extended period (over 2 weeks) of maintaining tournament turfgrass conditions. The combination of the two, as we now know, led to turf decline and thinning in low spots and high traffic areas on several fairways, and on a few green and collar area surfaces. We certainly have some work still ahead of us for sure but every day we're making progress.

The Ugly Summer of 2010.
This is just one of the titles from dozens of recently published articles from sources such as; The Wall Street Journal; USGA, CDGA, GCSAA (Golf Course Supts. Assoc. of America), USA Today and many others.

The Ugly Summer of 2010 can be read at:
http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB10001424052748704017904575409411501359450.html
Other titles include:
Golf Course Superintendents Concerned with Greens
Heat Hits Area Greens
Unusual weather puts stress on area golf courses
When it comes to the heat, Courses Fighting Nature
Need A Break: Heat plays havoc with greens
Scorched earth: Recent stretch of heat and humidity has blistered area courses
Hot weather turning putting greens to toast
(you can goggle these articles if you would like to read)

and then there is the USGA - Turf Loss Advisory article:
http://www.usga.org/course_care/regional_updates/regional_reports/midatlantic/Special-Notice---July-2010/

and, Heat Putting Strain on Golf Courses:
http://www.usga.org/news/2010/August/Heat-Straining-Golf-Courses/

and another good USGA article relating to Poa Annua - Annual Bluegrass loss, which is a major species component of our turf on greens, collars, approaches, and fairways.
http://www.usga.org/course_care/regional_updates/regional_reports/northeast/ANNUAL-Bluegrass---A-Fitting-Name,-Unfortunately---July-2010/ 

All of these articles relate to the weather extremes and turf decline issues throughout various parts of the country but as many of you know (and as I've mentioned before) we have a terrific local source of turf/weather information as well as advisor on turf disease and other maladies, and that is the CDGA's Director of Turf Program, Dr. Derek Settle. Derek is our "Turf -Doctor that makes house (course) calls", as well as a weekly author (along with other contributors from the CDGA) of the Scouting Report. His weekly report has detailed this ugly summer and last Fridays report mentioned some supporting statistics. A few excerpts follow but you can access the entire report and view photos at:
http://www.cdga.org/pdf/082010TurfScoutingReport.pdf

Chicago/Northern Illinois Update: Derek Settle - CDGA
Unkind! It looked as though we had completed our last test – an especially hot period with a total of six days straight of 90+ degrees (Aug. 9 to 14). Our forecast was a cool break. And so we waited. On Tuesday, Aug. 17 it happened and Chicago’s high temperatures were unable to cross 80 degrees. Amazingly, we learned 2010 had set an all-time record for a consistently warm summer – 46 days straight of daytime highs at least 80 degrees. Summer 2010 now holds number 1 with 1955 number two at 42 days. For my part I have watched this season unfold with usual diligence – life of turf is entirely dependent on weather that is sometimes unkind!
Summer 2010 is now compared to two other summers of recent Chicago memory (1988 and 1995). Hot summers seem to hit the upper Midwest about once every decade. For example, up to this point, 2010 now ranks as the 9th warmest with an average temperature of 75 degrees. Interestingly, years that experienced significant turf loss in superintendent’s memory are also highly ranked (1988 = 2nd warmest and 1995 = 5th warmest). For newer golf courses and young superintendents early in their career, this has been their most challenging season. From start to finish problems have been continuous and difficult. Unkind summer 2010, are you finished yet?

I sure hope so! If you have looked at some of the Scouting Report you'll see photos of turf damage from heat, humidity, flooding, traffic stress, disease, insects, and more from throughout the region. If you haven't yet, here's a sample of turf thinning post Western Am.

 Green perimeter showing turf decline

Most, if not all courses have experienced some degree of turf decline. Those courses that have recently re-grassed with newer, more stress tolerant turf varieties; have improved rootzone profiles (such as the USGA Green Spec. Rootzone); fewer trees; elevated courses and/or excellent drainage; extensive cart path systems; and didn't have to maintain tournament conditions for two tournaments in a very short span of time, had less turf decline. Our course has a high percentage of the much more fragile turf species, poa annua; has topdressed but older, slower to drain, push-up soil profiles; lower ground elevation on many holes that hold water until the diversion ditch level drops (even with pumping and the use of our irrigation system to pump down and lower the channel which in turn helps move water off fairways faster); many trees, very few paths, and hosted our Derby and then just a week later seven days of the Western Amateur Championship.
These facts along with the long high temperature record, extended period of high overnight temperatures, high humidity, and nearly 6 inches of rain in the 14 day period which included the Western Am. rain event of 1.2 inches, make it fairly easy to understand why turf damage and decline occurred.

No. 13 Green - Turf decline due to compaction (edges of greens receive extra wear and tear), shade, traffic (walk off area to next tee), and mechanical stress from repeated mowing and rolling.

Stressed area on #4 fairway- poa annua, heavy cart and equipment traffic, additional wear and tear on perimeter areas of fairway, in combination with weather difficulties... have all contributed.

So, hopefully the above information and the links to the various articles from the USGA and Dr. Settles' Scouting Report helps explain the weather and turf stress of this summer and the reasons behind the decline of our turf quality in some areas of the course. I suppose it could all be summed up by the saying "It was a perfect storm"! We were a victim of circumstances of lousy weather and intense turf maintenance.

Recovery Efforts Underway
I know this is already a very long post (I'll wrap up quickly) but it's been a very long year... this past month! As I mentioned in my last post, we immediately began turf relief procedures on the Monday following the Western Am.by ventilating the greens (aerating with pencil sized tines to oxygenate the rootzone and relieve natural plant gas by-products), raising the mowing heights, reducing rolling, eliminating double mowing, and replacing traffic control ropes.
 Ventilating - pencil sized diameter, shallow depth aeration

We have conducted the ventilation process a second time since then and we will continue to ventilate the greens periodically going forward. Root growth, compaction, oxygenation, and overall plant health and density will gradually improve. Our current, frequent low rate nutrient applications will be increased slightly as temperatures moderate. We must avoid forcing excessive growth as this will only deplete valuable energy reserves. Irrigation will be applied as needed and whenever needed to supplement plant and evaporation losses. It's probable that you'll notice softer surfaces than you have experienced to date but during this "recovery period" we do need to be maximizing  plant health which doesn't always translate to maximizing playability. Additional relief efforts include multiple spiking and overseeding on green surfaces and aeration followed by "topdressing" fairway damaged areas with a sand/peat/seed mixture.

 Multi-directional Spiking prior to overseeding with improved varieties and light rolling to close slits.

Aeration of a low, water damaged area on a fairway

Topdressing damaged fairway areas with sand/peat/seed mix

Smoothing and lightly incorporating mixture

With a little cooperation from Mother Nature in the form of cooler temperatures, lower humidity, and occasional but moderate rainfall (we're certainly due!); your cooperation in avoiding travel through stressed areas with carts, and avoiding walking on weak areas of greens when possible; and our G&G Dept. recovery efforts of aeration, spiking, seeding, topdressing, fertilization and irrigation; together we will recover from the decline we've recently experienced. 
I hope that I'll soon be able to post photos of new seedlings in all areas where needed and other thin turf areas well on the way to complete recovery.


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