2017 Expectations for Greens
As 2016 ended, the greens had significantly recovered from the damage inflicted on them by the hot and humid summer and the high bi-carbonate water. The first 8 greens were mostly better than the rest with the practice green, #10, 12, & 18 lagging. A multi-prong plan for long term success has been developed by the green committee. It includes water treatment, increased sunlight, increased air flow, an aggressive cultural/fertilization program, and future renovation. These are long term solutions to the problems experienced last year. The goal is to gain board approval and use this plan to direct future capital expenditures such as air movement (fans) purchases, renovation projects, and future specialty equipment purchases (aerators, verti-cutters, etc.). Once approval is received, the plan will be shared with the membership.
In trying to be prepared for the future, the green committee has approved a test renovation project on the lobe of the practice green by the bunker. The project would follow the exact protocols as a full renovation. This would allow us to gather information on how to grow-in new turf, length of grow-in, and which seed varieties work best here. Several years ago, we seeded this area with 2 new varieties and neither did well last summer. National tests and antidotal results from other courses will allow us to choose 2-4 varieties for trial. After establishment, you will be able to see the differences (if there are any). Then when a renovation project is undertaken, all parts and procedures will be decided upon to minimize problems.
While the plan is looking long term, there will be short term or near term benefits especially with our daily cultural/fertilization program. Already the increased nutrients, especially calcium and potassium, have allowed the weak areas to recover immensely. The recovery should be complete by the time the greens have grown in from the March 20th aeration or around the first/second week of April. The aeration program in March will include a 9 mm solid deep-tine aeration to a depth of 7-9” along with our normal 3/8” coring at 3”. This will provide deep channels for root growth to bypass the bicarbonate layers in the soil profile. Additionally, verti-cutting will be done during aeration which will help reduce the clumpy nature of the poa annua (annual bluegrass) that has filled some of the voids from last summer.
The acid injection for the irrigation water should be up and running by early April. By injecting acid into the water, the pH will be reduced to a pre-determined level between 6.5-7.0. Having the water acidic instead of alkaline, the bicarbonates will dissolve into harmless components. Getting the right levels will be a learning curve until a sweet spot is found. The turf will be evaluated for color and growth much like when trying to decide whether or not to fertilize.
Two more aerations are scheduled for spring at the end of April and the end of May. Whether these will be pulling cores or just poking holes will not be determined until we see how the turf responds to our programs, the water, and the weather. The one point reiterated over and over by learned professionals is that when dealing with bicarbonate layers, continued breaking through those layers is most helpful. Obviously, an aerator hole is best but a spiking or slicing hole can be effective although the effect does not last as long. Spiking during the summer will be an increased component of our plan. The addition of gypsum whenever the layer is broken will be a part of the plan also.
Another shift in our programs will be the shortening of intervals between foliar fungicide and fertilizer applications. The industry standard has been to apply these products in sufficient amounts to last 2 weeks. New thinking is to cut the rates in half and apply every week. This will keep the turf on a more even keel with less highs and lows. It also will allow the use of less expensive fungicides (less expensive because they don’t last as long).
The last component of our cultural program is mowing and topdressing. The year will begin with the height of cut 1/64th of inch taller than last year. This will allow a little more leaf surface which in turn will allow us to topdress with a little more sand. Topdressing is vital for smoothing the surface and diluting the soil organic matter that restricts air and water movement in the soil. Topdressing also increases ball roll. With more leaf surface, mowing frequency may increase along with rolling. This should compensate for the small increase in height.
What does all this mean for you the golfer? Early on (now) the greens will be bumpy in places especially just before mowing (the current frequency of mowing is twice per week based on growth rate). Part of the bumpiness is thin areas but also poa clumps. With verticutting, aeration, and topdressing, the poa will be thinned allowing more bentgrass growth. As the thin areas recover, the density will support ball roll instead of hopping. As spring arrives and then turns to summer, the effects of all the programs will make a difference especially the water treatment. With a better growing environment, we expect the root growth to be much improved over the past. With a better root system in place, the above ground turf will be able to withstand traffic and weather concerns better. In short, the greens should rebound quickly this spring and return to the quality the membership expects.