Monday morning at GIS GCSAA's education conference provided Golf Industry Show attendees a number of opportunities to broaden their knowledge of all things turf. Moderator Jay McCurdy, Ph.D., and three other experts in turfgrass management addressed several common — and sometimes uncommon — aspects of growing, managing and maintaining golf course turf.
The condition of the greens is important to golfers, who may fear that every aeration hole or stray blade of grass will disrupt the path of the golf ball and add a point to their scorecard. Doug Linde, Ph.D., professor of turf management at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pa., undertook three different projects, two at numerous courses in New Zealand and one in the United States, to test how the smoothness of the green affects the roll of the ball.
Using a device called the Greentester, Linde carried out the R&A's "holing-out test" (HOT) on uncultivated green and on greens that had been cultivated four days earlier. He found no differences in trueness in these greens when balls were placed in the Greentester and rolled across the green. Other tests included a Spread Test that showed the distance between the individual balls after they stopped rolling; the Bobble Test, which is a visual test of trueness and which correlated weakly with the HOT: the Bobble tests shows how the surface affects the path of the ball and the HOT shows how the surface affects the likelihood of the ball going into the hole. Ultimately, the surface of a green in good condition may not have as much an effect as golfers believe since the average golfer successfully completes an 8-foot putt 27% of the time and a PGA Tour player completes that same putt 50% of the time.
With longstanding drought and water restrictions affecting many areas, turfgrass colorants have become increasingly popular. Jared Hoyle, Ph.D., at Kansas State University, looked at some of the research that K-State researchers have carried out in the past few years. Colorants increase the visual appeal of turf under drought conditions or in winter dormancy, and their application is less stressful to the turfgrass and less expensive than interseeding. When turf was treated with colorants and exposed to traffic on the golf course, the color lasted only about three to four weeks before it needed to be reapplied. However, the cost is still far less expensive (~$499/acre for the most expensive colorants) than interseeding ($2500-$3000/acre). Other research projects showed that adding glyphosate to colorants did not adversely affect the applied color and still controlled Poa annua, and that snow melts faster on turf treated with colorants.
Weed management is a problem in ornamental beds as well as in turf, and superintendents often do not have the benefit of having a horticultural specialist on staff. McCurdy, an extension specialist and assistant professor at Mississippi State, says that annual perennial weeds present different sets of control challenges and that ornamental areas should be designed with cultural weed control in mind. Plant canopies should close at maturity, effectively preventing most weeds from encroaching; ground cover should be planted with a herbicide selection in mind; and hardscape and mulch should be used in high-traffic areas to make weed control with a nonselective herbicide possible in those areas. Using pre-emergent herbicides is key, and audits should be made of plants — and their requirements —in high-visibility areas.
The final presentation addressed the feasibility of growing bermudagrass in cooler climates. Bermudagrass is a popular warm-season turf that requires fewer inputs than cool-season grasses, but is generally not very cold-tolerant. With funding from the USGA, Matt Williams, turfgrass program coordinator at Ohio State University has undertaken research to determine whether bermudagrass can successfully be maintained on golf courses in Ohio. The study included four cultivars: Riviera, Patriot, Latitutde 36 and Northridge. Dormant sod was planted in field plots, and the turf received 2 pounds of nitrogen per month, was dethatched every two weeks and topdressed twice a month. Treatment with a PGR resulted in a decline in fall color. Without a PGR, fall color was maintained until mid-October. Unfortunately, the first year ended in winterkill and the study was restarted the following year. Turf covers were used during the second year to prevent winterkill, but they were ineffective. Clearly, growing bermudagrass turf in Ohio is challenging, but Williams is looking at using a finer-textured soil and making other changes in the hope that those changes will improve the chances of bermudagrass survival.