Surviving Summer Stresses
By Tim Walker, GCS, Leewood Golf Club
Warm temperatures and days with the most hours of sunlight make the summer months a great time to get out and play golf. However, managing short-cut turfgrass on tees and fairways, as well as bentgrass and poa annua (annual bluegrass) around one-hundredth of an inch in length on putting greens is very stressful-not only for the staff maintaining the golf course but also for the many grass plants.
Turfgrass plants endure a multitude of stresses each year. These stresses could include scalping with machinery due to excessive rainfall, traffic from carts, disease, insect and weed pressure, heat stress, drought stress, lack of morning sunlight, lack of wind or too much wind depending on your location, wet wilt and many others.
One rule of thumb is that we can always add water to the golf course, but once it's down, we can't take it away. Last season's extreme rainfall made it very difficult for area golf courses to perform many basic tasks, including mowing. Excessive wetness caused rutting from machinery and scalping from mowing units. It also led to the inability to spray control products for various pests and plant health and prevented us from allowing the use of golf carts for daily play.
As golf course superintendents, we must focus on how we combat the summer stresses and how they affect playability. One of the weapons in our arsenal is to raise mowing heights and use smooth rollers. Raising mowing heights and using smooth rollers prevents aggressive mowing, which allows more leaf tissue on the grass to capture sunlight and increase photosynthesis. However, this practice does create slower green speeds.
Reduced rolling also results in slower green speeds during the extreme weather of summer in the northeast. Substituting mowing with rolling assists in smoother greens and less stress. But, reducing the traditional cut and roll, or double cut and double roll, will preserve the greens and the turfgrass for the season.
Some other practices that assist in surviving summer stresses include judicious pesticide applications, conservative fertilization to maintain plant health, increased syringing of playing surfaces, and reduction of heavy watering. Superintendents also apply sand topdressing to increase smoothness and water infiltration, vent or aerate surfaces to allow soils to breathe, and manage traffic to reduce wear.
Please remember, your golf course superintendent is working to preserve your golf course and protect it to the best of his/her abilities with the resources provided. As always, don't forget to replace those divots and fix those ball marks for the betterment of everyone's game.