Finish the Summer Strong USGA East Region Update
Brian Gietka, agronomist, East Region
It’s that time of summer when the staff is tired, the turf is tired and the weather is relentless. On recent USGA Course Consulting Service visits, I’ve observed many courses letting the turf grow a bit by skipping or stretching plant growth regulator (PGR) applications, reducing mowing frequency, or applying a little extra water and/or fertilizer to give the turf a break. While this might be beneficial, careful management is still necessary. High temperatures coupled with high humidity and plenty of moisture creates an environment where the turf is photosynthesizing and taking up water yet unable to transpire, which swells the leaf blades. Pop-up rainstorms can trigger a flush of growth when you’re using defensive maintenance strategies and voilà – soft, puffy, overgrown turf that is vulnerable to scalping and mechanical damage. Other times, multiple rain events do not allow for PGR applications or regular mowing, or thick thatch layers hold water and increase the risk of mechanical damage.
Managing damaged or weak turf can be like walking a tightrope, especially while trying to deliver the playing conditions golfers expect. Here are some tips to regain turf health, maintain good playability and finish the summer strong:
Raise mowing heights: Slightly increasing the height of cut or simply replacing grooved rollers with solid rollers can give just a little more leaf surface for plants to produce more energy.
Lightly topdress: A light dusting of sand topdressing provides enough cushion to allow mowers to ride on top of stems and crowns. The sand will also coat voids in the turf to reduce sunlight to algae and moss.
Reduce PGR rates: When you want to encourage growth, cut PGR rates by 50%-75%. This will allow the turf to come out of regulation but not with excessive rebound growth.
Minimize nitrogen: Growth is good but excessive growth will contribute to soft, puffy turf. Spoon-feed fertilizers more frequently at a reduced rate for more-precise growth management.
Manage water carefully: With turf having the shortest roots of the year, manage water by evaluating root depths, utilizing portable moisture meters and accounting for evapotranspiration rates.
Apply plant protectants: When turf is soft, driving sprayers on it might be concerning but the potential damage from pests will be worse. Consider applying plant protectants in the evening or whenever turf surfaces will be firmest.
Vent surfaces: Improving gas exchange and water infiltration improves turf health and the process can make the difference between continued deterioration or recovery. If the turf has weak roots and a thin canopy, a light spiking might be better than using needle tines, which could cause damage. Exercise caution, less could be more.
Communicate: Let your course’s patrons know what the turf is experiencing and what to expect during their round. Taking it easy on the turf will have a short-term impact on playing conditions but long-term benefits for turf health.
If you would like more information on keeping turf healthy throughout summer or any other topics, please reach out to your regional USGA agronomist for support. In the meantime, take good care of your staff and remember, those chilly mornings are just around the corner!
Northeast Region Agronomists
Darin Bevard, senior director, Championship Agronomy – email@example.com
Elliott L. Dowling, regional director, East Region – firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Gietka, agronomist – email@example.com
Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service