Dear Spring Run Members,
I would like to take this opportunity to relay to you the action and progress that we have taken over the past few weeks on the golf course. I have heard a number of comments and questions about recent conditions and I hope I can adequately address them.
Several weeks ago, we began to notice a slight decline in the turf in certain areas of the course. Of particular note were fairways areas on #2 and #7, and around the edges of a number of other greens. And there were more than a couple comments that the greens were soft and/or too wet. We have taken a number of steps to address each problem, and would like to review those steps and provide you an update. In addition, members are noticing a patchy color in the fairway grasses.
First, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that we are experiencing an El Nino, perhaps one of the strongest since 1950. El Nino is characterized by warmer Pacific Ocean temperatures, which in combination with a stronger Southern jet stream, bring cooler temperatures, damp conditions, and abnormal cloud cover. Without getting into to the technical aspects, suffice to say that we have seen more fungus and more thinning of the turf, especially in areas that typically get more shade. We have roped off these areas to traffic and are looking to thin some of the canopies that are blocking sunlight. But El Nino is a contributor, and not the main reason for the problem…but it will be with us throughout the Spring. The main problem is nematodes.
Nema-what? That’s what I often hear in response. Nema-todes. Microscopic pests that love sandy soils and delicious turf roots. Any time you see a thin, balding patch of turf, you can bet that 9 times out of 10, it’s nematodes. Its not a mower scalping the grass. Its not a lack of fertilizer or water. It’s a pest. And if they persist, you can fertilize and water all day long to no avail. Nematodes attach themselves to the root and suck out all the nutrients, resulting in shorter root systems and unhealthy plants. Nematodes are the scourge of the golf course greenskeeper, and unfortunately, there is little on the market left to control them. In years past, we would simply apply Nemacure, and the problem would go away. Can’t buy it anymore. We spend a lot of money on Curfew, which is good but it is only so effective. Fortunately, we have stumbled on a natural substance that we hope will help control the problem. Its call Shellfish Fertilizer, or Crustacean Meal, a natural source of calcium, nitrogen, and many trace minerals. Derived from crab shells, shrimp shells and crab meal, it contains chitin, which the nematodes really don’t like. Once it leaches into the soil, it drives the little pests away, and the turf gets healthy again. Gregg has applied this meal on thin areas around the course and we are monitoring the results. They have also been applying a very strong insecticide to control other pests that like to wreak havoc on a golf course, and fungicides to control the rapid growth of various fungi that thrive in overcast conditions, and we are slowly seeing results in those areas as well.
As I mentioned above, the thin areas around the greens are not man-made. This is again another example of a pest or fungus causing a decline in certain areas. While we are combating this conditions, we have raised the height of cut for a short period of time in order for the roots to grow thicker and healthier. When you mow too low, there is less leaf blade, and therefore, less chlorophyll and nutrients for the plant. In the absence of sunshine, and in conjunction with the aforementioned pest factors, the turf declines. Raising the cut is helping the root system grow longer, which will help the Tif Eagle Bermuda thicken back up.
While these other applications and practices are being implemented, the crew has also been spiking, topdressing, and also aerifying. This was the last piece of the perfect storm that occurred in mid December. We have a machine called a Toro “Hydroject” aerator. This little beauty keeps the greens in great shape by injecting high pressure water jets into the soil, aerifying them without the traditional coring that you see twice a summer. Those 2 “cores affect play and causes a bumpiness that we can’t tolerate in season, so the hydroject allows us to continue to cultivate without interruption to the membership. Of course, it broke down in November. We got it back two weeks ago, and we are back on our regular schedule. And the Hydraject also helped open up the greens surface, which allowed it to drain better. The turf and the roots on the greens is so thick in most areas, that it needs that regular aerification to drain more effectively and not hold water.
Lastly, I would like to comment on the two different colors of turf that you are seeing on the course. You are seeing the new, darker 419 Bermudagrass, and some of the old 419 Bermudagrass in patches together. First, please understand these are two healthy, quality stands of turf. The mutations and lower quality Bermuda were plowed under and have a hard time competing with the more aggressive 419. That said, we didn’t kill off all the old stuff. We tried. Hard. Except that in order to have killed off all that old Bermuda, we would have had to fumigate the entire course. We did apply methyl bromide to the greens prior to grassing them, at a cost of $70,000. But that was only for about 4 acres of greens. We have 40 acres of tees and fairways, and 40 acres of rough, which would have cost well over a million. And keep in mind that no courses that I am familiar with are doing that. Most didn’t even rototill their old grasses under before sprigging anew.
Please remember that a golf course is a living thing, and maintaining a healthy balance requires enormous skill and constant attention. I hope that this answers some questions and addresses some concerns. Thank you