Mom and Pop Maintenance

I am often asked to consult at low maintenance, “mom and pop” style golf courses. I’m asked even more often to make a plan or publication for the same style courses. I’m working on that. It’s not easy. For one, every course is different. And its especially challenging if there’s not a person to make agronomic decisions on the staff. Not a lie: I get more requests from board members, county supervisors, and owners than I do superintendents. That’s partly because most of the courses don’t hire supers, which is another topic entirely.

Here’s a letter I wrote for a low budget course this morning. I thought I’d share it and see what kind of reactions it gets. It’s not perfect. It’s far from complete or comprehensive. It’s for one golf course, with a very individual (although not unique) set of problems, if that makes sense.

Excuse the absence of pictures, our blog server is being stubborn this morning. Now I’m going to spray some herbicides. -Jay

To whom it may concern:

I have twice visited _____ Country Club (once in early March and again on June 27th). As the state Turfgrass Specialist, I often visit private and municipal golf facilities such as this one. These courses play an important, and often overlooked, role for the game of golf in Mississippi. Most importantly, they serve to introduce our youth to the game of golf. It is therefore an integral part of my program to help these courses maximize their potential.

That being said, it is not unusual to see these facilities struggle to meet the expectations of today’s golfers. I think most of us would agree that _____ CC has great potential but can certainly improve. This is why I write this letter.

I have spoken with Mr. _____, Superintendent and caretaker of the facility. I understand his unmet needs and concerns. What follows is my basic advice for improving your course. The basics are largely in place. With the exception of a few pieces of equipment as well as a budget for pesticides and fertilizers, Mr. _____  has most of what he needs to perform these tasks.

Greens are thatchy, soft, and diseased. How do we correct this? I propose three options:

1) Renovate greens complexes and remove built up organic matter. Follow that with sprigging or by allowing bermudagrass to come back from below ground roots. It is my opinion that you do not need to change bermudagrass cultivars. I believe there are more demanding issues at hand than the grass type on the greens.

2) My preferred option, and the one that requires the fewest inputs for return. Rent or buy a core aerifier. Pulling 1/2 to 3/4 inch cores and removing them will allow you to remove approximately 5 to 10% of the existing organic matter per pass on the closest spacings. You would follow that up with a generous top dressing of sand in order to fill those holes. It is necessary to remove the excess cores rather than drag them back in. This will serve to dilute the thatch which is harboring disease and making the greens so soft that they can’t be mown without tracking when slightly wet.

3) My final option would be perhaps less effective but could be done with existing equipment. That is, aggressively verticut the greens on a weekly basis. Verticutting needs to be done regardless of whether you adopt the previously suggested opitons, but this will only give temporary relief. Ultimately, core aerification or frequent greens renovation (approximately every 7 to 10 years) are the only options for dramatic improvement.

There is a great deal of crabgrass and other annual weed species throughout the property. Preemergence herbicides are part of the solution. Mr. _____ is well aware that postemergence control of crabgrass is ineffective and somewhat expensive, especially considering time and equipment hours. To better control crabgrass and other troublesome turf weeds, we ultimately need to apply a preemergence herbicide in the spring (approximately March 15) and fall (approximately September 15). Options are included below.

Commonly applied   preemergence herbicides. WSSA and HRAC classification systems are provided to   help herbicide applicators alternate modes of action in order to prevent herbicide resistance.

Timing Mode-of-Action WSSA Group HRAC Group Common Name Trade Name
Pre Mitotic inhibition 3 K1 dithiopyr Dimension
Pre Mitotic inhibition 3 K1 pendimethalin Pendulum
Pre Mitotic inhibition 3 K1 prodiamine Barricade
Pre Mitotic inhibition 15 K3 metolachlor Pennant
Pre Lipid biosynthesis   inhibition 8 N bensulide Bensumec
Pre Protoporphyrinogen   oxidase (PPO) inhibition 14 E oxadiazon Ronstar
Pre/Post Mitotic inhibition 3 K1 pronamide Kerb
Pre/Post Photosystem II inhibition 5 C1 amicarbazone Xonerate
Pre/Post Photosystem II inhibition 5 C1 atrazine Aatrex
Pre/Post Photosystem II inhibition 5 C1 metribuzin Sencor
Pre/Post Photosystem II inhibition 5 C1 simazine Princep
Pre/Post Cellulose synthesis   inhibition 29 L indaziflam Specticle
Pre/Post Lipid biosynthesis   inhibition 16 N ethofumesate Prograss

Control may be limited   due to herbicide resistance. The most common herbicide resistance in   Mississippi turf is that of Poa annua   to photosystem II inhibiting herbicides. Therefore, rotation of modes of   action, as well as follow up applications to ensure complete control are   recommended.

For simplicity, I would suggest an application of pendimethalin or prodiamine in September of 2014. An application of simazine in mid-January 2015 (can be mixed with glyphosate if bermudagrass is dormant). And an application of one of the following in early to mid-March of 2015: dithiopyr, metolachlor, pendimethalin, or prodiamine. I promote rotating chemistries according to the included bulletin in order to prevent herbicide resistance.

It should be noted that label recommendations should be followed, especially due to the potential for herbicide injury. Always read and follow the label.

Postemergence treatments for crabgrass. Mr. _____  is currently using MSMA, which will no longer be a legal option in the next few years once pulled by the EPA. It has never been a great option due to lack of effectiveness, and due to bermudagrass injury, but it is cheap. The new standard is quinclorac applied with a methylated seed oil. Multiple applications are required after crabgrass reaches 1 tiller. Therefore, this application relies heavily upon proper scouting and timing of herbicide application. Apply as roughly a late-April to mid-May application for best control. This product mixed with 2,4-D will also control a large variety of broadleaf weeds. It will not control our most noxious broadleaf weed, Virginia buttonweed.

The best option for VBW is a product containing the active ingredient fluroxypyr (commercial brands include Escalade II and many others). It is best applied while Virginia buttonweed is young and supple; however, follow up applications may be needed in heavily infested areas.

Finally, a nutrient management plan should be implemented on the course. Using fewer inputs is ultimately our goal, and to do this, we need to provide proper nutrients to promote soil and plant health. Primarily, Nitrogen is the most limiting element required for vigorous plant growth. It is always recommended that one apply nutrients and lime according to soil test recommendations, but in general, 4 to 6 pounds of N are required per year for sustained hybrid bermudagrass growth on golf course fairways. This should not all be applied at once. Rather, it can be split into monthly or bi-weekly (every two weeks) applications on fairways as a granular application.

Bermudagrass putting greens rarely receive such high levels of Nitrogen as those listed previously for fairway heights of cut. I suggest 2 to 3 lbs of N / 1000 sq ft / year. But it should be applied as weekly applications. So roughly 1/4 lb of N / 1000 sq ft on a weekly basis is plenty. In fact, a lot of superintendents are as low as 1/10 lb of N / 1000 / week. This is often applied as a liquid application. For low budge courses, I suggest sticking with a granular applications applied evenly at very low rates going multiple directions on the green. It is important (although not required)  that applications be timed to coincide with other cultural practices. For instance, applying after an aggressive verticutting, or after core aerification, can be beneficial.

Nitrogen source is not terribly critical for most low budget golf courses. What is critical is that the product is applied evenly and is watered in lightly so as to settle prills into the turf canopy and so as to reduce volatilization and loss of nitrogen (this is especially a concern when using products containing the N source of urea). N loss from urea may be excessive during peak temperature conditions if not watered in properly. This does not apply to slow release sources of N. Coated prills, whether with polymer or sulfur, reduce loss via volatilization. Additionally, slow release XCU’s (long chain ureas) and Urea formaldehyde, also reduce N loss via volatilization.

Fertilizers are not 100% nitrogen. When we make a nitrogen recommendation, we are referencing pure nitrogen / unit area / time. A bag of urea (46-0-0) is 46% nitrogen. A simple conversion, regardless of analysis, is to divide 100% by % nitrogen, in this case 46%. Thus 2.2 lbs of the product is equivalent to 1 lb of nitrogen. An example: 18-24-6 is a common starter fertilizer for spring green up. It contains 18% N, 24% P, and 6% K. Divide 100% by 18%, and that’s equal to 5.6. Thus it takes 5.6 lbs of the product to equal 1 lb of N.

Plan to attend MSU Turfgrass Field Day on August 26th, 2014 in Starkville, MS

Thanks, and feel free to contact me should more information be needed.