Superintendent’s Report – Fall 2018
This year was a challenging one for sure and to say that the weather for most of the season was extreme, would be an understatement. After 19 seasons, I can confidently say that the weather this year was more volatile than any year previous. As the end of the season draws near, I wanted to take a minute to explain how weather like we experienced this year effects not only the playability but the maintenance of the golf course as well.
The abnormal weather started right out of the gate this year. Last year, we received 7.46” of rain during the month of May. This year was the driest May I can remember with our total rainfall coming in just under an inch at 0.92”. During a normal spring, we usually experience fairly significant rain events (1” or more at a time that completely saturates the ground) spaced out well enough to provide most of the water the plants require. This deep and infrequent watering allows for the roots of turfgrass plants to “dive” on their own in search of that water. The longer roots you have going into summer, the more carbohydrate storage you have to get through stressful periods. With a dry, windy spring like this year, I had to water more frequently to keep things from drying out. Frequent irrigation actually has the opposite effect as deep and infrequent rainstorms. Keeping the top portion of the soil saturated only promotes a shallow root system; as there is no need for roots to dive in search of water. Even though I have a great nutrition program in place, heading into summer with less of a root system than normal is always a little unnerving.
After receiving only 1.54” in 50 days, things went in a polar opposite direction towards the end of June. The heat rolled in, bringing some consistent rains – and brutal humidity. We had a tough stretch at the beginning of July where 10 out of 12 days had dew points higher than 70° and 8 out of 12 days the heat index was over 100° – topping out at 122°. From then on, the weather continued with ridiculously high temperatures and oppressive humidity. It is safe to say that August was the worst weather I’ve ever experienced here. The lowest (daily high) temperature was 78° and the highest was 103°. The dew point was 70° or higher for 23 days and even reached 80° twice. The heat indices were like nothing I have seen before with 27 days being over 85° (11 over 85°, 8 over 95° and 8 over 100°) and maxing out at 125°. Throw in the fact that we received 15.75” of rain during those summer months (compared to 9.13” in 2017) and we were basically growing grass under water.
When you combine that much water with warm temperatures, the grass grows more aggressively than normal. As a result, while I didn’t do anything different to the rough this year, I know it was thicker than a lot of people would’ve preferred. The rough occasionally gets treated for weeds but never gets fungicides or fertilizers and only gets what little water reaches from the double row irrigation in the fairways. In the spring and fall, we experience a growth surge and the leaf blades are especially lush which provides a dense canopy. In the summer, a majority of the rough thins out due to minimal irrigation coverage while some areas without any irrigation, go completely dormant. With more rain than normal and extremely high dew points, none of that moisture evaporated like it usually does. So, in theory, we experienced spring-like conditions all year.
Along similar lines, (for those of you that follow my Instagram page, you have heard this before) there is a common misconception that just because it is extremely hot, the amount of water I apply increases. This is not always true and this year was the perfect example of this. With 60% more rain than the previous year, I actually put out millions of gallons less than usual. With extremely high dew points comes low ET rates. If the turf isn’t losing moisture throughout the day to evaporation, then there is no need to apply any. Doing so when it is unwarranted, only keeps the leaf tissue wet longer and increases disease potential. We use a combination of wetting agents throughout the year to help us better manage water. Some are designed to help the soil hold on to the moisture the turf needs to get through humid spells without the need for supplemental irrigation (which would only prolong the period the leaf tissue stays wet). Others actually suppress dew in order to shorten the period of leaf wetness even further. We use cutting edge, GPS based, soil moisture meters and infrared cameras throughout the year to not only keep an eye on the soil moisture (as well as salinity, EC, canopy temperature, etc.) but to map it digitally. By closely monitoring moisture levels and applying the proper wetting agents, we can go a week without watering – even during a 10 day spell of extreme heat. The bottom line is that water management is one of, if not the most crucial aspect to maintaining healthy turf. As a superintendent, I would always rather have control over the amount of moisture out there but Mother Nature is very fickle and most of the weather she brought this year wasn’t conducive for maintaining turf. So if you thought that the ground was constantly over saturated and the grass was habitually too wet, then you were right – and I agree with you. If I had a way to remove excess moisture from the golf course, I would’ve.
Even as severe as the weather was, we still managed to keep the course in what I would consider great condition. None of which would be possible without the hard work and dedication of my assistants, my mechanic and all of my seasonal help. There is a tremendous amount of hard work and physical labor that goes into maintaining a golf course; often requiring many long, hot days. This year especially, working through the multiple 10-14 day stretches of excessive heat and oppressive humidity, my hat goes off to my team – without which, none of the conditions you experienced would’ve been possible. There was a lot more hose dragging, spraying, scheduling, audible calling, general stress and sleepless nights than normal. The perimeters of the greens thinned a little towards the end of August, some greens saw the occasional algae outbreak and a few isolated fairway spots took a pounding however, the fact we had no substantial turf loss is a huge win. Golf courses up and down the eastern coast saw significant turf loss on greens, tees and fairways. Some courses closed greens and had temporaries and some closed 9, even 18 holes. Some courses haven’t recovered from summer yet and winter is just around the corner.
Fortunately, we were not one of those courses and are transitioning into fall nicely. The weather has been more seasonable lately and areas that were stressed at the end of summer are recovering nicely. I try to improve playing conditions every year by making small changes to the course or the way we operate and next year will be no different. I learned a lot from the weather this year and as a result, will be doing a few projects and making a few changes for the next season – some of which are already being implemented or have started. During recent frost delays, staff continued to work on removing key trees and thinning specific areas in an attempt to increase airflow and sunlight. This is one of the most beneficial things we can do and pays huge dividends all year long to the overall health of the turf. While maintaining healthy turfgrass is a top priority of mine, I also understand some of the complications that come from a very healthy turf stand. In an effort to make certain areas more player friendly and fun, we will be adding a few more bailouts similar to the one on 5 green, expanding some of the “short grass” areas in close proximity to the greens and expanding some fairways (landing areas, dog legs, approaches, etc.). I recently met with Bill Shane, Chris Bolduc and Brian Bickford to discuss these areas and I am pleased to say that the town has decided to fund and budget for an increase of almost 20% more “short grass” areas. As much as I would like to start these areas this year, we are only a few weeks away from dormancy and this is not the time to try and acclimate grass to a substantially lower height. We will begin lowering the height on the areas right out of the gate next season and it should only take a few weeks to get them down to their new height of cut.
My number one goal has been, and always will be, to provide you all with the best conditions and value for your money. I know sometimes it may seem that I put the health over playability but that is not always true. Like anything else, it is about balance and sometimes, in order to ensure that I can provide you with the best condition possible for a majority of the season, it means I do have to prioritize the overall health of the course for a short period of time. I am already looking forward to next season and seeing how some of these changes will make the golf course more enjoyable. As always, feel free to contact me or flag me down on the golf course anytime you have questions or comments.
Thank you all for your continued support and I look forward to seeing you next year. I hope you have a great winter and follow us on Instagram @valhallaturf during the off season to stay up to date on projects.
Toby S. Young, Class A GCS