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NORTON, Massachusetts – Inclement weather conditions from all parts of the country have dominated headlines in recent weeks. While current conditions are dominating headlines this week, this past season has been one of the most challenging in recent memory for local courses and the superintendent staffs that are responsible for maintaining course conditions.
To help explain the many challenges faced across New England, Don Hearn, who serves as executive director of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of New England (GCSANE), provided the following unique insight. The article was compiled from personal observations and input from superintendents and commercial representation from the field.
For more information about the GCSANE, visit gcsane.org.
As a golfer and interested observer of course conditions, you might wonder why the course you play is having problems this season. I’ve heard some say, “This must be a good year for grass because of all the rain.” While a “lot of rain” might be good for a lawn, it’s not what you want when coupled with high heat and humidity on golf course turf.
The summer of 2018 will be a memorable one for all the wrong reasons. Golf Course Superintendents, veterans and fledglings alike, experienced conditions that haven’t been so widespread for many years.
Spring started for some with winter injury and difficulty germinating seed due to the cold air and soil temperatures. As temperatures warmed and seed germination began, saturated soils and extreme heat and humidity beginning in June led to more turf loss.
Areas of poor drainage and shallow pockets called “bird baths” filled with excess water from frequent heavy rains. This led to more turf loss when the hot weather cooked the turf in these spots. Turf disease such as pythium thrives in wet, hot, humid temperatures. This year these conditions were frequent and created an ideal environment for pythium to take hold.
Many superintendents couldn’t apply fungicides because of the frequent rains and heavy downpours. This created a helpless feeling. The only hope was for the rain to stop long enough for fungicide applications to stem the rampant diseases present.
August rolled around, which is the month many superintendents aerify because they believe it to be the best time for the process and generally is a good time for seed germination. Others believe it’s the only time they will have the staff needed to complete the project.
There is risk that in some years the weather will prove to be the conqueror. This was that year. In many instances the process is devoted to a date on a course golf schedule and no optional date is included for adverse weather. So, the process proceeds and chances are taken. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.
Some were fortunate to be the former. Some were, unfortunately, the latter. Among golf course superintendents in the region, the consensus is, no matter what tools you had in your kit, around August 15, turf loss was evident. High performance turf (that which is grown on golf courses) just melted away.
Some turf was lost literally overnight. Turf that was in good condition at day’s end was devastated by pythium during the night-time hours. Additionally, an insect known as ABW (annual bluegrass weevil) decided to make an out-of-season visit in early August. This caught some by surprise and created more stress and damage to the already stressed plants.
The most basic of maintenance procedures – mowing, was a huge task and the cause of much damage for many courses this season. For some it became a “damned if you do – damned if you don’t” situation. Because of the heavy rain, one course reported not mowing fairways for close to a week. An immense crop of clippings was the result after mowing.
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Certainly, there was a setback of the turf from the shock of having so much growth being removed. As of the end of August, this was the 6th hottest summer on record, missing the all-time record by .6 of a degree. In Boston, there were 27 nights when the low temperature was above 70 (3 nights shy of the record set back in 1983).
Farther inland the temperatures were even warmer! This low evening temperature is an important one for a turf manger since some diseases are very active if the temperature does not drop below 70 in the evening.
In addition to the stress to the grass plants, there is a physical and emotional component to this season. People get tired, worn down, a bit grouchy at times and relationships can suffer. Tempers flare, and courtesy and social graces can become scarce. Cooler weather will bring all back to normal.