Editor’s note: Golf Course Industry is working with SePRO to tell the story of Zio Fungicide’s implementation into disease control programs. The three-part series will explore the reasons superintendents are turning to Zio, how they are using it and what the results are during the most trying moments of the 2020 season.
Ball marks can be nuisances, symbols of activity and sources of disruption to golf course maintenance routines. For Bill Irving, they can define the agronomic season.
Irving, the director of agronomy at Wolf Creek in suburban Kansas City, spends significant time in July and August observing the shot-induced alterations to the private club’s bentgrass greens. The methodology behind carefully constructed programs and practices becomes validated upon the impact of objects weighing 1.62 ounces or less.
Day after day, sweltering summer week after week, Irving and his team receive geometry lessons in turfgrass management. The bigger and deeper the ball marks, the more susceptible the turf becomes to myriad issues, including perplexing root Pythium, a major threat in the unforgiving Transition Zone environment where the Wolf Creek team operates.
“I have been saying this for years, me personally, I don’t manage greens for speed,” Irving says. “We manage them for firmness and smoothness first … and speed is typically a byproduct of that philosophy. The increase of ball mark size during the season tells me a lot. As you get softer and you get weaker roots, your ball marks become bigger and more explosive. When I watch balls hit into par 3s or wedge shots into par 4s and 5s, I watch how the ball reacts and what the size of that ball mark is. If our greens are relatively firm and smooth and react the way they should based on our inputs, to me, that’s success.”
Establishing roots sturdy enough to withstand the summer flight-and-land barrage is a year-round process that intensifies in the spring when annual spray programs commence. Superintendents tweak programs based on current, projected and historical weather, past successes and shortcomings, and collaboration with assistants, colleagues, researchers and partners. When soil temperatures and golfer activity increases, the industry begins learning how superintendents are incorporating new products into existing programs.
Wolf Creek made its first 2020 preventative Pythium application in late March. Irving is incorporating SePRO’s Zio Fungicide, an Organic Materials Review Institute-listed product labeled for Pythium, brown patch and anthracnose control, into sprays. Pythium and nematodes are Wolf Creek’s biggest disease and pest challenges. Both can lead to dimpled and discolored greens.
Using two products labeled for Pythium control in each spray and rotating active ingredients helped produce smooth and firm greens throughout the past two summers. Irving is keeping the rotation intact while adding a third active ingredient, Pseudomonas chlororaphis strain AFS009 found in Zio, to root Pythium applications. Since placing the winning bid on a 20-pound case of Zio donated by SePRO for the 2020 Golf Industry Show silent auction benefitting the GCSAA’s Environmental Institute for Golf, Irving has ordered additional cases of the fungicide in preparation for regular usage. “I feel like the peace of mind I get with not just having two active ingredients but a third one in our mix makes me more comfortable that we are doing the right thing,” he says.
The bentgrass/Poa annua greens at the Vineyard Golf Club in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, entered May void of ball marks. Massachusetts didn’t permit the return of golf until May 7, although the spring months are typically sleepy at the Vineyard, where the bulk of the membership waits until summer to enjoy the private course setting.
The Vineyard agreed to a local ordinance prior to its 2002 opening restricting pesticide use on new development. With the nearby Atlantic Ocean and soils beneath playing surfaces slow to warm, the Vineyard’s bentgrass remained slumbered, thus delaying the start of an unconventional spray program. Zio adds an option for brown patch and anthracnose control to a limited portfolio of products available to superintendent Kevin Banks.
“Not only do I live and work on an island, but I kind of have my own little work bubble,” says Banks, alluding to the geographic separation between Martha’s Vineyard and the Massachusetts mainland and the pesticide restrictions at the Vineyard. “I’m constantly on my laptop doing research. So much can occur overnight with what can happen or what you think can happen. You have to be on your toes at 5 a.m. when you see spores or fungus – and you have to act accordingly.”
Acting accordingly this summer includes incorporating Zio into a tank mix consisting of an OMRI-listed plant protectant, seaweed, ferrous sulfate and manganese sulfate. Unlike colleagues with access to traditional fungicides, Banks quickly turns to – and budgets for – promising new products fitting the rigid requirements of managing a modern golf course on Martha’s Vineyard.
“Zio will be included in our weekly sprays and we have enough inventory for it,” Banks says. “My goal was to start our program in early May and get through the end of September. Now it will be the middle of May and getting to early October, which is fine, too, because our falls the last three years have been more mild and wetter than what they have been in the past. I’m looking forward to seeing how Zio does in summer, how it does when we transition into fall, and how it’s managing brown patch and anthracnose like it’s labeled for when we see those pressures.”
While Irving monitors ball marks to determine how Wolf Creek’s programs are performing, Banks will compare regulation greens with a trio of short-game practice greens throughout the summer. The short-game greens are treated with a tank mix used on the Vineyard’s tees, approaches and practice areas. Zio will only be incorporated into the mix used on regulation greens.
“We’re going at the high-end rate with Zio, because we’re not mixing it with your basic chemistries,” Banks says. “We have found that going at high rates of these organic products is just a much better product for us. We’ll see the results of Zio when we hit July 4th. Our green spray isn’t exactly what we do on tees and approaches, but it’s pretty close and we’ll have a good idea if Zio is working or not. I’m very curious.”
As Banks awaited the return of golfers to Martha’s Vineyard, Tim Huber has observed a bevy of member activity at The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas. The combination of a mild (and dry) spring by Texas standards and people seeking quality outdoor recreation to interrupt the monotony of working from home increased the amount of weekday activity on the private club’s two golf courses. The lack of rain through mid-May temporarily reduced concerns of a spring Pythium outbreak.
From building construction to 40-yard dash times, everything seems to happen fast in Texas, including the potential for Pythium to infect Bermudagrass greens following a dousing. So, Huber has continued with a diligent preventative spray program.
The nucleus of the program resembles what protected the greens the previous year. But slight tweaks are made. This spring, for example, Huber worked Zio into a mix used on the Nicklaus Course greens. He applied Zio on a 28-day interval in a mix with other Pythium control products. “We use new products slowly at first,” Huber says.
“In the case of Zio, it’s a little bit easier, because it’s providing biological control,” he adds. “If it was a traditional fungicide, then it’s a little bit different. Every superintendent is going to ask, ‘Is it a safe product? Is it safe for my turf? What are the side effects? How many applications can I have?’ If they say you can only have three a year, then you’re going to have to get into a strategy of when it makes the most sense. If they say you can have 12 a year, then you can be a little more liberal with your applications. With Zio, you know it’s a product you can add into your sprays.”
Products with tank mixing capabilities are attractive to superintendents, especially considering the labor dilemmas surrounding golf course maintenance. Huber and Banks entered the second half of spring with smaller crews than last season. “Everybody is figuring out a way to be more efficient and still produce the same product to their golfers,” Huber says.
The Vineyard devotes significant labor to spraying. Greens, tees, approaches and practice areas are sprayed weekly during the peak season. The interval between fairway applications decreased from 14 days to every 7 to 10 last year. Enhanced turf quality has convinced Banks to spray playing surfaces with the same frequency and seek efficiencies elsewhere this summer.
“We’re not stopping with that program because I have seen how positive our results are in that short window,” he says. “The grass is so much better. Our spray program is important to what we do here and providing a good product.”
A superintendent maintaining a course far from the ocean working with traditional options requiring more time between sprays demonstrates similar confidence in his course’s 2020.
“The fewer apps we make, the less prone it makes us to resistance issues,” Irving says. “That’s why a rotation is so important to us. If Zio gives us a couple of extra days of protection, that’s really important to us because our weather is so unpredictable.” ?