Another flip or two of the maintenance-facility wall calendar should be enough to determine whether a record number of golfers turns out again this year.
Turf and aquatic plant and algae growth, on the other hand, is far more predictable.
No matter where you work, no matter your local weather, odds are good you will turn to plant growth regulators and — if you have lakes, ponds, even streams on your property — some sort of aquatic treatment plan. But when should you start? How much should you use? What sort of control can you expect?
We talked with a trio of turf maintenance experts for the first story in a series filled with tips and best practices designed to help you master plant growth and aquatics.
What works best for you?
Every course and every growing environment is different.
“You need to evaluate what you have on your course before you try to develop a program based on what someone else is doing,” says Dan Grogan, superintendent at The Sagamore Club in Noblesville, Indiana. “What I’m doing might not work for someone else who has a higher percentage of Poa.”
Grogan, for instance, manages three acres of A1 bentgrass greens and a combined 40 acres of Seaside 2 tees and fairways north of the Transition Zone. It makes sense for him to apply about 10 ounces of SePRO Legacy PGR per acre on greens and 16 ounces per acre on tees and fairways every two weeks from St. Patrick’s Day or April Fool’s Day to Halloween. “It just depends on the weather and how much growth we’re getting from the turf,” he says.
But what if you’re in a different part of the country? What if you have more extreme weather patterns? “The No. 1 thing you need to focus on is what is your goal when you’re developing a PGR program,” Grogan says. “Is it to sustain what you have? Or is it to improve what you have? Do you want to reduce your Poa? Do you want to keep the Poa you have healthy? Ours revolves around keeping Poa out and minimized throughout the growing season, but there are people who will need to keep their Poa alive.
“Just having a goal you want to accomplish, you can build a program from that.”
When you introduce a new product or design a new application program, Grogan recommends starting small. “Try it on a driving range tee or a par 3 fairway, a chipping green or a nursery, to see what response you get from the plant before you do a full blanket application.”
Brian Stiehler employs a similar approach at Highlands Country Club, where he has worked as the superintendent for almost two decades. Tucked within the Nantahala National Forest, Highlands is a “temperate rainforest,” where the average annual rainfall is about 100 inches — and where the 2020 rainfall topped 140 inches.
“I started at the lower rates and worked my way up,” says Stiehler, who recently switched to SePRO Cutless PGR because of consistency and reliability. “I think five to 10 ounces is the label rate and we’re spraying about eight ounces every two weeks. I like the results of that. You can always spray more, but you can’t take it away if it’s too much.”
Know what you have
Highlands Country Club is nearly a century old and for most of that time the five-acre lake on the property was nearly untouched. Aquatic weed issues prompted Stiehler to dive in — proverbially, at least, if not quite literally — and have the lake hydraulically dredged in late 2014.
“They say whenever you dredge your lake, you stir up all the sediment on the bottom,” Stiehler says. “It releases nutrients that were in the sediment and it stirs up all the weed seed that might be down there. Before then, we didn’t have much of an aquatic weed problem. They were natural for 50 years or more until we started stirring up the lake.” Bladderwort blooms followed.
Around that same time, Stiehler studied for and received his state aquatics pesticide license, taking over maintenance of the lake — and the property’s handful of ponds and streams — from a local company he had contracted to spray each month.
“They were doing a good job, but they were getting so many customers and they were so busy that they were basically coming around once a month whether the pond needed it or not, and that wasn’t cutting it,” Stiehler says. One month, the ponds might not need any treatment. Other months, “you could practically walk on the pond, there was so much algae. “I needed more consistency.”
Because he works so closely with — and often in — the water, Stiehler can talk all about its quality, its pH level (he tests twice every year), its buffering capacity. Stiehler uses the lake for irrigation and knows that everything he puts in it will eventually wind up on the turf. And with ponds, he says, “you have to be careful because you’re not only affecting your property but also everybody downstream from you.” He opts for a suite of SePRO aquatic herbicides.
Jeremy Vingson has far more water than Stiehler and a similar approach. The assistant superintendent at Foxfire Golf & Country Club in Naples, Florida, Vingson is “constantly” checking the 43 acres of lakes on the property. “We do water tests maybe three times a year, just to know where our pH is,” says Vingson, who works with his father, veteran superintendent Jonathan Vingson. “We’re pretty neutral here. We test how hard our water is and how much magnesium, calcium and dissolved salts we have. That’s very important when it comes to using our lakes to irrigate. We’re always checking the quality of our water.
“It’s always important to know what’s in your irrigation water and what you’re putting on your grass,” says Vingson, who most often treats the lakes with SePRO Sonar Genesis Aquatic Herbicide. “I need to know exactly what I’m putting on my greens. For example, if we’re going to spray a type of herbicide, my water needs to be at a neutral pH so the efficacy of that herbicide does what it needs to do. I think about a lot.
“Water is the most important thing for the golf course. If you don’t have water, you don’t have grass.”
Like Grogan and Stiehler, Vingson is a dedicated PGR user — Foxfire features TifEagle greens and a mix of Tifway 419 Bermudagrass and Celebration Bermudagrass on fairways.
“Especially in the summer, when your grass is thriving in the warm weather, instead of going out there and keeping up with the mowing, you just use a little PGR wall to wall,” he says. “That slows down the growth of the grass and keeps it healthier and less maintenance-intensive. We also use PGRs on our greens. We’re always using PGRs on our greens.”
More recently, Vingson also implemented another simple plan to keep the turf strong. Even before the nearly 14 percent national surge in rounds played last year over 2019, he introduced Enter and Exit signs throughout the course, marking where golfers could drive their carts.
“We found it really helped with traffic,” Vingson says. “When we’re pumping out close to 400 rounds a day, especially with the pandemic and single-rider carts, if we just allowed everybody to drive where they wanted to, carts would go everywhere. We implemented those signs and we rotate them daily.” The rotation is 10 or 11 days, “and that really helps the wear of the rough and the fairway. That helps us a lot.”
The response, Vingson says, has been amazing.
“By implementing those signs, we were able to remove all the green stakes and all the ropes we had previously used. If all the golfers and members follow those signs, we can mitigate traffic and remove those unsightly green stakes.”
The wear and tear dropped, the turf health improved. Removing stakes and posting signs are far less scientific than ramping up a new PGR or aquatic plan, but the end goal is the same: improve course conditions and make it that much more beautiful for everybody. ?