Tyler Ingram knows tough growing environments.
Born and educated in Tennessee, where wacky weather swings are the norm, Ingram started his professional career at Big Spring Country Club in Louisville, Ky., before returning to his native state. Like stifling heat rising on pavement, Ingram experienced a quick rise, landing his first head superintendent job in 2014.
Looking back, Ingram was destined to work outdoors – his father and brother are Tennessee state park rangers. “I wouldn’t know what to do if I tried working outside the golf industry,” he says. “I love it.”
It takes passion, along with grit, knowledge, industry support and a sense of humor, to handle the rigors of his job. Ingram is in his fifth season as the superintendent at Bluegrass Yacht & Country Club, a private facility with a Johnny Cash Parkway address in Hendersonville, 20 miles north of booming Nashville. If Cash had composed a ballad about maintaining Nashville turf , it would undoubtedly possess a melancholic tone.
“That really is in the core of the Transition Zone,” Syngenta senior technical representative Dr. Lane Tredway says. “Hot and humid summers that are really tough for growing cool-season grasses and then very cold winters that are difficult for growing warm-season grasses.”
Ingram and his team maintain multiple varieties of grasses. The challenges are enormous, yet the rewards are immense.
Ultradwarf Bermudagrass greens are emerging in several Transition Zone markets, but conversions aren’t occurring as rapidly in Nashville, Tredway says. Opened in 1951, Bluegrass Yacht & CC is typical of an older course: the greens are small (slightly over two acres for the entire course) and covered with bentgrass.
The A-1/A-4 greens are ideal during winters like this past one when temperatures plunged into the single digits. But they can morph from tame to tricky when Nashville experiences runs of 90-degree days in June, July and August.
Bluegrass Yacht & CC’s fairways are tree-lined and covered with a new variety of turfgrass. As part of a significant renovation in 2017, the club sprigged its fairways with Latitude 36 Bermudagrass. The project also included irrigation, bunker and drainage enhancements.
Playability sparked the decision to convert from Vamont to Latitude 36 Bermudagrass fairways. A denser surface with more leaf blade will allow the fairways to maintain satisfactory playability through winter, Ingram says. He adds he will maintain the fairways at around ½ inch for most of the summer.
A new variety of fairway grass has led to changes in Ingram’s chemical program. Spring dead spot is a major disease concern on Bermudagrass fairways in the Transition Zone, and Ingram treated fairways with two applications of Velista this past fall. He’s applying the broad-spectrum SDHI fungicide again this spring.
Tredway calls spring dead spot “the big” problem on Bermudagrass fairways in the Transition Zone and falling behind on control can create major issues. “The recovery is slow and it can negatively impact playability into summer in a severe case,” he says. “Unfortunately, with spring dead spot, there’s nothing you can do from a curative standpoint to speed up the recovery, so it’s about preventative fungicide applications in the fall to protect that Bermudagrass during the winter dormancy period.”
All surfaces must be prepared for year-round play. “Our members expect it to be the best it can be whether it be January or whether it be August,” Ingram says. “My job is to exceed their expectations. It doesn’t matter what day or month it is. We still have to put out a product that they feel justified paying a monthly membership for that’s worth having them come out and play.”
Lessons from a life in the Transition Zone guide Ingram’s agronomic decisions. While he has kept journals since arriving at Bluegrass Yacht & CC, the data offers little insight into what a new year might bring because the annual weather isn’t repetitious. Instead, he expects brutal and relishes benign.
“I always plan for the worst,” he says. “I always plan for the hottest summer and plan for the coldest winter. You kind of balance it out in between. That’s the way I go about it. I definitely stock up in case any problems arise in the summer. If we have an outbreak of disease, I always have something on hand, so I don’t have to worry.” Effective water management is key to producing high-quality greens bentgrass greens in the Transition Zone, and Ingram says his crew can be hand watering as early as April and as late as October in a challenging year. To control abiotic stresses, Ingram complements careful irrigation practices with a reliable fungicide rotation. In addition to Velista, staples include Appear, Briskway, Daconil Action and Heritage Action.
Velista, Ingram says, also offers large patch control. Bluegrass Yacht & CC features a mix of zoysiagrass and Bermudagrass tees, with the zoysiagrass offering the ability to provide quality tees in shaded spots. “Velista has worked really well on large patch,” Ingram says, “and you’re getting your spring dead spot control.”
Ingram’s pest management program includes a wall-to-wall spring application of Acelepryn to ensure grubs don’t affect turf. “I try to get out early in the season to control that,” he says. Ingram plans on conducting a nematode assay in May and will incorporate Divanem, which was released last year, into his program.
Bluegrass Yacht & CC supports close to 20,000 rounds per year. Implementing a solid preventative spray program allows surfaces to perform at consistent levels.
Daconil Action, which includes the active ingredient Acibenzolar-S-methyl, plays multiple roles in Ingram’s program. For starters, the fungicide offers algae control when sultry temperatures follow a summer dousing, Ingram says. Acibenzolar-S-methyl also boosts the vigor of Bluegrass Yacht & CC’s turf. Applying Heritage Action further infuses the plant with Acibenzolar-S-methyl.
“You get a great response from the Action products,” Ingram says. “The response from Acibenzolar is something you definitely see. The plant just responds a whole lot better when you are spraying the Action products.”
Acibenzolar-S-methyl, Tredway says, stimulates expression of a set of “different proteins in the plant.” Some of those proteins protect cell components from multiple stresses, including heat and desiccation, while minimizing excessive evapotranspiration. “It’s been an extremely valuable tool for those superintendents that are still trying to maintain creeping bentgrass in the Transition Zone,” he says.
Early in his career, Ingram pointed to Aug. 15 as the key date for assessing the quality of turf. But as prolonged summer temperatures and humidity levels increase abiotic stresses, Ingram and his team often experience delayed gratification – and relaxation.
“It’s mow and go and you’re going from sun up to sundown,” he says. “And when you finally get to that point where you make it through, it’s definitely relieving and rewarding at the same time.”