Thursday, July 14, 2016

Offense, Defense, and Royal Troon!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Thursday, July 14th and the 145th Open Championship is underway at Royal Troon.  What an honor it must have been for Colin Montgomerie to hit the opening tee shot of this year's championship at the course that has meant so much to his family, not to mention the fact that now at age 53 he qualified for the event.  That's right, he successfully managed to advance through 36-hole qualifying in order to participate in this year's championship, that's a wonderful achievement.  

Anyway, we will make our way back to Royal Troon in a bit.  I want to talk with you first about our bentgrass putting greens and our management philosophy this time of year.  Second I will share with you a little more information about what we are currently doing in the natural/native areas and then I want to say a few words about saying goodbye to an old friend.

Bentgrass is a cool-season turf that performs quite well in our climate for approximately 9 to 10 months out of the year (September through May or June).  It's the remaining part of the calendar that can give professional turfgrass managers like me gray hair as we sometimes endure sleepless nights. Properly managing bentgrass through a transition zone summer has its challenges, but despite those challenges I still believe bentgrass produces a superior playing surface compared to alternative grasses, even in the summer.  Let me explain.

The other day I had an impromptu conversation with a member that inspired this post.  We talked about the putting surfaces and their overall quality for this time of year.  Things like surface smoothness, turf density, and yes, even putting speed.  The biggest knock against bentgrass in the summer is the inability to produce fast putting green speeds similar to experienced in the spring and fall.  First, you could produce faster green speeds but the grass would not survive for too long a period and then you would be left with no greens.  Second, if you stop and think about the playing surface from a different perspective I think you might be surprised.

Earlier I mentioned how the bentgrass thrives in our climate for about 9 months out of the year.  When the turf is growing in favorable conditions my staff and I manage the greens in an aggressive manner. In other words we play offense.  Our mowing heights are at their lowest and we use grooved rollers on our mowers to help achieve a tight cut.  We roll frequently to increase firmness and speed. Essentially everything we do is for the sake of producing high quality putting surfaces by today's standards (firm, smooth, and fast).  This is also why the club's golf calendar schedules all major events in the spring and fall.

In the stressful summer months we shift gears and play defense.  We raise the heights of cut and use smooth rollers on our mowers to protect sensitive leaf tissue.  We substitute rolling in place of mowing on some days when the temperature reaches extreme levels.  We vent more frequently to promote gas exchange.  Our moisture management is important year round but during these days it is critical in order to preserve and protect plant health.  The hot, humid conditions prevalent in our region this time of year elevates disease pressure requiring us to be extremely vigilant with our preventative fungicide programs.  Essentially everything we do is for the sake of plant health, because without healthy plants surviving the summer we will not be able to produce the quality surfaces you are accustomed to when fall temperatures return.

Here is where I think things get a little interesting.  When we play offense many of you play defense. Putting becomes more difficult and challenging because you are cautious and guarding against the possibility of the dreaded three-putt.  Rather than stroking putts with confidence and authority, you putt defensively.  Conversely, when we play defense you can play offense.  With smooth greens and slightly slower speeds you can putt more aggressively and freely at the hole without fear of running your first putt too far past.  In other words, you may actually hole more putts!  Although I've only managed to play one round here thus far this summer, I actually feel like I can shoot lower scores this time of year because I find the greens fun to putt.  I just embrace the slightly slower speeds because they actually remind me of what we will see on television this week as we watch The Open Championship.  I also heard a certain Committee Chairman recently made his way around the course in 62 strokes (Par 71), thus I'm quite sure he holed several putts. :)

Now, there are many more factors that affect putting green speed than just simply the height of cut. Moisture is definitely one of the biggest as humidity is a speed killer.  There is also sun, shade, wind, heat, cold, leaf wetness, soil moisture, soil firmness, and more.  The golf course is a living, breathing thing and all the elements of nature impact the way the course will play daily.  Here is an interesting link to a recent Course Care posting from the USGA Green Section regarding the factors affecting putting green speeds.  CLICK HERE

Last blog post I referenced how the staff had been working diligently to remove unwanted weeds from our cool-season (fescue) natural/native areas, but we needed to mow our warm-season (broomsedge, bluestem) areas to help restore order.  Despite a major holiday and a few afternoon thunderstorms containing high winds that deposited debris across the course and brought down a few trees, the staff has managed to complete the selective mowing.  We have also applied selective herbicide to these mowed areas to fully remove any unwanted plant material in order to allow the desirable warm-season grasses to flush out without competition.  The broomsedge, blue stem, and grammas will quickly bounce back and produce a seed stalk later this summer which will turn color in early fall enhancing the aesthetics of the golf course.  My team has also continued to make great progress in those fescue areas that are continuing to perform to expectations despite the current high temperatures. 

Broomsedge Area Mowed Behind 13 Green

Broomsedge Area Mowed and Sprayed

Fescues Near 14 Tee

Fescues Above 16 Green

And finally, this past Monday saw the removal of the large White Oak that stood guard near our nursery green (left of the path near No. 5 green).  You may recall last year we had to selectively remove some dead wood in the upper canopy.  This spring the tree again did not leaf out completely resulting in more dead wood and additional decaying wood.  Our consulting arborists from Arborguard performed multiple consultations and even a climbing inspection.  After reviewing the report the Committee did not hesistate to put first the safety of our members and guests and voted to remove the tree.
That area between the tree and nursery green has always been one of my favorite spots as I have taken and shared numerous pictures from that vantage point.  Superintendents and Course Managers sometimes get a bad rap for hating trees and/or wanting to remove all trees, but not all trees are bad and I will have nothing but fond memories of that tree.

One more thing, we will begin round 2 of fairway topdressing the week of July 25th.  During that time we will also aerate tees and collars.  That's all for now.  It's time to check on the leader board and see how things are going at Royal Troon. Billy McLachlan, Course Manager at Royal Troon is working his fifth Open Championship on those links.  He joined the greenkeeping staff there in 1981 and ascended to top rank in 1994.  I have it on good authority the greens are rolling about 10 feet on the Stimp meter for this championship.  A far cry from the speeds associated with the most recent major championship played, but in my opinion way better.  Enjoy The Open! 

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

1 comment:

  1. One of the best things about the slower greens is that you and your staff can use some of the more challenging pin placements. It is fun to see the pin in the back middle saddle on 17 (Tuesday) and on the end of spines (#4, #12). Plus you can use the front right pin on #10, #5 and #7 without fear that the members are going to show up at the maintenance facility with pitchforks and baseball bats. I hate slow greens but I love the challenging pins.