Friday, August 12, 2016

Outbreak, Back Side of Summer, Championships, and Ball Marks!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"!  Today is Friday, August 12th and I'm happy to report it appears we are on the verge of surviving another very challenging summer.  My apologies for taking so much time between this post and my last, but my staff and I have had our hands full since the conclusion of Independence Day.  I'm going to share with you some information that will put everything you currently see on the golf course in greater context and talk about a few things right around the corner, so let's go.

Since August's arrival the golf course has received 1.63 inches rain.  That is more than we received the entire month of July when only 1.44 inches fell on Carolina Golf Club.  More importantly, this most recent week filled with periods of showers (some heavy at times) has been mostly cloudy brought upon by the constant flow of moisture from the south fueling the rain events.  Although cloudy conditions can disrupt the photosynthetic processes of plants, the clouds have helped to trim temperatures significantly from the mid and upper 90's we endured the last week of July.  Also, the rain has given our pump station several nights rest which is always a good thing this time of year.

This brief period of "relief" has helped our bentgrass putting surfaces "catch their breath" if you will while the moist, humid conditions have helped create the thickest, densest, most uniform rough Carolina Golf Club has ever seen.  The golf course definitely has some teeth right now if you stray from the fairway.  But back to the greens "catching their breath".  Although still very humid and uncomfortable, the decline in temperatures has slightly reduced the stress the plants were under and we've seen more recovery in our summer blemishes (AKA "battle scars").

Two days ago I was having a brief phone conversation with a former classmate of mine, Sean Baskette.  Sean is the golf course superintendent of Hidden Valley C.C. in Salem, VA and we were comparing notes on how summer has treated our respective golf courses.  They have endured way more rain in Virginia than we have, but temperatures and dew point levels are mostly comparable.  It was funny that we both agreed June was virtually uneventful.  Neither of us could recall anything about the first month of summer that really stood out from a turf care perspective.  

I recall examining the overall quality of our putting greens on Friday, July 1st and thinking to myself the greens were in excellent condition.  One week later I was telling Assistant Superintendent Ben Albrecht to meet me the following morning at 4:30 am so we could make a fungicide application to stop the spread of a turfgrass disease outbreak.  The fungus responsible lives in the soil and we routinely make preventative applications in order to keep the disease from expressing itself, but one thing you quickly learn in this business is Mother Nature is always in control, no matter the best of plans.  When the environmental conditions favorable for disease development are at their peak, sometimes there isn't anything you can do.

We encountered an outbreak of Pythium Root Rot (I know, it sounds terrible) for the first time since 2012.  Turns out this PRR outbreak was widespread throughout the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic and brought on by untimely rains in conjunction with high dew points (humidity).  Here at Carolina Golf Club we received rainfall on the afternoons of July 5th, 7th, and 8th.  These three rain events totaled exactly 0.34" meaning our greens remained wet in the upper portion of the soil profile (where the fungus resides) for too lengthy a period.  
PRR on Putting Green
Notice Dense Wall of Vegetation Nearby

Our quick actions and emergency recovery application the morning of July 9 worked to stop the spread of the disease and the greens have been getting better ever since.   Despite the unsightly appearance of lingering blemishes, the crowns of the plants are alive and will generate new leaves when more favorable weather for bentgrass returns to our region.  However, although we stopped the fungus in its tracks overall plant recovery has been slowed due to the extreme heat and humidity that has gripped our region the past several weeks following the outbreak.  

Just recently it was released that July 2016 ended up as the third hottest July ever in Charlotte.  The hottest was in 1993 and the second hottest in 1986 which means not only was July 2016 very uncomfortable, but it was the hottest July experienced in the Queen City in 23 years!  However, there is an old adage that says, "It ain't the heat, it's the humidity!" and I cannot express to you how true that is when it comes to the health and performance of your bentgrass putting greens. 

I can tell you it's been at least 4 or 5 years since we have endured humid conditions such as we are currently experiencing.  There is a reason why certain greens have a fan placed nearby and it is not a coincidence those greens are in better health than several without fans.  Bentgrass is a cool-season turf and the plant must fight for survival during the most extreme of conditions.  Air movement is critical to overall turf health because stagnant, humid air over the plant canopy prevents the plant from cooling itself.  Just like perspiration remains on your skin making you uncomfortable on humid days, the turf is attempting to cool itself by releasing moisture through leaf openings call stomata. When a humid air mass hovers over the plant canopy that moisture released through the leaf openings cannot evaporate and the turf becomes very uncomfortable to say the least.  Fans clear the humid air mass out of the way allowing the plant to function normally.

No. 1 with fan

No. 8 with fan

No. 13 with fan

No. 15 (No Fan)

But don't let all this talk about turf diseases and unfavorable weather patterns alarm you.  Last week I asked Dr. Jim Kerns, Turfgrass Pathologist of N.C. State University to stop by and have a look.  He was in the area visiting several courses and was kind enough to stop by and visit with me and members of my team (Assistant Superintendent, Ben Albrecht and Intern, Jeremy Smith pictured below).  We took real close looks at several greens, talked about the symptoms and climatic conditions experienced this season, and our nutrition and fungicide programs.  

Dr. Jim Kerns

Talking Turf With Staff

In all Dr. Kerns was impressed with the overall condition of our putting surfaces (except for the recent ball mark epidemic) and expressed we were in far greater shape than others.  Several courses in our region have been forced to close for brief periods due to the extreme conditions experienced this summer.  He encouraged us to continue trusting our instincts and keep doing what we've been doing (try to keep them as dry as possible without getting too dry; difficult challenge in such humid conditions).  And there is good news on the horizon.  Yesterday marked the "official" end to the Dog Days of Summer despite this morning's oppressive humid conditions, and the laws of physics are in our favor.  I mean, the calendar may still say August but the days are already getting shorter.  Shorter days means longer nights and longer nights means there is a greater possibility for temperatures to drop to levels more conducive for our turf.  You see, when you wake up at 4:00 am to find the temperature outside is still somewhere between 76 to 82 degrees you know the bentgrass is not happy.  When nighttime temperatures remain elevated, the greens are not able to fully recover from the stress of the day before reentering the next stressful daytime period.  In other words, think of it like this, how refreshed and energetic would you feel if you slept through the night with a pillow held over your face.  Probably not too good. So take solace in knowing relief is just around the corner.

In other news, this year will mark the first time Carolina Golf Club has hosted a competitive round of the Charlotte City Amateur since 2013, but more importantly this year we host the final round of the 2016 championship.  It is exciting to have the opportunity to showcase your golf course for the best players in the Queen City.  This year's Charlotte City Amateur is August 19-21 with round 1 at Providence C.C., round 2 at Myers Park C.C., and round 3 here at Carolina on Sunday, August 21st!  

Shortly after the city championship it will be time to focus our attention on the Club Championship contested this year September 3-5.  Immediately following this year's tournament we will close for two days (Tuesday and Wednesday, September 6-7) for putting green aeration.  During that same time we will topdress all fairways and approaches with an additional 300 tons of sand.

Finally, I inserted a comment earlier regarding ball marks.  This coming Sunday, August 14 is National Repair Your Pitchmark Day in the U.K.  I've tried to help support this cause the past couple of years via social media and as I've always said, "everyday should be national repair your pitchmark day." Here is a really cool video just released by the good folks at Golf Channel that helps explain the little things you (the golfer) can do to help make your course better.  It features former Carolina member Gary Williams and former Fort Mill, SC resident Charlie Rymer so in some ways you might think of this PSA as home grown.  The entire video is full of great information but please pay attention to the 3:12 mark as Charlie demonstrates the proper method required to repair a ball mark.

See you on the course,

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG

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