Monday, October 26, 2015

A visit from Rafael Barajas

The GCSAA board of directors are working on getting out and interacting with chapters across the country. This past week, as a part of that effort, I was fortunate to host Director Rafael Barajas, CGCS. While the trip was relatively short, we were able to meet and visit with many superintendents of the Virginia GCSA. And although we wish we could have met with more chapters during that time, we hope in the future we can continue this outreach effort to meet with more chapters around the country and within the Mid-Atlantic region.

Rafael is a fifth-year director and has been the superintendent at Hacienda Golf Club in La Habra Heights, California since 1995. Our visit started off when I picked up Rafael at the airport on Sunday afternoon. From there, we enjoyed dinner with a few local superintendents and VGCSA Executive Director David Norman. It was an intimate group and provided ample opportunity for networking, discussion, and simply getting to know one another. 

On Monday, we participated in the Joe Saylor Tournament at Hermitage Country Club, just outside of Richmond. This tournament serves as a fundraiser for the Marines Toys for Tots Foundation, and over 100 toys were donated through the cause. Again, this event provided a great opportunity for Rafael to interact and meet members of the VGCSA. 

On Monday night, the VGCSA hosted their Annual Meeting in the clubhouse at Hermitage CC, where approximately 85 members were in attendance. In addition to a nice dinner and standard annual meeting business, the VGCSA honored three deserving members with awards for their respective career successes. Rick Viancour, CGCS, took home the Presidents Award for Lifetime Achievement, VGCSA's highest honor. Ken Giedd, CGCS, was recognized for his distinguished service, and delivered an eloquent speech that made it hard to believe he had not prepared any words beforehand. Lastly, Dan Taylor, CGCS, was honored for his environmental stewardship at Independence Golf Club. More on those awards here

On Tuesday, we attended the VGCSA annual conference, also hosted in the clubhouse at Hermitage CC. Rafael was part of great lineup of speakers, and he addressed the audience with "The GCSAA Perspective." Through that message, Rafael was able to prompt three new superintendents to sign up for GCSAA's Grassroots Ambassadors Program, which will help our government relations efforts in Virginia and across the country. 

In closing, I'd like to thank Rafael for taking time to visit the Mid-Atlantic region. The visit can certainly be deemed a success and we hope to get out and visit with more chapters in the future!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Where is your water coming from?

Unless you have been living in a hole, you have likely heard that California is in the midst of a historical drought. Consequently, golf courses residing in the state have been under the water-usage microscope. While this certainly presents challenges to our water-dependent industry, the situation also provides an opportunity to self-reflect, learn and try to get better in regards to water management.

I'm not here to sound the panic alarm, or shame our industry for using water. After all, in actuality, golf courses only use one half of one percent of all water withdrawn in the United States annually. And only 14 percent of golf courses use water from a municipal water supply. So you may be asking, "who cares then?" Well, a lot of people do, just read the news. I could go on with numerous anecdotal facts that support golf's claims as responsible users of water. And believe me, I buy into all of them. But that still doesn't mean that we can't improve.

Golf course irrigation can actually be mutually beneficial for golf, the environment, and other water consumers. How so? By using recycled water. In this story published by the Napa Valley Register, golf receives some positive PR as we learn about Napa Valley Country Club's conversion to recycled water. Sure, the upfront cost associated with installing the required infrastructure is certainly notable. But given the current state of water access in the state, I believe this is an investment well worth it. And as General Manager Todd Meginness points out, "aesthetically, environmentally, everybody wins. We'll be recharging the water table at the same time." Now that brings the initial point full circle.

Certainly, here in the Mid-Atlantic region, our weather conditions are quite different. We receive more rain, we experience a little season called winter when there is no need to irrigate (most of the time), and I would argue that public pressure for reducing water usage is not quite as high. But we still have a responsibility to do our due diligence and evaluate our current water management plans.

  • Do you have the ability to use reclaimed water? If so, what are the costs/benefits long-term and short-term?
  • How efficient is your current irrigation system? Have you audited recently?
  • Do you have a drought management plan in place?
  • Is there opportunity for irrigation reduction by replacing plantings with more drought tolerant plant species? 
  • Is your club or association part of a water conservation task force? Should it be? 
  • Do you have a relationship with your local water authority? Should you?
  • Do you use soil moisture meters to determine irrigation requirements?
  • Ever thought about building a retention pond and capturing runoff to use for irrigation?
The list goes on. As an industry we have more work to do with developing drought tolerant grasses, salt tolerant grasses, etc. A project that likely will never end, nor should it. Likewise, we are continually developing our BMPs, and water management is a key section. 

Similarly, water quality is not too different from water usage. Cue the Chesapeake Bay. Have you heard there is a water quality issue there? That is why I really like the idea of using recycled water, if at all possible. Not only does it benefit us, but it benefits everyone, and it is a great PR move for our industry. Maybe there are grants available. Maybe you and a local club could cost-share to get the appropriate infrastructure in place. Maybe the sanitation plant would cost-share. Maybe there would be tax write-offs. 

I don't know your specific situation. But I do believe it is our responsibility as an industry to evaluate our water management practices annually, and ask ourselves the question, "how is my water management, and how can I improve?"

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Turfgrass research at Virginia Tech University

This blog post is the final installment of a mini-series highlighting university turfgrass research around the Mid-Atlantic region. For this entry, we turn our focus to Virginia Tech University, a key contributor of turfgrass research for the golf industry and a valuable resource for superintendents. Like all university conducted research, many look here for unbiased information regarding new products and practices.

On August 26, nearly 100 individuals gathered to learn more about current research being conducted at the Blacksburg,Virginia-based university. The field day got started at 8:00 AM and was split in to two separate tours: one for the "golf" contingent, and another for "lawn care, sod, and athletics" folks. Among those two tours, a total of 19 stations were displayed and described by the researching faculty member and/or their graduate students. Throughout the tour, attendees listened to presentations about NTEP trials, fungicide evaluations, herbicide assessments and more.

One of the early presentations by David McCall talked about how drones will and will not change our management strategies. Interestingly, Mr. McCall believes that drones will be able to disseminate great information for turgrass managers, but there is a long way to go before we can maximize the potential of this technology. Ideally, one day we would be able to learn what areas of the golf course need special treatment, simply by looking at data collected by drones.

Another study, which measured the impact of annual bluegrass on golf putt trajectories, used a pretty interesting tool (pictured below) called "PendulumPerfect." The tool essentially mimics a perfect putt, with the most consistent ball-striking possible. In any research project, repeatable experimentation is a key component.

Plant hormones highlighted a study by Dr. Zhang that evaluates the effect of adding auxin to trinexapac-ethyl for increased rooting in creeping bentgrass. Can you imagine the possibilities here!? Pretty cool stuff. Similarly, evaluations of plant activators and pigments are looking at these products for increasing shade tolerance.

Other displays throughout the day included discussions on green kyllinga, seedhead suppression programs, moss control programs, and dollar spot reduction with iron sulfate. For more information on any of these studies, please visit for a full VA Tech research publication.

"PendulumPerfect" putting device

Dr. Askew discusses his research

Pylex research by Dr. Askew

A "tethered" drone system mounted on a golf cart

Discussing plant growth activators and shade tolerance

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Turfgrass research at the University of Maryland

The University of Maryland is a key contributor of turfgrass research for golf courses in the transition zone. As an important resource for superintendents around the region, many people look to this university for unbiased information regarding new products and practices around the industry. And with the recent hiring of pathologist Dr. Joseph Roberts, the program shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. On July 15, about 100 folks gathered for the University of Maryland Biennial Turfgrass Research Field Day at the Paint Branch Turfgrass Research Facility.

The field day consisted of 23 stations, each of which was highlighted by a brief description from the researching faculty member. Throughout the tour, attendees listened to presentations about NTEP trials, fungicide evaluations, fertilizer assessments, wetting agent studies and more.

Dr. Roberts' research is cruising already, as he evaluates fungicide programs for the control of dollar spot on creeping bentgrass playing surfaces. He will continue to collect data on these trials throughout the year, and hopes to gain further insight on how to maximize the efficacy of fungicide applications. Looking to the future, Dr. Roberts plans to study microbial populations in turfgrass systems, as well as develop integrated pest management strategies to limit the occurrence of turfgrass diseases. No question that the University of Maryland is lucky to have Dr. Roberts, and his energy and experience will be an asset to the program moving forward.

As I've written numerous times on this blog, BMPs are a big topic around the Mid-Atlantic and throughout the country. Hence, Dr. Mark Carroll and his graduate student, Xiayun Xiao, are experimenting with the implementation of BMPs to reduce runoff and lawn fertilizer use. What is most interesting is that a lot of these plots are used as educational platforms for showing people outside the industry the effects of different management practices. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and these plots give great visual evidence that lawn fertility (applied in appropriate capacities), promotes a healthier lawn, which in turn reduces nutrient runoff and leaching. In this experiment, plots that were mowed at 1 inch and not fertilized or treated with herbicides were almost completely overtaken by weeds. Conversely, plots mowed at 3 and 4 inches, even without fertility or herbicides, showed a greater reduction in weed incidence, given the thicker stand of turf. However, the healthiest of plots were those that had a higher height of cut and received appropriate levels of fertility.

I was especially interested in research evaluating the practical application of using microclover in lawns to reduce nitrogen applications. Clover is a legume, which produces its own nitrogen in the soil. Breeding programs have developed this "microclover" in hopes that it can be implemented in home lawns to reduce the requirement for N fertilization. While you may initially be skeptical, I believe there is a future for it. In my own observation, the microclover sits underneath the turfgrass canopy enough that you really can't even see it while looking over the lawn. And while it doesn't completely eliminate all fertilizer applications, I believe it is a necessary consideration for an industry that is facing a possible county-wide pesticide ban just a few miles down the street from University of Maryland.

In a not-so-dissimilar study, Dr. Tom Turner is evaluating the effects of various nitrogen sources on annual grass and total weed coverage. Again, this research helps support collaborative efforts with the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program and local ordinances aimed at eliminating lawn care inputs. In short, 3 pounds N/1000 square feet per year from urea nitrogen sources proved to eliminate total weed coverage more than the 1 pound rate. Furthermore, urea fertilizers seemed to suppress weed pressure more than organic sources. That being said, N rate proves to have a greater significance on weed pressure than does N source.

In closing, a big thanks to all of the University of Maryland faculty and staff who continue to do great work on behalf of the turf and golf industries. As these ongoing experiments wrap up this fall, I'm sure you will be hearing more about this research during winter educational seminars and beyond.

Dr. Roberts talks about dollar spot research on creeping bentgrass turf.
Dr. Turner presents some of his field research.
Xiayun Xiao explains her graduate research.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Turfgrass research at Penn State University

We all know how important university research is to the vitality and future success of our industry. This post will serve as the first feature of a blog mini-series highlighting the research being conducted around the Mid-Atlantic region. Next time, I will take you inside the research programs at the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech. To get us started, here is a little bit of what's going on in Happy Valley.

Dr. Max Schlossberg's research trials on Kentucky bluegrass are evaluating efficiency and recovery of controlled-release granular nitrogen fertilizers. These studies involve weekly measures of canopy color/density, growth, and fertilizer-N recovery. Field trials investigating organic N fertilizers and liming agents are also underway. Lastly, the Turfgrass Nutrition team is repeating several flux-chamber studies measuring ammonia volatilization (loss) following foliar and granular applications of urea and stabilized-urea fertilizers. The outcomes of this N-fertilizer research include guidance on fertilizer selection, rate(s), and cultural practice that support resilient golf course roughs, sports fields, and lawns; while limiting non-point N loading of water resources.

Dr. Ben McGraw and his team are working on interesting research involving turfgrass ants. Some believe that turfgrass ants are major predators of Annual Bluegrass Weevil (ABW) eggs, and Dr. McGraw wants to learn more. By monitoring these ant colonies using pit-fall traps and ABW egg stations, the entomology team hopes to gain insight into the impact that ants have on ABW populations. In answering this question, Dr. McGraw would gain insight on whether conserving these ants on fairways may actually help reduce ABW populations in the future.

Speaking of ABW, Dr. McGraw’s graduate student, Ben Czyzewski, is researching how different greens cultural practices (mowing height and N fertility) affect ABW survival rates, egg laying, and larval development. Since ABW damage is rarely reported on greens, this research helps gain insight into whether or not ABW can lay eggs on greens-height grass.  Furthermore, Ben is learning more about ABW foraging activities using a time lapse camera – pretty cool. He actually marks the adult ABWs with a UV pen, and then can easily pick up their activity on the camera. 

Dr. Kaminski and his research technician, Tim Lulis, are embarking on a long-term study looking at how to maximize playability without compromising plant health. In short, what is the point of diminishing returns when it comes to high intensity management and the expected gains? The idea is to come up with a sort of mathematical equation that can be used to attain maximum playability with the fewest necessary inputs. Think: Is that extra roll or cut necessary to attain speeds of “X”? Or, given “X” weather conditions, your greens can only attain “Y” speeds, with “Z” inputs. Complex, yes. But they hope this information is useful for tournament preparation in the future.

Some of the influencing factors include mowing frequencies, mowing heights, etc. As far as data collection, there is a ton, including thermal photography, ball roll, and plant color and quality. They are currently working on a bentgrass green, with plans to replicate the study on a fine fescue green as well. Pretty interesting.

Dr. Landschoot is working on some research that aims to control poa annua within a Kentucky bluegrass stand. While controlling poa is hard enough, controlling poa in a stand of Kentucky bluegrass is even harder, since both grasses are in the same genus. His research is showing a positive response to an Exonerate and Tenacity mixture. In this case, the exonerate kills the poa, and the Tenacity serves as a pre-emergent. While there is some phytotoxicity associated with this treatment, the results are pretty promising. 

Lastly, Dr. Andy McNitt and Tom Serensits, manager of Sports Turf Research, are working on a project looking at the playability of warm season grasses on athletic fields in northern climates. The trial is evaluating three bermudagrasses up against new Kentucky bluegrasses. Some of the evaluation parameters include traction and divot resistance. In other work, the McNitt group is experimenting with fraze mowing and various sodding techniques for NFL fields. 

In closing, I'd like to thank all of the Penn State Turfgrass Faculty and Staff for presenting their research, and the hard work they continue to put forth to serve our industry. 

A view of Valentine Turfgrass Research Center
Dr. McGraw's pitfall traps placed around a turfgrass ant colony
A look at Dr. Landschoot's poa control study

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A story of winter recovery

We are well aware of the brutal conditions that the Mid-Atlantic region experienced this past winter. Horror stories of devastation on greens swept through the grapevine. Undoubtedly, turf kill was widespread. These situations require a lot of hard work and patience for recovery, and often times our golfer clientele do not fully understand the unpredictability of winter kill, nor the time and effort it takes to recoup putting surfaces. However, sometimes they do understand, and it's always nice to hear positive feedback from our customers during testy times.

That's why we were delighted when we got a phone call from Valley Country Club member Larry Klemow, praising the work of his superintendent, Eric Reed, CGCS. Eric has been busy babying his greens back to health after a challenging winter. Larry said of Eric's hard work, "There's a whole bunch of people who like you, and a whole bunch who don't. I'm one of those on his side. It's because of how much he respects his golf course."

Eric had nearly 20 percent damage on his greens coming out of winter, the worst he has ever had. He and a group of industry friends (volunteers) replaced approximately 8,000-9,000 plugs by taking live turf from the edge of greens and replacing it with the damaged plugs. This method allowed him to complete the work as quickly as possible since he eliminated the travel time of hauling plugs from another location. In working through restoration, Eric said communication to his greens committee was important for setting realistic expectations of recovery time.

As is typical with winter kill, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what caused the damage, but Eric believes it was a combination of crown hydration and ice cover. In preparing for next year, he plans on being diligent with his K fertility, as well as improve surface drainage by stripping and lowering the greens' collars.

Eric was also quick to acknowledge those who loaned a helping hand, and wants to recognize those individuals: Brian Bachman, Genesis Turfgrass; Charlie Miller, CGCS, The Springhaven Club; Patrick Knelly, Sugarloaf Golf Club; Matt Kuchta, Sugarloaf GC; Joe Horan, Sugarloaf GC; Chris Snopkowski, Wyoming Valley Country Club; Scott Kotula, Wyoming Valley CC; Chuck Usher, Blue Ridge Trail Golf Club.

As the saying goes, "a picture says a thousand words," so take a look:

Best of luck to Eric for the 2015 season!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Pennsylvania Golf Day rendered a success

On Tuesday, June 9, we made golf history in the Keystone State. This date marked our first ever Pennsylvania Golf Day hosted in Harrisburg, the state's capital.

What's Pennsylvania Golf Day? It's an opportunity. An opportunity to tell golf's story. An opportunity to build relationships with the legislators who govern the land where we reside and work. For superintendents specifically, an opportunity to promote ourselves as professional land managers and stewards.

We had seven participating organizations from around the state, including the CMA, two PGA sections, Pennsylvania Golf Owners (PGO), Western PA Golf Association (WPGA), Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP), and, of course, the PGCSA.

Throughout the day, participants engaged in about 80 meetings with state legislators and/or their staff. We talked about golf's economic impact in Pennsylvania – almost $2 billion annually. We talked about the number of jobs golf creates in the state – about 30,000 with a payroll approaching $500 million. We talked about the charitable contributions of golf – almost $4 billion annually across the U.S. We also met with chairmen of the committees that are responsible for fertilizer and drought legislation in the state, both of which impact the way we do business.

By cultivating these relationships with our state government, it improves our chance of having a "seat at the table" when new bills are proposed, or existing legislation is reviewed. If we can establish the trust that empowers our legislators to seek our opinions, then we are doing ourselves and our industry a great service.

In addition to the meetings, we had a large exhibit set up in the East Wing rotunda of the main capitol building. Imagine a trade show. There was a hitting simulator (huge draw), a putting green and booths for each participating organization. At our table, we promoted our BMP manual, multiple irrigation technologies, different types of turf plugs and anything else that highlighted water, fertilizer or environmental management. Anybody – including legislators – coming through the rotunda that day could stop and talk with us. The traffic was steady.

Everyone that participated found the day worthwhile and educational. Not only does this day help us promote the industry we love, but there is a great deal of learning that takes place simply by engaging. I think it's safe to render Pennsylvania Golf Day 2015 a great success. We look forward to building on that momentum in 2016!
Superintendents promoting our profession.
Left to right: Chase Rogan, Micah Lowell, Senator Vulakovich and  Tim Fitzgerald.
Our state's great capitol building.
A patron steps up to hitting simulator.