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 Vaturf.org 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.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

MAAGCS receives 'Circle of Friends' award

GCSAA chapters across the nation are dedicated to supporting and serving their local universities. Recently, the Mid-Atlantic Association of Golf Course Superintendents was recognized for their exceptional achievements in doing just that. 

Tip of the cap to this group. The association was acknowledged with the Circle of Friends Award from the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. A fine distinction. Mike Barrett, CGCS and MAAGCS past president, accepted the award at the AGNR alumni banquet on April 16. The award is given to an organization that demonstrates "out of the ordinary service" to the college.
In the presentation, the chapter was recognized for its contributions to research, scholarship opportunities for students, contributions to offset travel expenses for GCSAA Turf Bowl teams and for consistently waiving registration fees for students at chapter education events. You make us proud, MAAGCS. 

MAAGCS Past President Mike Barrett, CGCS, receives the Circle of Friends Award from Dean Cheng-i Wei (left)
and Alumni Association President Robert Morris (right).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Promoting golf during Earth Day

Golf is a game played on earth's great landscapes. A chance to be outdoors, enjoying some of life's finest scenery, golf seems to bring people to a state of serenity and joy. From weather to wildlife, to scents of fresh cut grass and wild plants, what's not to love about the outdoors?

As Earth Day 2015 falls upon us (April 22), it's important that we highlight and share some of golf's greatest attributes regarding environment and sustainability. Below are 10 facts that you can share with others that will promote our sport in the context of Earth Day and beyond.

1.   Golf courses are professionally managed landscapes where environmental stewardship is important – from using water and nutrients more efficiently to implementing more and better methods of erosion control.
2.   In general, the golf industry is striving to deliver firm and fast playing surfaces that are better for everyone and improve the bottom line. More than two-thirds of golf courses report that they keeping turfgrass drier than in the past.
3.   The golf industry is continually investing in research to identify drought-tolerant grasses and improve water conservation through best management practices.
4.   Golf courses use only one-half of 1 percent of all water withdrawn annually in the United States.
5.   Only 14 percent of golf courses use water from a municipal water supply – with most using water from on-course lakes, ponds and recycled water sources.
6.   Golf courses provide environments for wildlife, including protected species.
7.   Updated and targeted irrigation systems and ground moisture reading tools, along with weather monitoring systems, provide the science to water only when and where it is needed.
8.   Golf courses routinely have recycling programs to reduce and reuse, with an ultimate goal of zero waste.
9.   More than 90 percent of a typical golf course is turfgrass, a water body or other natural areas that prevent erosion, serve to filter runoff, and provide for cooler temperatures in urban settings.
10. Through governmental affairs, professional education and public information, the golf industry is striving to make environmental responsibility a basic premise.