Persistent heat, drought and flooding strain golf courses nationally

Superintendents dealing with extreme conditions again this year

Extended periods of excessive heat, widespread moderate to severe drought, and pockets of flooding have beset golf courses for the second consecutive year, putting a strain on revenues, golfers and the professionals who manage the game’s playing fields … golf course superintendents.

“We saw widespread turf loss last year, and the feedback from our members is that this year has the potential to be as severe,” Golf Course Superintendents Association of America President Bob Randquist, certified golf course superintendent at Boca Rio Golf Course in Boca Raton, Fla., said.

Researchers, university extension agents and golf course superintendents agreed that the conditions last summer were the worst in decades in terms of the geographic scope, Randquist said. The impact of this year’s weather … although not as widespread … will not be determined for a few weeks, but he indicated superintendents are pulling out all the stops to counter the wrath of Mother Nature.

Superintendents have implemented a variety of management practices such as reducing green speeds by raising cutting heights and rolling less frequently; less mowing frequency; restricting cart traffic; increased hand watering; reducing/postponing verticutting and topdressing activities; if aerifying, doing so with small tines; and reducing of fertilization programs.

“The simple fact is the cool-season turfgrasses such as bentgrass, fescue, bluegrass, annual bluegrass (Poa annua) and others are stressed with sustained high temperatures and humidity,” Randquist said. “Golf courses in many parts of the country experience this every year, however what made the situation so dire last year and now have been the high levels of extended heat and humidity, and the sizeable part of the country affected.

“Certainly homeowners, athletic fields and businesses suffer turfgrass damage brought on by these kinds of conditions. What makes it more difficult for golf facilities are the mowing heights are much lower and traffic is much heavier. That just adds to the stress on the turfgrass.”

Also unknown is what the final impact of flooding will be. Some courses were under water for extended periods of time so the turf started the season already in a compromised position.

Randquist also cautioned golfers from thinking that water, whether from rain or irrigation, is the answer to the ills. There is a difference between heat stress and drought stress. Adequate irrigation will alleviate drought stress. Adequate irrigation will not alleviate heat stress. It is not only possible, but likely, for a turfgrass plant to be adequately watered and still suffer from heat stress under extended periods of high temperatures.

Randquist urged golfers and leaders at golf facilities not to panic. Every golf course is unique and thus reacts to the weather extremes differently. Variations in soil conditions, air movement, shade, water quality and availability, and budget make course comparisons a dangerous proposition.

“We know the weather conditions will become more agreeable,” Randquist said. “What is important right now is to manage the golf course in a manner so that turf can be kept alive until that point. Pushing turf too hard might result in longer term damage.”


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