Superintendents were green before green was in VOGUE!

Recently at the club I was asked — what are you doing in regards to going GREEN? I paused and gave this subject some thought and realized that Superintendents are such good stewards of the environment that we are green!

We recycle our glass and plastic even removing the tops off our plastic water bottles at the club because our recycler doesn’t like them in with the bottles they are different density. We recycle all our clippings either by casting in the rough or composting along with our leaves and wood chips. No green material leaves our property to further complicate over filled landfills. All our good trees are sold for lumber and the revenue is use to offset the cost of our professional arborist; the smaller wood is split and burned in the clubs fire places.

I think what we may do at Merion more so than other places is, we try desperately to not spray insecticides and fungicides unless absolutely necessary. In fact, we will avoid spraying if we know the weather is going to change and not be conducive for a particular disease that we now have.

For years, I have been fastidious about fertilization. And the truth be told, I am by most standards, a voracious feeder. It isn’t unusual for us to put 6 to 8 pounds of N on our greens in a single year. Ninety percent of the nitrogen is slow release in the form of natural organics from two different companies who makes their natural organics from bone, feather, and blood meals.

For years I fed two to three pounds of N a year and sprayed every 14 days whether I needed to or not. Then, when I was a superintendent at The Country Club in Cleveland, Ohio, I got curious and started to do a lot of experimenting and discovered that with a good natural organic fertility program I could out compete some of the common problems that I had experienced over the years. Certainly, Cleveland does not have the disease pressure that Philadelphia has; but upon my arrival, I wondered if this program that I had refined in Ohio would work in Philadelphia. Guess what it worked with some help from some other tools that we will talk about later.

With the help of our soils biologist, Jake Straub, we work tirelessly adjusting and refining each and every green, tee, and fairway for every minor nutrient it may need. At the same time, we are constantly monitoring our Carbon and Nitrogen ratio along with our Magnesium and Calcium ratios.
One other critical part of the management for good soil biology is moisture management. For me, this is an absolute commitment to not watering. I often tell my guys that water will be a commodity some day and may even be bought and sold just like corn or wheat. Those that can manage turf with minimal amounts of water will be far ahead of the game.

I realize that I addressed this in my last article, but I can’t over emphasize enough how critical it is to water as little as possible! Before 2005 this was all done by probes or a pocket knife; but not anymore. Now, we have state of the art technology that can help us with this information; moisture sensors from AST. Having real time data to support what we used to suspect, but now we know, helps us keep the greens even drier with a sense of confidence versus an anxiety attack. I used to think that I was dry when in fact, once I understood where the breaking point was, I got much drier! I can’t even imagine not having sensors and would imagine that everyone will have them once they realize that, by running drier, they will have less disease pressure and better playing conditions which translates into more revenue for the club.
While we are speaking about moisture, I have to share an unusual experience that happened to us this spring. We have gone as long as 260 days without spraying tees and fairways and I know I could go longer than 45 to 50 days on greens, but even I am a little nervous pushing Merion’s greens to that level. This spring, for the first time in, I can’t even count the years we have had two Dollarspot outbreaks on our fairways and tees; for the life of me, I could not figure out why and I didn’t. Fortunately for me, I have some extremely bright men that I work with and they pointed out that we used to cut fairways seven days a week. But with the economy such as it is we wanted to try to save some money so we were only cutting four days a week. Leaf wetness was our problem! So, are we back to mowing seven days a week? Nope; we built a fairway roller and you can see it in the picture below. This was my idea but all the credit goes to our mechanic Jay Rehr. Each one of the former mowing units weights 400lbs. Jay had a local machinist custom build us the rollers. Each roller has four bearings sets in them. Jay removed the reel and put a piece of solid rod stoke in instead. So now, we roll fairways when we don’t cut them, and I know our Dollarspot problems will come to a halt.

It is time that we get more innovative in our challenging economic and environmentally sensitive times, but there is no better group that is adaptive to challenges and changes than GOLF COURSE SUPERINTENDENTS!

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