On-Course Management Column | Early mild temperatures raises drought concerns for superintendents

For The Sun NewsJanuary 28, 2013 

A relatively balmy start to the year might have some golf course superintendents happy about the level of play but it has most of them increasingly concerned about the level of their irrigation ponds.

January opened with weekend temperatures in or around the 70s and golfers responded eagerly at some courses actively working off their Christmas cheer.

While that unexpected boost in play has not been experienced across the board, the lack of rainfall has been universal.

“I’ve only recorded 6/10ths of an inch [of rain] all month,” said Steve Hamilton, certified golf course superintendent at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club.

Along the coast, low rainfall can lead to all sorts of problems for golf course superintendents that go beyond thirsty grass.

Salt intrusion becomes an issue further afflicting already stressed plants.

“You lose the flushing benefits of rainfall and the lower your water table the more likely it is you are going to encounter salt intrusion,” said Hamilton, who is president of the two-state Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association. “Courses pulling water out of wells or ponds that are close to salt water can have issues. The good news right now is that it’s still January and plants are not growing much and therefore not taking up much of anything in the way of water.”

At Wachesaw Plantation Club, Scott Fretz, who is president of the Palmetto Golf Course Superintendents Association representing superintendents along the Grand Strand, said mild temperatures have been “ideal” for his bentgrass greens.

But like Hamilton and others, he has his fingers crossed for some precipitation, preferably mid-week while most golfers are at work rather than play.

“We are in a moderate drought along the coast,” Fretz said. “That could lead to big problems this spring and summer, if we do not receive rain soon.”

Mild temperatures and accompanying cloud cover have also generated concerns for superintendents with bermudagrass greens.

Many have been battling algae growth which shows up as a slimy, dark or black discoloration between the leaf blades and the soil.

Worse, if left unchecked, the algae effectively forms a barrier that inhibits the passage of nutrients into the soil.

“The short days at this time of year can make it difficult to get rid of,” said Clay DuBose, superintendent and general manager at the Tradition Club. “You’re not losing a lot of moisture and the sun’s low angle doesn’t help dry things out very much.”

Warmer than normal temperatures have also interfered with superintendents’ regular routine when it comes to weed control.

Bermudagrass, which is usually dormant at this time of year, is currently active on as much as two thirds of the surface area of some courses.

A week of night-time temperatures in the mid-50s coupled with higher day-time temperatures early in the month gave the bermudagrass a hefty nudge.

That makes the grass vulnerable to pre-emergent herbicides superintendents, like homeowners, use to prevent weeds taking over in spring.

“It’s probably forced a lot of superintendents to modify their schedule and if we stay warmer than normal then some might have to consider other options later on,” DuBose said.

For all that though, some superintendents are encouraged that the mild start to 2013 might warm golfers to their task earlier than normal.

While the amount of play might not have a significant impact on revenues at a private facility like The Dunes Club, Hamilton said there was only good that could come out of golfers getting busy this soon.

“Good, bad or indifferent as far as the turf is concerned, the weather has been great for getting our members out,” he said.

TRENT BOUTS edits Carolinas Green magazine for the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association and consulted with members of the Palmetto Golf Course Superintendents Association for this column. He writes a monthly column that appears in The Sun News the last Tuesday of each month.

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