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With extreme heat, greens need a little more TLC

A punishing start to the summer has made survival extremely tough for some golf course turf, not to mention the golf course superintendents charged with producing quality conditions.

That's why last week the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America put out a press release under the heading: Heat Wreaking Havoc on Golf Courses Nationwide.

Many of the current turf problems center on bentgrass, a fine-bladed grass that is great for putting on but is best-suited to temperatures far less than the kind of heat that has dominated here since early June.

Coupled with those familiar afternoon thunderstorms, that heat practically boils sensitive root systems dramatically reducing the plant's ability to withstand punishment from mowing, foot traffic and ball marks.

So weakened, the plant is also much more vulnerable to disease and pests.

That is the major reason bentgrass - more prevalent in the Upstate and northern states - is a minority turf along the Grand Strand.

Most of those courses that retain bentgrass in Myrtle Beach only manage to do so because they have the budget and manpower to deliver the extensive TLC the grass demands in the peak of summer.

That is why, at courses like those at The Dunes Club, Crow Creek, Barefoot Resort and Grande Dunes, golfers may well encounter hose-wielding course maintenance staff during a round.

Timely, light hand-watering - known as syringing - means the difference between life and death for bentgrass greens when it's brutally hot.

So golfers should exercise patience, and yes, even a little gratitude, when they have to wait three or four minutes before hitting their approach shots onto a green being syringed.

Because without the cooling effect that evapotranspiration provides after syringing, those greens would soon become browns.

Giving up a few minutes can help prevent weeks or even months of severely compromised putting greens.

Some courses might also raise their mowing heights to give plants more breathing space, which may result in slightly slower green speeds.

As Clark Throssell, Ph.D., pointed out in the release from GCSAA, golfers must appreciate that what works at one course may not be the right answer at another.

"Golf courses are like snowflakes," he said.

"No two are alike. Some courses may be able to withstand the challenges of Mother Nature better than others because of better drainage and soil conditions, better air flow due to the placement of trees, less traffic or the presence of greater financial resources.

"We know the weather conditions will become more agreeable. What is important right now is to manage the golf course in a manner so that turf can be kept alive until that point."

Even on the majority of courses in Myrtle Beach, which use the more heat-tolerant bermudagrass on their greens, golfers may come across staff spraying water, or sprinklers running, for a few minutes to keep greens healthy.

Historically, bermudagrass was regarded as an inferior putting surface to bentgrass.

But newer ultradwarf varieties have alleviated many of the drawbacks of the older, broader-bladed bermudagrass which is why courses like True Blue made the switch away from bentgrass earlier this decade.

Even so, at the low heights that greens are mowed today bermudagrass too can become stressed if its needs are ignored.

The same can be said of golf course staff who have to spend many hours in the sun to keep courses at their best.

Alan Jarvis, certified golf course superintendent at Pine Lakes Country Club, is one who makes a point of encouraging his workers to find shade, drink plenty of water and get inside on a regular basis.

"Heat exhaustion can be an issue no matter what kind of grass you have," Jarvis said.

"It can take a toll on equipment operators just like it does the turf."