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Roller-coaster weather makes for wild ride for golf superintendents

Summer vacation is a time for amusement parks, but if you mention roller-coaster to golf course superintendents right now their mind will go straight to the weather.

Growing conditions have yet to flatten out into anything like a consistent pattern.

Short bursts of heat have invariably been followed by cooler breaks hampering efforts to bring courses to their peak.

That is not to say superintendents are struggling to present quality playing conditions, not by any stretch.

But it’s a fact that they aren’t yet getting Mother Nature’s full cooperation.

As a result, bermudagrass that covers fairways, roughs and, these days, most putting greens in the area is not thriving to the extent it normally would at this time of year.

An early spring warm-up kick-started bermudagrass recovery from winter dormancy but then the thermometer’s relative stall was kind to the ryegrass some courses grow over it in the cooler months.

That meant the emerging bermudagrass had more competition for nutrients, sunlight and water from the ryegrass that would normally have turned tail and run from the heat by now.

“We probably grew as much grass this past weekend as we did all June,” Clay DuBose, from Tradition Golf Club, said.

“The heat was very helpful but already it’s cooled a little and so the bermudagrass is still not in full force.

“It’s like we’ve been on this roller-coaster all along.”

DuBose said the stop-and-go growing conditions not only hampered transition – when the bermudagrass comes out of dormancy – but also compromised recovery from aerification – when superintendents take finger-like cores out of greens and fairways to remove thatch and promote the passage of nutrients.

The faster the grass grows after aerification the sooner sand used to fill the holes disappears under the canopy and the sooner peak conditions can be achieved.

Irrigation can help but, without sustained day-time heat and night-time temperatures in the mid-70s, there is little superintendents can do to speed recovery.

“If I had my wish right now it would be for about half an inch of rain every third day with temperatures in the high-70s at night with humidity around 90 percent,” DuBose said.

“I’d take 95 degrees during the day with no cloud cover and plenty of sunlight and I’d still want the high humidity.

“We just haven’t had much of that yet this season.”

At Sandpiper Bay Golf and Country Club just across the border in North Carolina, superintendent Jay Varallo doesn’t need quite the rain frequency DuBose wants but he will take everything else on the wish list.

“It has been a funny transition with a little bit of everything,” he said.

“But we are very happy with how our greens are at the moment now that we have had a couple of years on the learning curve.”

Sandpiper Bay has MiniVerde bermudagrass on all 27 holes after beginning the switch from bentgrass in 2008.

While Varallo might have hoped for more sustained heat earlier in the season, his heart went out this past weekend to those superintendents growing bentgrass, which is a finer-bladed plant that does better in cooler months.

While the slow start to the summer helped them maintain deep root systems longer than normal, the mini heat wave presented a serious challenge.

In fact the triple-digit heat prompted the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association to issue an appeal for patience from golfers as superintendents worked to shepherd their greens through the worst of it.

The association warned golfers that many superintendents would be forced to interrupt play to hand-water greens to avoid hot spots that could kill bentgrass in a hurry and even cause stress on bermudagrass greens.

“I think most golfers will realize that we don’t like to get in their way if at all possible but in this heat, there really is no choice,” Carolinas GCSA president, Doug Lowe, said in a press release.

“Dead grass on greens is not in anyone’s interests.

“We just ask that golfers find themselves some shade for a few minutes and wait to hit their shots into the green until we have done we need to do and have moved on.”