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The Truth About Green Speeds

George Waters is the manager of Green Section education for the USGA.
Email him at gwaters@usga.org

Green speed is one of the most sensitive and misunderstood topics in golf. Golfers see lightning-fast greens on television or hear claims about green speeds at a course they admire and think that’s an ideal that other courses should aspire to. What they may not realize is that those conditions require significant resources to deliver, may last for only a short period of time, and are not appropriate for the vast majority of golf courses or golfers. There is also a lot of misinformation about green speeds, so golfers shouldn’t believe everything they hear from their playing partners or television broadcasters. Here are five things every golfer should know about green speed:

Faster Does Not Mean Better

The appropriate green speed for a particular course depends on the putting green contours, grass type, maintenance budget and skill level of the golfers playing – along with numerous other considerations. Trying to make greens faster than they should be leads to higher maintenance costs, turf damage, lost hole locations, and rounds of golf that are slower and less enjoyable. Sacrificing other aspects of putting green quality in the pursuit of speed just doesn’t make sense.

Green Speeds Fluctuate

Putting greens are comprised of living plants that change and perform differently from season to season and even day to day. Temperatures, humidity, rainfall and routine maintenance practices all influence daily green speed. Maintaining the same green speed throughout the year is impossible and letting a target number dictate management practices is a recipe for damaged greens and undesirable playing conditions.

The appropriate green speed for a course depends on putting green design, grass type, golfer ability and other factors. (USGA/Kirk H. Owens)

Green Speeds Don’t Travel

One of the most important things to know about green speed measurements is that they should not be used to compare one golf course with another. A green speed that is perfect for one course could be way too fast for a course down the road that has steeper green contours or golfers with different skill levels. There are simply too many variables involved to make reasonable comparisons.

Speed Costs Money

While golfers hear a lot of discussion about courses with fast greens, they don’t hear as much about all that goes into providing those conditions. Lower mowing heights, regular topdressing, verticutting and hand watering are just some of the practices involved in maintaining faster greens. In addition, courses that maintain faster greens typically invest heavily in improving putting green growing environments by removing trees and enhancing drainage. The investments required on a daily and yearly basis to deliver faster green speeds are substantial, and beyond the budget of most golf courses.

Speed Can Kill

Periods of high heat, humidity and other environmental stresses can push putting green health close to the edge. Trying to maintain a particular green speed during difficult weather carries a serious risk of causing lasting damage that could negatively impact smoothness and speed for weeks to come. To protect putting green turf, golf course superintendents may raise mowing heights or reduce the frequency of mowing and rolling during stressful weather. These adjustments mean temporarily slower green speeds, but they will help preserve good playing conditions for the weeks and months ahead.

It’s easy to understand how golfers can place too much emphasis on green speed. Numbers invite comparisons and faster can easily be mistaken for better. However, if we can keep the big picture in mind and remember that speed is just one of the many factors in putting green quality, we’ll save ourselves and superintendents a lot of headaches.

Watering Alert (Watch Out For The Greens Checkers)

Battling the Summer Heat on Bentgrass Putting Greens

By Rob Dreesen, BVCC Golf Superintendent

As the temperatures continue to rise, you will notice our attention to greens rising as well. You will often run into “greens checkers” as you play your round. Contrary to popular belief, we are not trying to get in your way and ruin your round! We are simply just protecting the plant from dying. It is a complex process that is much more complicated than just watering the greens at night. We have to maintain adequate moisture throughout the day and also cool the plant when necessary.

Some of the courses throughout the POA use moisture meters to help determine what amount of water the plant needs. You will see the greens checkers carrying devices that look similar to a pogo stick. Other courses have different techniques that they use to determine what needs to be watered and what doesn’t. But we all have a common goal in that we strive to keep the greens as dry as possible without causing stress to the plant.

Another similar technique is “syringing” the greens. Syringing can also be called, misting. When we mist the greens we are simply keeping the plant cool. Research has shown that when you disperse a very light layer of water over the surface, it cools the plant by 10-15 degrees! Think of a misting fan or machine at outdoor restaurants or on the sidelines of a football game. These are there to keep people cool. This is the same approach we are taking on the greens, which can have a huge effect on the health of the plant.

By spot watering and misting greens throughout the day, we prevent the greens from being overwatered. If we only used our irrigation heads at night, we would be overwatering the plant which would lead to the following effects:

  • Plant Health
    • Roots shrink, causing the plant to be stressed
    • Areas with excessive water are warmer than areas with adequate water, causing the plant to be stressed
    • Greens are soft causing the mower to scalp, causing the plant to be stressed
  • Golf Playability
    • Greens are soft, causing more ball marks
    • Greens are soft, causing slower and inconsistent speeds

As you can see, hand watering and syringing throughout the course of the day is necessary for all of us to achieve our goals of having firm, healthy, and smooth putting surfaces. Please keep that in mind on the next round that you run into a greens checker. It is our goal to have the healthiest and best putting surfaces than we can, while also staying out of your way and letting you enjoy your round. However, time is critical, and sometimes we will need to get the green watered before you hit your shot into the green. We try our best to not disrupt the same group over the course of your round, but in the case this does happen, we apologize and it is certainly in the best interest of keeping our turf healthy. Thank you for your patience during these hot and very critical days.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to talk to us while on the golf course. We will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

Thank you!

Highlands Course Update

Greg Jones, GC Superintendent

Highlands greens are notoriously difficult to manage in the summer months due to the underlying soil structure and drainage issues. And, many greens are in locations with little to no natural air movement or sunlight. The fans we have in place give an edge and provide some air movement but nothing like natural air movement across the greens surface. We utilize these fans to mimic natural wind movement which can never be truly copied.

We are in-between years of drill and fill, and this is the year we have to be a little more attentive with our soil moisture due to the lack of 10” deep sand filled channels to help with air, water, and nutrient movement and uptake. Any extra water can have a negative impact on roots and soil temperatures. The greens have been Drilled and Filled six times in the past ten years, and while that has improved our greens, it hasn’t fixed the underlying soil structure completely.

In mid- April we core aerated our greens like we do every spring and fall. Regular core aerification helps to remove thatch and allows water and air movement into the top 5” of the soil. This is beneficial and necessary at least twice annually, but it does not solve deeper soil issues. The drill and fill practice does a much better job of that. This spring, I decided to drill and fill selected areas in corners and low spots where water will collect and sit longer, and this has made a positive difference in these areas. The holes are almost covered over with turf; you may notice them on 1, 6, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 18.

The weather starting in 2020 looked like a carbon copy of 2019. In 2019, we recorded over 96 inches of rain on the golf course. Our normal annual rainfall is a little bit over 46 inches. In 2019, January through the end of May, we had 39 inches of rain. January through the end of May 2020 we have had a bit over 36 inches, with endless days of clouds and cool weather. The concern along with everything else Covid-19 related, was to make sure we didn’t back ourselves into a corner by having the greens too short, with too little help on hand to manage them. The excessive rainfall and cloudy days don’t promote a very good weather pattern to promote deeper rooting, which in turn helps us manage heights and green speeds and any water we apply with our irrigation system.

And then came COVID-19. Nobody was expecting a virus to essentially shut down the world for an extended period. We were told to hold-off on hiring our returning seasonal and summer help for the time being. My summer help usually starts coming on staff around the end of March, and on into April and May, with the last one or two by June 1. The POA had to hold-off hiring for about six weeks, which put us behind. The Golf Maintenance team did not have the normal number of employees during spring aerification, but we all helped each other out and managed to get it done in a timely fashion around mid-April.

It was at this point, not knowing when we would ever be fully staffed, a decision was made to keep the greens height a little bit higher initially in case we didn’t hire as many people back for the summer season. This increase in height would and has allowed us to manage water a little better earlier, which in turn benefits the bent grass greens roots going into summer. Right now, our actual height of cut is less than where we are at the end of August on average, and not much more than where we keep it in the spring, fall and winter months. By doing this now, I have high hopes that we do not have to increase the height later in the summer.

We are using turf groomers that are on the John Deere greens mowers from our fleet. The groomers help control lateral growth movement of the leaf blades, and by doing so, the grass tends to stand up a bit more, improving ball roll and eliminating “grain” in the turf. We groom on a regular basis, and this simple attachment is probably one of the most useful in our Superintendents tool bag.

Lastly, we are in the hand watering part of the season. The staff you see hand watering greens are paying special attention to soil moisture across every green, and only cooling the surface if necessary. We are also hand watering any dry spots so the turf can rehydrate and recover within a few days. Dry spots in random places are a normal occurrence on greens no matter what kind of grass is on them— bent grass or Bermuda. Dry spots and off-color spots mean we are doing our job correctly by not watering too much with sprinklers, and possibly over watering the turf.

Birds and wildflowers on Berksdale Golf Course

Recognition for Resilience

Berksdale has undergone numerous transformations over the last decade, but our dedication to stewardship has been unwavering. Our commitment to pursuing the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf provides an independent assessment of our efforts.

We are pleased to announce that Berksdale has been certified in all categories required to qualify for full status in this global partnership. After a year of data collection and assessing site parameters, we were awarded recognition for Environmental Planning in September of 2016.

Devastating floods led Berksdale to transition from an 18 to a 9-hole course, yet we persevered to receive certifications for an Environmental Case Study and our Wildlife and Habitat Management in May of 2018. With sampling and testing assistance from the POA’s Lakes Department, we were recognized for Water Quality Management and for Water Conservation April 2019. March 27th of this year, we were informed that our Chemical Use Reduction and Safety and Outreach and Education efforts meet all of Audubon International’s criteria.

A site visit will be conducted when travel constraints ease, hopefully this fall. Berksdale will then become only the second course in Arkansas and one of the few in the region to be receive this prestigious Cooperative Sanctuary designation.

A microscopic view of the virus COVID-19

Golf Course Maintenance During COVID-19

What You Can Expect to Experience

With the onset of COVID-19 and the restrictions associated with it, golf maintenance has been changing how we will operate for the foreseeable future. Two of the leading golf associations, The Golf Course Superintendent Association of America (GCSAA) and The United States Golf Association (USGA) have put together some minimum Maintenance Guidelines for courses during the Covid-19 outbreak. These guidelines are included in this article.

These guidelines address all phases of golf maintenance from mowing frequencies to bunker maintenance. The mowing guidelines reduce the time and number of employees needed to maintain a healthy stand of turf by cutting back on times selected areas are mowed, increasing mowing heights to allow for longer intervals between mowing and using plant growth regulators to manage growth rate and clipping yields. We will also decrease fertility applications along with limiting irrigation and plant protectants to minimize excessive growth while still maintaining a healthy turf. What this translates to for the golfing public is longer roughs, shaggy fairways and potentially slower green speeds. Once the pandemic has passed, we will be able to quickly bring all areas back to the standard of maintenance you are accustomed to.

Since we have removed bunker rakes (remember a bunker is a hazard) the necessity to rake bunkers on a regular basis have diminished. We will only do what is necessary to prevent weed encroachment and protect the integrity of our Better Billy Bunker liner systems in place on four of our courses.

We have been asked to delay hiring of our seasonal workers through at least April, so these practices are necessary from a labor shortage perspective as well. We usually have from 8 to 10 employees per course starting in April and we currently are operating with 5 to 6 per course.

The golf maintenance teams along with the golf operations group are working hard to follow all the required guidelines so your courses can remain open now and going forward. We thank you for your understanding during these difficult times and hope you will safely continue to enjoy the golfing experience at the Bella Vista POA.

Berksdale is Growing!

With 70 inches of rain (so far), it’s been a great year for growing grass! Now that we’re experiencing regular frosts, it is planting season. All our additions are selected in accordance with our Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary standards for wildlife benefit and promoting native species, as well as consideration for flood plain management and aesthetics. Our experiments with growing our own trees and perennials were very fruitful this year and we were delighted to be able to invite volunteers to help get them in the ground. Switch grass, milkweed, and purple coneflowers were inserted in old fairway bunkers on our south end with help from members of the Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists. Scout Troop 525 aided in planting sycamore trees, also on the south end, along the highway and corkscrew willows in a persistent wet zone. The Berksdale crew added red twig dogwood shrubs along old 18 creek bank and black willows along old 13 for stabilization. Corkscrew willows have been spaced throughout the grounds to help alleviate standing water issues. For more information, see auduboninternational.org, monarchwatch.org, and missouribotanicalgarden.org>plantfinder.

 

Wendy Barnes, Assistant Superintendent, Berksdale

 

Golf Course Weather Closure Standards

The golf course superintendents shall have the authority to delay opening or closing their golf courses at any time. However, it will be a requirement that if delays or closings are necessary, the superintendent must notify the Pro Shop and golf maintenance coordinator.

Superintendents must report course conditions/closures to golf course maintenance coordinator and Pro Shop no later than one hour before first regular tee time. He or she must also stay in contact with Pro Shop on a regular basis throughout this same timeframe to keep them updated on course conditions.
During the winter months, we will continue to use the temperature as a guide, however, there are situations other than temperature that may dictate course delays or closures. The target temperature for automatic course closure is 35 degrees.

If the Weather Channel forecast for zip code 72714 is forecasted to be a high of 35 degrees or less for the entire day, then courses will close for that day. If it is forecasted to be above 35 degrees, then it becomes the golf course superintendent’s decision as to whether course opening will be delayed, or course closure is necessary.
It is extremely important that each superintendent take into consideration the importance of serving our members.

Scotsdale GCM Update 8/22

Scotsdale GCM Update

Recently at Scotsdale we have been working to improve the quality of our practice area, specifically the short game area and chipping tee. We have added two new irrigation heads to the tee area that previously was not irrigated. This will improve the quality of the chipping tee in several ways: the ability to effectively fertilizer it more frequently; better weed control; the tee will not have the tendency to get too hard when it dries out; and divots will recover more rapidly. These heads cover a lot of ground and in addition to the existing ones already near the target greens, provide a much better look to the area. It is just one small way we continue to strive in improving the quality of Scotsdale. I ask everyone to treat it like any other tee on the course and not drive or park your carts on the tee box.

In addition, we will be making an adjustment to the approach and fairway cut on #11. Due to how narrow it gets leading into the green, we experience some issues with the mowers used to cut the fairway. Our goal is to create a mid-section of rough in that area that will highlight the green more predominantly and prevent some of the mower issues that occur in this spot. We are making this change now since the weather will still allow for Bermuda growth and we can create this look before dormancy.

Future lines of where fairway ends, and approach/collar cut will begin for 11.

Thank you to everyone for your support and we hope that you have been enjoying the course!

-Kyle Soller
Scotsdale Golf Course Superintendent

Cicada Killers

Cicada killers are very large wasps, up to 1 5/8” long, that resemble gigantic hornets or yellow jackets.

Each summer we receive complaints of them menacing golfers and digging holes into the greens and bunkers. While they look formidable, they are in fact not a threat. The male wasp is territorial and will buzz around you trying to chase you away but lacks a stinger, so he is completely harmless.

The female wasp is non-aggressive but can sting if handled or stepped on with bare feet. She prefers to spend her time burrowing into the ground and hunting annual cicadas.  After digging an extensive burrow up to a foot in depth, the female will find a cicada, paralyze it with her stinger and carry it back to her burrow. After placing the cicada in a chamber, she will lay an egg on it and bury the cicada where it becomes food for her young. She will repeat this process nonstop for a couple of weeks.

 

This is a picture of a cicada burrow on a green. Each morning the golf course crew will look for these mounds and will inject an insecticide into the hole to stop the cicada killer from causing further damage.  Although the mounds are cleaned up every day, a cicada killer can complete a new burrow in less than an hour. There is no insecticide that will prevent the cicada killers from digging into a green, so all control must be done post damage. Failing to control the cicada killers causes later damage to the greens when coyotes, foxes, and crows dig up the buried cicadas for food. Therefore, when the wasps are active, crew members will watch for recent activity during the day and treat the new burrows that appear.

Scotsdale GCM Update

The last of the 3 scheduled aerations on our greens will take place Monday, August 5th.  As with the previous aerations this year we will again utilize smaller hollow coring tines to remove more material and allow for a quicker healing process. This process will continue to create a more uniform soil profile and eliminate any layering issues caused during last summer’s renovation to the greens.  In addition, the final granular soil fertilizers and amendments will be applied enhancing both the healing process and providing needed nutrients going into fall and dormancy.  This has proven to be very beneficial and will continue to make the greens healthier.

Following the greens aeration, we plan on doing work to the collars as well.  We will be doing a vertical mowing, core aeration and sand top dress and drag. This process will be a longer process due to being done around play but should have minimum impact on your round.  The vertical mowing will be noticeable so if you see or play on them mid process or shortly after work is completed the collars may be off color and rougher than usually.  The aeration and top dress program are done for many reasons including better water utilization, gas exchange, nutrient uptake and to create a tighter turf.  This will also help us to have a better quality of cut on these key play areas through the reduction in thatch buildup from the summer growth period.

You may have noticed, if you’ve played Scotsdale in the last week, that slits have been made in the fairways.  This process along with applications of a plant growth regulator and fertilizer, is done to help tighten up the common Bermuda.  The slicing process causes the plant to produce new leaves and additional runners from the stolons enhancing filling of bare areas and producing an overall tighter turf and improved surface from which to play.  My hope is that the denser I can get the common now, that the better success we will have going through winter and coming out in the spring.  This is an application we plan on doing twice more in August.

This type work is very noticeable, labor intensive, time consuming and sometimes can impact play but will result in better conditions over time. As I once was told by someone wiser than I “Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to bake a cake.”

My staff and I hope everyone have been enjoying the beautiful weather and the golf course!  Thank you for your support!

-Kyle Soller
Scotsdale Golf Course Superintendent