Thursday, September 16, 2010

Here are some comments from the recent greens survey

Mark Luckhardt, Vice President, XGD Systems (Ontario, Canada) wrote:

Very interesting survey. First off, let me say that I am a big fan of USGA green construction. During green construction, speed is critical and a 12" rootzone of predominantly sand will allow a bulldozer to spread the mix without destroying the soil structure through compaction.

Building a soil green requires much more time to let the soil rootzone settle out and compact naturally through overhead irrigation and or precipitation events, and heavy equipment needs to be kept off of the soil based rootzone or compaction will occur. I believe the extra time it takes to build a pushup green is really the only reason you don't see more of it in this current era. The new green(s) need to be in play immediately and USGA construction fits the bill there.

Regarding your survey results showing a much higher percentage of sand based greens failing this past summer vs. soil greens, I find the results surprising. Obviously, a lot of variables contribute to green failure but I would have to say water and thatch management play a big role. With increasing pressure from golf clientele to avoid playing after aerification events, I feel superintendents are not being allowed to employ enough cultural practices to win the war against excessive thatch or organic material buildup in the top few inches of their rootzones, be it sand based or soil based.

Another question I ask is, are soil temperatures higher in sand greens than soil greens? One would think that with the extra pore space available in a sand root zone that would promote more air circulation and keep temps cooler. But, with excessive organic material in the top few inches is the opposite occurring in sand root zones? If oxygen is not circulating in to the lower rootzone, perhaps these high soil temps contributed to turf loss. Conversely, a soil based rootzone would seem to promote higher soil temps in general as well, but I am not convinced that is the case. Maybe, some research has already been done on this to validate or disclaim my opinions.

Armen Suny, Owner of SunyGolf (Arizona) wrote:


Interesting results of your survey.

You and I both have good observational skills and have seen that USGA greens are far from bullet-proof. I continue to struggle with the thought that a false water table is good for growing anything except for rice. Excuse me, my nomenclature is not politically correct, I meant perched water table.

I would be hesitant to add more than a trace of clay dust to a USGA green because I would suspect that if you added just a little bit of soil that it would become difficult to overcome gravity and get the greens to release their water. You might have to fill up the entire profile with water to get gravity to overcome the tension created by the addition of soil.

On the other hand, I would have absolutely no problem adding soil to a mix that is placed on ripped or sandy subsoil with or without drainage. If it was in an area of high rainfall, I'd add more drainage. Compost or at least good compost is a great component in any mix. It adds life and good microbes to the mix and generally minimizes the amount of weird patch diseases.

Bob Lohmann, Golf Course Architect, Owner Lohmann Golf Designs (Illinois) wrote:

Hey Mike,

I have been traveling a bunch lately and haven't had a chance to study your survey. I think a lot of the good and bad things that happen to green are more to do with how they are managed than what they are built out of. The best management techniques include adequate sun, good air circulation, and proper surface drainage. It takes a smart and aggressive supt. to recognize this and do everything in his or her power to have these present on all the greens. When these are not present or if the weather is uncooperative, it takes a good supt. to adapt their management techniques to keep the grass alive and not worry about tournament conditions. Just because a green is built to the recommendations of the USGA or similar methods, the supt. can't forget to respect "Mother Nature" and needs to adjust the techniques and inform the players that expectations should be slightly lowered in tough weather times.

It is not an easy job and we should all respect the keeper of the greens when conditions like we have had this past spring and summer are causing havoc with the golf courses.

Hopefully we can continue this discussion later after I have had a chance to study your survey.

Brad Anderson, Superintendent of Birmingham Country Club (Michigan) wrote:


I wonder how many of those clubs that suffered loss of grass on USGA greens actually built those greens to spec? And there is also the issue of cultural practices - how many of those USGA greens that suffered loss have had a proper cultural program through the years? Obviously all of that would be very difficult to determine for certain.

Ben Rink, Superintendent of Champaign Country Club (Illinois) wrote:

It is difficult to pinpoint the "cause" of the decline other than it was too hot, too wet, or too dry. All summer I felt like if I even looked at the turf sideways it would just roll over and die. I pulled off nearly all cultural practices (old pushup greens) and just rode it out until we had a break. At this point I am happy I did because my greens are the best turf on the course! I think that, as Bruce pointed out, since the damage has been so widespread and talked about (WSJ article and such) that most of us superintendents are dealing with club leaders that are aware that damage isn't isolated to their course. Almost a "get out of jail free card." The telling story will be the recovery efforts. I have found that my empathetic membership is slowly turning into an impatient membership now that the weather has moderated. Communication between us and them has never been more important!

David Downing, President, Signature Golf Group (South Carolina) wrote:


I would suggest some more questions after the question about losses…if you suffered 15% or more what do you feel was the primary cause(s):

Greens Construction
Winter Damage
Poor Drainage
Too much Drainage
No air movement
Lack of resources

At this point the survey just shows some losses….people need solutions!! Need to know the whys to avoid them in the future!!

Bruce Williams, Director of Business Development, ValleyCrest Golf, (California) wrote:

Nice job on the survey Mike.

I believe it is valuable for the leadership of golf courses nationwide to know the extent of the damage this year. It surely was not isolated and supts work harder in years like this although the results may not show it. 120 days of pure screaming hell for many golf course supts across the country.

What do you think?

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