Monday, May 14, 2012

Technology and Turf-Moisture Management

Turf Guard Installation
 Many advances have been made in the turfgrass industry over the last decade that serve to improve turf conditions and operational efficiency.  New mowers, aerifiers, and sand delivery units are prominent examples of these type of improvements.  Sprayers equipped with GPS systems ensure proper pesticide delivery. More recently, siginificant advances have been made in the area of moisture management.  While this topic receives much attention in areas with a limited water supply, such as the Desert Southwest, it also applies to those of us in the Upper Midwest.  Even with our close proximity to the abundant resources afforded by the Great Lakes, precise irrigation is both good for the environment and turfgrass alike.

In today's climate of heightened environmental sensitivity, most everyone is aware of the need to preserve the earth's natural resources.  An increase in the global population has brought this issue to the forefront of today's environmental issues.  Professional turf managers most certainly understand this, but also understand the benefits derived from proper moisture management.  Conditions that allow for a proper balance of irrigation over time provide healthy turf and improved playability.  Excessive moisture creates an ideal environment for disease development and root loss due to a lack of oxygen in the root zone.  Unnecessary water also leads to undesirable playing conditions such as plugged lies and reduced ball roll.  Successful golf course superintendents realize the importance of proper moisture management and will currently employ advances in technology to best manage irrigation at their courses.The golf course maintenance staff currently at NSCC currently uses two pieces of technology to monitor soil moisture conditions on the golf course.
TDR main
TDR Field Scout 300

Last year, the golf course maintenance staff began using the FieldScout TDR 300 Soil Moisture Meter.  This portable meter is carried from green to green by a trained staff member.  During the summer month's data is gathered throughout the day.  The numbers obtained from the unit are checked against threshold numbers that have been previously established.  The threshold numbers identify the minimum water requirement for healthy turf.  If the turf falls below the threshold number, nightly irrigation or hand water will be scheduled.

Turf Gaurd
This year, the golf course maintenance staff will begin using a product called Turf Guard which is manufactured by the Toro corporation.  Turf Guard is a system of soil moisture meters that communicate with the central irrigation computer.  Last week, NSCC staff installed these stationary meters in the greens on 1 White and 7 White, along with the fairway on 1 White.  The sensors communicate via radio to receiver in the clubhouse.  The receiver then sends information over the internet to the central computer in the Superintendent's office in the maintenance facility.  The sensors monitor both soil temperature and moisture.  Accurate soil temperature measurements are critical when applying time sensitive herbicide, fungicide, and fertilizer applications.  Additionally, the sensors may be left out during the winter to monitor soil temperatures below snow cover.  As previously discussed, proper soil moisture management is critical for both healthy turf and improved course playability.  These meters provide real-time measurements that are accessible at any time from the central computer at NSCC, as well as remotely from my iPhone and iPad. If the Turf Guard sensors prove valuable, we will have the opportunity to expand to other locations through the golf course in the future.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fairway Sand Topdressing and Maintenance

Prior to 2008, fairway maintenance at NSCC had centered on core aerification which occurred on an annual basis. This process was beneficial to the turf at NSCC as it alleviated soil compaction, reduced thatch and allowed for proper water, oxygen, and nutrient exchange, but was often completed to the dismay of golfers due to the often muddy conditions for two to three weeks following the process.

In 2008, the Board of Directors approved a new three phase fairway management program that addressed these same goals, while at the same time eliminating the muddy conditions following core aerification by gradually improving the quality of the soil.  The process included:  solid tine aerification (no more cores/mud), aggressive vertical mowing, and sand topdressing. 

At about the same time as this process began, the economy suffered and club membership trended downward.  Tough decisions were made to reduce expenses throughout the club.  The expense of the sand proved to be too much and became a casualty as well.  The golf course maintenance staff has continued to aerify with solid tines and aggressively verticut since this time, but the lack of sand applications has caused the fairways to become thatchy and soft.  Excess thatch reduces playability and creates a moist environment that promotes an environment for disease development.

Why Sand?

The new fairway maintenance process serves to improve fairway conditions by modifying the underlying soil with the addition of sand. Just as the greens at NSCC were improved over the last 30 years by continual sand topdressing, we aspire to the same outcome on the fairways. We plan to apply roughly ¼ inch of sand per year on the fairways. At this rate, after ten years we will have accumulated a two inch sand base underneath the fairways allowing for improved turf health, better drainage, firmer fairways and improved golf cart accessibility following rain events.

In order to apply the desired amount of sand, the golf course maintenance staff has once again begun to apply sand to the fairways.  We will make three applications in the spring and three applications in the fall.  The first application on the White Nine will be completed by May 1st.  The Red and Blue Nines will be treated immediately following or as soon as the weather permits.

,Even thought the sand is swept into the turf canopy, the fairways will be somewhat sandy for a couple days.  As you play, you may notice that your ball picks up a small amount of sand.  This will occur until the turf grows through sand.  This inconvenience is small compared to the improved fairway conditions that will occur over the next couple of years.