Friday, January 23, 2015

This is certainly not a subject that I want to cover here but unfortunately it has to be done.  The weather over the past four weeks and in particular the past week, has been the most severe summer conditions I have experienced in my 16 seasons here.  For anyone who has played the West greens recently you will realise that the greens are really struggling and 17 has all but died.  Captain Dave put some information on his weekly newsletter and I would like to offer some more background information for members here as well as a plan of action. 

The West greens are bentgrass which is a cool season turf variety that provides a superior putting surface in comparison to couchgrass which is a warm season turf variety.  In turf growth terms there are certain climatic regions where particular grasses are suited.  In the case of bentgrass obviously the southern States of Australia are more suitable for its growth and the northern States are more suited to couchgrass.  CTH is situated in a sub tropical climate zone and as such is in what is known as a transition zone as far as the growth of plants and in particular turf is concerned.   

It is an agronomic fact that bentgrass roots start to stop functioning at soil temperatures above 25º and they start dying at temperatures above 30º.  Given that the soil temperatures on the West greens are constantly at or above 30º during summer it is easy to understand why the greens are under stress.  In the case of 17W in particular, the soil temperature on Friday January 16 was 36º which was the same as the surface temperature of the green which had a humidity level of 85%.  This is a recipe for disaster for bentgrass and in the case of 17W, disaster is just what happened, with the green suffering massive stress and ultimately turf loss.  Night time temperatures are also a factor and with our overnight temperatures rarely dropping below 23º in summer the soil gets very little chance to cool.  When the greens are irrigated, the water temperature generally sits around 28º so the greens are effectively being irrigated with warm water which only adds to the problem. 

As a background, 17W has been an ongoing problem forever.  To my knowledge it has been rebuilt 4 times – twice in my time – 2005 and 2007.  In January 2010 a temporary green was actually prepared and the decision had been made to rebuild and convert the green to Tifeagle after the green started to deteriorate.  The green recovered slowly and we fought on and the rebuild wasn't done.   A fan was purchased and installed at the rear of the green later that year to assist with air circulation and the green got through the next two years although was always a problem and in poorer condition than the other West greens.  The fan rusted badly and repair was considered too costly at the time. 

Over the years I have had every turf consultant / expert I know look at 17W and there have been countless soil tests done which have all been fruitless in providing a cause or solution.  The greens location (whilst nowhere near as closed in as 12R for example) seems to be the problem.  Surface and soil temperatures are constantly 3 – 5 degrees above the other greens, even the adjacent 13 and 16W.  Air movement is much poorer with the flag often limp on 17W and fluttering on 13 and 16W for example.  The proximity to Shallow Bay and the salt air environment (which was the reason the fan rusted so badly) is also a contributing factor.  Most of the consultants mentioned above simply ask why we are trying to grow bentgrass greens here at all.

I firmly believe that the last 2 summers have been “easier” as we haven’t had the rainfall / moisture as usually experienced in summer (this last 2 weeks for example) and 17W has been in better condition but the return to a normal summer has seen it fail. The other West greens are also stressed which is normal for this time of year and in this weather.  The change in the weather from continually wet to dry and now back to continually wet also has an influence.   Late last week the greens had localised dry spots appear and required hand watering throughout the day to help them limp through the day and are still trying to recover now.

In August 2012 the Board agreed in principle to start a program to convert the West greens to Tifeagle couchgrass and a member’s information session was held on the subject where the process was explained and discussed.  That program was never actioned but the time has now come for very serious thought to be given to such a course of action. 

Some of the advantages of converting the greens are;
1.    A year round reliable putting surface.  If you look at the 328 greens right now there is no environmental stress and because we don’t get severely cold in winter they don’t enter any high degree of dormancy so there is no real stress or colour loss in winter.  Tifeagle will be the same.
2.   A putting surface that will cope with the number and type of players that we experience.  Tifeagle won’t have a pitch mark or disease problem as the current West greens have.
3.      Tifeagle will require significantly less irrigation water which saves on pumping costs and will improve the green surrounds turf health.  The current surround of 17W green is very soft due to the amount of irrigation applied to the green due to the poor root structure of the bentgrass.
4.   In 2008 the Club participated in a trial of some of the new ultradwarf couchgrasses of which Tifeagle is one.  The nursery area was prepared as a green would be and the varieties; 328, Tifeagle, Champion, Floradwarf, MS Supreme and Mini Verde were planted.  These trials were replicated at Horton Park GC, Twin Waters GC, Indooroopilly GC and at Redlands Research Station.  Every variety performed differently at each venue with Champion being the poorest here but is now being used at Brisbane GC.  Tifeagle performed very well here and at Horton Park but not at Twin Waters or Indooroopilly where it suffered a lot of disease. The new Horton Park and Sanctuary Cove Palms courses have subsequently planted Tifeagle and our trial success is why it has been recommended for future West greens works, in particular 17W. 
5.      In all the former discussions about re-grassing 17W it has been suggested that it will be the ideal opportunity to try a new grass type in readiness for future West greens conversions.  Many of the West greens are approaching 30 years old and have an obvious problem with encroachment of foreign couchgrass, let alone their ability to cope with the summer heat and humidity. There is only one product registered for the control of couchgrass in bentgrass putting greens and as is easily noticed it has little effect on the varieties present in the West greens.  All I am doing is restricting the further spread of the couchgrass without control. 
6.     The time for re-grassing all the West greens is looming large on the horizon and this will be an excellent opportunity to evaluate Tifeagle.    Due to the very high soil and surface temperatures on 17W the bentgrass struggles to survive. Tifeagle thrives when soil temperatures are between 25 and 35º.

And so next Tuesday the dozers will roll back on to 17W for hopefully the last time in my lifetime.  150mm of the green will be excavated which will remove the thatch material with 450mm being removed from a two metre wide swath around the outside of the green.  This is to ensure that the foreign couchgrass will be removed and the green will be taken back out to its original edge.  The irrigation will be renewed while we have the green open and then the new growing medium will be installed and shaped up ready for stolonising on Tuesday February 3.  Given the summer weather continuing there should be eight weeks of very good establishment conditions and the green should be ready for play in 12 weeks time.

Meanwhile the other West greens will continue to be spoon fed and nurtured as best we can to get them through the remaining summer.  And finally, apologies in advance as the temporary green on 17W is a bit rough but there has obviously been little time to prepare it.

I wrote much of this on Thursday night and arrived to work on Friday morning to another 73mm of rainfall.  That takes us to 623mm since Boxing Day which is just shy of 25 inches in 28 days!!

1 comment:

  1. Its a shame that we have to keep the leaking boat afloat with a bucket, and others will only take notice when that boat sinks. Hope you can keep it proactive, and produce the results that you know are out there with our current knowledge.


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