Course Superintendent Update

Published on 20th February 2020 in Course News, Members News, Uncategorised

Dear Members,

RE: Course update

At the moments there is quite a bit of talk around regarding the greens. This is an update to keep members informed as to why we are experiencing the conditions at present.

We have recently undertaken a spraying program to help eradicate Poa Annua from our greens.  For those who are unaware Poa is an extremely difficult grass to remove from greens due to its similar characteristics to bent grass. There is no proven herbicide or silver bullet out in the market to simply spray the greens once and get that instant result without causing severe damage to bent grass.

So what is Poa?

Poa Annua is the most troublesome weed to manage out on the golf course due to the environment it is grown in. Areas such as fairways and tees the Poa is an annual weed as is the case in nearly every home lawn where it will start dying off when the temperatures start rising. Bentgrass greens however provide perfect conditions for Poa to thrive year-round due to the high moisture and fertility required throughout the summer months to simply keep Bentgrass alive and functioning.

New Poa plants usually begin germination around May when we start experiencing the cooler nights and mornings and increased daily moisture levels. Due to the size of the plant it goes undetected and starts rapidly growing around July/august usually when the growth rates of the bent subsides and moisture levels and compaction levels is at its highest. The viability of Poa seed is extremely high and easily spread by mowers/equipment, animals and on the bottom of people’s feet and these areas are noticeably thicker and higher populations are present in the walk on/off areas around greens.

Why is Poa bad?

Poa is only bad if you have predominately Bentgrass greens. During winter, the growth rate of Poa is a lot higher then bent and in late spring/early summer the seed head from Poa can create bumpier putting surface causing balls to deviate off their “intended” line. As a superintendent’s point of view Poa is probably the most adaptive grass/weed out there and due to its high seeding rates a very difficult grass to manage out once established.

Is Poa all that bad?

The word Poa is a bit of a buzz word amongst golfers who don’t fully understand what the grass is and how quickly and adaptive to its environment it can become.  At all turf conferences and general Golf Course Superintendent discussions the main question asked, and topic of conversation is always…. what is your Poa management and how’s your greens holding up?

Last year the US Open (Pebble) and US PGA (Bethpage) were both played on Poa greens, from memory previous US open courses Torrey Pines and Riviera were also played on 100% Poa greens so it can’t be that bad of a surface can it?

Why are our greens like they are at present?

We recently commenced a spraying program to target the amount of Poa in our greens in attempt to reduce the population over the summer. As mentioned earlier there is no single application herbicide out in the market to fully eradicate Poa from within putting surfaces.

Several years ago one chemical was released that was marketed as a game changer and courses around the world began using it with mixed and varying results. Locally Mount Lawley and Melville Glades were 2 of the Metro clubs that trialled it and experienced the loss of several greens as the chemical severely impacted the health of the bent grass and these greens required replacing, since then the chemical has been shelved. Superintendents in the US have started playing around with the application rates and frequency of application and started achieving really good results from it. I have been following these experiments for the past 4 years and was keen to put the trials into action. Last year we did trials on greens 2,3,7,8,10,11,18 and after 2 applications we started seeing some results. However leading into autumn and into our busy golf schedule we stopped the applications due to the impact on course presentation and surface preparations leading into the golf season.

On December 17 we began our first application – to date we have done 6 applications since then. To the membership queries have been raised regarding some of the bare patches on greens in particular 5,6,11,13,15,17 along with bare areas on 2,5,7,8,9,11,13,15,17, 18 greens collars. These patches are a result of the chemical doing exactly what it’s meant to be doing and has eradicated the larger and thicker patches of Poa. Unfortunately, these patches have smothered out the bent leaving us with no grass after the Poa has died off. After the last application (7th Feb) we have now seen the smaller patches starting to turn and we are experiencing bumpier greens as the Poa begins to die and sink below the height of the bent.  I intend on finishing our program with 2 more applications scheduled to take place over the coming weeks.

On top of the Poa program we have also factored in other herbicide applications to target crabgrass in greens collars and surrounds. These applications are done weekly for a space of 3-4 weeks depending on infestation. The chemical used for this is DSMA and has a yellowing effect on non-targeted grass species which only gives us a small window of application due to fixtured events as we don’t want that “yellow” look for our bigger events. The timing of this has definitely made our greens and green surrounds looking very average at present.

What are we doing with these bare patches?

We have begun injecting these patches with bent seed and have started to see the early signs of germination, if all goes well these patches will begin to start covering back over quickly with the aid of increased nutrient inputs and regular dusting (very light and frequent topdressing). Additional plugging of turf maybe required if these areas don’t cover over quick enough.

What are other courses doing?

Several courses use the growth regulator paclobutrazol to help shrink the size of the Poa plant and allows the bent to grow back in around the plant and technically smother it out, we are also using this.

Other courses with larger staff numbers usually just plug infected Poa out with a hole changer and replace with a fresh plug of bent.

WA Golf Club have gone down the road of replacing all their greens with the same turf we have introduced on our new greens (1,4,9,12,16-Pure Distinction). They will then go down the way of resurfacing greens every 5-10yrs when Poa numbers become unmanageable.

Personally, I like to approach things differently than most other golf courses/superintendents and look at world industry trends, the most up to date turf management techniques as I continue to research all areas extensively. My passion is for turf care and health, and I am an astute researcher on all things in turf management to give our team the best knowledge and opportunity for year-round quality surfaces. To date we are the only golf course in WA that is currently using this chemical and after our success I am sure more will follow.

Couch in greens

The couch in our greens has been an issue since the 90’s, like Poa there really isn’t anything out on the market to remove couch from bent grass, the one chemical available is pricey and you’re not guaranteed results as it can be very hit and miss. The ideal time to be spraying for this is in late autumn and with the South West Open around that time plus as the couch goes dormant and disappears for the winter it is not really a viable option. For greens like 11,18 & 7 due to the amount of couch encroachment  they will have to wait until we replace them as part of the greens replacement program (at this stage 18 is the next green we are looking at doing next spring) . For other greens with smaller patches we were hoping to start replacing these areas with new bent from our nursery, however, water issues at the beginning of November we were forced to stop irrigating our new seeded part of the nursery and it didn’t survive.  We will now look towards replacing some patches this time next year.

Expectations v’s Reality

I can understand the frustration coming from some members however sometimes expectations far outweigh the reality. Most of the time we believe we present the course in as good a standard then some of the metropolitan courses with larger budgets and staff. We often get questions as to why certain things don’t get done or why we don’t do this or why we don’t do that but the reality is we are often faced with constraints whether it’s financially, golf bookings/club competition requirements and quite often environmental challenges. Things often happen that we have no control over and this takes up additional man hours to compensate.

In my career I have been very fortunate to be involved in working on golf facilities that have hosted both US Tour and European Tour events and the reality is these courses aren’t 100% pristine every day of the year, quite often these courses shut down for periods throughout the year  to allow work so it doesn’t impact playing conditions. These courses also have staff levels in excess of 20 people with the number rising to well over 100 for televised events. At the moment we have 2x qualified staff, 2x apprentices, 1x part time, 1x casual for the summer period. As a club we are very lucky to have the staff that we have as every staff member is committed in making this course the best it can be and sometimes you need to go backwards before you can keep progressing forward.

I thank you in advance for your understanding and patience as we drive forward improving our playing surfaces.


Dave Brennan

Course Superintendent

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