The right fit

The right fit

How matching solutions with needs helped a Connecticut superintendent boost the turf on key parts of a classic course.

June 8, 2018
Kurt Kleinham
When Doug Drugo started as superintendent at Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Conn., about 15 years ago, he took on a large isolated dry spot across his fairways, he says.

As an 18-hole private club with a membership of about 750, any trouble areas in the fairways would be noticeable.

“We really fought the isolated dry spots in the fairways. Even shortly after rains, it was just really hard to get it to correct,” he says. “There was a lot of hand-watering of fairway areas, which is a lot. We have a lot of fairway acreage for a Northeast club. We spray 35 acres, and that includes our intermediate cut.”

Right about the time he was looking for solutions for the dry fairway, AQUA-AID Solutions’ OARS product came on the market, he says. “We started to spray just to try to find something that would rectify it for us, and that seemed to be the product that worked the best for us on our fairways at that point in time,” he adds.

The product became a regular part of his team’s rotation, spraying monthly at about 6 ounces per 1,000 square feet, with a 1.5-gallon carrier, watered in, he says. “That would get us at least 30 days,” Drugo says. “A little bit longer when we tried to overlap it, so we didn't have the issue pop back up.”

Using OARS, he and his crew were able to get away from the necessity of hand-watering those fairway areas, he says. Though he doesn’t have specific numbers about how much labor it saves, “it’s been a drastic difference where we’ve utilized that. Instead of having four to five guys hand-watering the fairway, they can be doing something else more productive to make an improvement rather than run around with a hose.”

Eventually, he started injecting the product into the course’s irrigation system based on flow volume at his pump station, to cover all of his turf and control watering issues before they become a problem, he says. If there’s a spell of dry weather, his team might go out with an additional lighter application of about 3 ounces per 1,000 square feet, but that’s rare at this point.

Drugo treats the product like a regular line item for the budget, another resource to keep turf up to player expectations, he says. “It’s something we needed to do,” he says. “It’s a tool that we need to use, and fortunately, we have the resources to be able to use it.”

Chuck Breitenbach, vice president of sales for The Hill Company, a distributor in Cincinnati, Ohio, says both OARS products, OARS HS and OARS PS, are some of the top sellers among AQUA-AID Solutions products he offers.

“Both of them will hold water, but the PS has a penetrant in it that’s going to help drive water,” he says. “With the PS, you’re going to have the capability of drying [greens] out for a tournament, but you’ll also have the ability to rewet them.

"With the HS, that's going to be more of maybe a medium-range club that doesn’t have all the labor they need for hand-watering,” he says. “We can't keep them firm and fast day in and day out because we're operating with a crew of seven. So those would be the biggest products on greens.”

For fairways, he sees a lot of use of PBS150, a long-term surfactant that can be used at relatively the same rates, with about 150 days of activity as compared to about 90, he says. He'll do a cost-analysis with clients to get to the details.

“Yes, this costs more from a case standpoint, but when you break it down to what your cost is per acre per day of activity you're getting, it’s actually less,” he says. “You have several chemistries doing different things. It allows you to have a balance to hold moisture in the root zone, but also keep that top inch relatively firm in the fairways.”

The most important goal for Breitenbach is to match the right product and technology to the superintendent’s needs, he says. To figure out the right product for the situation, he asks superintendents a few questions.

“Those questions being: What are you looking to get out of this application? What results are you looking for?” he says. “At the end of the day, that's where most problems occur, is the wrong type of technology used in the wrong place on the golf course. They’re using something that’s holding water at a maximum and they’re putting it on the greens, and you don’t know, the next 30 days might be extremely wet. Now you’re compounding the problem.”

Superintendents should be using one product to dry out greens to get them firm and fast for a two-week time span for tournaments, and another to boost holding capability to make up for the labor for hand-watering, Breitenbach says.

A question about budgeting comes into play to determine if it makes sense to only use products on greens, or if there's room to expand to fairways as well. If it’s a matter of convincing the members or a committee, Breitenbach suggests trying the product out on half of one fairway so they can see the difference compared to the rest of the course.

Surfactants can also help in uncovering opportunities to save water on the course, he says.

“I have a couple customers who are in situations where they spend a fair amount of money in a year’s time on water,” he says. “When you show them how much money they can save, then it becomes really a no-brainer for them to incorporate it into their program.”

But to find those connections between the right product and a need like large isolated dry spots across a fairway or a wet green, Breitenbach has to know where the trouble lies, he says. That means that superintendents should take a moment to consider what they’re looking to achieve.

“I'm going to always revert back to ‘What does the superintendent want?’” he says. “To me, everything goes back to that first question. What are you trying to accomplish agronomically?”

Kurt Kleinham is a contributing editor from Akron, Ohio.