Editor's notebook: Raving about research

Editor's notebook: Raving about research

Chicagoland superintendent Dan Dinelli spreads his zest for science at the New England Regional Turfgrass Conference & Show.

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March 18, 2019

Sometimes the speaker lineup flows perfectly at an industry event like it did during the 2019 New England Regional Turfgrass Conference & Show in Providence, R.I.
 
In his first appearance at the annual event, ingenious Chicagoland superintendent Dan Dinelli described the results of biochar research at North Shore Country Club. Not familiar with biochar? In short, it’s a carbon-rich soil amendment created via pyrolysis, a process requiring abundant heat. Research conducted on North Shore’s 7,000-square foot experimental green convinced Dinelli to incorporate biochar into the mix the club used for a recent greens renovation. Biochar, Dinelli says, can help sand-based systems “prosper for a long period of time,” thus extending the club’s investment.   
 
Early in his presentation, Dinelli asked a room filled with 300 colleagues about biochar usage. Only one New England superintendent indicated he had dabbled with the amendment. Dinelli started biochar research in 2014, making him one of the few superintendents holding data about its performance in a golf course rootzone. “Fortunately for us, the scientific community has gotten into studying char, but there haven’t been a lot of studies on turf,” he says. 
 
After his 30-minute presentation, which started with an introduction to the science behind biochar before transitioning into its purpose at North Shore, Dinelli plopped into a seat near the front of the Rhode Island Convention Center ballroom and listened to the next speaker. Once the Wednesday morning education session commenced, Dinelli experienced his favorite part of a turf event. 
 
“I don’t really like doing talks,” he says. “I get pretty uptight. When you write, you have a chance to edit. I’m more comfortable writing. I don’t give talks because I necessarily enjoy it, but I enjoy learning from other people. The fun comes after the presentation when people come up to you and say, ‘I tried this, I saw that.’ And it happens every time.”
 
The organizers of the New England event, which has thrived since its inception in 1998 because of strong local chapter and corporate support, picked the ideal topic to follow Dinelli’s presentation: “Superintendents and Field Trials.” Dr. Olga Kostromytska of the University of Massachusetts offered practical and honest guidance for attendees looking to conduct research at their respective courses. 
 
Yes, turfgrass specialists desperately need courses and superintendents willing to participate in research trials. And, yes, that participation requires significant superintendent attention. “Conducting even a simple research trial is time and labor consuming,” Kostromytska says. 
 
Kostromytska described the perils and pleasures of university and do-it-yourself research. Perils, according to Kostromytska, include the regular presence of researchers on playing surfaces, turf samples being extracted from “valuable” areas and withholding product applications in certain spots for comparison purposes. 
 
Many superintendents, at this point, are ready to leave research participation to more daring colleagues. But conducting a research trial, Kostromytska says, offers numerous benefits to willing superintendents, including: 
  • Obtaining info about the newest finding relevant to your course’s specific location 
  • Receiving onsite diagnostics and consultations 
  • Networking with researchers 
  • Contributing to new discoveries
  • Furthering your own and your crew’s education
  • Promoting your successful management strategies. 
What will members and customers think of all this? A third-generation superintendent, Dinelli has a deep connection with North Shore, where his father also served as the superintendent. A portion of the membership is familiar with Dinelli’s zest for research. That familiarity yields member encouragement. 
 
“It gives most of them a sense of security that we’re thinking about things pretty critically,” Dinelli says. “It’s a win-win-win for everybody. The researchers are also looking for plots and environments that relate to real-world conditions. Nursery or research plots at universities are appropriate for some tests, but other tests not so much. They’re not receiving the same wear or same level of care as what it might be receiving at a golf course. Researchers are getting information they feel better about it, and I’m getting site specific information that’s applicable to us. I’m developing relationships with the scientific community, which is always a bonus. Ultimately, the club and the industry benefits from that."
 
Science is one of Dinelli’s hobbies, thus his penchant for handling research requests despite the demands of leading a team responsible for maintaining an elite course. Conducting research on processes such as applying biochar or sand topdressing are Dinelli’s version of reading golf literature or playing the game following a turf shift. The job doesn’t necessarily demand the extra hours, but it boosts a portfolio. “Plus, I enjoy it,” he says. “It’s fun. Science is a gas.”
 
Visiting New England allowed Dinelli to spread his passion for science to a different audience. The region’s researchers, especially the one who followed his presentation, are hoping the Midwest message resonates with Northeast superintendents. 
 
Guy Cipriano is GCI’s senior editor.