Raving about research

Departments - Notebook

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

April 10, 2019

Dan Dinelli at the NERTF Conference & Show.

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.

Dr. Olga Kostromytska of UMass.

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

Scenes from the 2019 New England Regional Turfgrass Conference & Show at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence.
  • 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.”

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.

Industry buzz

Aquatrols unveiled plans to extend their conservation efforts beyond the company with a new non-profit organization. The FairWays Foundation will help fund local and global projects, as well as educational events, that advance conservation and stewardship efforts within the turf industry. The Foundation expects to begin accepting formal submissions for grants by the end of 2019.

Tamas (Tom) Tanto has been named recipient of American Society of Irrigation Consultants’ Roy Williams Memorial Award. The award is given annually to a person or organization who has shown outstanding achievement or made significant contribution to the irrigation industry. Tanto, who started Tanto Construction and Supply in 1969, will be presented the award at the ASIC National Conference in Santa Fe, N.M., on May 7.

Tim Schantz has officially moved into his new role as chief executive officer of Troon. Schantz joined the company in 1998 and had served as President since 2017. Founder Dana Garmany is remaining with the company as executive chairman.

Taking Flight

Superintendent Chris Allen tells Pat Jones why the BASF Monarch Challenge has been a game-changer at Eagle Lakes GC in Naples, Fla.


Tell us a little about your course …

We are a fairly unique semi-private daily fee club; one of the few courses in the Naples area open for public play during the winter. Our peak season runs from January to March/Easter with anywhere from 220 to 300-plus rounds per day. With an operating budget that is on average about 25 percent of most clubs in this area, we are always searching for the most economical methods to produce the highest value product.

Like a lot of other places, staffing can be nightmarish. I am lucky to have an older crew (47 to 80 years old) willing to work amazingly hard. We have four full-time crew members, and another four seasonal part-time crew members, no mechanic, no assistants, no irrigation tech and no spray tech. I’m incredibly lucky to have clubhouse staff that assists during off-season months as well as an extremely supportive spouse at home!

How did you get started?

I started very small. I designated a 250- to 300-square foot area near a comfort station to grow the milkweed plants because I really didn’t know how it would be accepted. BASF sent me the plants, signage, hardware for the signage, and nice quality educational materials for our members, players and staff. I noticed early on our starter plants were having a tough time, so I purchased about five 3-gallon plants for about $50 from SiteOne here in Naples. Once planted, I simply watered them as needed and nature did the rest.

How has this been a rewarding thing for your facility?

The most noticeable thing has been the reaction of our members and players. There has been so much positive support and interaction from every type of golfer. Whether it’s questions, comments, or just pure amazement from being able to see the life-cycle and stages of development, they all love it. Our small starter area has triggered some great conversations to give us an opportunity to clear up so many misconceptions the public has about golf courses and the turf industry impact on our environmental surroundings.

One reward that wasn’t directly noticeable right away is financial. Our success with this program and the support of BASF has afforded our GM and I the opportunity to rethink our entire turf program. Hurricane Irma forced us to remove about 10 acres of useless turf area and we removed another 10 as part of a design change. Our goal is to reduce our playable turf area by another 20 acres by the end of summer and replace all of that removed turf with a wildflower/milkweed sustainability combination. Essentially this will double the impact of our fertilizer and chemical budget without injecting any new money, allowing us to focus on the grass that really matters. Refocusing turf applications and creating new wildlife habitat is a win-win for us.

Tartan Talks No. 33

Spring means the return of a crew and golfers for superintendents in cold-weather regions. Golf course architects experience a different work sensation when winter lifts.

Greg Martin joined Tartan Talks for a second time – the first time we chatted with him in the summer of 2016 we had helicopters flying above our heads in Jersey City, N.J. – to explain how architects structure their days, weeks, months and years. Their work, in many cases, is cyclical, with economic factors driving a large portion of their respective schedules.

“We want to see things happen instantaneously,” Martin says. “That’s not necessarily the best way to go about this. This is an industry that turns slowly. That’s the good and the bad. If you’re going to spend millions on improvements, you want to make sure it’s done correctly.”

In addition to discussing spring from an architect’s perspective, Martin describes journey mapping, offering insights from Disney and Starbucks applicable to golf. “You have to look at your product through your customer’s eyes,” he says. “And you can’t believe everything you will do will be exactly right.”

Martin also uses the Tartan Talks forum to explain his methodology toward writing a guest column about authenticity (page 40). Enter bit.ly/2FPcUM3 into your web browser to hear the podcast.