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Travel to enough different golf courses and odds are good you will spot some curiosities that raise your eyebrows, wrinkle your nose, perhaps even spark you to turn around and run as fast and as far as you can. Take Gary Ryan, for instance. “I’ve been in the business for about 25 years now,” he says. “I’ve seen some pretty scary things. I’ve seen some places that I didn’t even want to walk into.”
Ryan is the head of grounds management at the Bayer Education and Research Facility in Clayton, North Carolina. He is also about as close to a walking, talking course safety guidebook as you will ever find. If you have a question about chemicals — about storing or handling them, about mixing or applying them, about anything about them, really —Ryan is as great a source as you can find.
Start with the basics. “You have to have trained personnel and the safety measures in place before we even talk about doing any kind of handling, any kind of spraying or anything else,” he says. “If you don’t have that basic knowledge, then it’s not even worth going forward. You have to have your core setup, you have to have your pesticide licenses in place.” And that includes more than just your licensed spray technicians. “The inclusion of your handlers is very important — they need to know the safety procedures, when something becomes a safety issue or an emergency, who to contact, how to move forward. Those handlers are “usually the more responsible employees,” he says. “They need to get more education, they need to stay up to date.”
People are and will always be the most important part of the process. Proper storage is almost as high on the list. Ryan recommends a separate facility for storage and mixing — and preferably well away from the maintenance facility. “Even the bare basic model is probably going to give you better protection than your maintenance facility because it’s separate from the building where you’re functioning on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “Depending on what you’ve got as far as a pesticide storage building — and I know it’s all based on budget and what your course can and can’t do, and obviously not everybody can have a Cadillac, some of us drive a Chevy — if you can manage what you have, that’s the most important part.”
If circumstances keep you from a separate storage and mixing location, “make sure you take all precautions and follow all guidelines,” Ryan says. “You have to kind of segregate it from the rest of your building.” Ryan says he thinks proper safety precautions are overlooked in situations like that, especially for mixing areas. “We carry portable bottles of eye wash at all times. You know as well as I do that when you’re mixing a product, the point of mixture is where the product is at its highest concentration. You’re coming in direct contact with it, there are contact issues, there are ventilation issues, all that.”
No matter where you keep your chemicals, keeping the space in order is key. Leaks and spills can mix and cause chemical reactions and personal protective equipment can become contaminated — especially if you keep disposable and reusable PPE in close contact. There is also the matter of just being able to find what you need when you need it. And there are inspections to consider. “Just keep the place cleaned up,” he says. “When you do your inventory, it’ll make it a little easier.” ?
Within the lifetimes of most golf course superintendents working today, the disease Bermudagrass decline was relegated to parts of Florida and other Gulf states, where thunderstorms rumble through seemingly more summer afternoons than not and spark peak humidity. Over time, the disease shifted, migrated and received a new name. What was once Bermudagrass decline developed into the far more ominously named take-all root rot.
“This happens in diseases,” says Dr. Jim Kerns, an associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at NC State University, “You get a name change and then it becomes, for lack of a better term ‘sexy’ again and scary, so people get alarmed with it. Take-all root rot is nothing new. It’s been around a long time. It’s just that people forget that when we change grasses in this industry, you can select for new pathogens or a new symptomology of an existing disease as the industry evolves and changes.”
The migration north and west out of the Sunshine State occurred in concert with so many courses transitioning to ultradwarf Bermudagrasses, Kerns says, adding that, “It’s just becoming more prevalent because we’re planting more Bermudagrass putting greens in areas of the country that we never used to.” Because of that, it developed into more of a problem about a dozen years ago, and today, “It is, in our lab, by far the biggest disease issue we see in ultradwarf Bermudagrasses,” Kerns adds.
Early visual symptoms of take-all root rot include thinner turf strands and chlorotic patches, along with patches of diseased warm-season turf, which can lead to infected root systems that rot to brown or black. Kerns says researchers are “... getting a much better handle on it, and I think we already have pretty good management strategies for it, where it’s not as detrimental as it was four, five years ago.” But if your turf is warm-season, what can you do to prevent the disease?
Different studies have yielded different results, but more recent research indicated that earlier applications are more effective. Kerns worked on one study last fall in which a variety of products, including Maxtima fungicide from BASF, were applied Aug. 28 and provided “fantastic control.” Applying the same products one month later didn’t provide the same control until January. The driving theory in that study posited that superintendents should target soil temperatures around 80 degrees rather than 70 degrees.
“What’s nice about this disease,” Kerns says, “is if you do miss August, you still get control — it just takes a while because Bermudagrass growth is slowing at that time. We’ve made it our mission to try to get people to start thinking about applications in July and August to really combat this disease.”
Superintendents should dive into their soil pH too, because take-all root rot tends be more severe when that number ticks above 7 — and even more severe when there is also a high water pH. “There’s not much you can do in a lot of cases about that,” Kerns says, “but be cognizant that it may take an extra application than maybe your friend who has a pH around 6.” Supplemental manganese has also proved effective, Kerns says, referencing the research of Dr. Phil F. Harmon at the University of Florida.
Perhaps the easiest solution for effective applications that yield weeks of control at a time is to remember to irrigate. “I cannot stress enough that the organism is attacking the stolons and rhizomes in the primary roots that are a quarter-inch to a half-inch deep below the canopy,” Kerns says. “So, if you don’t irrigate in with an eighth of an inch of water immediately after application, you won’t be able to get the fungicide to where it needs to be.”
And how often do superintendents not irrigate those fungicides? “It’s more than I’d like to admit, still about 20 to 30 percent of the people I talk to, but it’s getting better and better,” Kerns says. Even just a handful of years ago, the figure was “way higher.”
“Watering in fungicides, we never used to do that, so it is changing,” Kerns says. “I don’t think superintendents are doing it maliciously or just saying no. They put out a fungicide on a certain date and not considering a target, if that makes sense. What I advocate is when you develop your program, always know what your target is so you know whether to water it in.”
Kerns doesn’t want to trivialize take-all root rot, “because someone reading this could be struggling with it,” he says, but he stresses that recent research and support from chemical companies has helped to keep it from becoming as devastating as Pythium root rot or nematodes. Spot the visual symptoms, know your soil pH, target the proper soil temp and remember to irrigate in your fungicide and odds are good your course will still have putting greens rather than putting blacks.
Keep up on the latest research too, because, as Kerns says, “One of the things that makes this disease a mystery is that we still really haven’t figured out the cause of it yet. We’re close, but there’s still more to be done.”
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A powerful story about Pete Dye’s impact on a determined and talented architect is the subject of a second straight Tartan Talks episode.
Bobby Weed joined the podcast between educational sessions at the Golf Industry Show, where Dye’s life and career were honored as part of the ASGCA Winter Meeting. Weed first met Dye at Amelia Island (Florida) Plantation in the mid-1970s and the duo’s relationship spanned more than 40 years.
“I think what drew me to Pete was his unending work ethic and his desire and enthusiasm for building golf courses,” says Weed, a longtime GCSAA and ASGCA member. “He liked anybody and everybody who worked hard and had an interest and passion for the game. Being around him was very infectious. It drove you to new levels.”
Weed established his own design firm in 1994 and parlayed his experiences with Dye into numerous solo assignments throughout the Southeast, including the new GROVE XXIII, a South Florida private club whose majority partner is basketball great Michael Jordan. Lessons absorbed from Dye still influence nearly every design and personnel management decision Weed makes. “There was never a golf hole that he didn’t think could be improved upon,” Weed says.
The podcast with Weed follows last month’s conversation with Brian Curley, who worked with Dye on multiple West Coast projects. Enter bit.ly/BobbyWeed into your web browser to hear Weed speak about Dye.
Seeking an outstanding student scholar
Golf Course Industry and our parent company, GIE Media, are again supporting a scholarship for an outstanding student focused on leading the golf industry.
GIE Media is awarding the $2,500 Stanley Zontek Memorial Scholarship, an unrestricted grant that supports a turf student with a passion for the game. Selection criteria include academic performance, advisor/superintendent recommendations and an essay about why the student is passionate about a career as a superintendent.
The award honors Stanley J. Zontek, the former director of the USGA Green Section’s Mid-Atlantic Region. Zontek died after suffering a heart attack at age 63 in 2012.
Enter http://bit.ly/Zontek2020 into your web browser for an application form. The deadline to apply is Monday, April 13.
The USGA announced it will fund 73 research grants totaling nearly $2 million in 2020 to help courses improve the golfer experience while reducing the consumption of key resources. The USGA Turfgrass and Environmental Research Program, one of several continuous efforts led by the Green Section, which was founded in 1920, has invested more than $41 million into programs to enhance course conditions and help superintendents.
Princeville Makai Golf Club, located on the North Shore of Kauai in Hawai’i, ended the distribution of single-use plastic water bottles at the grill and on beverage carts. Officials estimate that the club and guests were using approximately 100,000 plastic bottles each year.
The Musser International Turfgrass Foundation selected Garett C. Heineck as its 2020 Award of Excellence recipient. Heineck earned his doctorate from the University of Minnesota and wrote his dissertation about methods for perennial ryegrass breeding. The award is given to outstanding doctorate candidates in the final phase of their graduate studies who demonstrate overall excellence throughout their doctoral program in turfgrass research.