Hovering over healthier Poa

Features - Maintenance

What tools and technologies will ease the burden facing turf managers in cool-weather growing environments? Ron Furlong reveals a wish list for the not-so-distant future.

January 19, 2022

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What if you could close your eyes and be granted a wish? Actually, close your eyes and be granted three or four wishes?

Hang on now, there are a few stipulations. First, of course, the old “rub the lamp and make a wish to the genie rule” applies. which is, you are not allowed to wish for more wishes. And second, we’re closing our eyes specifically as golf course superintendents here — and, even more to the point, cool-weather golf course superintendents — meaning, sorry to say, world peace, $6 billion in cash in small nontraceable bills or a cure for COVID-19 are not in the cards here.

Guy Cipriano, the editor-in-chief of the fine publication you are currently reading, tasked me with that very concept (or at least a limited variation of the make-a-wish concept), to close my eyes and imagine three or four innovations that could make my job as a cool-weather golf course superintendent easier.

It took me about 3.2 seconds to come up with the first one:

Disease-resistant Poa annua

For anyone managing turf in the northern climates where bentgrass struggles — like, for instance, my location in western Washington — Poa annua is, for better or worse, the card we have been dealt.

All types of golf course greens have their own nuances and intricacies that come with managing turfgrass at a high level. Bentgrass, Bermudagrass, Poa … it doesn’t matter. When you are mowing at heights of .100 or even lower these days, challenges abound.

For those of us managing Poa greens, fungal pressure is definitely high on the list of challenges. And that pressure seems to be evolving with the ever-rising demands for better and better putting surfaces.

There was a time when major disease concerns for us here in the Pacific Northwest were limited to fusarium patch and anthracnose. But over time, with those increased demands for daily high-level playability and, specifically, roll, those two common diseases are no longer the only fungal concerns in this region.

Now we deal annually with not just fusarium and anthracnose, but summer patch, take-all patch and, to a lesser extent, dollar patch and brown patch. Even Pythium, with the extreme heat we have seen in this part of the country the past few years, has become something we now have to at least consider as a possibility.

When I close my eyes and think of an easier future for northern golf course superintendents, I envision a resistant variety of Poa that could somehow make all of these pressures simply go away in a poof of magic pixie dust. I dream of a world where sprayers sit in the shop gathering dust, and the plant protectant line item in the budget shrinks to almost nothing as we divert those funds and resources to other areas of the golf course. Is this asking too much?

The greens hover mower

As I’m sitting here writing this article in early December, a record rainfall is dumping outside my window. Our average November rainfall here at the golf course is 7 inches, our wettest month by far. We just turned the calendar to December and recorded 14 inches this past November. Safe to say, for a golf course that stays open year-round, it gets a little challenging to mow grass when it’s this saturated.

One of the challenges of trying to mow greens in the saturated winter months is not so much mowing the greens themselves, which are sand-built and drain well, but often it’s the green surrounds themselves that are the problem. Getting the mower up to the green can be next to impossible when it’s this wet.

How about a greens mower that somehow can have a drone-like feature to get itself around? It could be fairly limited in its flight distance. Basically, just getting us from the cart path to the green, often no more than 40 or 50 feet — a little burst of hovering capability to get the mower where it needs to go.

Golfer accountability

This one is a little tough to explain. What I would love here is for there to be an invention that would educate the casual golfer to perhaps be a little more understanding to what we, the keepers of the course, would like from them. I have no idea what this invention would look like or how it would work, but I believe this is becoming a severe problem on courses across the country, especially recently with so many new people coming to our game in the last couple years.

This problem manifests itself in many different ways throughout a round of golf. Driving the golf cart, raking bunkers, fixing ball marks, replacing or filling divots and understanding pace, just to name a few.

With each passing year, it seems like fewer people rake their bunkers, fill divots or even fix their ball marks. The 90-degree rule, as well as directional signs, are more and more regularly ignored. To me, it seems like we’ve welcomed all these new players to the game without really holding anyone accountable to the etiquette involved and expected when playing the game of golf.

Maybe this is an app that courses would require golfers to install on their phone that somehow, as they are playing their round, holds them accountable with reminders of golf course etiquette. A little chime or vibration from their phone telling them to rake the bunker they just stepped out of or veer their cart back to the cart path instead of heading down the middle of the fairway.

Smart mowers

Along the lines of a smart phone, how about a smart mower? I’m not looking so much for a completely automated mower. I don’t want to get rid of the human element just quite yet. But how about a mower that can direct and assist the operator a little bit more than they currently do?

What I’m thinking of specifically here again is our difficulty in mowing turf year-round because of winter rains and saturation. One of the most difficult things for my operators in the late fall, winter and early spring is trying to determine whether a particular area of turf is mowable. When mowing rough, specifically, they are constantly making that decision as they move through the golf course: “Can I mow that without doing damage or getting stuck?”

What if the mower could make that decision for them? Much like cars have the technology now to alert you if you are going over the center line, maybe the mower can do something similar, even taking it a step further to determine whether an area should be attempted or maybe skipped altogether.

This would lead to less damage to the course as well as the operator being more confident and comfortable going into areas that seemed borderline with the naked eye.

I have a host of other ideas:
  • Cup cutters that somehow solidify the edge of the cup as they cut into the green to keep it from breaking down throughout the day
  • Bunker rake handles that don’t break down in the sun
  • Self-cleaning ball washers
  • Something that could be applied to the turf around sprinkler heads, catch basins, valve boxes and yardage monuments that would eliminate the need for ever having to edge them.

Ron Furlong is the superintendent at Avalon Golf Links in Burlington, Washington, and a frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.

Quiet flexibility

Anthony Williams looks way … way … way ahead at potential innovations for golf maintenance professionals working in warm-weather growing environments

I started my agronomic career behind a mule and a plow, so I am familiar with terms such as gee, haw, whoa and back. I also started my golf maintenance career with center-row quick coupler irrigation and a Jacobsen F-10 rough mower.

I am also a child of the 1960s and a huge “Star Trek” fan. As such, I hold true to the notion that mankind should aspire to generational improvement. It is not lost on me that the phone in my pocket looks similar to the communicators wielded in that series.

Please follow me into the future where many of the problems faced by professional turf managers have been technologically and/or magically solved, allowing for maximized turf maintenance with minimal human frustration. It is also important to note that we are in a warm-weather growing environment — even in 2099 there are still weather realities.

Quiet Please by WES

Vintage superintendents and history buffs speak of the early days of golf turf management, when many complaints were launched at turf maintenance machines and activities that made noise. After a century of research and development by the Quieter Maintenance Activities Coalition, our industry was gifted with a full series of maintenance equipment known as the “Whisper Equipment Series,” or WES for short. QMAC’s entire WES product line features alternative fuels (a combination of electric and solar power) and precision-integrated parts with FlexiCon O-rings that dropped the decibels generated during operation to literally a whisper.

Yes, sound is still measured in decibels. For comparison, a vintage turf mower sets off about 90 dB, a normal conversation registers about 60 dB. Complaints from homeowners near golf courses start at about 40 dB depending on the time of year (about 30 dB during fall leaf season). A note for personal health, noises above 70 dB over a long period of time can cause hearing loss and loud noises such as a gunshot at 140 dB can cause immediate hearing damage. WES mowers, blowers and weed eaters never exceed 25 dB, have virtually eliminated noise complaints from modern turf maintenance operations, and have saved literally millions of trees by reducing the number of city noise ordinances filed and posted worldwide.

Weatherflex apparel

Golf course superintendents are masters of outdoor workplace survival. However, from the time of Old Tom Morris, the successful golf course superintendent must dress for success in all types of weather. Thank goodness for Weatherflex Apparel.

Weatherflex Apparel offers a full line of outerwear for the superintendent — footwear, socks, shirts, hats, pants and jackets. Patented in late 2093, Weatherflex materials combine synthetic and natural fibers in a magical process that allows for waterproof, windproof, tearproof, mudproof and budget audit-proof performance with grand special features such as StretchGlide waistbands and collars. The footwear features a transformer-like sole that converts from a golf shoe to a work boot by activating the work/play button in its heel.

All garments automatically change color as temperatures rise or fall, keeping you cool in every sense of the word. Hats feature LogoShift technology, allowing for up to seven stored logos to be available on demand, from your favorite turf vendor to sports teams to the Weatherflex logo. Once you are completely outfitted in Weatherflex gear, you can work in a Category 6 hurricane or 110-degree heat with a breathable comfort unimaginable to the founding fathers of turf. Weatherflex Apparel is a game changer for the golf course superintendent as we head into the 22nd century. Remember their slogan: “Wear Weatherflex gear, because the weatherman is a liar.”

Galactic Wonders Sprayomba 2 Integrated Mix and Spray System

The long-awaited Sprayomba 2 arrived in 2095 to rave reviews across the industry. The now-common site of an autonomous sprayer with satellite link and mix load docking station has taken Roomba convenience to the plant protectant application world. The Sprayomba 2 docking station doubles as a spill-proof automated mix/load station that houses all the latest IPM-focused microchemistry for plant health. But that’s not all! It’s also a beacon of renewable energy sources with a low-profile combination solar and wind power plant.

Each Sprayomba 2 device can service a 9-hole equivalent up to 101 acres, with a zero-incident track record over the last five years of public use. The Sprayomba 2 combines safety and value that was once only a dream. There’s no messy mixing. You just order the EPA-approved cylinders of your EOP-confirmed synergistic products and let the technology handle the rest. The Sprayomba 2 even files your application records and reorders products automatically. The only agitation is in your beryllium-lined spray tank. Skips, misses and a human operator are non-existent.

Zoomerer Meeting Avatar

By 2099, it will be hard to imagine a time when meetings were all in-person and there were huge office buildings that trapped workers and housed conference rooms. Zoom virtual meetings and conferences were great in the 2020s, as superintendents were able to stay connected and informed and still get out to handle on-course business. But the meetings multiplied, then they multiplied some more, and soon it was hard to get other work done because of all the virtual meetings. Zoom, There seemed no end to the madness.

Then the celebrated genius and avid golfer/fly fisherman Maples Morris gave us the Zoomerer Meeting Avatar. It looks and responds exactly like you, but it tracks meetings and content and, most important, it has a complex filtering system that produces a full meeting report that only contains the items pertinent to you and your operations. No more complex analysis of the logarithm that tracks fashion trends within the golf glove markets in one-, three- and five-year congruent terms. It’s one of the most appreciated technological advancements in the history of golf, allowing the superintendent to be in two places at once, gathering the critical information of all meetings in a fraction of the time and getting back to the heart of greenkeeping, thus allowing him or her (women now fill more than two-thirds of all superintendent positions, by the way) to physically keep the greens with the added byproduct of improving work-life balance. The Zoomerer Meeting Avatar puts you back in your actual life where you can work, play or just relax.

Conclusion

The future is what we make it. Technologies we use today seemed impossible when I started my journey in turf. What do you think the future holds for our industry?

Anthony L. Williams CGCS, MG, CGM, is the director of golf course maintenance and landscaping at the Four Seasons Resort Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas.