108 degrees in … Seattle?
Photos courtesy of Ron Furlong

108 degrees in … Seattle?

Ron Furlong sets the unusual summer weather scene in the Pacific Northwest and describes the adaptations his team made to handle the extreme heat.

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July 20, 2021

I would venture to guess that 108 degrees Fahrenheit sounds pretty darn to hot most people. Even folks in states like Arizona, California, Florida and Texas might even admit to that sounding a bit warm. But 108 in the Pacific Northwest is not that same as 108 in those traditionally hot pockets of the country. 108 degrees for us in Seattle may seem more like 125 Fahrenheit to other places.

The last week of June and the first week of July saw unprecedented temperatures for the Pacific Northwest. To put the 108-degree mark Seattle hit on June 28 in context, the average temperature for that date in the city is 73.

Portland, Oregon, hit 116 degrees on the same day. Although Portland does trend to the warmer spectrum in the Pacific Northwest, there is no dismissing these types of temperatures.

Golf course greens in the Pacific Northwest are almost exclusively Poa annua. Poa, of course, does not care for extreme temps, which is the main reason it thrives out here. We don’t (sorry, didn’t) experience 100-plus temps very often, let alone a multi-day stretch of them. In fact, we can often go an entire summer without seeing 90.

Safe to say it was a bit surreal to see the forecast six or seven days before the extreme heat was going to hit us. At one point the Seattle Times had the expected high on June 28 at 114. We ended up hitting 108, shattering the recorded record high for the Emerald City by 4 degrees.

Superintendents throughout the region were preparing for the heat event with the same apprehension and concern one might feel in preparing for an approaching hurricane or flood event.

My golf course, Avalon Golf Links, is about 75 minutes north of Seattle in the Skagit Valley region of Washington. Although our temps trend a few degrees cooler than Seattle, anything north of 100 degrees is nothing to take lightly. My assistant, Tyler Harris, and I started to formulate a game plan about a week before the extreme stretch.

We figured out an afternoon hand-watering schedule, as well as an afternoon syringing schedule, coordinating this with the pro shop to secure some gaps in play to allow us to cool the Poa. The problem with extreme heat in June is the long hours of sunlight. June heat is always more stressful than August or September heat because of the length of sunlight.

We also raised heights about a week before on the greens from .100 to .120 and dropped our daily mowing from two sides a day (we have three nine-hole sides to make up our 27 holes), to one per day and increased our rolling accordingly.

But it wasn’t just the planning of water and figuring out mowing and rolling that had to be considered. For the first time in my 19 years at Avalon, I had a legitimate concern about Pythium, a disease I haven’t given serious thought to since leaving Minnesota a quarter century ago.

Jacob Close is a new sales rep for Simplot in our region, and also a well-respected past superintendent. Jacob observed regionwide concern for the high-temp disease.

“Many superintendents in the region put out preventative Pythium apps before the weekend,” Jacob told me. “After we got through the extreme heat, I heard of no courses that ended up with a Pythium outbreak.”

Jacob also saw many superintendents doing the same things we did at Avalon: raising heights and reducing or even eliminating mowing for about a week. “Regionwide, grass came through healthy for the most part,” he says. “It was definitely a very long eight to 10 days for everyone, but almost all of them were successful.”

I think two things more than any other may have helped us get through the heat event mostly unscathed.

One, our normal preconditioning plan. Preconditioning for summer stress is not something you do immediately before an event like this. It must be part of your seasonal program. It starts every spring. A solid fungicide, fertility, wetting agent, plant growth regulator and biostimulant program must be in place. I can’t imagine how tough it would have been surviving this event without the biostimulant/extract program we are on at Avalon. Without that strengthening of the physical and biological aspects of the soil, it would be so much more difficult to keep the Poa alive and healthy during the extreme temps.

The second most important thing that got us through was undoubtedly the use of our soil moisture meters. Jacob also noticed this was a savior for most superintendents. “I believe the widespread use of moisture meters has allowed superintendents to better prepare and manage through intense heat without making the soil profile too wet,” he told me.

I have to agree with him. Although we lost some speed through the event as we raised heights, mowed less and watered more, the moisture meter allowed us to not overwater to the point of overly saturated and soft.

As I write this a few weeks after the heat, it still has not rained on our golf course in five weeks, and none is in the forecast. Although our temps have dropped to normal (mid 70s), we are in the midst, like many in the country, of a drought. I think this is in the new norm. High-temp events and little to no rain.

Even for us in what has traditionally been a mild region for summer, the game has changed. I think you either change with it or get left in the dust. Literally.

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