Scout ahead

Scout ahead

Test your turf and use reports from other courses to keep ahead of the annual bluegrass weevil.

May 19, 2015

Steve Potter knows he has to be vigilant at the beginning of the season. His course, Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville, Md., is one of the scouting points for one of the most obnoxious pests in golf: the annual bluegrass weevil.

Potter works with Weevil Trak, a Syngenta program that keeps tabs on the progress of annual bluegrass weevils. Superintendents can check to see how many pests of each stage monitor courses like Woodholme are seeing and prepare applications more effectively.

“I’ve been watching the program since day one,” says Potter. “I was always interested in it, because these little critters can make bentgrass look pretty ugly.”

He registered as a monitoring site in 2009, after keeping up with his own pests using Weevil Trak since the program launched. One of the major reasons his course hasn’t seen as much weevil damage as some is that he’s known when weevils are likely to show up and “we’ve been ready for it to come south before it’s a big problem,” he says.

In his nursery, he’s got an area where he and his assistants check regularly for weevils, alongside Sam Camuso, turf, landscape and consumer territory manager for Syngenta. The section is treated the same as the surrounding course, so annual bluegrass weevil has an equal chance of showing up.

“It’s kind of an ideal site, because it gets treated like the golf course, so I keep it there and everything’s constant from year to year,” he says. “We usually start scouting about late March.”

After scouting for the pests, Potter’s assistant keeps track of what he finds on a spreadsheet that gets sent back to Camuso. Camuso will also head out to the course to assist in keeping an eye out and to help train in scouting techniques. As the season has started up, they send samples back weekly as well so tracking information from the course is as accurate as possible. They tie that information to growing degree days to get a better sense of the bugs’ behavior.

“We really want to get a handle on this thing,” says Potter. “Sam sees them every day. We can pick out 20 adults in a flush, and he can usually find four or five more. And the larvae, he’s training us to look for the things because they’re just not much bigger than the head of a pin. We want to try to do everything we can correctly so we can get the best data.”

Despite the best attempts to lock down weevils on the course, it can be almost impossible to control them completely, and even a strong program can misfire if their behavior changes from year to year. Shifts in weather sends weevils to cover, or an extended warm streak early in the season prompts a long egg-laying season.

“It just seems to be an extremely adaptable insect, which explains why it can march its way across the country like it does,” says Potter.

But scouting, watching other courses and using a program like Weevil Trak can help keep a course equipped to handle the onslaught, he says. Insecticides can be effective, but only if they’re applied at the appropriate time. Put down an application when the weather is changing, and you might get control of a few other pests – but the annual bluegrass weevil could outlast it.

“The problem is that the insecticides we have right now, they don’t last a week,” says Potter. “So your adulticide, when you apply it, you either hit them or you didn’t hit them. The timing’s everything.”

And unlike some turf disease, weevils don’t just cause stress to the turf.

“I need to present the optimum product to the membership,” says Potter. “and they don’t just make a little spot on the turf, like if you miss a disease. If you miss these guys, you can have acres of turf with stress and trouble, and that’s hard to come back from in the middle of the summer.”

Scouting also means wasting less money in missed applications, where a mistake means not only fighting for pest control but also cleaning up after the damage. Getting ahead of the threat gets better control overall, and it’s more responsible for turf health over the summer as well.

“We’re really very happy, glad they do the program,” Potter says. “And that control’s why I was anxious to be a part of it. Superintendents are doing so much with IPM right now – what’s more IPM than doing all your scouting first?”