Small town, big problems

When a Kansas City course lost its greens, a well-connected superintendent found a solution in Zio Fungicide.


Nearly 2.4 million people live in the Kansas City metro area, a number so large that the twin KCs — there are separate municipalities on either side of the state line, in case you missed that during geography class — are both the largest city in Missouri and the third-largest city in Kansas. And yet, when you talk with folks who live in and around the Paris of the Plains, they will tell you that it feels far more compact.

“Kansas City is a small town,” says Bill Irving, director of agronomy at Wolf Creek in Olathe, Kansas, about 30 miles southwest of downtown Kansas City. Part of that perception, at least for Irving, is that the market only features so many top clubs, and the turf pros who run them talk with each other regularly.

“All the guys who have certain budgets — there are about 10 in the Kansas City market that are the higher-end clubs, plus a few other guys — have a big text chain,” Irving says. “For example, here in the Transition Zone, we might have a high of 30 on Saturday and Sunday, lows almost in the single digits, and then a high of 52 or 55, so we all text each other: ‘Who’s opening? What are you seeing?’ We have a lot of shared members, and I need to know what clubs are doing in case a member asks why we aren’t open. Knowing what everybody else is doing, it feels like we have more support.”

For years, Woody Moriarty was a part of that text chain, too. Moriarty headed west last fall to become the new assistant director of agronomy at Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, but before that he worked as a golf course superintendent in Kansas City for 30 years, most of them at Blue Hills Country Club and Fred Arbanas Golf Club. And during his last year in the Midwest, Moriarty fielded — and figured out — a tremendous turf problem.

“We had a situation where a person sprayed a chemical,” Moriarty says, “and it killed the greens.” Not the first green. Not a couple greens. Every green. “So I came into March and I had dead greens — not all the way dead, but it looked pretty nasty.” He started to spray in an effort to get sod, then discovered he could purchase the same variety of A-1/A-4 creeping bentgrass from Colorado. “Me not thinking, in Kansas City we weren’t dormant, but in Colorado they were dormant. So, when they brought it in, the sod looked horrible. I knew it was alive, but I had to keep it pretty wet, grow it in. We still laid the sod.”

That was when the small-town feel of Kansas City finally kicked in.

Moriarty and Irving had been not only professional acquaintances but friends for years, and after Moriarty told Irving about his issues, Irving sold Moriarty another green that he was cutting up. That wasn’t a perfect fit — “I’m not a person who likes to water,” Moriarty says, “and I was worried about having a Pythium problem” — so Moriarty called another longtime KC turf pro, Jeff Eldridge, who had worked at five courses in the area over nearly 30 years before a move to Texas. Eldridge started work as a technical specialist for SePRO in April 2021 and had plenty of advice for Moriarty. Among the tips: What about Zio?

A newer fungicide developed by SePRO, Zio is billed as a revolutionary bacteria picked from a library of more than 60,000 microbes to protect plants. Already in use at other courses around the Transition Zone — including at Wolf Creek, where Irving was an early adopter — and across the country, it was worth a shot. In the end, it was worth well more than that.

“I never put another Pythium fungicide down the whole summer,” Moriarty says. “I was pretty confident in what it did for me, and I just trusted it.”

Moriarty conferred with Irving and worked with Eldridge to use the plant protectant to bring back his greens. He worked up to a threshold of five pounds —two pounds, two pounds, one pound — every 10 days or two weeks. Once he reached that threshold, he sprayed one pound every other week per acre for maintenance. “It grew good grass, good roots, and left it with no disease pressure — no anything,” Moriarty says. “It was amazing, and it was easy. I don’t think I would have been successful with any other chemical.”

With far less disease pressure in the desert, Moriarty has scaled back his use of the plant protectant, but with no end to potential projects, Zio is at the top of his list. ?

March 2022
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