Gateway to tricky turfgrass management

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St. Louis superintendents enduring a season of wacky weather extremes.

September 10, 2018

St. Louis Country Club superintendent Tim Burch

Part of Tim Burch’s teenage years involved driving a pickup truck around Glen Echo Country Club with a hose in the back. Drive. Park. Pull. Water. Move to the next green.

Anything to keep grass alive in the wicked St. Louis growing environment.

“They didn’t have utility vehicles in those days,” says Burch, the current superintendent at St. Louis Country Club. “Now I laugh and say, ‘Man, if I saw one of my guys drive a full-sized pickup truck around the golf course … that would be crazy nowadays.”

Experience – and a sense of humor – has kept Burch in the tricky business of growing and maintaining grass in St. Louis. Some summers, Burch says, are tougher than others. But few compare to what Burch and others recently endured. “The length of it has been really unique,” he says.

The thermometer indicated summer conditions arrived when temperatures exceeded 90 degrees in May. The warmest May on record followed the second coldest April on record. Temperatures remained toasty through mid-August when Bellerive Country Club hosted the 100th PGA Championship.

St. Louis superintendents used fans as a method to ease the stress on bentgrass greens throughout a challenging season.

The perils of throttling from winter to summer conditions were evident below the surface of the region’s bentgrass greens. A sudden rise in temperatures led to slow turf recovery following spring aerification. The slow recovery on St. Louis Country Club’s renowned C.B. Macdonald-designed greens convinced Burch to make an emergency May visit to see Dr. Lee Miller at the University of Missouri Turfgrass Research Center. The 250-mile roundtrip drive from St. Louis to Columbia yielded a surprising discovery: Pythium was present in a sample. “I looked at (Miller) and said, ‘It’s May. We had winter two weeks ago. We can’t have Pythium,’ Burch says. “He said, ‘That’s what you got.’”

By mid-August, Burch had sent five samples to Miller. He says he “usually” ships one sample per year to the Missouri lab. St. Louis Country Club also supports 25 acres of bentgrass fairways with spots requiring hand watering.

The scientific side of maintaining bentgrass in the Transition Zone must be balanced with the human side. In short, getting a crew through the summer can be a bigger challenge than keeping turf alive and playable.

“If people say it doesn’t wear on you, they’re not being honest,” Bellerive director of grounds and agronomy Carlos Arraya says. “It wears on them. Like everything that’s difficult, you grow from it.” Arraya calls this season’s weather swings and challenges “unprecedented” and heaped giant praise on his crew throughout the PGA Championship. “I’m happy the guys have been able to adjust,” he adds. “They have never wavered and they have never fatigued from a mental perspective. It’s the just the physical wear and tear. There’s only so much sunblock you can put on.”

The PGA Championship ended Sunday, Aug. 12, three days before the Aug. 15 date St. Louis superintendents once viewed as a weather reprieve. Glen Echo Country Club superintendent Joe Wachter, like Burch, is a St. Louis lifer and knows mid-August might be too early to decelerate.

“A lot of guys used to look at Aug. 15, but now it’s Sept. 1 or even Sept. 15,” Wachter says. “We have been really hot and dry in early September and that has really created issues for people.”

Considering the recent angst, a soothing stroll in a pickup truck, albeit on paved surfaces might follow whatever date provides solace this year.

“I have come to believe that no matter where you are there is something,” Burch says. “Guys up north worry about winterkill on their Poa greens, Bermudagrass has its own headaches down south and they have water issues out west. This is our something. When we are it in from the middle of June – well, this year it started in May –until late August, it doesn’t seem it could be anymore unnerving.”

Industry buzz

Foley United announced that Paul Rauker joined the company as its new President and Chief Executive Officer. Rauker succeeds Brad Kautzer, who accepted a position as CEO/President of Banner Engineering Corp.

GCI publisher Pat Jones will serve as the keynote speaker for the fourth annual Deep South Turf Expo Nov. 27–28 in Biloxi, Miss. Jones will explore in his address why turf is critical to American life today and why it will be even more important in the future.

Boca Lago (Fla.) Country Club is nearing completion of a $9 million golf course renovation. The 27-hole facility has been reconfigured under the direction of Jan Bel Jan Golf Course Design and golf course superintendent George Redshaw. Work includes redesigning greens, repositioning bunkering in the fairways and around the green complexes, reshaping and rearranging teeing grounds, adding a new irrigation system, improving fairway drainage, and installing new grasses on tees, fairways and greens. The project is expected to be completed in November.

Tartan Talks No. 26

Art Schaupeter says he strives to “put the golf in the golfer’s hands” on his design projects. When conducting a Tartan Talks podcast, we try to put the “answers in the architect’s hands.”

Schaupeter became the latest guest on the monthly series and he had plenty to discuss, including the opening of TPC Colorado, a project he persevered to complete. “You never know what projects are going to push through,” he says.

A site featuring mountain and reservoir views outside Denver, TPC Colorado’s roots extend to 2004. The economic slowdown delayed intensifying the project until January 2015. Schaupeter then learned in March 2015 of the PGA Tour’s desire to make the course a TPC facility. The result is a course that stretches to 7,991 yards – but plays 4,100 yards from the forward tees – at 5,000 feet elevation. TPC Colorado also includes more than 35 revetted bunkers, an emerging North American design tactic Schaupeter describes in the podcast. “They add an element of strategy for better players, add interest and fit in with the setting,” he says.

Enter into your web browser to learn more about Schaupeter’s work and career.