May 2018

I always wondered when we would get challenged by a nasty dose of winterkill on the golf course.  We never really have had it before on a widespread basis.  I had a funny feeling around the end of March that this might be the year when the winter, which started a month early, showed no signs of breaking.  I was aware that we had some ice sheets underneath the abundant snowfall that formed in the beginning of December.  Not the first time for sure but normally our bentgrass surfaces will tolerate ice cover for 120 days or more.  This year the time under ice was closer to 160 days.  When we finally did pull covers on April 25 (close to a month later than usual), we found the following:
7 Green 4-25-2018
Seven was the worst of the group though several other greens took a beating.  Cannot say that I was really surprised-in fact, in March I had picked up some specialized equipment for overseeding just this kind of damage.  They are called Job Saver tines.  The name is apt because they probably have saved many Superintendents’ jobs over the years.  These units allow us to overseed putting greens with minimal surface disruption.
The procedure for recovery on putting greens is/was as follows:
  • Fertilize with an ammonium sulfate fertilizer (performs better in cool temperatures) on April 30.  We did this before we had irrigation available as both the ground and our irrigation lake were still frozen.  We timed this around forecast rainfall.  A little risky but a risk worth taking-we had to get greens charging for a quicker recovery.
  • Run over damaged greens with Job Saver tines.  Done on May 7.
  • Overseed damaged greens with bentgrass seed from a drop seeder.  We chose to introduce a bentgrass variety at this time on some greens that should be better suited for our growing environment.  Done on May 7.
  • Topdress greens with sand and drag in.  Done on May 7
  • Roll greens thoroughly.  Done on May 7.
  • Apply a wetting agent to greens to help retain moisture to assist in seedling germination.  Done on May 8.
  • Apply a turf pigment to darken the putting surface to better collect heat from the sun and thus help in raising soil temperatures.  Done on May 10.
  • Apply a starter fertilizer.  Plan to do on May 14.
  • Fertilize during the month of May and June on a weekly basis with a water soluble fertilizer mix that is applied through a sprayer.  These rates are much lighter than a granular fertilizer but are readily available to the plant.
  • Irrigate as needed to keep seedlings alive.
  • Touch up areas with more seed as needed.
Needless to say, we will be fertilizing greens more than we usually do during this time of the year.  Normally I do not like to drive excessive growth as this creates thatch.  Thatch makes us have to aerify more.  Aerifying makes people angry.  I do not like to make people angry but in this case we will have no choice.  I predict that after this process we will likely have to core aerify greens in spring of 2019.  Another symptom of this recovery process is that greens will likely be running slower than usual for the early part of the year.  No way around it but as we proceed through the recovery, we will back off on our fertility program and get greens dialed in to where they need to be.  My thoughts are that we should be getting close to normal right around June 20 or so but it really is hard to say-so much depends on the weather-particularly temperatures.

Fairways were also damaged somewhat by the glacial conditions this past winter.  Some fairways, such as four, came through unscathed.  Others, like 11, looked like this today:
11 Fairway May 11, 2018
As on greens, ice developed in low areas on fairways and killed grass.  Much of this damage will recover with warmer temperatures.  The procedure here is to wait for consistent growth to resume on fairways and observe.  Once we determine a surface is truly dead and it becomes firm enough to work on, we will then drive growth with seed/fertilizer as needed to facilitate recovery.  Pretty fun stuff. 

One thing that I got a kick out of during this process is the effect that the pigments have on the appearance of some putting greens:
                                     10 green 5-11-2018                                          5 green 5-11-2018
The difference is really remarkable.  I left the 10th green alone in this process because I wanted to have a non-treated control area to determine whether the use of the pigment does indeed assist in the recovery process.  Useful knowledge for the future.  From a visual standpoint, there really is quite a difference.  I mentioned to my wife yesterday that I applied pigments to turf yesterday and the only thing she said was that I was a cheater.  Cheating or not, I kind of think that it looks pretty cool and seems to mask some of the damage and hopefully will continue to do so until we grow out of this.

No doubt about it-winterkill sucks.  The one thing I am enjoying, though, is that this kind of challenge brings out the best-or worst-in the ability of a superintendent to do their job.  Kind of like a grow-in with golfers around. 

On an unrelated note, my Dad passed away on May 4 and I would be remiss to not share the best picture in this article. 
Gordon Dodge USMC circa 1953
I pretty much talked to him every day and helped him to get a nice cushy golf course job mowing intermediate rough down in Chicago.  That man had the strongest work ethic I have ever been around and made everyone around him better with his generosity and sense of humor.  Even now I can imagine him looking at the golf course right now and saying, “What the hell is going on out there!”
I am going to miss him greatly.

Thank you all in advance for your patience and I hope to see you on the golf course.

See you soon.

Vince Dodge