Friday, November 16, 2012

Sustainable Golf Course Maintenance

Over the next few weeks, The Golf Channel will be covering several Australian professional golf tournaments.  This is noteworthy because many of the maintenance practices that we have implemented here at Ridgeway have been used on Australian and British Isles courses for decades. 
Specifically, by emphasizing the better grasses (i.e., bentgrasses and fescues), we can achieve our goal of sustainable maintenance practices which yield healthy turf and optimum playing conditions.  In this post, I will describe what our Australian friends have in common with us, plus share the benefits we have already noticed in the last year at Ridgeway.  Keep in mind, this is only a synopsis of what is detailed in our Best Practiced Plan, and the goal here is to highlight some of the major components and successes of our maintenance program.
I.                    Money Savings
Our philosophy is predicated on growing hearty, robust turf that is not overly reliant on water, fertilizer and pesticides.  This is achieved by implementing programs that benefit bentgrass over Poa annua.  We focus on growing roots not shoots.  We embrace solutions that focus on long-term problems and don't rely on treating short-term symptoms.  Unlike agriculture that focuses on yield as its primary objective, we focus on surface preparation.  The continuous use of water, fertilizer, and pesticides enhances Poa annua encroachment, which is fine if you can live with the cost of applying theses amendments on a regular basis.  To date, we have made significant savings in both pesticide and fertilizer usage at Ridgeway.  Both are down about 30-40% from previous years. 
II.                  Less Environmental Impact
Promoting  bentgrass not only allows us to be more fiscally responsible, we are also promoting environmentally sustainable practices.   It is our duty to be environment stewards by using fewer pesticides and less water and fertilizer.  Also, our mowing schedule has been reduced because we roll our greens more frequently.  This results in less pollution overall.
III.                Increased Playability
On the playability front, we focus on more aeration not less.  But because we do not rely on core aeration as our only means of cultivation, we are able to have less downtime in the playability of our fine turf areas.  This past season, we did not core aerate our putting surfaces, and we hope to do the same next year.  We instead use long, narrow pencil tines which penetrate 6-12” in depth.   This allows for water infiltration, compaction relief, and long vigorous root structure. This process has little if any affect on playability.     10” roots on greens were pretty normal throughout the 2012 season as opposed to 1-3” roots in prior seasons, even though we used less water, fertilizer, and pesticides.  Because the root structure was good, we have enhanced stress tolerance and better turfgrass color.
If you watch the coverage on The Golf Channel this week and in the coming weeks, you will see what promoting for the better grasses does and how it will benefit our course.  You will likely hear the announcers discussing it.  Ridgeway’s maintenance philosophy (like many courses in the Australian sandbelt) has many great benefits which save money, protect the environment and improve the overall playability of the course.  These are ideals I feel we can all get behind . . .  we do all of this by simply promoting for the better grass and embracing solutions not problems! 
P.S. Extra credit goes to any member who reads Practical Greenkeeping, by Royal and Ancient agronomist Jim Arthur.