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Dr. Frank Rossi: Frankly Speaking

I Was Wrong

  Posted in Frank Talk 18 July 2012 · 1,257 views

If there were ever a year to appreciate golf on a brown surface, this is it. In fact, the three USGA Championships I watched this year set the tone. From Olympic to Blackwolf Run and finally to Indianwood reminded me of something I was wrong about and also reminded that those of us in the golf turf industry might be part of the problem.


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A few years ago I was interviewed after giving a presentation at the GIS in Orlando. During the interview I made a glib and dismissive comment about David Fayes editorial during the US Open at Pebble Beach. Mr. Faye essentially was saying  golf had gone too far, water is a precious resource and courses needed to be more brown.


Not long after the interview went live on the web I received an email from Jim Moore, longtime USGA Green Section Staffer and current Director of Education. Jim called me out on my comment in just the way youd think a Texan would give it to a NYer. He was right. I was wrong. I was flippant and worse, disrespectful.


But the story here is not my Mea culpa, rather it is the constant hum of golf turf managers I hear criticizing the USGA for the quality and playability of the courses in this years Championships.


"Why do they have to let it get so brown?"

"They need to put some water out those places are cooking."

"They look awful." etc.

Jim was right. I was wrong. I was flippant and worse, disrespectful.

Not everyone I speak to has this opinion. Many are actively embracing the dry, firm and fast conditions done much better with modern bentgrasses not so much with old annual bluegrass turf. This is a direction we need to be moving toward, but we need to do so smartly. Not all brown is good. Sometimes it is dead.


In this year of historic dry conditions across the country, the pressure to make golf more sustainable, and our constant longing to have some help with making golfer expectations more reasonable, the USGA seems to be trying.


Rather than being part of the problem, this is the year for the golf turf industry to be part of the solution.

No time for panic

  Posted in Frank Talk 06 July 2012 · 1,246 views

Its that time of year again when panic sets it. Day after day of high heat stress brings many closer to the tipping point for areas that have marginal growing environments. Low light and poor air movement for warm and cool season grasses, even the utlra-dwarfs dont like shade, and the ubiquitous surface organic matter that holds even the slightest amount of water all add up to increased stress and panic.


Panic is defined as a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking. Yup this is it, the end of reason and logical thinking, Ive seen it a thousand times. I understand it from a golf course superintendent perspective as golfer expectations for putting surfaces is high, we have equally high expectations, and we know especially if we are growing annual bluegrass, the cliff is sharp and steep.

Panic is defined as a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking.

We also know that at this point there is not much that can be done. The best thing to do sometimes is nothing. The discipline required to slip on solid rollers, increase cooling with fans or misting, and even move the cup twice a day to reduce traffic stress is the wise choice over spraying something-anything. Problem is when we panic we dont think straight and often instead of working the problem, we create new ones.


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Superintendents need to be that calm presence in the maintenance area, on the course, in the pro-shop that reminds everyone that surface temperatures in excess of 120 F is not conducive to growing healthy annual bluegrass, never mind walking on it! In contrast many of the new creeping bentgrasses are holding up well, even thriving in the heat. The clear difference between a sometimes annual and true perennial.


Theres about 50 days left of potentially stressful weather, is your glass half empty or half full? If it is empty you have some stress ahead and the chance for panic is high, if you are half full, you have the discipline required to make the subtle adjustments to remain calm. Nows not the time to prevent reason and logical thinking.


Turf Laying is an Art

  Posted in Frank Talk 14 June 2012 · 1,314 views

Every industry has its iconic characters. In the UK few would argue Old Tom Morris, Jim Arthur and Walter Woods are not icons among greenkeepers. In the US for me we have Sherwood Moore, Oscar Miles, Ted Woehrle, and my personal favorite, Wayne Otto. In Australia there is Claude Crockford.


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Crockford was the greenkeeper at the Royal Melbourne for 40 years from the 1930s to the 1970s. In 1993 he published The Complete Golf Course: Turf and Design as both an homage to Royal Melbourne and practical guide for the next generation interested in the lost art of low-tech greenkeeping.


I was able to observe the art of turf laying during my visit with Richard Forsyth that mirrored the chapter in Crockfords book. In speaking about the need for renovating putting surfaces he discusses the need to remove the organic mat below the surface and goes on to remind, despite the poor underlying conditions the grass usually remains quite healthy on the surface, a fact that will prove beneficial to the turf after relaying.


Crockford would carefully strip the sod by hand, a process he describes in explicitly specific details, so as to ensure the exact contours of the greens can be restored. After stripping the sod, any organic layer would be removed and replaced with properly specified rootzoone material. The sod would then be meticulously relaid and within a ten days open for play.


I can think of several courses I have visited over the years where this approach would have made sense. More often than not we rush to rid ourselves of annual bluegrass when it might be performing well. We may have a good stand of bentgrass or Bermudagrass but notice the rootzone not performing well. Is a complete renovation needed or can we simply strip out the layers and re-lay the sod?


Surely this would be considered a throw-back approach reminding us of the artistry lost on modern day golf turf maintenance, to which Crockford might simply respond as he does at the close of his book, you cannot just let it happen, you must make it happen.

The Sound

  Posted in Frank Talk 22 May 2012 · 1,246 views

Posted ImageAfter thirty years of walking on putting surfaces all around the world my feet can tell a firm green. I wear very soft soled Muck Boots that put my feet in close contact with the putting surface so as to assess the feel. A firm putting surface is truly a thing of beauty but what makes it so is that hollow sound.


I often use a stimpmeter to get a sense of ball roll distance on surfaces. For ease of measurement I simply flip the stimpmeter, roughly three feet in length to determine distance. It also serves the function of assessing putting green firmness. Sort of a poor mans USGA Tru-firm-sorry Matt.


That hollow sound is obviously from the air filled pores resonating from the surface vibration. In practical terms it adds a level of challenge to the game that our American golfers so desperately need. What separates the World golfer from an American golfer is the former is comfortable playing a ground game while the latter is accustomed to lobbing or stinging line drives into soft, spongy surfaces. Surfaces we all know are covered in annual bluegrass simply waiting to die from anthracnose!

superintendents walk that fine line where a little too firm or a little too dry and the green will fail.

The dry weather across the country has provided an excellent opportunity to offer firm putting surfaces. Obviously moisture is a key factor yet many are seeking sand specifications that result in extremely firm surfaces. In both cases golf superintendents walk that fine line where a little too firm or a little too dry and the green will fail.


In that case all you'll hear is the sound of silence.

Be True

  Posted in Frank Talk 25 April 2012 · 968 views

Not only has the season progressed rapidly in the Northern climate but the golfer expectations are ramped up as well. Often the pressure for peak performance is the greatest around US Open time. Now it seems with the weather a month ahead, the pressure is also ahead of schedule. DONT GIVE IN TO IT. Be True.


When Im talking about pressure to peak it is code for fast greens. You start pushing the greens now you are going to pay later. Do not push for speed now when you are pounding them with PGRs for seedhead suppression, drying them down for conditioning, when they are barely growing. Be true.

Spring greens can often be bumpy from seedheads, differential growth, PGR use, dryspots, etc.

Convince your golfers the greens need to be TRUE at this time of year not necessarily fast. Spring greens can often be bumpy from seedheads, differential growth, PGR use, dryspots, etc. Keep up your topdressing (dusting) and maintain a reasonable height. Do some grooming to pull the seedheads out that make the green roll inconsistent. And lest I forget, ROLL ROLL ROLL.

Peaking now often means pain later. The truth is a bitch.

When the conversation about speed comes up with your golfers turn it to trueness of roll that is less stressful to achieve. When the pressure starts to rise early remind them that preparing for the Masters or US Open requires planning and working back from when you want the greens to peak, like in June and July. Peaking now often means pain later. The truth is a bitch.

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