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Dr. Frank Rossi: Frankly Speaking


Minimalism

  Posted in Frank Talk 16 February 2012 · 940 views

A few weeks ago I was speaking in England at the annual British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association Conference in Harrogate, about an hour and a half from Manchester in the Yorkshire Dales. Outside of the US and Canada it is the one of the premier golf turf educational events in the world.

 

I was presenting in a few sessions on Sustainable Golf Turf Management, Reduced Chemical Pesticide Use and my overall theme of resource efficient golf turf management.  An Irish Greenkeeper approached me during a break and inquired, so, youre a minimalist huh? Not knowing exactly what a minimalist is and not wanting seem stupid I responded, yeah, I guess I am.

Not knowing exactly what a minimalist is and not wanting seem stupid I responded, Yeah, I guess I am.

I have since learned that minimalism is typically used to describe forms of art or music as well as architecture and design. Minimalist art purports to expose the essence of a subject by eliminating all non-essential forms. These are the odd sorts of pictures like a red strip down a blue page, or a blackbox on a white piece of paper, you know the kind of art you look at and say, my 10 year old could have done that.

 

Posted Image

Minimalism in golf is a slightly different animal. For example, the brilliant golf course architect Tom Doak has been referred to as a minimalist. In fact Tom (Cornell 83) has penned an excellent piece called The Minimalist Manifestowhere he describes his design ethic. Doak speaks of the pandering we do of the American golfer so that they do not have to take responsibility for hitting a bad shot.

 

Minimalism from my perspective as a turfgrass scientist and for golf turf managers is simply not do or use one more thing than I absolutely have to for meeting my clients expectations for a high quality golf course. This means my mantra of focusing on nitrogen instead of other plant nutrients, mowing less, irrigating more precisely, and using as few pesticides as possible is my own practicing of minimalism. Who knew?

 

Now, it is easy for me to say, as it is not my job to work within a budget to produce a golf course. Many would argue it is impossible to be a minimalist in the major golf markets in the US due to the demand for perfect conditions. Of course some might say this is pandering; others would say it is what I must do to keep my job by meeting client expectations.

 

Clearly it is much easier to produce a links golf course along the sea where perfect climate and sandy soils prevail; this is the essence of minimalism. However a parkland course with trees, rolling topography, cart paths and golfers who focus on perfect turf poses a challenge to the minimalist.

What if you took a 50 percent cut in budget for supplies and labor. What would be the products and practices left?

So if you want to be a minimalist with me, here is what I propose. In your mind and maybe in practice, strip your maintenance program down to the bare bones. What if you took a 50 percent cut in budget for supplies and labor. What would be the products and practices left? Would you focus on only nitrogen on greens, mow tees higher, focus management on landing areas, improve your water delivery precision, etc.?

 

I am not one who thinks the quality of the course needs to suffer if you are a minimalist. There are many things we do that we do because we always did them. We can no longer afford this complacency that forces us to makes things more complicated than they need to be. Stay open to new ideas, be skeptical of the latest and greatest, pay attention to research and fund research that makes your operation more efficient, try to keep it as simple as possible. As DaVinci said, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.




The New Normal

  Posted in Frank Talk 28 December 2011 · 934 views

Mark Twain once said, "climate is what we expect, weather is what we get". The last two seasons are among the warmest on record nationwide. It looks like we getting more than we expect.

 

These warmer growing seasons demonstrate tremendous departure from the historic averages. It is not uncommon to be two to three weeks ahead of normal for growing degree days, meaning while the calendar states one date, the biological organisms (i.e., your turf) are acting as if it were much later in the season.

...we have our own new normal for golf turf, or, things that used to seem odd or progressive now are accepted as normal.

I was surprised to learn that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is about to recalibrate our new normal climate conditions. Apparently it does so every decade. Soon, the warming conditions will so strongly influence the normal that warm weather and extreme rainfall or drought will seem normal, i.e., the new normal. Or as Twain might say, "how to get more of what you expect".

 

In thinking about how strongly climate influences our decision-making as we plan for events, pest pressure and weather issues, I noticed how we have our own new normal for golf turf, or, things that used to seem odd or progressive now are accepted as normal.

Cultural norms

Posted ImageWhile many have come to accept lower mowing heights as the new normal, the biggest changes have been in mower head design and power source. Floating and flexing heads have replaced many fixed-head units, especially when mowing below 0.125 inches.

Heightened awareness regarding bedknife position has led to extending the bedknife forward during times of stress.

 

Electric generators, batteries, hybrids and reducing the connection points for hydraulic problems are all the new normal. If fuel prices continue to escalate I would expect even more emphasis on alternative fuels such as liquid propane, solar carts or even fuel cells. Our equipment managers are becoming like our general practitioner physicians in that they are able to solve all sorts of problems on all types of engines.

 

Probably the most significant change in culturing the surface in the last decade has been the advent of frequent rolling. Once thought of as an occasional activity, many are now replacing mowing as a routine with rolling. This new normal has spurred new rolling devices as well as increasing stress tolerance during summer stress periods.

 

Still, "normal" rolling does create new challenges. The constant turning on surrounds is creating the need for more wear tolerant turf. Rolling works best on a well-sanded surface, and that can lead to a sealed surface in need of a "burp". So now it is normal to make more holes and slits during the golf season, a practice once considered taboo.

Rolling works best on a well-sanded surface, and that can lead to a sealed surface in need of a "burp". So now it is normal to make more holes and slits during the golf season, a practice once considered taboo.

If Mark Twain was a golf course manager, what might he expect as cultural shifts?

 

Two areas where I see the biggest shifts for culture are air and water. Fans for moving air once were thought of exclusively for pushing the bounds of cool season grasses to the south, but now are more important in northern climates. If poor growing environments are a permanent normal, then cooling and drying the surfaces will be the new normal.

 

On the water-front, there must be technology improvements for uniformity and distribution of water. At the same time we need to add more science and measurement and less art to our watering practices. The āslopā that most had in their irrigation practices, in the new normal will not forgive us and will create new pest and soil problems.

 Pest norms

There seems to be little question that the new normal for fungal diseases and issues such as nematodes are longer periods of weather conducive to the pathogen, persistence with milder winters or longer seasons, resistance to single site of action chemistry and new pests.

 

Posted ImageFor example, look at the Southeast during this past spring. There was an unusually high outbreak of spring dead spot on Bermudagrass, but no one would have expected to see SDS on Diamond Zoysiagrass.  It has been diagnosed on Zoysia japonica in the past and now the reality is the patches will persist longer on the slower growing species.

 

At the same time, our biggest insect issue on golf course turf in the Northeast, the annual bluegrass weevil, is expanding its range as it adapts to different conditions. It is becoming a problem into the mid-Atlantic, where it feeds on creeping bentgrass. In fact, the western mountains of North Carolina also had an outbreak this year.

They do not view the world from a biological perspective, so it is our job to help them understand

Managing pests such as annual bluegrass weevil and new fungal or nematode problems will be a greater challenge than in the past as our chemical tools are more specific, less persistent and more likely to require multiple applications making the pest more likely to developing resistance. Ask the superintendents in the Northeast who are prevented from using pyrethroids on annual bluegrass weevil if resistance with this pest is problem.

 

If you mention the "new normal" in mixed circles some will think you are referring to economic realities we live in today. They do not view the world from a biological perspective, so it is our job to help them understand. While golfers might face a new normal off the golf course, they should expect, as Twain would say, a new normal when they are on the course.

 








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