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Dr. Frank Rossi: Frankly Speaking

Unintended Consequences

  Posted in Frank Talk 03 August 2012 · 1,277 views

The pressure to produce flawlessly consistent playing conditions is stressful on biological organisms, i.e., plants and people. We seek any solution to enhance plant health when backed into a corner with weak turf, poor growing environments, stress from close mowing, etc. Sometimes these solutions help, other times they have unintended consequences.


All the rage this year about Bacterial Wilt/ Decline has me wondering about these unintended consequences when it comes to our obsession with plant health. You dont understand, a competent golf turf manager said to me about 10 years ago, I use these biostimulants because I grow grass on the edge.

there is growing suspicion that many of these plant health products might be enhancing the plant all the way to Bacterial Decline.

Today we have all types of bio-stimulants some with good solid research to support use like seaweed and some amino acids, others not so much. Many are concoctions of carbon based compounds, with unproven amino acids, vitamins, and my favorite — Organic Photosynthesis Synergizer! We use these in the name of enhancing plant health but now there is growing suspicion that many of these plant health products might be enhancing the plant all the way to Bacterial Decline.


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Here is my logic. The plant has many endophytic associations with bacteria, just like we do in our gut. We are applying cocktails of compounds most of which we barely understand whats in them. Next we put the plants under stress or on the edge if you will and the concoctions we are using are stimulating the bacteria INSIDE the plant and sometimes there are bacteria such as Acidovorax that can lead to decline.


Now some panic and run for the Mycoshield because a diagnostic technician said they have bacterial wilt. Now raise your hand if you think our society needs MORE anti-biotics introduced into the environment.


You think the current palette of  plant health products is causing unintended consequences, stick around for the antibiotic resistant organisms we might create by spraying tetracycline every seven days!

I Was Wrong

  Posted in Frank Talk 18 July 2012 · 1,161 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 · 1,169 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 · 1,230 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.

They Are So Hard My Feet Hurt

  Posted in On the Road 03 June 2012 · 1,269 views

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No tour of golf courses in Australia would be complete without a visit to The Royal Melbourne Golf Club. The RMGC is one of the nine courses in the Melbourne Sandbelt that includes some of the finest golf courses in Australia.


After visiting several seaside courses that have the wow factor, the Royal Melbourne required a more patient approach. The golf club was formed in the late 1800s and the current courses occupy the same site since 1901. However it was in 1926 when the club engaged the services of Dr. Alistair Mackenzie to design what is now known as the West Course.


Construction in the 1920s was with horse drawn scoops and plows, proudly displayed at the club entrance.


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While Mackenzie is credited officially, it is M.A. (Mick) Morcom the head greenkeeper at the time that may well be the master craftsman of this landscape and its key design features the bunker complexes and green surrounds. It is one course that many have tried to imitate but impossible to replicate.



Over the years the course has benefited from the careful hands of the late notable greenkeeper Claude Crockford and now by course superintendent Richard Forsyth. These men and others bring their own personality to course care. I especially liked Richards mowing of the putting surfaces right to the bunker edge.


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A true feast for the eyes, the greens are noted for being hard on the feet. In fact, during the 2011 Presidents Cup, the greens staff and official set up crew complained the greens were so hard that their feet hurt. Firm bentgrass putting greens and equally firm fescue approaches and surrounds are reminiscent of St. Andrews.


As I have written over the years, nothing beats a firm green. Walking this course I was awestruck by the meticulous management of the playable surface — a singular focus for perfection from tee to green. Yet beyond the reasonable playing area is true rough, Australian bush, heathland, etc.


Yes, my feet hurt but the rest of the course soothed my pain.

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