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Dr. Frank Rossi: Frankly Speaking

Turf Laying is an Art

  Posted in Frank Talk 14 June 2012 · 1,118 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 · 1,107 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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From Australia: You Get Less for Murder

  Posted in Uncategorized, On the Road 01 June 2012 · 1,606 views

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Im in Australia speaking at the 2012 Australian Turfgrass Conference.I was collected at the Sydney Airport after 22 hours of flight time from Syracuse, NY by Mark Couchman, past president of the Australian Golf Course Superintendents Association. Immediately we began our jaunt around Sydney and our first visit to New South Wales Golf Club (ranked #35 best golf course in the world by Golf Magazine)  and Superintendent Gary Dempsey.


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Like a kid in a candy store I bounced out of the car, grabbed my knife and camera and wandered the shop floor. I came across a cool spray hawk innovation using golf buggy wheels and extended boom, and a sod cutter adapted to take very thin slices of Mackenzie bentgrass sod from his nurseries for his new creeping bentgrass greens. Garys office was lined with pictures of US courses, including his tournament volunteering pics. My favorite was a signed certificate and picture of Gary shaking hands with President Bill Clinton. Gary is certainly an Australian treasure and quite a character.


On the drive into the course I noted the National Park signs as we headed up to the clubhouse. This golf course is nestled within the Botany Bay National Park in an area called La Perouse (named for a French Navigator who landed here) and likely where Captain James Cook, the explorer credited with discovering Australia, made first land. In fact, there is a fresh-watering hole on the course known to be where he collected his fresh drinking water.


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I could ramble on about the history  in fact, the club has a book but suffice is to say it felt like a combination of St. Andrews, Cypress Point, and Bandon Dunes all in one course. The famous par three sixth hole requires a shot over the bay to a tiered sloping green. This is a shot-makers course and if the wind blows heck, even the pros whined and walked off a few years ago during the Australian Open.


From a turf perspective they are Bermudagrass (coochgrass) fairways, tees, and rough, and converted to MacKenzie creeping bentgrass greens in August of 2011. All but two were seeded. The two sodded greens were by the sea, making seed establishment tricky. Less than one year later they are pure and firm and by all measures an enormous success.

it felt like a combination of St. Andrews, Cypress Point, and Bandon Dunes all in one course.

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Gary is a no bullshit kind of guy,straight-forward, thoughtful, not afraid to ruffle feathers. When I asked him how long hed been at NSW, he said simply, 23 yrs, Frank. You get less than that for murder.


Ah the paradox of life in the golf turf business love and hate at the same time. I cant wait to return here someday with my clubs and from here meet the next Aussie.

The Sound

  Posted in Frank Talk 22 May 2012 · 1,042 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.

What Is Your Number?

  Posted in By the Numbers 10 May 2012 · 1,145 views

I know no subject more disparate around the country than water management, especially of golf putting greens. In the desert southwest every drop is accounted for when water can consume up to $1 million annually. While in northern states water is applied gratuitously measured in minutes (not inches) with little regard for cost or precision.

With the simple poke of the meter into the ground golf course superintendents now have a number.

Recently the use of moisture meters such as Spectrums Field  Scout 300, provide an easy to use method for determining soil moisture and a defacto increase in precision. With the simple poke of the meter into the ground golf course superintendents now have a number. The meter actually provides percent soil moisture measurements that will vary for every soil or sand rootzone. Hence the question, whats your number?, i.e., what is the level of soil moisture you feel will get you the best turf without stress, or if you start the day at 14 percent can you make it without chasing wilt?


Posted ImageThere is an old saying in education that what gets measured gets done. It seems odd that both numbers we manage putting greens for come from the end of a metal stick! Nevertheless, developing a number for your greens will add precision to the single most important management factor during the stressful seasons, water management.

The new water withdrawal legislation is a harbinger of things to come.

There are few regular management decisions made on a putting surface that influence performance as much as water. Hot is okay, hot and wet is the kiss of death. If you are not paying for water now, the writing is on the wall for Great Lake States and much of the northeast. The new water withdrawal legislation is a harbinger of things to come. It is best to become more precise now. At some point just like golfers ask about stimpmeter readings, when they start getting the water bill they will start asking, hey-whats your number?

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