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Dr. Frank Rossi: Frankly Speaking


Supply and Demand

  Posted in Frank Talk 22 March 2012 · 681 views

As a member of the National Golf Foundation and also a subscriber to Pellucid Corporationoperated by Jim Koppenhaver I have access to enormous amounts of information concerning the business of golf. Recently I have found this information fascinating as it seems since the crash of 2008, the economy has exerted the strongest influence on golf turf management I have ever seen in thirty years in the industry.

it seems since the crash of 2008, the economy has exerted the strongest influence on golf turf management I have ever seen in thirty years in the industry.

A close look at data from the NGF report on course supply found that in 2011 there was a net loss of almost 140 golf courses. The fifth consecutive year with a net loss in course supply. In fact over the last decade (2000-2010) there was flat growth that essentially showed with about 500 courses opening in the USA in that decade there were 500 closures. Current projections from NGF suggest a 500 to 1000 course closure number for the 2010s.

 

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There is also something called the Course Supply Index. This is a measure of the busy-ness of your course. Over the last 20 years there has been a decline in busy-ness in US golf courses. For example, an 83 on the index means that you are 17 percent less busy than you should be. Looking closely at the data you can see that right after the NGF announced we need to build a golf course every day for the next ten years the busy-ness of courses began to drop. And then in the early 2000s with Tiger Woods, plenty of funny money, and courses beginning to close busy-ness spiked up. Only to be followed by the largest drop in 20 years. We are currently at our lowest point in 20 years and the only thing that might save this index is more course closures.

 

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So the mantra has begun, we need to grow the game and so jingles such as Golf 2.0, Play Golf America, Get Golf Ready are rolled out. Again look at the data. Pellucid has consistently questioned the need to reach into Juniors and get more women to play and rather focus on your core customer group, those Avid golfers that play 25 or more times per year. These are the folks that buy $500 drivers, drape $1000 Alpaca sweaters around their shoulders and yes, demand high quality conditions!

 

Pellucid offers advise on the role of  weathering how many playable hours every course has and are we maximizing them. It is time for the entire golf turf industry to turn their focus from simply growing grass to managing a business. Yes it is tough as it seems demands are rising, budgets are shrinking and now the climate is changing.

 

In a brief video shoot with TurfNet member Steve Swanson, Director of Golf Operations at Red Rock Country Club, I saw a professional who has evolved to see golf turf management through the lens of a business manager. Yes, customer satisfaction is the key. Optimizing the golfing experience for our avid golfers while being mindful that core golfers who play once a month can still enjoy a round is our job. If you are simply focused on fast greens as some sort of phallic contest among your colleagues it is time to knock it off and  view the course from a customer and business management experience.

Optimizing the golfing experience for our avid golfers while being mindful that core golfers who play once a month can still enjoy a round is our job.

Most golf course superintendents no longer have the luxury of growing grass  without regard for running an efficient operation. If you have not examined your operation top to bottom and questioned every aspect of fuel use, labor allocation (Swanson went to 30 hour work weeks because the trip across the course was taking an hour and half of his staffs day), cost per day of disease control (saving $20 per day on longer intervals and lower rates accounts for that cart that is not going out), and the list goes on. In other words if you do not manage your supplies, there will be less demand.




Timing is everything

  Posted 14 March 2012 · 718 views

My email and phone are blowing up these days with golf turf questions, comments, reports, inquiries about the record early Spring conditions. Golf course superintendents are asking about seedhead suppression timing with Proxy and Primo,wondering about soil temperatures and summer patch preventative control, and most importantly in the northeast US, annual bluegrass weevil sitings. With each of these issues, the old saying holds-timing is everything.

 

Seedhead suppression is among the most timing specific management practices employed on a modern golf course. Many feel if ideal is missed by a day it mean the difference between 30 percent and 80 percent suppression. The introduction of Proxy PGR several years ago allowed for application to made earlier with less injury than was associated with Embark and old standby PGR.

 

The addition of Primo to the Proxy application not only enhanced seedhead suppression but extended the suppression, reduced the scalping associated with too many Proxy applications, and most importantly based on Rutgers research significantly reduced basal rot anthracnose as the season progressed.

Golf course superintendents are asking about seedhead suppression timing with Proxy and Primo,wondering about soil temperatures and summer patch preventative control, and most importantly in the northeast US, annual bluegrass weevil sitings. With each of these issues, the old saying holds-timing is everything.

Posted ImageSome have embraced the Embark plus Primo combination that can be applied later than Proxy and provided longer suppression. Also the addition of Primo has lessened the injury previously observed with Embark and as long as the Primo program is continued anthracnose will be reduced.

 

The problem du-jour of the early 1990s was summer patch. Properly characterized by Professor Pete Landschoot during his Ph.D. studies with Professor Noel Jackson at URI this root pathogen was about to spell the end of annual bluegrass. Professor Bruce Clarke and colleagues at Rutgers as well as Professor Joe Vargas at MSU began research projects that identified preventative options for an early Spring DMI fungicide drench and as important the use of acidifying fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate to reduce summer patch infection in the early Spring. In either case, research shows applications to the rootzone when soil is 65F at 2 depth.

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For the next 15 years or so summer patch literally became a non-issue in many areas until the 2010 and 2011 historic growing seasons across the US created summer stress periods that exposed weaknesses in control programs. We were lulled into a false sense of security, lowered application rates, played fast and loose with timing and boom goes the dynamite. We were reminded again that under stress annual bluegrass cannot survive well with a seriously compromised root system.

preventative options for an early Spring DMI fungicide drench and as important the use of acidifying fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate to reduce summer patch infection in the early Spring. In either case, research shows applications to the rootzone when soil is 65F at 2 depth.

Finally, annual bluegrass weevil. The latest crisis in pest management in certain sections of the northeast and now all the way to the Carolinas and west to Michigan. Where to spray?  Fence-lines or loops around fairways and greens or the whole place? When? forsythia, rhododenrdron bloom? What? pyrthroid-resistance, chlorpyrifos, adulticide, larvacide? Overlapping generations? what is causing the damage? Obviously more questions than solid answers at this point.

annual bluegrass weevil. The latest crisis in pest management in certain sections of the northeast and now all the way to the Carolinas and west to Michigan. Where to spray?

Posted ImageThis is the one pest that will keep traditional IPM scouting alive and well. Soap flushes, checking web-based prediction, talking to your colleagues. All will help you be successful, but like all the strategies mentioned above timing is everything. Scout diligently and apply products strategically. We know turf loss is often worst on perimeters so be sure to maintain uniform irrigation to these areas.

 

We may as well get used to the new reality of longer seasons that could mean increased revenue for some and nothing but more stress for others. No matter how this effects you one fact cannot be denied, the golf course superintendent is more important than ever to a successful golf operation.

 

Its a great time to be a superintendent. Timing is everything!

 




Are You A No-Show?

  Posted in Frank Talk 24 February 2012 · 685 views

As budgets have tightened many golf course superintendents have forsaken their professional development line items. Often when this pinch occurs it is the National Show that gets cut as I have found most superintendents are loyal to their local, state and regional associations.

I certainly understand the impetus to cut a fairly big number when not attending the "National Show", but it makes me wonder if there is no longer any perceived value to attending. I am fortunate to be involved in the education offerings so I am not fiscally responsible, but I certainly have plenty of other things to do, yet I must admit I see enormous value in the National sort of.

I certainly understand the impetus to cut a fairly big number when not attending the "National Show", but it makes me wonder if there is no longer any perceived value to attending

I have been openly critical of the trade show since for me it is filled with so many irrelevant products and gadgets. At the same time unless you are Rip Van Winkle and have not been paying attention for the last five years you can see that the trade show concept is moving towards extinction. Much like my love for newspapers I may be part of the last generation that attends trade shows. I can tell you many vendors are not sure either as often the "decision-makers" are not walking the floor-they are "no-shows".

Much like my love for newspapers I may be part of the last generation that attends trade shows

So where"s the value? For me the value is the educational offerings to a diverse audience. Every seminar I have taught the last ten years is filled with golf turf managers from dozens of countries and states. We engage in robust discussions as someone from Brazil comments on what someone from Minnesota might say about annual bluegrass.

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This is a global industry and while many experienced members of the industry might forego this opportunity, the next generation of golf turf managers cannot. The golf turf industry has been somewhat insulated from the mobility many industries require. Yet, as competition for jobs becomes increasingly fierce, waiting for that local job may have dire consequences when you are one of 350 resumes the club is wading through.

 

There is enormous value in a broad perspective that is as easy as attending the show and sitting in a room of diverse professionals interested in learning and sharing. I love the regional shows like Ohio Turf or the New England Regional or great local shows like the Wisconsin Turf Symposium or MetGCSAA Winter Meeting.

There is enormous value in a broad perspective that is as easy as attending the show and sitting in a room of diverse professionals interested in learning and sharing

In the end as we began it comes down to budgetary decisions. I get that and I know hard choices must be made. "Going to the National Show" needs to be on your list at least every few years, if not for the experienced superintendent, then for the young people you might be mentoring. If they are "No-Shows" now, they will have little to show for it when the line of 350 resumes lies ahead of them.




Minimalism

  Posted in Frank Talk 16 February 2012 · 746 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.

 

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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 · 688 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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