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Dr. Frank Rossi: Frankly Speaking


Imagine There is No Poa

  Posted in Frank Talk 11 April 2012 · 670 views

I am finishing a conference call with some key superintendents from the NY Metro area when I ask a simple question about early season annual bluegrass seedhead suppression. At least three of the seven superintendents chime in saying, I wouldnt know Im bentgrass. Immediately my mind began racing, what if everyone was bentgrass, what if there was no annual bluegrass. It is hard to imagine the differences, but as John Lennon said, its easy if you try.

Immediately my mind began racing, what if everyone was bentgrass, what if there was no annual bluegrass.

We would spray fewer pesticides with no annual bluegrass. This is not to say creeping bentgrass has no disease issues. There will still be dollar spot and brown patch, take-all patch and snow mold. But one of our major problems basal rot anthracnose would be a minor if not extinct issue due to the adaptation of creeping bentgrass to northern climates especially summer conditions.

 

Beyond the reduction in pesticide use, I would argue there would be reductions in fertilizer use for nitrogen as well as most other nutrients. Research with the bentgrasses consistently indicates a more substantial root system and increased nutrient use efficiency when compared to annual bluegrass.

one of our major problems basal rot anthracnose would be a minor if not extinct issue due to the adaptation of creeping bentgrass to northern climates especially summer conditions.

Water use would be reduced. This is where science meets behavior. The shallow root system of annual bluegrass and the general idea that even the perennial types of annual bluegrass are imposters. When push comes to shove annual bluegrass allowed to dry down too far will find a reason to become an annual again. As a result of this we have a generation of impulsive managers growing a plant that in their mind is not resilient, not reliable and consequently we live in constant fear of catastrophic failure. I haven;t even brought up the whole concern for winter injury that goes away with bentgrass in most northern areas.

 

To be sure creeping bentgrass is not a free-ride. early season growth is as slow as Sergio Garcias pace of play, i.e., painfully slow. It is not very traffic tolerant and often succumbs to mechanical damage from mowers. It can get thatchy in a way that annual bluegrass does not and will not be forgiving of improper organic management that skimps on sand topdressing.

 

I know this is a dream not simply because of the biological challenges, but like shifting to renewable forms of energy there will be resistance from every corner of the industry that will feel threatened. We will need new infrastructure that helps overcome bentgrass weaknesses, we will need some different stuff and we will likely need much less of it.

To be sure creeping bentgrass is not a free-ride. early season growth is as slow as Sergio Garcias pace of play, i.e., painfully slow.

Finally, in my travels bentgrass requires discipline. Discipline to be willing to withhold inputs to allow the plants to adapt and become more stress tolerant. With a true perennial like bentgrass, not a poser such as annual bluegrass, you can stress it and not worry you are walking the razors edge next to death.

 

I know it is hard to imagine but with pending chemical legislation, rising fuel costs, water withdrawal permits, nutrient management restrictions,we need plants that are partners in aiding our quest for efficiency, plants like creeping bentgrass. If we dont begin to imagine the world without annual bluegrass and begin to work toward that goal, this will be the beginning of a nightmare with no end in sight. Dont take my word for it-ask the guys who are bentgrass.




Are You The Man with a Plan?

  Posted in On the Road 30 March 2012 · 683 views

The flooding of September 2011 in upstate NY is one that Rocco Greco, Superintendent at En-Joie Golf Course in Endicott, NY, site of the Dick's Sporting Goods Open Senior PGA event, is unlikely to forget anytime soon. Having lived in the area most of my life, I knew there was flooding, Rocco said, but I never imagined 16 of my 18 holes would be submerged under 15-20 feet of water.

 

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Sometimes I forget the unprecedented access I get to not only fascinating operations but dedicated and unique professionals. Rocco is a soft-spoken guy, graduate of Delhi Turfgrass Program and for the last few years Superintendent of En-Joie (short for Endicott-Johnson City as well as Endicott Johnson Shoes).

 

As we were driving around, the course that is currently closed and for all intent and purpose is under reconstruction and grow-in, we chatted about the methodical process of running pumps for 30 straight days, hand washing 5 to 8 inches of silt off the greens, re-seeding dead greens, fixing the levee, etc.

 

Nothing prepares you for this and by Rocco's own admission, "It has been an exciting experience, but I don't really need to do it again, once is enough." But like many superintendents I know, problem-solving is at the core of their success. They see what needs to be done and establish a plan, even if it is not written down there is a plan, and then resourcefully work to resolve the problem. The best part of this flood was there was no one nearby to blame.

 

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Often superintendents find themselves in situations where decisions were made and plans implemented to control seedheads, eliminate annual bluegrass, overseed greens, core cultivate, and turf loss occurs. The blame game starts and instead of pulling in the same direction, the fingers start pointing. The flood was nobodies fault and when you see it as that it makes the recovery less stressful. I wonder with the challenges we know we will face with the rapid onset of the 2012 growing season do you have a plan or do you just react to what comes?

 

This is not going to be the year where you want to get behind and you don't want to push too hard too early. A good plan looks at a growing season as a marathon with a good pace and then times when you ramp things up and get back to your pace. If you want to finish strong identify key events and stress periods and pace yourself up to them and plan to recover from them. It does not have to be complicated but as Harry Truman once said, I believe in plans big enough to meet a situation which we can't possibly foresee. I'm sure Rocco has one now!




Supply and Demand

  Posted in Frank Talk 22 March 2012 · 721 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 · 764 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 · 717 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.








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