Venting Fairways and Tees

The past couple weeks have not been kind to most Chicago-area golf courses.  First we had extreme heat and then lots of rain.  While some turf wilted in the heat and the rough went dormant in many areas, we could cope with dry and hot.  The wet period that started on July 22nd was a different matter.  The end of last week (July 27-29) saw significant rain 3 days in a row with warm temperatures.  This created a situation we know well in a wet late summer -- a toxic soup of wet wilt, scald, and pythium.  The high temps this weekend cooked saturated, low-lying fairway areas but the rough is looking fabulous!  Quite a few golfers have commented on how green it is on the course and they are right:  The greens, higher areas, and rough are healthy and growing fast.  It is those lower areas that are the problem.

Scalded low area near the creek on #1.

At the moment, there is only one thing we can do to improve the situation and speed up turf recovery -- Vent!  Not the verbal kind of venting, although that can help, but the mechanical kind.  Venting refers to solid tine aeration done mostly for the purpose of improving gas exchange in the soil.  We have been using a machine called the Planet Air on the fairways that shatters soil while leaving only a slit in the turf and a minimum of mess.  Tees are being treated with solid tines on a conventional aerifier.  So far, I have no plans to needle tine the greens as they are still performing well. 

Aerator uses a slicing motion to vent turf

Slicing Tines on Planet Air

I've noticed a lot of superintendents are doing the same thing and dealing with a lot of the same problems.  Check here for more recent superintendent blog posts (Link).  I especially like this blog post as they seem to be in a similar situation (Link).

In his Scouting Report for July 29, 2011, Dr. Settle writes: "Then there's why overly wet rootzones are our worst enemy. Midsummer is never a
good time for cool-season turfgrass because any additional downward spiral of
turfgrass health can be difficult to reverse until cooler weather returns. Root
biomass/length are at their lowest levels and what's left root-wise has impaired
function because of high soil temperature. Turf plants in physiological decline
display abnormal photosynthesis and respiration, yet concentrated wear continues
on a daily basis (the life of a golf green). Often the only recourse is a
well-timed cultural method such as needle-tine aeration. If it sounds as if I'm
exaggerating or blaming the weather too much, guess again."

Thanks for telling it how it is!  Wet + Hot + Stress = Unhappy Turf.  These scouting reports a great resource for everyone involved in golf.  You can check them out at Chicago District Golf Association Turfgrass.

Classic water damage in a drainage swail.

Saturated conditions lasted for longer than the turf could tolerate.