Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring is Coming and So Are the Golfers

The weather is warming up and golfers are anxious to hit the links. Check out my latest article in Inside Golf magazine about some of the tasks that superintendents must complete in order to get the golf course ready for play. Go to

Friday, March 12, 2010

Integrated Pest Management for New Maintenance Staff

This is the time of year when superintendents are starting to return staff and hire new staff for the upcoming golf season. With these returning employees and new employees comes the opportunity to train everyone for the year. Of course employees are going to be trained how to perform their assigned tasks as well as the protocols of being an employee in the maintenance department.

This time of year also brings a chance for supers to train new and existing staff about environmentally friendly ways to maintain a golf course. The basics of this come in the the form of Integrated Pest Management or IPM.

Although the less experienced staff will have little decision making power at a maintenance facility it is still important that they are aware of what is going on at the golf course environmentally so they can be sure to make small decisions in line with what the superintendent is thinking.

For example, all staff must be aware of the recycling program, the fueling up procedures and where they can and cannot drive on the golf course. Without proper training, new staff are likely to do what comes easiest to them despite what may be good or bad for the environment.

I think that it is important that all staff are at least somewhat aware of the IPM programs being implemented at their place of business. There are some basic tenets to a proper IPM program and they include: Scouting and monitoring, selecting thresholds, making decisions based on treatment options, proper timing and spot treatment, documenting and evaluating results.

Scouting and Monitoring: This is about maintenance staff being aware of what to be on the lookout for on the golf course. Although not all staff are going to be trained in identifying turfgrass pests (disease, insects and weeds) they should be able to recognize when something on the golf course does not look right. Being able to recognize that the turf does not look healthy is a lot different from identifying a problem. It is the maintenance crew that is on the course every day that must be able to report back to superiors that there may be a problem on the course.

Superintendents and senior staff should take the time in the spring to show new staff members what some of the common turf pests are in the area. This training can be very informal and be done on a piece meal basis by perhaps showing one turf problem per day that is likely to occur at the golf course and what should be done if it is recognized.

Selecting Thresholds: It is the job of the superintendent and his superiors to determine the overall quality of the product that is to be strived for on a daily basis. It must be determined what areas of the property can be left unmaintained and what areas can be left to suffer from a pest invasion in order to save money and reduce pesticide use. For instance it is not uncommon for superintendents to maintain putting surfaces that are to be 100% pest free. This is acceptable as it is the greens that are best remembered by golfers and are to be in top shape at all times.

Tee decks and fairways on the other hand may be able to withstand some pest pressure before action must be taken. Most supers will accept a certain amount of disease pressure on these playing surfaces before pesticides will be used to prevent the death of more grass. Depending on the pest present the super may decide that the tee decks will be covered in 20% disease before they will use pesticides. Again this is a decison that must be made in advance and usually will require input from the super, the assistant super and quite often the director of golf.

Decisions Based on Treatment Options: There is no doubt that the use of pesticides has become a sticky issue in the golf industry today. Unfortunately, they have become a necessary evil in the maintenace of high end turf. If golfers are expecting to play golf on perfectly maincured turf that is maintained at heights less than 1/8th of an inch, they must be prepared to play golf on turf that has been treated with pesticides.

For many turf diseases there are options other than pesticides. For instance there are diseases that can be overcome by changing the pH balance in the soil. Take-All Patch is a turfgrass disease that can be devastating, particularly to new turf. Luckily, this disease can most often be overcome by applying a fertilizer that contains a form of Nitrogen called ammonium sulphate. Applying ammonium sulphate will change the pH balance in the soil and keep the disease at bay.

Other diseases can be overcome by applying fertilizers that will promote a flush of growth to help the grass power through the disease pressure until weather conditions change and reduce the possiblity of further damage to the turf.

Proper Timing and Spot Treatment: When making the decision to apply pesticides a super must be sure that the timing of the application is right. Applying a product at the wrong time can result in wasted product that will be ineffective and possibly cause harm to the environment.

Other timing issues include watching weather so as not to apply during periods of high winds or prior to or during a rain event. Again this will lead to wasted product and a possibility of environmental damage.

Spot treating is about applying product only where there is a pest problem. For instance, if there is one tee deck that is covered with disease there may be no need to apply a pesticide to all of them. In the end this will lead to less pesticides applied resulting in cost savings and less potential for harm to the environment.

Documenting and Evaluating Results: Once a pesticide has been applied it is important that accurate records are kept that will document not only the product that has been applied but also how effective the product was. By keeping accurate records a super will be able to determine pest fighting treatments for the future.

New or less experienced employees do not need to be fully aquainted with an IPM program but should understand the basics of it. Proper training in the spring will give new employees some much needed information to attack their postion with knowledge and confidence. All employees of the golf course should be aware of the environmental postion statement of the facility at which they are employed.

New Opportunities

As some of you may know I have been writing articles for Inside Golf online magazine for a year. I have recently been asked by the publisher at Inside Golf if I would be interested in starting up a new section of the magazine pertaining to golf course maintenance, construction and design.

The new title would be as Associate Publisher for Inside Golf. I see this as a fantastic opportunity to spread the good word to golfers and the public in general about the postive benefits that golf courses have on the environment.

This new job means continuing to write articles as well as collecting articles from others in the golf industry. The articles do no necessarily have to relate to environmental concerns but rather about the industry in general. The online publication will be emailed to subscribers of the magazine and will be used as a trade magazine.

I am looking for contributions from people in the industry who are interested in sharing information about what it takes to prepare a golf course for play. I am talking about everything from taking a raw piece of property and designing a course, to shaping and construction to the day-to-day maintenance that must take place before a ball is ever hit.

I see this as a chance to enlighten golfers about the hard work that goes into a golf course just so they can enjoy (or not) themselves while getting some exercise and fresh air.

If you think you have what it takes to get an article published please do not hestitate to contact me about the topic you would like to write about or put together a 750 word piece along with a supporting picture that can be used for the publication.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

If It's Not Written Down, It Didn't Happen

As the golf course industry struggles to prove to it's detractors that we are doing good things for the environment and creating wildlife habitats on our properties we are constantly being asked one question, "Can you prove it?".

The time has come where golf course superintendents are not only needing to maintain golf courses in a an environmentally sensitive way but we must also be able to prove it. The easiest and most effective way of doing this is through documentation. Similar to the health and safety movement in the 90's where documentation is the only way to prove you are in compliance the environmental movement is going along those same lines.

I understand that superintendents are extremely busy but the reality of the situation is that everything that you do on your golf course must be documented or it will not count. For instance you must record all fertilizer and pesticide applications in a chart that can be easily retrieved if required by an officer of the Ministry of the Environment.

You must also keep accurate records of any calibrations done to fertilizing and spray equipment. This is all part of Integrated Pest Management. It is a forgone conclusion that accreditation in IPM will be mandatory for every golf course. You might as well get on board now and start recording everything you are doing on the golf course.

Along with records of fertilizer and pesticide applications you must also keep written records of your evaluation of the efficacy of the application. Scouting and monitoring records must also be maintained. Each time you apply a pesticide to your golf course you will need to have a small booklet of the application. The booklet must contain the information that led to the spray decision including the scouting and monitoring that alerted you to the problem, the weather conditions that prevailed and the damage done prior to the application. You need to have thresholds identified to prove that they were breached leading to the application decision.

After you apply you must fill out on a daily basis the condition of the damaged turf as it recovers due to the application.

I know this all sounds very labour intensive and maybe even over the top but it will be required in the near future. We must conform to these rules if we want to keep pesticides in our tool box.

Start now with your IPM programs so that it will be easier to adapt when it becomes law.