It’s been eleven weeks since we closed the course and covered the greens, now all we can do is sit in anticipation for the next 10 weeks as we wait for the snow to melt and the golf course to reopen. The winter gives us time to reflect on the past season but more importantly it gives us an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming year. Due to the success of our cultural regiment in 2009 we are anxiously awaiting the beginning of the 2010 season.
The golfer in me can’t wait to try and improve on my game and enjoy all the pleasures the game has to offer, but the green keeper in me cannot wait for us to continue where we left off. Last year was the first full season we implemented our bentgrass conversion program. From a golfers perspective most would agree the playing conditions were very good (at least once the weather cooperated). But from an agronomic perspective we were very pleased with the overall results.
Gauging the progress and the success of the program can be somewhat difficult, but overall we know that as our population of bentgrass increases so does our success. In fact with 21 greens to manage each green has its own environment and hurdles to overcome to reach that conversion. Of the 21 greens, when we started the process, 14 greens had 75% or more poa annua as the dominant turf species and of those 14 greens 8 of them had a stand of 90% poa annua.
Let me first tell you that judging the population of a mixed stand of poa annua, creeping bentgrass on greens is a difficult task. None the less we did develop a benchmark for each individual green before the start of the process. Turf species populations were judged three times throughout the season; once in the spring, once in the summer and once in the fall.
Now some of the percent increases might not thrill most of you and they may seem quite small, but what does happen once the transition begins to swing towards a creeping bentgrass stand of turf will become an accumulative affect. We have seen as little as a 5% increase on a few greens such as 1, 3, 5, and 11, which makes sense since these greens were estimated to have 95% poa from the start, but once the stand begins to spread and increase we expect this to easily become 10-20% within the next year.
The majority of the greens did see an increase of 10%-20%. The 10th green had the largest increase and that was 40%. The 10th green now has a stand of creeping bentgrass estimated to be 65%. Although the overall progress does seem small none the less we are heading in the proper direction.
Increasing our bentgrass stand is the major reason for the effort towards the conversion. Through the conversion there come many side benefits. First and foremost overall playing conditions improve. Creeping bentgrass allows us to maintain a firmer and more consistent playing surface. Agronomical and economical benefits include reduced water usage, a reduction in fertilizer inputs and a reduction in pesticide inputs.
Basing our input numbers from the 2009 season compared to the 2007 season we have seen a steady reduction in fertilizer and pesticide usage. Since we are still in a conversion process for the greens we have not seen a reduction in nitrogen based fertilizers but we have been able to reduce pesticide inputs by 55%. Regarding tees and fairways we have seen a reduction in pesticide applications by 55% for tees and 60% for fairways. We have also reduced our fertilizer input on tees by 75% and 60% on fairways. As we transition to bentgrass we will probably see these inputs level off and we will reach an amount that will be very consistent from year to year. The great thing about creeping bentgrass is the fact that it does very well in impoverished soils. Requirements consist mainly of nitrogen and iron, much of the other nutrient up take can efficiently be obtained from what is in the soil. Since our soils are nutrient rich it should be a number of years before we even come close worrying about the depletion our soils.
One must note that this past year was by all accounts a mild summer and disease pressure was extremely low throughout our region. Not every year will allow us these types of reductions of pesticides. But regardless of the weather conditions, we feel strongly that our program allows us to have a healthier plant, a plant that functions efficiently and is given just enough of what it needs to survive.