Thursday, October 28, 2010

Checking your Irrigation System Performance through Auditing

If your area hasn’t already experienced a frost this fall, tonight will likely be the night. After a couple of days of cooler temperatures and gusty winds, low temperatures are supposed to dip into the mid 20’s throughout much of the state tonight. With November just around the corner, the fall season will soon give way to winter (I think some of us thought it would never get here). Many of you will probably be winterizing your irrigation systems within the next three weeks. I wrote an article last year about the process of winterizing your irrigation system. You can access that article by clicking here. The winterization process and the freeze thaw cycles typically experienced during an Iowa winter can affect the overall performance of your irrigation system. A relatively easy way to check the efficiency of your irrigation system is by performing an irrigation audit.

An irrigation audit can be conducted for any location on the golf course (greens, tees, fairways) that receives overhead irrigation. The audit process involves recording various site characteristics and then conducting a test to determine how uniform the irrigation system is applying water to the area being tested. Information such as the sprinkler type, arc adjustment, nozzle size, operating pressure, head spacing and soil type are examples of site characteristics that are typically recorded. The uniformity is determined by placing a series of catch cans in a grid pattern across the area to be tested and then running the irrigation system for a specified amount of time.

The pictures below are from an irrigation audit I recently conducted. In the first picture you can see the catch cans placed across the green in a grid pattern. The distance between the catch devices will depend on the size of the area you are testing. We used heavy duty cups as our catch device for this audit and they were placed on 15 foot centers. Any object can be used to collect the irrigation water as long as all the objects are the same and you can measure the size of the opening of each catch device.

The irrigation system is then run for a specified amount of time and water is collected in each catch device. The amount of time the system is operated depends on the type of irrigation heads. In this audit the heads were gear driven rotors and the system was run for 10 minutes. The amount of water collected in each catch can is recorded once the cycle is complete.

Below you can see the results from this audit. The values from each catch device are used to calculate the Distribution Uniformity of the area. The DU represents how uniformly water is applied to the area and is expressed as a decimal. A DU value of 1.0 would represent complete uniformity within the area tested. For rotary sprinklers, the Irrigation Association considers DU values of 0.8 Excellent (Achievable) and 0.7 Good (Expected). Values below 0.55 are considered Poor and action should be taken.

The calculated DU for this golf green was 0.63. The obvious question now becomes what can I do to improve the overall efficiency of the system? Performing regular maintenance activities such as leveling sprinkler heads, adjusting arcs for matched precipitation rates, checking and replacing clogged or worn nozzles and drive mechanisms are all practices that will help. The results of the audit may alter you to problems that require more significant repairs such as moving sprinkler heads to appropriate spacings, adjusting water pressure (up or down), or even upgrading various system components.

Increasing the DU of your irrigation system can save your facility a significant amount of money and water over the course of the season. Uniformly applied irrigation can also lead to improved and more uniform playing conditions. The Irrigation Association offers some great resources about the auditing procedure. There is also a one and a half day seminar at the GCSAA Education Conference that provides classroom and hand-on experience of the auditing golf courses if you are interested in learning more.

Marcus Jones
Graduate Research Assistant

Monday, October 25, 2010

Branching Out While in Hong Kong

Internships are all about learning new practices, ideas, and skills. One of my favorite skills I have learned while on internship with the Hong Kong Golf Club involves ‘hanging out.’ I’m not talking about sitting back with a few friends playing video games, but instead I’ve been spending some time hanging out in the trees with our arboriculture team.

Here at the HKGC we employ three tree climbers who are working on receiving their certification. They have undergone many hours of schooling, and are now gaining their experience hours before becoming certified. All their education and experience really has been paying off for them, and I have been able to learn a lot from working along side them.

The tree climbers will be certified through the International Society of Arboriculture. I have been reading through an English version of the test material (with side notes written in Chinese by the owner) and have found it to be very interesting. Many golf course workers across the world could find this information very valuable.

Trees can play either a very integral part in to the design of a golf course or may just randomly spot the landscape, but all the same, these large plants must still be cared for. The arborist certification guide includes information about tree biology and identification; soil, water, and nutrient management; selection and installation; pruning and plant health; and climbing and working in trees. Some of the topics such as soil, water and nutrient management may be very familiar to golf course managers while other topics such as pruning and climbing may be topics some managers may want to learn or brush up on a bit. A well-pruned tree is much healthier and can live much longer than one that has not been properly cared for.

One of the great benefits of tree climbing skills is the elimination of expensive heavy machinery that can tear up turf. Sometimes, this machinery can not even reach the tree that needs to be pruned because of many reasons such as uneven land or other objects too close to the tree that needs to be pruned. While learning to climb trees I have noticed it takes a lot of problem solving and creativity. Sometimes you have to really think about what branch to walk on, where to tie off to, where to reset your climbing line to so you can reach the branch you want to work on. On the first few lessons I also learned it is a great whole body work out that left me so sore for a few days I barely wanted to move.

Tree climbing can also be a great hobby that can have many carry over benefits that most of us could use in our daily operations while working in trees on a golf course. For more information about becoming certified visit the International Society of Arboriculture at

I have heard the best way to learn to climb is to find a local climber, or climbing group, and learn from them. Books are great, but there is no replacing the information you can learn while hanging in a tree, suspended only by a rope, swinging from branch to branch.

Damian Richardson

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Communicating Sustainable Use of Pesticides

This article was submitted by Todd Burkdoll, BASF Professional Turf and Ornamentals Technical Specialist.

Superintendents are faced with all kinds of job-related questions, particularly about the agronomics of using pesticides and other chemicals on their courses. Many are having a hard time clearly explaining the benefits of chemical use to curious golfers and community members, and as a result, sometimes avoid the topic. However, communicating with the public is no longer optional; superintendents must address questions, ease concerns and take part in community education programs on a regular basis in order to continue building and sustaining community confidence.

Many people assume pesticides are toxic and harmful to their health. That belief, however, is rarely grounded in science. Antibacterial soap, dishwasher soap and laundry detergent are technically toxic pesticides because they kill germs; however, when used correctly, they do not harm humans. The same goes for chemicals that are used to protect plants. Just as soap controls harmful pathogens that humans encounter, fungicide controls pathogens that damage plants.

Simply put, plants – like people – get sick. For example, when their systems get overrun, plants can suffer from environmental stress that creates conditions for pest pressure and disease. When that happens, medication in the form of pesticides is required to nurse the plant back to health. Like human drugs, pesticides today are highly targeted to specific problems, including fungi, weeds and insects.

The need for plant medication, so to speak, is understood by most people. But they may need more explanation about the science behind responsible chemical use.

The Safety Stance. Scientifically proving with reasonable certainty that a pesticide will not harm people or the environment is a fundamental part of the product-approval process. The United States has one of the strictest registration processes in the world. Federal law requires that before selling or distributing a pesticide in the United States, a person or company must obtain registration, or license, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Before registering a new pesticide – or a new use for a registered pesticide – the EPA must first assure the public that the pesticide is considered safe, when used according to label directions. To make such determinations, the EPA requires more than 100 different scientific studies and tests from applicants.

Even before they go through government review, these chemical compounds are tested for toxicity by non-biased, third-parties. If a pesticide receives a “strike” against it at any point during testing process, the manufacturer does not approve it for government testing.

Once the product is registered, it is selected and applied by highly trained professionals. Just as a pharmacist would recommend medicine for a specific ailment, superintendents work with industry experts – including chemical applicators with years of formal education – to prescribe a pesticide for a specific problem.

Not all pesticides are equal. Toxicity levels vary by product and instructions for use are clearly outlined on each pesticide’s label. Labels are designed to explain the correct application procedure, so the chemical has little or no direct negative impact on organisms beyond the targeted pest. As a rule, chemical experts consistently stress the importance of reading and following the pesticide label.

As a precautionary measure, most pesticides cannot be bought over the counter. Some products also require applicators to post signs or flags that alert the public that a given area has been treated recently. The signs, which usually are left standing for 24 hours, are simply informative, since no danger to humans or animals exists after application. In many cases, the majority of pesticides break down naturally in the soil after controlling target pests.

What is your role? Some superintendents have taken a proactive communication approach to combating the general public’s misperceptions and fear of pesticides. Superintendent Jed Spencer, CGCS, for Chenal Country Club in Little Rock, Ark., participates in monthly Greens Committee meetings and now hosts annual open houses to give all members a behind-the-scenes look at how he maintains his course. In addition to addressing topics such as chemical and fertilizer use, maintenance and even golf etiquette, his crew operates equipment for participants, allowing them to get a firsthand look at what his crew does and how they do it. Spencer’s goal is to educate the community, and show members the purpose behind his crew’s actions.

“The response to our communication efforts has been extremely positive,” Spencer said. “Community members really appreciate the visual component. It reduces concerns about the possible effects our treatment plan could have on them and their surroundings.”

Spencer has taken additional steps to show his concern for the environment, which the community has applauded. Three years ago, he formed a partnership with Ducks Unlimited to establish a wood duck colony on the course, which helps attract the birds and allows his crew to manage the population. He also maintains a chemical building on his property that houses a 1,000-gallon storage tank for recycling chemicals.

Fred Gehrisch, superintendent for Highlands Fall Country Club in Highlands, N.C., holds educational forums for residents living on or near his course to explain what his crew is spraying and why. He also writes a regular column for his local newspaper that addresses course issues such as the scientific benefits of safely controlling disease and invasive plants on his course.

Gehrisch also is involved in a study under way by the University of Missouri on salamanders at 10 courses in the area – including his – to see how they are affected by chemical use. Along with the university, he regularly works with environmental groups, whether it is coordinating joint speaking engagements or donating his staff to support a local event.

Gehrisch says most people he speaks with are relieved once they learn the chemicals he uses are similar to everyday household products.

“I have found that using common medications as examples is the most effective way to demonstrate why they do not need to fear the products we use,” Gehrisch said. “I read a list of side effects and lead them to believe it is a chemical I am using to treat turf disease when, in reality, it is aspirin.”

Communicating with the public falls under the many day-to-day responsibilities of a superintendent, and more of them are taking it upon themselves to go above and beyond that duty. At a minimum, superintendents should be able to confidently explain the parallels between plant and human disease, and how science helps alleviate damage in both cases.

“We talk a lot within our inner circle about what needs to be done, but as an industry, we tend to be slower in responding to the public than we should,” Gehrisch said. “For any change to happen, supers need to leave their desks and get out in front of their communities.”

Despite the fact that pesticides are useful tools that can provide significant benefits to our communities, the debate over whether to use them will undoubtedly continue. By basing communications on science instead of emotion, superintendents can help community members appreciate the time, labor and money-saving benefits of environmentally sound chemicals.

Tips for Communicating with your Community

1) Know your topic and know it well. Be willing to give research to back up what you are saying.

2) Do not lie. A lot of the information you share is a matter of common sense; however, your audiences will fact check.

3) Be as consistent as you can. Some information will change over the course of time, but the majority of it should remain constant.

4) Be patient. It is important to remember that members of the community are not as versed on the subject matter as you are.

5) Provide resources where people can obtain additional information. Encourage them to spend some time learning about the issues they care about.

For more information on disease control and healthy plants, visit, follow us on Twitter at or e-mail Todd Burkdoll at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dare I say it. Can we get a little rain?

We are just past the halfway point in October and some parts of the state have yet to receive any considerable rainfall this month. After being bombarded with rain during the summer months, the Des Moines area has received a measly 0.03 inches of rainfall so far in October. Their last considerable rainfall event took place on September 25. Depending on what happens the remaining 14 days of the month, October could go down as one of the driest on record. Irrigation systems that didn’t get much use during the rainy summer months are surely being used during this stretch of dry weather. The picture below from the National Weather Service shows that a good chunk of the Midwest is experiencing below average rainfall for October.

There hasn’t been too much activity (as far as stresses go) at the research station. We still have dollar spot working in some areas and rust and powdery mildew are showing up on Kentucky bluegrass. Grub damage at the station seems to be less this year compared to years past.

Other than the droughty conditions, the fall months have been conducive for turfgrass growth and recovery. Soil temperatures are holding steady in the high 50’s low 60’s. Those putting down natural organic fertilizers yet this fall, remember that those products require microbial activity to release the nitrogen contained in the product. Microbial activity usually ceases at 50 degrees. The dry conditions could also affect post-emergent herbicide applications as uptake and translocation are not as effective on drought stressed weeds.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of fall.

A walk through the rough on a golf course can turn the toes of your boots orange.

Regardless of the weather conditions, poa always seems to find a way to thrive.

This maple provides brilliant fall color on the north side of the ISU campus

Marcus Jones
Graduate Research Assistant

Monday, October 11, 2010


Nick Christians
October 11, 2010

It has been a busy time at turfgrass research this fall. Here are a couple of new things for next year.

The first is a new seeding of 007 Creeping Bentgrass. I often get calls at this time of years asking how late can bentgrass be seeded. We have a 10,000 sq. ft. area that we will be seeding over the next few weeks. The first one quarter of the site was seeded on Oct. 8. We will continue to seed each additional quarter on Oct. 15, Oct. 22, and Oct. 29. We will have this on next years field day and you will be able to see the results in August.

007 Creeping Bentgrass area

The second major trial is a new National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) Perennial Ryegrass trial. There are 88 Perennial Rye cultivars in this trial, replicated 3 times. It was seeded on Oct. 1, which is a little late for rye. The wet weather prevented an earlier seeding. The picture below is from Oct. 11. It is amazing how fast perennial rye can establish if conditions are right.

It has been a great fall for Rust (Puccina grminis) on Kentucky bluegrass. The close up shot below was taken on Oct. 11.

Notice how the two clumps of perennial rye in the picture below are not affected and the bluegrass is severely infested with the Rust.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Nick Christians
Oct. 7, 2010

Here is the latest picture of the recovery from the August 10 flood damage. It was taken on Sept. 29, 2010, 7 weeks after the flood damage. The students are the Hort 351 lab that was visiting the site. They are standing on the warm season grasses that survived the flood. The surrounding area is the bluegrass/rye area that had the severe damage. The area was seeded shortly after the flood. About 40% of the recovery is from bluegrass rhizomes, the rest is germinating perennial ryegrass seed. The area still cannot be used for intramural sports, but the extent of recovery in just 7 weeks is amazing.

Veenker golf course and Cold Water Golf Links were both heavily damaged by the flood as well. Both courses are now open play.