The biggest contribution to the decline was a severe outbreak of Gray Leaf Spot on our Ryegrass population within the intermediates. Gray Leaf Spot is a devastating disease on Perennial Ryegrass during periods of prolonged excessive heat (82-90+), humidity and excessive rainfall. The disease pathogen is rapid and can easily spread with rain, wind and mechanical traffic. Although preventive measures were utilized throughout the season with our chemical program (intermediates are included in fairway sprays), the rainy weather leading into the 5 day stretch of heat (above 90) and humidity caused an outbreak. Once identified, I applied a curative application to the affected areas in hopes of limiting the severity of outbreak, unfortunately, the conditions continued and the rainfall following the remnants of Gordon halting the damage.
However, Gray Leaf Spot is not the only contributing factor to the decline. No one reading this blog is a stranger to the weather experienced over the region this season. The record-breaking rainfall has hindered our operations, practices and turf health. In a perfect world, we are able to manage the water input to promote root growth because a plant under stress will send its roots towards oxygen and water. The saturated conditions that have prevailed during large stretches of this summer have left the plant suffocating and not growing in is natural healthy state. Then when you flip the switch and go from those saturated conditions to dry/high heat/humid conditions on grass that is already stressed, only the strongest survive. The weakest in our case was the Poa.
I'll be completely honest in stating that the stretch of weather around Labor Day and the week that followed was my toughest from a water management standpoint since starting at Longue Vue. Knowing that our rooting was compromised, it was imperative that we didn't overwater our playing surfaces in efforts to reduce the chance of disease outbreaks such as pythium, brown patch and wet wilt. With the way our irrigation is setup, the intermediates will only receive true coverage if we water fairways in combination with the rough. During that stretch, I didn't water fairways at night for 5 days, simply relied on syringing via handwatering or irrigation during the day for playabilty and disease prevention. In return, much of the poa population in the intermediates (and rough for that matter) suffered.
So there are the causes; disease and the season's weather finally caught up with us. This is extremely disappointing given the significant progress we had made in developing intermediates since my arrival. Although inheriting many varieties, we have made great strides in 5 years while developing uniformity, playability and creating aesthetic value. Outside of purchasing the proper machine to mow and developing a preventive chemical program towards survival and plant health, we simply maintained the multiple varieties (Poa, Bentgrass, Ryegrass and Kentucky Bluegrass) as they existed...the hand we were dealt so to speak. We did address the uniformity and conditions around greens with the collar/intermediate project by installing low mow bluegrass. In return, prior to this year we haven't experienced any issues with our intermediates, maybe a few pockets here and there but overall they had remained solid.
Which brings us to recovery. Regardless of whether this year's weather was a fluke or not, we must do our best to prevent this turf loss from reoccurring. I believe the answer is to introduce stronger varieties to our intermediates--most notably, the same varieties of Bluegrass that were in the sod purchased for the collar/intermediate project back in year one. The above picture clearly shows the difference and survival comparison to our existing species. After a little research, I was able to identify the varieties used and located a blend being sold containing a majority of those in the sod. In addition to the Bluegrass, a percentage of Tall Fescue will also be added to aid in drought and traffic tolerance. Work began on Tuesday afternoon with the process of aerifying, broadcast spreading and slit seeding all of the intermediates and surrounding affected areas. Unfortunately, Bluegrass has a slow germination rate and will take up to 21-28 days to show signs of life. Therefore, I ask for your patience and try to focus on the big (long term) picture.
In the meantime, it is important despite frustrations that we work together to monitor traffic and play within our intermediates over the next week to 10 days till the seed has established in the soil. We will keep areas marked and will establish entry and exit points on each fairway. When playing the hole, I ask that you try to remain and keep cart traffic in the fairway without crossing intermediates. As we get further along in the process, these restrictions or requests will be lifted. The main reasoning behind this request is to prevent any seed from making its way onto the fairways. We spent the first three years eradicating Ryegrass from our fairways with great success and any efforts to prevent contaminating them with a different species will go a long way. These areas will also be kept moist via handwatering, so please watch for the staff and realize that any cart traffic could lead to rutting.
Outside of intermediates, we will include focus on areas of the rough that have also declined over the recent weeks due to the above mentioned causes. In closing, I thank you for your continued support, patience and cooperation during a trying and frustrating year. Every day has seemed to have it's new challenges and struggles, I share your frustrations towards a course we mutually admire and expect only the best when it comes to conditions. Rest assured, I will continue to address any issues that arise and continue to build towards the future.
As I tell my staff; "We use today to improve on yesterday and build for tomorrow".