USGA Regional Update- 9.16.16

The following is the most recent USGA regional update for the Northeast.  As I mentioned in the previous post- we have dealt with much of what is discussed herein:


Truth And Consequences September 16, 2016 By Elliott Dowling, agronomist, Northeast Region and David Oatis, regional director, Northeast Region

Dry seasons highlight irrigation deficiencies and pinpoint where adjustments are necessary.

The summer of 2016 has been extremely challenging for golf courses in the Northeast Region; and it isn’t over yet. The heat and humidity have been oppressive, and rainfall has been extreme or absent, depending on your location. In most years, turf managers anxiously wait for September, normally a month that favors turf recovery. Unfortunately, until very recently September has provided little relief from summer heat. Most golf courses have experienced some stress and turf thinning, if not total turf loss. Recovery is needed, but it has been slow to arrive because of the ongoing heat and lack of rainfall. Irrigation is not a substitute for natural rain, and the absence of rain is slowing germination and growth.

September also marks the unofficial start of fall projects. Golf courses rely on fall projects and cultivation to improve turf health and playing conditions for next season. Unfortunately, the unseasonably hot, dry weather has caused some courses to scale back cultivation programs and postpone golf course improvement projects. If your grass is too weak to sustain traditional fall cultivation, implement a less-aggressive approach by using smaller tines and less sand until the weather improves. When the weather breaks, perform additional cultivation if it is needed to promote long-term improvement.

The silver lining of a difficult season is that infrastructure deficiencies are highlighted such that they are difficult to ignore. This fall is a good time to think about turning some of your course’s weaknesses into strengths.

  • Irrigation coverage—For courses that have experienced extremely dry conditions, now is a perfect time to document irrigation problems related to pumping, supply, control, coverage and other factors. Act soon before regular rainfall erases irrigation coverage problems that drought has exposed. If you haven’t developed a drought emergency plan, this year has certainly shown why it is important to do so.
  • Drainage—Irrigation often gets top billing, but nothing is more important than getting rid of excess water when it arrives in copious quantities. Keep in mind that surface and subsurface drainage are equally important. If your greens don’t have good internal drainage, implement a deep soil-modification program or install an internal drainage system.
  • Trees—Trees on a golf course can add beauty and strategy, but they also shade the turf, compete for moisture and can clog drain lines. Extremely wet or extremely dry, tree roots can cause problems.
  • Fans—Fan technology has improved tremendously in recent years. Having one or more portable, gas-powered fans will provide another level of protection when faced with difficult summer weather. Some courses may have been able to avoid turf loss this summer if they had used a fan for a few weeks.
  • Grass species—Breeding programs are continually developing new and improved turfgrass cultivars. If you have old “grass technology” it may be time to upgrade to a species or cultivar that can better withstand heat, drought, wear and disease.

The benefit of experiencing a challenging summer is that it highlights a golf course’s strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully you can use this year to affect positive change at your golf course.


USGA Sept. 2 Update

The USGA recently posted an update regarding summer conditions here in the Northeast.  I think this update is particularly appropriate to what we’ve experienced here at the Orchards.  While we haven’t experienced all of the discussed difficulties, the overall sentiment of the report aligns with what we’ve been through:


A Summer Brawl

Roberto Duran’s famous phrase “No mas” that ended his brawl with Sugar Ray Leonard, and essentially his career, comes to mind this summer. Enough is enough already! Whether dealing with season-long drought or the effects of heat and humidity, this season has pushed turf and many turf managers to their limits. Courses in the northern half of the region continue to hope for rain while those in southern half wish the rain would stop for a while.


Drought conditions in parts of the Northeast have not improved and in some areas have worsened. As a result, golf facilities have had to reduce or eliminate irrigation to fairways and nonessential areas. The drought has drained water from irrigation ponds and energy from maintenance staffs, which have been busy with hoses far too long to remember. Courses that have significantly reduced, or eliminated, fairway irrigation are anticipating some turf injury, especially where cart traffic is heavy. The extent of drought-related injury is difficult to determine until we begin to see some regrowth. However, we know there will be overseeding ahead once the drought breaks and there is enough water available to initiate that work. Weed encroachment has been extremely high in areas that have experienced both drought and rain events. Drought thins the turf and then rains promote weed germination and growth.

Heat and Humidity

High temperatures combined with rain and humidity has taken its toll on putting greens in the region. Cool-season turfgrass can tolerate heat but is pushed to its limit by persistently high temperatures. Higher soil and air temperatures increase plant respiration rates, drawing more energy than plants can produce. Plants’ energy reserves are depleted; the gas tank is empty. Weakened plants are vulnerable to temperature extremes, physical damage and disease. We have seen weakened annual bluegrass plants fail on greens located in difficult growing environments or in areas with poor drainage. Wet wilt, heat stress and physical damage have caused the greatest injury. Many turf pathogens are still active too. Creeping bentgrass has been holding its own, but it too has been damaged in very hot environments.

About the only grasses thriving in this heat are crabgrass, goosegrass, nutsedge and kyllinga. These weeds are well suited for this type of weather and are taking full advantage of the ideal growing conditions and weakened cool-season turf. Pre-emergent herbicide programs that usually provide season-long control of annual grasses are breaking down early with the elevated soil temperatures.

The annual bluegrass weevil has also decided to join the party after being conspicuously absent for most of the spring and early summer. Reports of more extensive feeding damage have been observed this month. It is just one of those years!

Going Forward    

The calendar tells us that things should be getting easier with shorter days and cooler nights ahead. That would be ideal for badly-needed aeration and overseeding programs. Let’s hope the stubborn pattern of hot weather breaks soon. Until it does, maintain a conservative management approach, especially if turf is very weak. As valuable and necessary as aeration may be, at this time proceed with caution. As they say, it is sometimes best to live to fight another day.

Additional Resources

Outbreaks of Mysterious Pythium Disease on Golf Courses

David A. Oatis, regional director –

Adam Moeller, director, Green Section Education –

James E. Skorulski, agronomist –

Elliott Dowling, agronomist –

Addison Barden, agronomist –

Paul Jacobs, agronomist –

MGA Report on Drought Conditions in the Region

Drought Conditions Impact Golf Courses throughout Massachusetts; Superintendents Faced with Managing Dwindling Water Supplies and Usage Restrictions, With Little or No Relief in Sight

For Immediate Release: August 5, 2016

Drought conditions and high heat are impacting golf courses across New England.

Norton, MA — While the dry and warm weather pattern so far this season has been conducive to playing golf and many outdoor activities, the extended lack of rainfall is posing challenges for golf facilities and golf course superintendents throughout the State.

Don Hearn, Executive Director of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of New England (GCSANE) has been working directly with superintendents across the state to determine and help manage the impact of these drought conditions.

“Some have said it is the worst dry spell they’ve experienced,” said Hearn. “There are clubs that have ample water supply, but an inadequate system for delivery, while others have good delivery systems but are forced to reduce irrigation because their supply has been reduced.”

Don D’Errico, Golf Course Superintendent at Spring Valley Country Club, and member of the Board of Directors of GCSANE offered his perspective.

“Many members at our club have commented that they have never seen the ponds so low on the golf course. They have also expressed their concerns with the lack of available water to maintain the turf.”

The USGA’s Green Section and its experts in turf management are closely monitoring the situation both in New England and throughout the entire Northeast region.

“As water supplies are depleted, any issues with water quality can be magnified” cautionedJim Skorulski, Northeast Region Senior Agronomist with the USGA.

Businesses across the region – including golf course facilities – received notice from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that a Drought Watch for the Central and Northeast Regions and Drought Advisory for the Connecticut River Valley and Southeast Regions had been declared.

The reason for the declaration was in part due to the fact that “as of June 30, 2016 precipitation, streamflow, and groundwater elevations were below normal throughout most areas of Massachusetts.”

Golf facilities that are permitted by the DEP are required to implement a Drought Management Plan that restrict water usage beyond what they are allowed to use under normal conditions.  Facilities that are registered with DEP are currently not required to restrict water usage.

“We encourage all golf courses to take appropriate measures to conserve water,” saidDuane LeVangie, Water Management Act Program Chief for the DEP. “We also encourage golf facilities to review their existing permits or registrations and drought plans and to contact our office should there be any question as to how the current conditions may apply to their facility.”

LeVangie also noted that, “it will likely take a significant amount of rain over a period of time to affect the current Watch and Advisory condition.”

The DEP Drought Advisory Task Force will meet next on August 11th to re-assess conditions statewide and consider possible adjustments to the current drought levels.

Information produced by the DEP shows that over 140 public water suppliers in the state have imposed water use restrictions as of August 1st. Those restrictions in many systems have banned automatic irrigation systems entirely or have limited their use to 1 day per week.

Golf course superintendents statewide are managing water restrictions; either as imposed by the DEP or as their local groundwater and surface water supplies dictate.

“We ask for the cooperation and patience from golfers as the drought conditions continue,” said Skorulski. “Golfers who adhere to cart traffic rules developed by their superintendent will significantly reduce the injury to drought stressed fairways and primary rough areas.”

As the drought continues, golfers can expect course conditions to reflect the seasonal color variation that are common in the summer and magnified this year with the lack of rainfall.

While turf that is brown may appear to be dead, it is actually temporarily dormant and the result of a naturally occurring survival response by the plant. Color aside, the playing conditions offered by dry or dormant turf can offer a unique and appealing element to the game as topography, bounce and roll are of greater influence on shot making.

D’Errico noted that his members have been able to benefit from the changing conditions of his Sharon layout.

“There have been literally no complaints regarding the appearance of the course with all of the browning and thinning turf throughout the property and they have actually commented on how fun, interesting and enjoyable the course is to play with the variety of different shot-making options available,” said D’Errico. “I feel that a serious dry spell gives golf course superintendents a fantastic opportunity to prepare a golf course in an environmentally responsible manner, all the while providing the best playing surfaces to their customers.”

Skorulski concurs that while this is a stressful time for turf and superintendents, there is a silver lining for golfers.

“The drought offers a unique opportunity to manage golf courses with less water and for golfers to play firm fairway surfaces,” said Skorulski. “Enjoy the extra ball roll and remain patient while hoping normal precipitation patterns return soon.”

Additional Resources:

Golf Course Superintendents Association of New England

Golf Course Superintendents of America

USGA Green Section

USGA Green Section Water Resource Site

Massachusetts DEP Water Management Act Program

Massachusetts Golf Association:

Summer Wears On


The Marathon ContinuesAUGUST 5, 2016

By Addison Barden, agronomist, Northeast Region

Underlying issues, such as a poor growing environment or lack of internal drainage, have caused turf decline this summer. 

During the recent heat wave that stretched across the entire Northeast Region, golf course superintendents and their staff struggled to maintain healthy turfgrass and good playing conditions. Hopefully the worst is behind us, but now is not the time to let your guard down. The cumulative effects of a long summer are beginning to show, so continuing to play defense by prioritizing plant health over playing conditions will be more important than ever.

Most of the recent turf damage has been confined to areas with significant underlying problems. Areas with poor growing environments, poor drainage characteristics or poor irrigation coverage are among the most vulnerable to damage. To prevent future issues, identify problem areas now so they can be addressed during the offseason with tree removal, oscillating fans,drainage or improved irrigation coverage.

This summer, defensive cultural practices and proper moisture management have been the keys to successful turf management. Those who made the difficult decision to favor plant health by increasing the height of cut on putting greens, reducing mowing frequency, and performing regular venting have fared better during the hot, humid weather. Continuing these strategies will help courses begin the fall season without having to repair or regrow significant areas of turf.

In some parts of the region, golfers are enjoying firm playing conditions that have come with persistently dry weather. However, dry conditions are creating water supply issues for many superintendents, some of whom have implemented self-imposed water reductions. If your golf course has not already created a drought-emergency plan, now is the time to do so.

Fortunately, while there is still a lot of summer weather left there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The heat wave has passed for now, but the negative effects of the recent heat wave on cool-season turf have already occurred. Remember, even if the worst is behind us, stressed turfgrass may not tolerate the aggressive maintenance practices that create firm and fast playing conditions. Fighting the urge to push cool-season turfgrasses to the limit for a few more weeks will set the stage for a great fall golfing season.


Northeast Region Agronomists:

David A. Oatis, regional director –

Adam Moeller, director, Green Section Education –

James E. Skorulski, agronomist –

Elliott Dowling, agronomist –

Addison Barden, agronomist –

Paul Jacobs, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service 

Contact the Green Section Staff

UMass Turf Extension Update

Management Updates: Jun 30, 2016

Thirsty Turf!
Jun 30, 2016

The uncommonly dry weather we’ve had in the past month has been tough on turf, and symptoms of drought stress are evident on local golf courses and other green spaces. The wilting and yellowing caused by lack of moisture can resemble symptoms of disease. At the UMass Extension Plant Diagnostic Lab we have seen an increase in submissions from home lawns and golf courses, particularly from fairways. While stress-related diseases such as summer patch or anthracnose may also be present, drought stress is frequently the primary issue. Most of these samples have also had another thing in common – excessive thatch layers.

Thatch is a dense layer of dead and living stems, roots, and leaves that lies between the turf and the soil. It is normally broken down by soil microbes; however, management practices such as fertilization rates and the use of some pesticides can affect the health of this microbial community, slowing the rate of thatch breakdown. Thatch buildup is therefore more common on intensively managed turf. Factors such as soil pH, aeration, species of turf present, and soil moisture level also influence the rate of thatch accumulation and breakdown.

Excessive thatch is detrimental to turf health for a number of reasons. It hinders deep rooting, dries out quickly, and restricts the movement of water into the soil. These qualities can seriously impair the ability of turf to withstand periods of drought. Thatch impedes the movement of fertilizers and some pesticides into the root zone, rendering these materials less effective. Thatch can also harbor pathogenic fungi that may cause disease on drought-stressed turf.

Under most circumstances, the thatch layer should be no more than 0.5” thick. When it becomes excessive, thatch management measures are imperative. Practices such as de-thatching or core cultivation are better done in cooler weather when desirable grasses are actively growing, so at this point in the season it is best to wait until late summer or early fall. In the meantime, there are other cultural methods you can use to improve the drought tolerance of your turf, such as raising mowing height, avoiding high nitrogen levels, and using judicious watering practices.

For more information on managing turf during drought stress periods, see the fact sheet “Management Tips to Improve Turfgrass Drought Survival” at

Submitted by: Dr. Angela Madeiras