golf course turf

Top Reasons Your Golf Course Turf Suffers

Fix the cause of the problem for long-term results.

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When your golf course turf suffers, you most likely re-seed or re-sod. But that’s just a Band-Aid solution—and one you’ll likely need to repeat before too long. For long-term results, you need to fix what’s causing the problem.

To help you, BrightView Golf’s top agronomist has pinpointed five of the most common turf offenders and some new technologies you can use to battle them. Find out how you can effectively and efficiently save suffering golf course turf.

1. Poor drainage 

If water isn’t effectively moving down through the soil or across the turf surface, you have a drainage issue. That’s because poorly drained soil is saturated with water and, hence, adequate oxygen isn’t getting to the roots. If this happens, your golf courses turf will quickly succumb to the stress and die.

Fortunately, most drainage issues are simple to fix by either draining the water from the surface with a catch basin or internally via an in-ground drainage system. New golf course maintenance technologies such as XGD drainage systems offer a non-destructive, non-invasive way to install drainage systems into greens. These drainage systems are worth considering as they are significantly less costly and time intensive than undertaking total renovation of any green suffering from poor drainage.

golf maintenance crew collecting a soil sample
Regular soil sampling can help you stay on top of what your turf needs.

2. Shade 

Excessive shade, whether caused by trees or nearby structures, can cause turf to thin and eventually die. This is

especially true if your golf course is planted with bermudagrass, a species that requires six to eight hours of sunlight per day. When shade drops that figure to four to five hours per day, your bermudagrass simply won’t thrive.

There are several ways to help remediate excessive shade, and taking a step-by-step approach is wise:

  • First, use a sun sensor to assess how much sunlight your turf is getting. This new technology quantifies the amount of sunlight your turf is receiving in MOLs of sunlight per day. Armed with that information, you can determine your next step.
  • Second, take into account the timing and amount of shade your turf is getting. For species like bermudagrass, afternoon shade is more damaging. For cool season grasses like creeping bentgrass or annual bluegrass, morning shade is worse.
  • Third, review your options. Tree removal, turf substitution with more shade-tolerant turfgrasses (i.e. zoysia or fine leaf fescues), or turf replacement with mulch and drought-tolerant plantings are all possibilities. It depends on your budget and where your shade-damaged turf is located. If turf replacement is a possibility, look into rebate programs with your local water authority to help offset costs.

Above all, get a baseline MOLs sunlight per day reading and take it from there. This data will help you make informed and cost-effective decisions.

3. Traffic 

It’s inescapable—turf undergoes wear and tear due to foot traffic, cart traffic or the constant back and forth of maintenance equipment. This culprit is relatively easy to handle.

Clean-up passes by mowers cause considerable stress to turf. If this is the case on your course, consider swapping out golf course maintenance equipment and using walking mowers (as opposed to riding) for these passes. You can also reduce the number of days your maintenance does clean-up passes from seven days a week to three or four.

If cart traffic on entry and exit points is damaging your turf, use ropes, stakes or movable wooden fences to vary where carts go on and off cart paths. Move traffic control stakes (or whatever you’re using) two to three times a week for best results.

Foot traffic is the most difficult to manage. New golf course maintenance technology like crumb rubber can help by absorbing foot traffic impact. This solution requires aggressively aerifying soil and backfilling it with crumb rubber. While highly effective, crumb rubber is not a silver bullet and in some instances where entry and exit points are excessively narrow, you may have to re-sod.

4. Water Quantity 

Obviously, the shortage of water in drought areas has a direct impact on turf, but in other less drought-stricken parts of the country, under-watering is also an issue. The lesson here? Just because you have an irrigation system, you can’t assume it’s doing its job effectively and uniformly distributing water equally across all turf areas.

Irrigation audits or catch-can tests can help you pinpoint the problems with your system and determine the solution, whether it’s adjusting irrigation heads or increasing or decreasing your water. Often such audits or tests will show large variances in irrigation distribution, which, not surprisingly, will correlate with chronically dry and/or wet areas. This data can prove invaluable when you’re trying to allocate resources wisely and remediate the problem.

5. Water Quality 

Sometimes it’s not the amount of water, but the quality of the water that can hurt your turf—especially as drought conditions force many golf courses to move away from natural water sources to reclaimed/recycled water.

Reclaimed/recycled water has been treated with substances that cause the water to have high salinity (salt), pH, bicarbonates and sodium levels. If you’re using reclaimed/recycled water and it’s having an adverse effect on your turf, you need to test the water in order to determine which measures to take to mitigate the damage. You may need to put down products such as gypsum to improve soil chemistry, or inject acid or acid-based compounds into the water to reduce the pH or bicarbonates. If high salinity is the issue, you may want to leach or flush the salt from the soil by irrigating deeply. 

Proper Evaluation Equals Successful Remediation 

There are a multitude of factors that can cause turf to suffer, but it’s highly likely one of the five causes above is involved. Keep this list and refer to it. Taking the appropriate action will not only help you solve the problem, it could also save you the headache, labor and material costs of repeatedly re-sodding or re-seeding your turf.

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