My turf management journey, since its beginning in 1989 at the Manjimup Country Club, has been a constant learning process, on which probably won’t end until I start helping the grass grow from underneath. We are taught from the first day in tech school about major and minor nutrients, soil PH, chemical use, all of which are required to grow strong healthy turf that the community can enjoy at their leisure.
Luscious Golf courses to frustrate us to the brink of depression, or if you want to challenge your nerves and bank balance, even more, play it professionally (both of which I have had the pleasure and displeasure of experiencing). Sprawling hectares of fine manicured turf, on which we watch our sporting stars play AFL, Soccer, Rugby, Football, throw a multitude of problems at turf managers which must be overcome.
A move to a private turf management company in 2011 working with local government was a change in geography but not any of the issues, Music concerts, Festivals, car shows, iron man events, triathlon with marquees and high wear concentrated traffic over multiple days takes its toll. There seems to be no limit to what local government turf must endure. With this type of multiuse comes all the associated management and complaint issues. It’s too thin, it’s not green enough, it’s too hard, it’s too soft, won’t drain properly, the greens are too slow, my goal squares have no turf left in them, too many weeds, fungal outbreaks, you could write a book on just what managers must deal with. The craft of turf management, even with improvements in technology, seems to become increasingly more difficult.
From my own experiences at Manjimup Country Club, I had a system and process that was working for me, Greens were quick, healthy, nice coverage, members and visitors alike were enjoying the experience playing the course provided. I was in the groove! (you turfies know what I mean), but over a ten-year period, things began to be “not so easy”, diseases I had not seen before appeared, some greens began to require extra attention during certain times of the year and it genuinely became more stressful.
WHY!! A question I found myself asking more and more, WHY do I have disease? WHY do I have black layer, Rhizoctonia, or a Sting nematode issue? Whatever the issue we turf managers must deal with, should we just automatically turn to another chemical, or take a closer look at the environment `we have created` for the current issues making work life difficult. I started to understand that it was me who had to take responsibility for the breakdown of my most valuable asset, my soil!
Above – Black layer (hydrophobic soil) identified at Manjimup Country Club.
I recently carried out some tissue, soil and biology testing on a local AFL oval with the intention to use results as a benchmark to measure efficacy of adopted management practices. An application of urea was applied @ 250kg/ha 4-5 days prior to a soil and tissue analysis being done, the results were far from expected. A 39% deficiency of N in the tissue was present and a further 67KG of N was required to meet turf needs, soil organic matter, carbon and beneficial biology was nonexistent.
Regular testing used for benchmarking to measure the efficacy of implemented programs.
The inefficiencies of this nutrient application shone brighter than the sun! An improvement of current practice is drastically required, poor CEC and little to no organic matter in the soil (basically the coastal plain) resulted in much of the application being leached through the profile without benefit to its intended target, the turf!
How can we be more effective? More questions that needed investigation, and wow I wasn’t prepared for the overload of information that was about to flood out at me. Soil biology, soil food web, Nutrient cycling, the atmosphere is 78% N, beneficial bacteria, Fungi, beneficial nematodes (there are good ones too) microbiology of all varieties that
provide nutrients to your plants!! It was hard to comprehend that there was a life force below the surface, that if nurtured and promoted, would assist our plants.
A plethora of information spewing out of the PC telling me that soil organisms influence every aspect of decomposition and nutrient availability, that as organic materials are decomposed (again by biology) nutrients become available to plants, humus is produced, soil aggregates are formed, channels are created for improved water infiltration, aeration and root depth but only if balanced biology is present.
Agricultural practices are being questioned all around the world regarding synthetic crop management, should we turf managers next? Nutrient content from permaculture managed crops to conventionally (synthetic) managed crops have been proven to be far superior, with multiple benefits to the environment and us as consumers.
Can we as turf managers reap the same benefits, even if we don’t want to chew on our greens?
I believe our strength as turf managers has been the ability to learn and adapt to ever-changing issues that have forced us to do so, we have a tough job, expectations are high on what can be delivered (especially on golf course Supers after the US Masters) this reality only becomes more apparent as the years roll by. Maybe the regeneration of our soils via carbon applications and the promotion of the Soil Food Web will enable managers a more stress-free existence. Yes, a lot of what we do is detrimental to soil biology, we compact, spray chemicals, excavate and replace but if we can do everything possible to help promote it, will mother nature be cutting us a break every now and then? Should we have more consideration of the environment when creating our management strategies? Are there products to help us? I believe there are because I am finding them, with guys are already putting them into practice. I may never get all the answers, but I’ll die trying.