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Turf Management in the UK & Europe

Two weeks ago I mentioned the posting of an international update from a recent trip to Europe and the UK. While overseas, I had the chance to speak with the Dutch Greenkeepers Association and the greenkeepers of the Southwest Region of the British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association. The trip was a great opportunity to visit a couple of golf courses in Holland and also hear about some disease updates in the UK from Ruth Mann of the Sports Turf Research Institute.

Golf Course Visits:
While in the Netherlands, we took a day trip to visit two golf courses including the Kennemer Golf Club (site of the Dutch Open) and the Golf Club De Pan. Both courses were very unique and a treat to see. One of the most unique aspects were the Nazi-built concrete bunkers at the Kennemer Golf Club. These were constructed during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. These bunkers are still used on the course for the maintenance facility as well for several storage areas for maintenance supplies and equipment.

From a disease perspective, there was plenty to see, but not enough that caused much concern for the greenkeepers as playability did not appear to be impacted. The main problem with playability came with the earthworm castings on the fairways which was causing severe problems. Other common problems appeared to be fairy ring and red thread. Interestingly enough, most of the damage on the fairways had the visual symptoms of dollar spot, but closer examination of all of the spots revealed the presence of red sclerotia. There is a good possibility that this was a complex of the two diseases, but without isolation it was impossible to tell if dollar spot was also involved. In addition to these common diseases, we also saw a few areas with yellow tuft, which was really of no surprise due to the excessive amount of precipitation that the area had received during the year.

Earthworms continue to be a large problem for greenkeepers.

Disease Update from Ruth Mann:
Ruth Mann manages the Turfgrass Protection Department of the STRI and has extensive experience dealing with disease on golf courses in the UK. Dr. Mann gave a great update on turfgrass diseases in the UK. According to Ruth, dollar spot and leaf spot diseases are definitely on the rise in the UK. Ruth made specific mention to the changing weather in the region and revealed that temperatures have increased by 0.15C in the past few years. She also lightheartedly mentioned the mote that she had to drive around to get out of her hometown to make it to the meeting after some major flooding in the UK (Story here). Ruth went on to caution turfgrass managers about curative control of chronic dollar spot in particular as it is not always the most effective. Other diseases that continue to be a problem included Fusarium patch (Microdochium patch, aka Pink snow mold) and of course fairy ring.

Fairy Ring and Other Issues:
My talks involved a discussion of the principle of managing fairy ring, a disease that greenkeepers in the UK and Europe are all too familiar with. However, management practices that superintendents in the US often take for granted are now just becoming increasingly popular overseas. Some of these practices include the use of wetting agents and the use of the plant growth regulator trinexapac-ethyl. While these supplemental cultural practices are resulting in improved turfgrass health and quality, they are being met by an increase in management intensities. For instance, there was a debate among some of the greenkeepers in the UK regarding mowing heights. While most felt that keeping heights around 5 mm (~0.2") is going to make for a sustainable turfgrass, others felt that lowering heights as low as 2 mm (~0.079) is manageable (remember that many of the greens are fescue and highland bentgrass, not the typical creeping bents and Poa managed in the northeast). Additionally, there is increased interest in the idea of minimal disturbance (no hollow cultivation) and reduced nitrogen fertility. Perhaps I am just cynical, but it appears to me that in the greenkeepers attempt to meet the powers-that-be's goal of "sustainability", they are basically heading down the road of turf management practices of the United States. These practices will likely be met with more intense disease pressure (as they now seem to be seeing). Whether the increased disease pressure is the result of rising temperatures or changes in the weather patterns OR whether this is the direct result of more intense management practices will remain debatable.

In the United States, golf course management seems to go in cycles (graph courtesy Adam Moeller, agronomist for Northeast green section of USGA). Ten to fifteen years ago, turf managers were on a kick to keep it "lean and mean" (and many still subscribe to this) and were met with increased outbreaks of dollar spot and anthracnose. In fact, these two diseases are probably the most important diseases of golf course turf in the Northeastern United States. Superintendents also continue to utilize PGRs and improved equipment to reduce mowing heights to sub 0.10" heights in an effort to chase green speeds for the membership. Luckily, most superintendents are now getting a better handle on adjusting seasonal fertility rates to manage these diseases. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like mowing heights will ever go back up from the extremes we have pushed them to. My point? It seems to me (albeit with limited experience with turf management in the UK and Europe) that if turf managers overseas continue down the road they are currently on, their turf will be met with increased percentages of Poa annua and increased dollar spot and other low N or excessive-thatch diseases. This will ultimately result in the need for increased fungicide use, which is the exact reason the idea of "sustainability" has become widely promoted by the R&A.

My final thoughts:
In discussing these issues with greenkeepers in the UK, I found that there is much internal debate on some of these topics. The best argument I heard was that "the more we do, the more problems we seem to have." I agree completely, but the challenges are the same as we have in the United States (envy and egos). Once golfers see the quality of the course down the street (whose greenkeeper is not letting nature take its course), they are going to start asking for similar conditions. And so the cycle will continue.

A special thanks to our hosts
This was a great trip and I appreciate all of the warmth and hospitality shown during the tour (and I look forward to the Scrumpy on my next trip). I truly love golf and golf course management in the UK and Europe. Despite all of the "advances" and demand for increased turf quality in the US, the fact that golf in the UK/Europe is still about the playability and not (not yet) about the emerald green look says a lot about priorities surrounding the game of golf.

Check out some photos from the trip below.

Still Wild in the West

With the cooler temperatures here in the West coming in, you'd expect some slow down as far as disease development, NOT! Rapid blight and basal rot anthracnose continue to be issues on Poa greens in California. We're also seeing some junk diseases like Curvularia blight on warm season turf slowing down in the cool weather and algae developing on greens with the reduced day-lengths.

California Disease Summary
Dr. Naveen Hyder did a nice summary of the last four years of disease diagnostic data at the Crop Science Meeting in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. A copy can be found here:

As you can see, Poa annua diseases like rapid blight, anthracnose, brown ring patch and algae are our top trouble makers, with over 50% of our samples being annual bluegrass, Naveen stated to the crowd "either we need to put even more resources towards annual bluegrass disease control, or figure a way to keep it out of greens." Much, much easier said than done....

Pythium in the PNW
As mentioned a few weeks ago, Pythium has been causing issues for superintendents in Oregon and Washington. We finally got an ID on some of the troublemakers involved. Samples from several courses were identified as having either Pythium vanterpoolii or P. torulosum, which can do perfectly well under cool (55 to 65 degree F) conditions, as long as its wet. I haven't had much experience first hand fighting these, but my gut feel is that under cool, wet conditions, many typical fungicides can knock down the Pythium, but it's too cool for the annual bluegrass to recover quickly. If it stays wet, the Pythium can re-emerge when the fungicides have "worn off" and damage turf again. In this situation, the lack of recovery from the turf due to cool conditions just magnifies the sucessive rounds of damage and frustrates the hell outta superintendents.

Annual bluegrass greens damaged by Pythium at Portland Golf Club (left) and several weeks later after multiple fungicide applications, blood, sweat and tears (right). Images from superintendent Forrest Goodling.

Thiophanate-methyl and Pink Snow Mold in Northern California
An interesting question was brought up to me this week about using thiophanate-methyl on annual bluegrass greens in parts of northern California. Some superintendents are using it to manage a problem (hint: rhymes with angina) and were wondering what the impact of that would be on resistance development for pink snow mold, which should pop up as our max. daytime temps start to drop below 65.

If one's using repeated thiophanate-methyl applications at a time when pink snow mold may be active - resistance is certainly an issue. Resistance to the benzimidazole fungicides (benomyl and thiophanate-methyl) was detected for pink snow mold back in the 1980s in Washington State. It's unknown what the current status is in northern California, but certainly, back to back, repeated applications of this fungicide will be putting one at risk for losing it for pink snow mold.

If one is using this approach, make sure to use other materials as front-line fungicides for pink snow mold control. PCNB, iprodione, polyoxin-D, the DMIs, mancozeb, & chlorothalonil and mixtures of some of these are all non-benzimidazole fungicides that can be against pink snow mold.

Signing off from the Left Coast until next week......

The Disease Triangle (part 2): The Host

Everyone that has sat through a pathology or disease lecture has heard of the disease triangle. Consisting of the environment, the pathogen, and a susceptible host, the disease triangle is a critical component of understanding disease pressures on a golf course. In a previous post I talked briefly about the importance of the environmental (weather) component of the triangle. I thought that as we wrapped up the season in the Northeast, I would take this time to speak about the importance of the host.

Unlike cropping systems where the purpose of the host is to grow a plant as large as possible and harvest it for sale or distribution, turfgrass managers must deal with a perennial crop that hopefully remains healthy forever (or at least for a long period of time). So instead of just trying to get to harvest, we must figure out a way to manage the "crop" during the good times and the not-so-good times. In the Northeast, just about all of the typical cool-season turfgrass species are grown and in the transition zone of the region we even grow a few warm-season turfgrasses. Growing grass in this region can be very difficult. Taking the extremes in weather out of the equation, there are still some important things about the host to take into account when identifying and managing turfgrass diseases.

When I first take a look at a turfgrass sample, identification of the genus and species is the first step of the process. Remember to look for key attributes including the vernation, ligule size, leaf tip, growth habit and other key components, Simply identifying the species can eliminate numerous pathogens as potential causes of the problem in question. For example, take-all patch is primarily a disease of creeping bentgrass. If the species affected is primarily annual bluegrass, then this disease can be ruled out (not to mention that take-all is primarily a disease of young putting greens of which little ABG would be present). To the contrary, a patch disease appearing primarily on annual bluegrass could limit the possibilities to summer patch or necrotic ring spot (or possible nematodes). Although summer patch may be present on bentgrass in the extreme heat of the Southeast, it is rarely (never to my knowledge) been identified on bentgrass in the Northeastern United States.

So being able to identify the species at your course can save you a lot of time and increase your chances of making an accurate diagnosis. There are too many diseases to talk about in this post, but below are some common hosts of typical diseases found in the Northeast.

Anthracnose basal rot: primarily annual bluegrass, occasionally creeping bentgrass (does not occur on both species on the same green)

Brown patch: most species, but tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, and bentgrass (particularly colonial bentgrass) are most susceptible

Dollar spot: all species susceptible, particularly important on bentgrasses

Summer patch: Kentucky bluegrass and annual bluegrass, also fine leaf fescues

Take-all patch: creeping bentgrass

Sometime prior to the end of the year, I will wrap up the discussion of the disease triangle with every pathologists most favorite component...the pathogen!

For a disease update, things are just about shut down, but dollar spot did pop up in recent weeks and microdochium patch continues to be active at select regions in the Northeast.

Microdochium patch running amuck!

Thanks to the lovely weather we've been experiencing in the Midwest, Microdochium patch has probably worn out its welcome. We just went through the second coldest October on record and I think one of the wettest! Absolutely perfect weather for Microdochium. Microdochium is a pathogen of many turfgrass species and can be especially severe on cool-season turfgrasses. The symptoms appear as small (<6 to 12 inches) water-soaked patches in absence of snow cover. Affected plants are blighted and may have a greasy appearance or may be a tan color. Stand symptoms can also have a pink or salmon hue evident after snow melt. Also symptoms tend to more severe after extended snow cover.

The conditions that favor disease development are cooler temperatures ( 32 to 60 F), high humidity and high nitrogen content in the leaf tissue. Snow cover is not required for this disease to develop, but is usually more severe when snow cover occurs. Microdochium management is fairly simple because many chemicals are efficacious. The tried and true combination for many people is a tank mixture of chlorothalonil and iprodione. Avoiding late season fertility applications seem to limit Microdochium symptoms. The exact timings to avoid are not know, but we are examining that particular question this winter.

Just returned from Pittsburgh attending the Turf Nerd Conference as John put it. The Agronomy Meetings are my favorite time of year. The graduate students at the meeting give fantastic papers and it is a real joy to find out what all of us are doing. For those that are not familiar with these meetings, our division C-5 is the second largest division in the Crop Science Society. Yet the camaraderie amongst the members of the division is great! I've heard that Pittsburgh was not a nice location years ago, but I really enjoyed my stay in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately I did not make it to Primanti Brothers. I did not have a bottle of Pepto with me and just getting over my recent battle with the flu I did not want to chance an upset stomach. Next time the corned beef and cheese sandwich is mine!!

The Turf Nerds go to...

...Pittsburgh? It figures that in the year that I take a new position at Penn State, the annual Crop Science meeting ends up in Pittsburgh. In the past 4 years, the show has been to Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Houston. Well, in a year where budgets are slim and we are all trying to scale back it was probably best for me. I just feel sorry for those having to make the trip from the West Coast.

So what is the CSSA-ASA-SSSA annual meeting and why is it a hotspot for all of the turf nerds across the country this week? Well, this scientific tri-society of crops, agronomy and soils is probably the largest scientific conference for those university and industry personnel to catch up on the latest and greatest scientific research from around the country. If you are not familiar how scientific discoveries are made, just know that it is not an overnight occurrence. It generally takes several years to develop a solid project, find a graduate student or technician to assist with the work, analyze and write the results and then submit them for scientific publication. The last part (publishing in a scientific journal) can often take up to one year from the time of submission to the time that the research is actually seen in print. Then it takes another few months for the scientific publication to be rewritten in a format that anyone in the industry would actually be interested in reading before making its way into Golf Course Management, Golf Course Industry, Golfdom or similar trade magazine. So from start to finish, a project may take 3 or more years to go from idea to print.

So why do we go to these meetings each year? These meetings are the pinnacle of the latest discoveries in the field and allow for scientists to share ideas and form possible collaborations to advance the science more quickly or more completely. The information presented is usually the latest and often represents preliminary results to studies that are just getting off the ground. Presentations are given orally or as posters and graduate students even compete against each other for the top presentations in each category (I am actually one of the judges for oral presentations this year). Faculty also present their latest findings and industry representatives provide insights into what is happening on their side as well. The week is culminated in the business meeting where outstanding achievements are recognized and actions are put in place for the next year.

So I am off for Pittsburgh this morning (immediately following my class) year I am looking forward to Long Beach, CA!

Check out my list of interesting topics for this week...
Glyphosate-Resistant Annual Bluegrass (Poa annua) in Missouri.

Physiological Changes During Cold Acclimation for Perennial Ryegrass Accessions Differing in Freeze Tolerance.

The Effects of Nitrogen and Trinexapac-Ethyl On the Severity of Brown Ring Patch On Annual Bluegrass Golf Course Putting Greens.

Developing a Predictive Model for Spring Germination of Smooth Crabgrass (Digitaria ischaemum) and Annual Bluegrass (Poa annua) in Michigan.

Sodium Adsorption On Calcined Clays and Zeolites.

Above image used under creative commons license by author
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