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Highlights from the 44th Annual Wisconsin Golf Turf Symposium

Like Megan, I have also been very quiet. Snow mold fungicide trials dominate our time during the late fall and I am happy to say we have put another snow mold season to rest. At least the applications are complete, now we patiently wait for the snow to fly! I know this comes as a huge surprise to some, but its pretty chilly in Wisconsin. This has not been the norm however. We just experienced one of the warmest Novembers on record. Although our temperatures were warm, we have not seen or heard much from anyone in the Midwest. So I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about the Wisconsin Golf Turf Symposium held Nov. 17 and 18 at the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin.

The speakers included Stuart Lindsey (Edgehill Golf Advisors), Todd Quitno (Lohmann Golf Designs), Dr. Frank Rossi (Cornell University), Bob Vavrek (USGA Green Section), Dr. Eric Watkins (University of Minnesota) and myself. Mr. Lindsey lead the meeting off with a grim depiction of the golfing population. The golf population is declining to 1990's level with most of the golfers exceeding 55 years of age. Mr. Lindsey then provided advice on how to reduce costs or at least ways to identify where the majority of the golf course superintendents' budget is spent. He recommended that golf course superintendents' do time studies to determine if the maintenance operation can become more efficient. He also presented data indicating the main reason people are staying away from golf is time. They do not want to play a 4.5 hour round. Mr. Lindsey's was not all gloom and doom. He said that supply is meeting demand due to the halt of golf course construction and golf course closures.

After Mr. Lindsey, Dr. Rossi took the stage and talked about the Bethpage project and on the second day spoke about sustainable golf turf management. Dr. Rossi demonstrated that a purely organic golf course is not an option for a course like the Bethpage Green Course. He then outlined their alternative cultural practices and IPM program. The cultural practices they enacted were reduced mowing frequency with supplemental rolling, increased rolling frequency, only N, Fe, and Primo were applied, topdressing was performed every 7 to 10 days, solid tine or water injection was conducted every three weeks and spiking was performed weekly. When this program was coupled with an IPM program- that developed historical records, managed plant health, utilizes predictive models, used EIQ values to determine pesticide usage, treated preventatively and focused on playability- reduced product expenses by 20 to 40 %. They determined this by comparing their alternative method to methods commonly used by golf course superintendents.

On the second day Dr. Rossi spoke about sustainable golf turf management, which focused on climate change and carbon sequestration. The take home message from this talk was to think about climate change and to find ways to make a golf course carbon neutral. Dr. Rossi's group determined that a conventional management strategy and the alternative management strategy were carbon neutral. I got the indication that turfgrass plants are pretty good carbon sequesters. No matter what your particular views about climate change or sustainability, I think Dr. Rossi's presentations had some very good points. I encourage you to contact him if you have anymore questions about these to particular presentations.

Dr. Eric Watkins presented on low-input turfgrasses. Basically there are more options coming for low-input fairway and putting green grasses. Many turfgrass breeders, including Dr. Watkins are working on improving agronomic and disease resistance traits of grasses like colonial bentgrass, velvet bentgrass, tufted hairgrass, and tall fescue just to name a few. I especially enjoyed his table presenting the NFC North standings to a Wisconsin audience! That took guts!

Bob Vavrek talked about developing maintenance standards. He stressed this so the golf course superintendent has clear goals that are attainable. It also allows for accountability. He presented a case study from Baker Hill Golf Club. They had maintenance standards outlined as well as links to USGA Green Section articles on rationale for fixing ball marks and aerification. Mr. Quitno presented design methods that reduce expenditures. For example on one particular case, they reduced teeing areas substantially and increase air movement to tees and greens. He also demonstrated the cost differences between different bunker designs. I had no idea that renovating bunkers could be so expensive!

Essentially the take home message from the meeting for me, was to try and find ways to mow less. And to start thinking about ways to reduce pesticide expenditures. It was a fantastic meeting and I was honored to have the opportunity to speak this year.

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