Orion has once again returned to the Southern sky which is my celestial cue that fall is here and to start thinking about preparing for next spring.
I have been asked if we are going to do anything differently going into this winter to try and prevent a repeat of the winter kill experienced in the spring. It's a great question but it doesn't really have a simple answer. There are some minor tweaks we can make to our program but we already do just about everything we can to prevent winter injury. It is our prime focus from Labour Day on. From fertilizing to encourage root growth and carbohydrate storage to core aeration, deep tine aeration, topdressing, raising heights of cut, spraying fungicides and installing winter covers, everything we do in the fall is aimed at getting a healthy resilient grass plant going into winter. Those are the things we can control. What we can't control is what Mother Nature will do. Ultimately, when dealing with a natural system with so many variables, we can do all the right things and still get burned. That's the bottom line. Our preparations for winter have been tweaked over the years but haven't really changed in any substantial manner. They will work most of the time but there will always be the chance of damage - sometimes catastrophic damage. We are basically using best practices for our grass types in our climate.
The one controllable variable that hasn't been discussed is grass type...most particularly on greens but what I am about to say also applies to tees and fairways. I choose to focus on greens first because it is the area of the course where imperfections are least tolerated We are dealing with a 2 grass system meaning a mixture of creeping bentgrass and annual bluegrass (also known as poa which is a short form of it's scientific name Poa annua). Annual bluegrass is the weaker of the species and does not survive the winter as well as bentgrass. All of the grass we lost this past spring and in winterkill situations over the years has been annual bluegrass. This is not to say that creeping bentgrass can not be killed in the winter but the risk is exponentially less and I have never experienced it in my careeer. The best insurance policy against winter kill is conversion to 100% creeping bentgrass greens. The catch though is that creeping bentgrass has an absolute requirement for sunlight and good drainage. For us to convert all of our greens to bentgrass would require tree removal around most (if not all) of our green sites to varying degrees. I realize that there are members out there who are not in favour of tree removal for any reason and I respect that opinion. You have to realize though that keeping the trees and the two grass system exposes us to catastrophic winter kill from time to time and as we have learned, no amount of fertilizing, spraying, or covering systems can change that. It is worth noting that in the past, conversion to bentgrass was not a "forever" solution because even in good growing environments that favour bentgrass, there is so much poa seed in the rough and fairways and tees that it will eventually infiltrate greens and become very difficult to remove which puts those rebuilt greens at risk of winter injury again. Well there is now a new product on the market that seems to have solved that problem. Click on the following link to read more about this new product called PoaCure: PoaCure Article
Before anyone gets too excited, rest assured that a lot of discussion will need to take place before we decide on doing anything to our greens and rebuilding them is NOT on any long range capital plan at the moment. All I am saying is that we need to at least have the discussion to determine our future direction. Some clubs have made the decision to convert and others have decided not to for various reasons. Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong but not having the discussion at all would be a mistake.
At the risk of making this already long post even longer, I wanted to share some pictures with you. Greg Seemann the GM at Wooden Sticks in Toronto played in the Oktoberfest Pro-am and brought a drone with him with which he took the following pictures (click to enlarge):