Every now and then someone asks me, “What is the most difficult aspect of being a golf course superintendent?”
Although there are many answers I could give to that question, I usually end up answering with the one thing that consumes the largest amount of my attention and concern at work: green speed.
But not just green speed. If all I had to worry about was getting the golf ball to roll across the green as fast as possible, it would be fairly easy. It’s probably safe to say there isn’t a single golf course superintendent who couldn’t get his greens stimping at an astronomically high number if he had nothing to consider other than speed. There are other factors to weigh, however, such as keeping the greens alive.
Green speed must be considered in conjunction with appearance and playability, as well as overall health. That is the real issue — keeping speeds where they need to be without losing turfgrass quality, health or playability. It’s safe to say that it’s not getting any easier.
Despite many indicators that green speeds should be slowing down as shifts in the industry occur, they just don’t seem to be. I know this is a generalization and that there are exceptions, but when analyzing trends as a whole, we have little choice but to rely on those generalizations.
In short, the industry is not getting the message about turfgrass health versus playability. Expectations for green speeds should be decreasing, not staying status quo — and in many cases they are actually increasing, inexplicable as that is.
For job security purposes, golf course superintendents have little choice but to keep these green speeds up while trying to keep the turf as healthy as possible. Although the juggling act is nothing new to us, it does become increasingly challenging as we deal with restrictions on chemicals, water and budgets.
Basically, many superintendents are being asked to maintain or increase their green speeds while simultaneously reducing their use of chemicals, water and money.
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. We can do this! I know very few superintendents who are not up for this challenge. In fact, that challenge is what many superintendents live for. The real problems will occur when the battle truly becomes unwinnable. That is when the industry will have to reexamine what it wants.
For now, however, most superintendents are still able to get quite creative in the area of keeping greens as healthy as they can while also keeping those speeds up. There is a shelf life to their success, however, and eventually their creativity will be unable to overcome the challenge of dwindling or completely depleted resources.
Here are five things superintendents can do to keep their speeds up while keeping those greens as healthy as they can:
This remains the best way for superintendents to instantly increase ball roll. The frequency of rolling varies greatly from course to course (and budget to budget), but it is a maintenance practice few can survive without these days.
2. Height of cut.
Superintendents need to be careful here. They need to identify a height that is acceptable, and then use other maintenance practices to use that height to increase speed.
How, what and when you feed your greens can play a huge factor in the speed-versus-health tug of war.
Not only is water the critical component to all life as we know it, it is also a tool that we can use (or not use) to get those speeds up.
5. Grooming and verticutting.
This is another age-old, time-tested tool we can use to get the ball rolling smoothly and quickly atop the surface.
Those are five of the strategies. We all have more in our arsenals, some of which may be unique to our own specific course. Be creative, and stay positive. That happy medium between speedy greens and healthy greens is still possible for most of us.
At least for now.