Brown is Good, but Why Wet Spots?

I would like to try and answer a question that I am hearing a lot as we continue to go without rain this fall.  Hopefully I can fully explain how the time of the year makes a difference and my approach in managing the golf course right now.  

I am being asked often right now, “Are we you overwatering the golf course?  It seems there are a lot of areas that are really wet, but we also have some areas that are brown.  Why?”

The answer to this question is not as simple as some may think.  In fact, it takes some explaining of the irrigation system, as well as the time of year the drought occurs.  So let's dive into a more detailed explanation and hope to get a better understanding to the answer of this question.  

The simple answer to the question is yes, we have watered the course more than normal over the past few weeks.  However, the excess water comes with great reasoning.  

As we approach winter and the grass stops growing, practices change drastically.  In the case of browning the course out, I have concerns about how brown I allow it to get because of the current and upcoming weather pattern.  

Unlike late June and July when we experienced a drought, I knew the turf had plenty of growing weather ahead, and the areas would recover with our aid.  As days become shorter and the night time temperatures drop into the 50s and below, the plant slows down.  

During cooler temperatures and a drought, it is normal to see the grass start to turn slightly off color as it is telling itself to cut back its energy usage to grow.  If I allow areas to brown out as we have in the middle of summer, we will have to look at weaker areas through the winter.  Our goal is to enter the dormancy as strong as possible with a full stand of turf everywhere.  

Many of the areas on the course at this point have already shut down and entered temporary dormancy due to the drought.  This is the plant's natural defense.  I can assure you it is not dead as we have seen time and time again.  However, if we do not continue to irrigate and try to push the plant out of this dormancy, it could be extremely slow to recover in the spring.  This is why you are noticing the irrigation practices have changed in the past few weeks.  

One challenge we face at Spring Creek Ranch is having areas that tend to dry out right next to areas that stay saturated.  One example is the approach hill on Hole No. 6.  There is a sprinkler head located just at the base of the hill that irrigates that area.  As we have seen, that hill dries down quickly and can die if left unattended for too long.  

However, the area just to the left is extremely saturated - all watered by the same irrigation head.  In efforts to not lose any grass during this dry spell, it is necessary for me to utilize that head to water the hill.  We have incorporated staff using hoses to water many areas throughout the course.  It is just impossible for us to hand water every area in a day or even several days time.  

As I have stated before the irrigation system can only supplement what mother nature brings us.  It cannot replace a good rainfall.  Until we receive a good soaking rainfall, I ask you bare with us as our goal is to provide you a great golf course not only now but this spring as well.  We will continue to hand water and tweak our irrigation system to try to keep areas from becoming too saturated; however in some cases, it may be impossible.  

I hope I have been able to better explain what seems to be the opposite of what our staff preaches for the majority of the year by saying brown is good.  It is certainly our goal to provide firm and fast as long as we can without jeopardizing the health of the plant.  

If you would like to discuss this in further detail or even see some examples of this, please feel free to contact me at (901) 201-0320.  

Best wishes,

Scott Newman

Golf Course Superintendent