Friday, August 14, 2009

Lake edge buffer strips

When you're the Superintendent of a golf course, much too often arises the opportunity to make a unpopular decision. Aerifying, topdressing, and deep flushing the greens are all examples of necessary practices that most golfers do not care for. Everything seems in good shape and I go and tear it up, or decrease playing conditions. Of course these practices are meant to maintain good conditions in the future, even if the course must take a step back for a day or two.

Lucky for me, the membership at Stockton Golf and Country Club is more understanding than the average membership. A prime example of this understanding is very easy to see growing next to the course ponds. I sometimes field the question, "When are you going to cut that down?" I try to be as honest as possible and respond, "never." We have grown up this buffer area for a number of good reasons which have all came to fruition this summer.

Tall grasses next to a pond will have a greater impact than you may think. Perhaps, most noticeable is the reduction in Canada Geese in all of the ponds with a buffer strip. Geese hate to be impeded when moving from water to their feeding source and a couple feet of unmowed turf is enough to do that.

The buffers not only discourage geese, they also filter out fertilizer and pesticides before they make it to the pond. From an environmental standpoint, this is the most important benefit of this practice. We haven't put down any pesticides near the lake edges, but we do fertilize in close proximity. The tall grasses slow down surface drainage toward the ponds and the massive root systems suck up any product they can reach.

Another related benefit is the reduction of algae. Fertilizer in the ponds will make a algae bloom within days if not hours. Besides fertilizer, grass clippings and leaves also contribute organic matter and nitrogen to a pond. Constant weed eating, which means more grass in the pond, will provide a food source for the algae as nitrogen is released from the decaying clippings. The algae, and chemical control costs, have been significantly reduced just by growing up the edge of the pond.

Another consistent problem in all of the ponds on the course is the erosion of the edges. Since the banks were always weedeated extremely low to the ground, there were no roots to hold the soil together. The roots of a grass plant are directly related to the height of a plant; longer grass, deeper roots. This might explain why it is so difficult to manage a putting green that is cut lower than an 1/8 of an inch. Now that the grasses have been allowed to mature, their root systems have done the same and stabilized the pond's edge.

The final benefit is the reduction in labor. Weed eating the ponds requires four people to work eight hours each. To really stay on top of it, this should be done at least every two weeks and more frequently before tournaments so the ponds are not filled with clippings. Then comes the increased labor and chemical costs to clean up the water that's been fertilized with grass clippings. This year we have spent less on labor than any year after 2002-2003. Many courses are facing the same type of budget cuts that we have endured. Some areas are easy to cut from the labor expense, such as pond edges, which are much better off regardless of the financial impact.

So thank you for your understanding of this course-friendly maintenance practice. Hopefully, the long list of benefits will outweigh any loss in aesthetics or loss of golf balls.