Boardroom Yarn #57 - Understanding Why Greens Go Bad

Understanding why USGA greens start to stress between the 2nd and 3rd year of their existence and what we can do about it is probably the most important thing that we as a group [GMs, GCS, Club Pros, Board of Directors, Greens Committees and Golfers] need to understand.

It is very difficult to educate everyone who is on the Board of Directors or the Greens Committee when we have a partial turn over every two years on average.  

It is also very difficult to educate our golfers when they belong to the club to get away for a few hours with their friends to enjoy their camaraderie and the game.

But we as professionals, General Managers, Golf Course Superintendents, and Club Pros need to know how golf greens age and what is needed to keep the greens in good condition so that our members can enjoy the game and the facilities.

The number one cause of green stress/failure is due to a buildup of organic matter in the top 1 to 2 inches of the root zone.  Let’s assume that we have roots to a depth of 5”.  For many years the industry wrongly assumed that the root produced organic matter the entire length of its shaft when in fact 95% of the organic matter is produced in the upper one to two inches of the root shaft.  To properly understand this organic buildup I like to compare the organic production to that of our skin producing oil. This production is constant as long as the plant is not dormant.

It is important to understand that a root zone consists of two main components.  Solids and pores. Pores are the spaces between the solids.  There are two types of pores, the larger pores hold oxygen as the pull of gravity is strong enough to pull water out of these spaces leaving them to hold oxygen.  The smaller pores hold water/moisture so tightly that the pull of gravity is not strong enough to remove the water from these small spaces.

Roots cannot live in solids or water which means they can only live in the larger air pores.  The organic material produced by the roots is thus deposited in the air pore/cavity.  As the organic accumulates in the air pore it reduces the size of the open air pore thus reducing the amount of oxygen available to the plant.  Plants breath through their roots [taking in oxygen and producing CO2]  Once the amount of space in the air pores is reduced to a level where there is not enough oxygen for the plant to breath properly the plant starts to stress, resulting in weak turf and the plant becomes susceptible to disease. 

On new greens, start monitoring physical properties after the first year of play.  For established greens, have a physical properties test done to establish a benchmark as soon as possible, this benchmark will tell you what needs to be done in regards to agricultural practices to keep the physical properties in balance.  MAINLY OXYGEN.