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Elements and issues of greens renovation

For decades researchers, agronomists, golf-course superintendents and grounds-maintenance managers have realized the importance of providing a healthy environment for the development and maintenance of high-quality turfgrass putting greens. One of the key elements for providing the proper environment for vigorously developing root systems and healthy turfgrass plants is the use of an effective and economic greens-renovation program.

Most superintendents view the renovation of putting greens as a specific set of processes and procedures to improve the green's physical conditions. Unlike reconstruction, renovation involves taking existing greens and using certain methods of modification to renew and restore the turfgrass and putting surface back to its original high-quality condition.

An extensive renovation project typically consists of a combination of many operations, such as: * Some type of vertical mowing or matting for standing up the turf, cutting runners and dethatching * Some type of soil-cultivating operation such as traditional hollow-tine aeration, Aer-Way-type slicing, deep-soil water injection or deep hollow-tine coring or drilling * A major topdressing and application of soil/plant nutrients * Broadcast overseeding or slit seeding * Some variation of a flushing or watering program.

Another example of an extremely effective renovation program may consist simply of some type of vertical mowing followed by a light topdressing. These procedures are viewed as above-and-beyond the normal cultural practices used during day-to-day golf-course maintenance operations.

Reconstruction, on the other hand, is a totally different operation. It involves totally disassembling and removing the existing green and rebuilding it as new. This typically means bowling out the existing site and reshaping the subsurface, installing a new drainage system and finishing by shaping new root-zone materials. If not monitored closely, this process can change the architectural design of the green. (In certain instances, major renovation projects can mimic reconstruction.)

The need for renovation Historically, turfgrass managers have used various renovation programs for the relief of what most would consider common problems due to normal maintenance and play. Before developing a plan for renovation, determine if you have a true need for this operation. After all, it can be time-consuming and costly. Don't renovate just for the sake of renovation.

Some of the more common reasons for renovating are: * To relieve soil compaction from rainfall, irrigation, and heavy play and equipment traffic * To relieve or remove thatch buildup by coring, vertical mowing or topdressing * To promote new root and shoot growth and development in certain turfgrasses * To control or eliminate grain problems * To improve moisture and nutrient penetration to the plant root zone * To break up or modify layered soil conditions due to changes in topdressing materials. Some examples of uncommon reasons for renovation are: * To introduce new turfgrass varieties to replace older varieties * To convert from warm-season grasses to cool-season grasses or vice versa * With deep-soil cultivation, to break up hard-pan or other layering problems.

Mark Jordan, certified golf-course superintendent (CGCS) at Westfield Companies Country Club's South Course (Westfield Center, Ohio), says, "We try to complete two major greens renovations each year. Our goal, weather permitting, is to perform a traditional hollow-tine aerification in both early May and early September. Approximately 3 weeks after each traditional application, we follow with a deep-tine aerification. Both coring operations are followed with an application of topdressing material to fill the holes. We are fortunate at Westfield to have two 18-hole facilities. While one course is closed for renovation, the other course can absorb our play traffic."

Joel Brinkman, assistant golf-course superintendent for Brian Sullivan, CGCS at Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif., shares his own renovation views. Brinkman states, "We try to do three to four formal greens renovations each year here at Bel Air Country Club. The goal for our programs is to maintain high-quality putting greens for our members and prevent the encroachment of bermudagrass on our greens. Timing is an important key. We try to space our renovations to avoid disruption of play for our members. We also try to avoid weather-stress situations. We make an effort to avoid renovation projects during July or August."

Factors that affect renovation Many factors affect the decision-making process for putting-green renovation. Obviously, you must determine if the need exists, as discussed earlier. Other important factors that you should consider: * Climatic regions and variations of turfgrass varieties * Proper timing and scheduling of renovation * Costs of renovation * Materials and equipment availability * The availability of properly trained personnel.

The turfgrass varieties and climatic conditions at your golf course should dictate the timing of your renovation program. Certain turfgrass species perform best in specific climatic regions. Thus, the performance and wear of these turfgrasses demand renovation during certain times of the calendar year. For example, if you have cool-season grasses, you should carry out your renovation program in the milder conditions of mid- to late spring or early to mid-fall. These time periods provide optimal growing conditions for turf recuperation and re-establishment. Experts don't recommend renovating cool-season turfgrasses during dormant periods in winter or during summer's high heat. Likewise, carefully consider the proper time and conditions to renovate warm-season grasses.

Scheduling your renovation process is also an important issue. You should always consider membership play, outings and tournament schedules when planning renovation dates. Effective communication with club members or customers is vital for establishing and conducting a successful renovation plan. Your members must come first.

Of course, you must always give foremost consideration to the issue of a renovation's cost. Typically, these costs--such as equipment, materials and personnel--are the only costs for you to consider. These items are extremely important from a budgetary standpoint. Even so, other factors are just as important, such as lost revenue from lost rounds of play or possible membership entertainment losses. If members balk at these costs, be sure to mention the long-term effects of not renovating, which can result in far greater costs.

Dave Conrad, assistant golf-course superintendent at Sunningdale Country Club (Scarsdale, N.Y.), relates his own view. "Pressures from our members place great limitations on when we can renovate our greens," he says. "We try for an autumn renovation every year. However, club tournaments and outing schedules sometimes make it impossible to accomplish our goals."

Materials, equipment and personnel With the continuation of research and development of new technology in turfgrass management, numerous tools, equipment, techniques and materials are available for customizing greens-renovation programs for particular needs and applications. Equipment manufacturers are making great advances in providing specialized cost-effective equipment to perform renovation tasks in a timely manner. Variations in coring, slicing and spiking equipment have given turf managers welcomed options for performing soil-cultivation tasks during renovation. Other valuable renovation tools and processes include water-injection systems, deep-tine aeraters or boring equipment, and the capability of installing micro-drainage systems to relieve or modify isolated problem areas.

Turfgrass research also has provided many different choices for soil-modification materials, chemicals and custom-blended fertilizers, as well as the capabilities of adding beneficial microbes to putting-green soils. Don't forget to take into consideration the physical make-up of existing greens to determine what materials to use in your renovation program.

In many cases, you can achieve effective greens renovation in-house with some carefully considered investments in equipment and by having enough properly-trained personnel available when you need to renovate. All too often renovation schedules conflict with employment trends. Highly-valued seasonal employees are usually not available for early- or late-season renovation projects. A solution to this problem would be to hire temporary service personnel. Another option is to contract with an outside firm to perform specialized renovation needs. If you decide to take advantage of this option, find a reputable company with a successful track record to perform these tasks.

Getting the job done Many important elements can affect a successful greens-renovation program. The key is to develop and customize your own greens-renovation program to meet the needs of your golf course.

With the combination of well-trained and abundant personnel, adequate budgeting, effective planning and scheduling, and proper materials and equipment, you can achieve great success with your greens-renovation program.

David Willoughby is assistant professor and coordinator of the Turfgrass Management Program at the Ohio State University Agriculture Technical Institute (Wooster, Ohio).

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