Researching Maintenance

Just don't let the golfers have it How can I make or buy a stimpmeter? I cannot find one on the web.-Via the internet

Stimpmeters are sold by the U.S. Golf Association. The cost is $35 plus shipping and handling, and you can order by calling (800) 336-4446. The USGA discourages the use of stimpmeters by golfers (who, incidentally, are forbidden by the Rules of Golf from using any speed-measuring device during active play), so it limits distribution to golf-course "officials," meaning superintendents, chairmen, pros, general managers and the like.

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Accu-Products International (Saline, Mich.) sells a similar device-their Green Speed Meter. You can reach them at (800) 253-2112. Their website is www.accuproducts.com.

Some superintendents construct their own Stimpmeters. The "official" Stimpmeter consists of aluminum, but other materials will work, especially if you're not comparing your speeds to other courses, who may be using a USGA or other version of the instrument.

Stimpmeters, named for Edward Stimpson who originally developed the device, are 36-inch-long, V-shaped bars. The two edges of the "V" contact the ball 0.5 inch apart. A notch 30 inches from the end that rests on the green surface releases the ball when you raise the bar to a 20-degree angle. The end that rests on the green surface is tapered on the bottom to allow a ball to roll onto the green with minimal bounce.

The estimating game I am the grounds manager for several acres of park land and esplanades. I have several crews that mow, edge and delitter these areas. Often, it is difficult to meet our agreed-upon schedule due to inclement weather, equipment breakdowns and manpower shortages. In my next budget, I'm requesting additional staff. Does the industry have a formula that justifies crew size? Is there an acres-per-person formula or acres a tractor can mow per hour? Over the last few years, my acreage has increased but not my work force.-Texas (via the internet).

An easy way to estimate and justify labor need would solve a lot of grounds managers' problems, judging from the mail we get. Unfortunately, no easy system exists for coming up with a specific and accurate answer that applies to a variety of sites. Each has unique conditions, varying levels of maintenance and different types of equipment available for use. With so many variables, a formula you can simply "plug in" isn't possible.

Several experienced grounds managers have told us that their best tool has been good record-keeping. Keeping detailed written records of employees' time and how they spend it allows you to develop realistic and accurate estimates of time required to maintain beds, mow turf and perform other maintenance tasks. Over several years, you can refine your figures to reflect the inevitable variances caused by yearly weather variations, different employees' productivity and other changing conditions. Such data can be persuasive when it's time to justify crew sizes and request additional labor. Although a manager's field experience is probably the best tool for estimating labor needs, "real" numbers with records to back them up add credibility to estimates.

Cold cuts Is winter the best time to prune?-Michigan

Typical pruning is normally performed in the winter, which is fine in most cases. However, there are some exceptions to this: * Sucker growth is easiest to remove when the shoots are young and you can snap them off by hand. * Shearing of hedges is necessary during the growing season to maintain the desirable groomed look. * Certain species that "bleed" from pruning wounds-elm, maple and birch, for example-may bleed less if you prune them in autumn or early winter. * Reportedly, the chance of fungal infection in some plants is higher in winter in regions where the winters are relatively moist and not too cold, such as parts of California. In these cases, pruning in summer is more advisable. * You should remove dead branches, which are easier to spot when plants are in leaf, whenever you see them. * Low-hanging branches, which are not as apparent without the weight of foliage, may be trimmed while the plant is in leaf. * Prune spring-flowering plants that bloom on 1-year-old wood just after bloom.

This is not a complete list of exceptions, but you can see that many factors that could prompt you to prune in summer. However, the general rule still holds: most pruning is best performed in winter. Not only is it best for most plants (or at least not any worse than other times), it is easier to prune when limbs are bare. Further, winter is the only season in which many grounds-care operators can find time to perform such tasks.

Poa trivialis What's the latest on controlling Poa trivialis in bentgrass?-Illinois

The latest is not much different from the old news. With no selective chemical controls, you must treat patches of Poa trivialis with a non-selective herbicide. Increasing sunlight and decreasing soil moisture may create conditions less favorable to Poa trivialis, allowing the turf to compete better.

A study purporting to have uncovered a causal link between malignant lymphomas in dogs and the use of 2,4-D by homeowners was published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1991. The report gained extensive media coverage and, as a result, some veterinarians began recommending to clients that they refrain from using 2,4-D on their lawns. Anti-pesticide activists hailed the study and cited it as evidence that a similar link existed between 2,4-D and human lymphomas.

The 2,4-D Task Force (an industry group consisting of 2,4-D manufacturers, whose primary function is to meet Environmental Protection Agency data requirements for registration) was skeptical about the validity of the study, particularly in light of the numerous toxicological studies that show 2,4-D to be non-carcinogenic. However, when the Task Force sought access to the data that reportedly demonstrated a 2,4-D/lymphoma link, the NCI stonewalled. Finally, after the Task Force filed under the Freedom of Information Act (the NCI is taxpayer-funded and, therefore, subject to the FOIA) and threatened court action, the NCI cooperated.

Dr. John B. Kaneene, director of the Population Medicine Center at Michigan State University's School of Veterinary Medicine, performed a re-analysis of the data released by the NCI and found no significant link between 2,4-D and lymphomas. Before these findings were published (in the Journal of Veterinary and Human Toxicology), the author of the NCI study was offered a chance to respond to Kaneene's findings, but did not.

Despite the fact that 2,4-D is the most well-studied herbicide in existence (literally thousands of studies on 2,4-D have been published), and that the available studies overwhelming reassure us that 2,4-D is not carcinogenic, anti-pesticide activists persist in citing this dubious study as evidence that 2,4-D causes cancer.

Despite persistent efforts to discourage tree topping, the practice continues with unfortunate frequency. Why? Some blame ignorant homeowners, while others point to unprofessional tree trimmers. Clearly, both factors play a role. However, to better educate people on the subject of topping, it's necessary to determine why homeowners allow-or even ask for-topping, and why tree-care companies continue to perform it. To learn more about this, researchers from the University of Idaho interviewed homeowners and tree-care operators to define their beliefs regarding tree topping.

Selecting residents with recently topped trees in their yards, the researchers asked interviewees to take a "test" consisting of eight basic questions to determine their level of knowledge about tree care and topping. Not surprisingly, the answers reflected a poor knowledge of tree care. Just 6 percent answered half or more of the questions correctly. The researchers also questioned the homeowners about the reasons for having their trees topped. Reasons varied, but excessive tree size (resulting variously in too much shade, risk to homes, excessive litter, etc.) was the most-cited justification. Storm damage was the next most-cited reason.

The investigators also queried area tree-care companies, including some that had performed topping for some of the homeowners. Only a third of those that responded had ISA-certified arborists on staff, and none of these companies actively offered topping as a service. Conversely, more than half of the remaining respondents did offer topping. However, all noted that they would perform topping under at least some circumstances (such as a hazardous tree).

The researchers note that, based on the names of companies supplied by homeowners, "the proverbial rotten apples" are giving tree-care operators a bad name. They suggest operators such as these-who show no regard for tree health or customer welfare, and often solicit business door-to-door-may be best addressed by ordinances, licensing and enforcement.

As far as homeowners are concerned, the researchers admit that current educational efforts may be inadequate to eliminate topping (though, in fact, topping probably is declining). They suggest more intense and innovative efforts to reach homeowners.

One particular group was conspicuous among the statistics: new homeowners. A disproportionate amount of topping occurred within the first few years of ownership. This suggests that real-estate agents could be valuable avenues through which to disseminate tree-care literature, perhaps recommending reputable or certified arborists for needed tree care.

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