Greens Syringing and Midday Water Application: Just What the Turf Doctor Ordered

by Scott Niven, GCCS Property Manager, The Stanwich Club

There is an old saying about the management of golf course turf: “Mother Nature grows the grass for 10 months out of the year, but you must grow it in July and August.”  We are right in the middle of this critical time at golf courses in the Met Area, and in order to maintain optimal turf conditions on greens, hand watering during the day is needed to keep these areas well-maintained.  Another term used in our business for this practice is “syringing” which is quite appropriate since this is a very precise and almost surgical approach to address this part of the course that needs special care.  If we err by adding too much or too little water, the consequence is usually loss of some grass during those warm summer months.

To develop turf which will physiologically be more tolerant of the water stress which occurs during summer, we incorporate various cultural inputs into our program, such as the usage of plant growth regulators, low nitrogen fertility coupled with high potassium, wetting agents and an ideal height of cut.  To achieve our goal of producing turf that is healthy and green, but still firm enough for optimum playing conditions, we use a variety of methods to help us apply the correct amount of water to each area of the golf course every day.  We gather information through technology such as in-ground and portable moisture sensors,  a weather station to give us daily ET (evapotranspiration) rates, as well as our own experience through visual observations and of course the knowledge of the next day’s weather forecast.  Armed with all of this scientific information, we can then make fairly accurate decisions about exactly how much water to apply each night to our “patients” that will result in these putting surfaces having healthy green turf which is also an excellent surface from which to play golf.

A natural physiological transition that causes turf plants to require more water in the summer versus spring and fall is of course higher air temperatures, but also as soil temperatures increase above 80°F, turfgrass roots begin to die off and become nonfunctional creating a plant which requires more frequent irrigation for its survival.  It is due to this fact that during hot afternoons various parts of the golf course begin to develop a water deficit and exhibit wilt symptoms which requires us to add water at midday.

If we don’t get there in time with supplemental water to greens in their weakened state, there is a good possibility that if the wilt is allowed to persist long enough, the affected turf may die, leaving a brown spot for a period of time. So when you see the golf course staff applying water with a hand held hose or running a sprinkler during the afternoon on hot bright days, they are just trying to save some desiccating turf from dying or going dormant. Fortunately, turf that turns to a dormant brown will recover during the fall months when the nights are much longer and cooler, promoting optimum conditions for turfgrass growth.

Like many other steps that we take as Superintendents to provide the best conditions, greens syringing can be inconvenient while you are out there on the course.  But as another old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Having the patience and understanding of the members at our clubs as we work to provide just the right treatment for greens in their fragile summertime state allows us to make sure they survive and thrive.