Reduced maintenance on golf courses due to novel coronavirus pandemic

It is important to maintain minimal turfgrass maintenance programs so when we emerge from this crisis, golf courses are in acceptable playing condition and ready for business.

Mowing fairway
Regular maintenance activities include mowing fairways. Photo by Kevin Frank, MSU.

We are certainly in unprecedented times and the impact on many aspects of our life is still uncertain. Golf courses in the state of Michigan are in various stages of maintenance since spring officially arrived last week. In southern portions of the state, mowing has already begun and key applications of plant growth regulators (PGR) to suppress annual bluegrass seed heads and herbicides to prevent crabgrass infestation will likely commence in the next seven to 14 days. In northern portions of the state, some golf courses are just beginning maintenance or will in the next two to three weeks. The impact of an extended period of no maintenance operations on golf courses would be devastating to the industry.

As temperatures continue to warm and turfgrass begins actively growing, the simplest maintenance practice that must occur is mowing. Without regular mowing the primary playing surfaces of putting greens, fairways and teeing grounds will quickly become overgrown. The minimal mowing frequency for putting greens is likely two to three times per week, but it would obviously be ideal if they are mowed every day. Fairways and teeing grounds should at a minimum be mowed one time per week and roughs one time every two weeks. Keep in mind these are not ideal mowing intervals to produce acceptable playing surfaces on the golf course but simply what we believe is required at a minimum level so that when operations return to normal, the golf course can still be returned to standard playing conditions.

In addition to mowing, it is important that irrigation systems be activated to fix any damage that has occurred from freezing, thawing and soil heaving over winter so that if warmer, drier weather arrives, the turfgrass is able to be watered. During this time, it is also critical to remember some of the basic plant protection applications that are made to ensure long-term health of the turfgrass stand. As mentioned previously, mid- to southern portions of the state will be in the optimum application window for both PGR applications to suppress annual bluegrass seed heads and crabgrass preemergence herbicide applications. PGR applications have the added benefit of reducing top-growth and thereby helping with potential reductions in mowing frequency. PGRs will also help annual bluegrass plants conserve energy by stopping seed head formation, which helps the plant endure summer stress periods that are on the horizon.

Turfgrass diseases such as pink snow mold are currently active and without fungicide applications, significant damage could occur over the next several months. It is important to maintain minimal turfgrass maintenance and pest management programs so when we emerge from this novel coronavirus crisis, golf courses are in acceptable playing condition and ready for business.

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