Golf course superintendant battles drought, hydrophobia in summer

Published 4:29 pm Wednesday, June 23, 2021

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Duncan Park Golf Course Superintendent Greg Brooking said pairs define Duncan Park. It is made of two golf courses, it has two different soil bases and course management changes with a heavy rain season followed by drought.

In one month, Brooking said he went from spraying growth inhibitors to preparing to spray a soil penetrate on his greens to keep them growing. Brown spots appear on the greens in the summer because they can’t get the water they need, he said.

“We have watered these greens every day for a week. The hydrophobic areas don’t go away. They repel the water from the areas,” Brooking said. “When it gets this bad, I spray a soil penetrate, it is a type of soap and it relieves surface tension of all of the grains of sand repelling the water. Once I spray the surfactant, it will make the brown areas go away. The grass will revive and grow again.”

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It has been pretty dry the last three weeks, he said. Daytime temperatures got up into the 90s with strong winds drying out the grass. Brown spots develop in the greens because they are areas where water cannot percolate down, he said.

Greens look to be in better shape on the back nine of the golf course because they are made up of push-up clay and are not hydrophobic, he said. Greens on the front nine of the course are having a hard time because they are made of pure sand, which has hydrophobic fungi in them.

“There are all kinds of fungi in these greens,” Brooking said. “There are certain fungi that coat certain sands. It is the structure of the silica to cover the sand. When the fungi coat the sand, it doesn’t allow any water through there. It just sits on top of the soil. It has so much surface tension the water can not move.”

Brooking said he would let the greens get to a level above death before spraying soil penetrates on the greens. He has to wait because he does not have the budget a big private golf course would have.

“The first application of a soil penetrate is going to cost somewhere around 450 dollars,” he said. He applies the soil penetrate at a lower rate every 2 to 3 weeks to prevent hydrophobicity.

“We want to be good stewards of the tax money. One of our main concerns out here is trying to not spend money.”

Grass on the golf course has to compete with trees in addition to hydrophobic soil bases. On the ninth green, a towering southern red oak tree soaks up the moisture on the left backside of the green.

Brooking said he installed a flood head on a sprinkler to get more water to that side of the green, so his grass gets whatever water the tree does not. He waters all of the greens by hand because greens take 10 times more water than the apron of the green.

“It takes tens of gallons of water a day to keep a tree alive. Where that water comes from, I do not know,” Brooking said. “They get first dibs on the water. They will get it before my grass gets it. My grass can’t compete against a tree. It can’t do it.”