The first thing you notice when walking on to a golf course is how very GREEN everything is, the perfectly manicured ornamental trees and the precisely cut grass gives the course that luxurious appeal. We often associate golf with an executive lifestyle, one that keeps the players top-of-mind while a whole lot of effort goes on unseen, behind the scenes for everything to run smoothly. This is exactly how maintenance on a golf course happens – in the early hours of the morning, before any players arrive, the Greenskeepers and maintenance staff are hard at work on a time-sensitive schedule, to ensure the course is pristine for the first tee-off time.
The art of golf course and turf maintenance is complex and involves an intricate balancing act of pushing the grass to its limits while attempting to retain the health of the soil. Greenskeepers are faced with the challenge to keep everything looking picture perfect, despite a range of factors that make this more complicated than you might think. Not only are they dealing with constant soil and grass degradation due to foot traffic, golf carts and golf club/ball damage, but they also must consider environmental factors, ecological limitations as well as potential regional watering limits.
As we are seeing changes in agriculture with farmers moving toward more sustainable practices, with the looming threat of climate change and the call for reducing the amount of chemicals used on our natural resources, “courses are increasingly turning to renewables to revitalize lush greens and fairways” (1). The use of compost topdressing and naturally derived soil amendments have become increasingly popular additions to Greenskeepers’ arsenal of tools that aid in the maintenance of their turf. Using chemical-filled fertilizers and pesticides unfortunately acts as a short-term solution that will require more maintenance in the long-run and can have other harmful effects on the land and waterways that surround the course. Taking a more holistic approach can help to treat the grass at the roots and strengthen it enough to withstand the stress of daily maintenance.
Hardy grass is rooted in healthy soil
It is no surprise or secret that the grass on golf courses sees a lot of wear and tear – not only from constant foot and golf cart traffic, golf balls and clubs constantly creating divots and dents – but the maintenance itself becomes a source of stress as the course is constantly being mowed, trimmed, fertilized, and watered. As a result, the grass needs to grow quickly and evenly, as well as be strong and resilient to stand up to these conditions. And as with most things, it is not always about what we see on the surface but what lies beneath that is of utmost importance. Strong, healthy grass requires a strong root biomass to stand up to the daily stress it experiences on a golf course.
A strong root system is borne of healthy soil with a sturdy structure that not only holds nutrients in place but creates a hospitable environment for microorganisms to cycle these nutrients and make them available to the plants growing in that soil. Soil amendments containing humic acid, such as Humic Land™, have been shown to increase soil structure as well as nutrient uptake, making plants more resistant to stress, disease, and pests. In a study done by the American Society for Horticultural Science, it was found that “treatments containing either peat or humic acid showed better turf quality than the untreated control” (2).
As Humic Land™ is a humic acid derived from sustainably-sourced peat – it presents a promising solution for Greenskeepers to use in conjunction with their other maintenance tools, to give the soil a boost of health which will increase its resilience.
Golf season requires year-round course maintenance
While we may typically reserve golf games for sunny summer days, in certain regions where the weather remains mild, it can be a year-round activity. Unfortunately, even in mild climates, environmental factors like colder nights, increased rain or drought can easily affect the green colour of the grass on a course. Even in warm climates, grass may go brown in winter months and some courses resolve this by over-seeding while others may apply a green pigmented dye on grass to retain its colour. These practices can cause even more stress to grass roots and lead to poor soil health over time.
Keeping a good soil structure is of utmost importance in allowing the soil to retain the nutrients it needs and to cycle those nutrients to make them available for uptake by the plant roots. Because it increases soil structure, Humic Land™ reinforces the soil’s ability to withstand drought, while still allowing for proper drainage of excess water when necessary.
Increased nutrient cycling makes for healthier grass and means that golf courses treated with Humic Land™ have a higher chance of mitigating other environmental challenges such as pests and disease. Fall Armyworms are of particular concern for many golf courses and are typically treated with harsh insecticides in a curative/reactive way once the pest has already become a problem. When soil is healthy and thriving, the chance that this problem will even occur is greatly diminished and reduces the need for these harmful additional inputs.
Satisfying the Eco-Conscious Greenskeeper
While fertilizer can sometimes be a necessary tool for any grower, we are becoming increasingly aware of its harmful effects not only on soil health, but also on the waterways it can contaminate when leaching occurs. As part of their scenic nature, most golf courses will not only have ornamental ponds that can be home to aquatic life, but will often be located near other larger rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water. Because of this, Greenskeepers need to be extra mindful of what they are applying to their turf as the grass and soil will not be the only things that are impacted by inputs.
Furthermore, fertilizer is not necessarily a cure-all for the challenges faced by Greenskeepers. Gill Stiles, the superintendent at Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club (California), explains that “Just throwing fertilizer at a problem doesn’t always fix it. It depends on what you need. Some nutrients are mobile in the soil and must be replaced regularly. Others aren’t so mobile and are available longer” (3). Soil testing is an imperative first step to discovering which nutrients are already in abundance and which are lacking. Once this information is known, it will be easier to come up with a comprehensive solution to optimize the health of the soil overall.
Another issue that can be exacerbated by fertilizer and chemical inputs is soil salinity (salt content) which can negatively impact a plant’s root system – but these inputs are not the only thing causing this issue on golf courses.
When watering limits dry up your course profits
Depending on the region in which they are located, golf courses can be subject to watering limits which may sometimes force them to have to use recycled water to irrigate their grounds. Because recycled water has a higher salinity than other water sources, this can negatively impact the health of the soil over time. The study done by the American Society for Horticultural Science speaks specifically to this issue, stating that “the application of humus increased the Soil microbial biomass carbon (MBC) and improved turf quality over the untreated soils on two fairways that had either an inherent soil salinity problem or was irrigated with recycled water with high salt content. The effects on turfgrass health and turf quality were dependent on the rates of humus” (2).
While some regions will use recycled water, other regions may not even be permitted to do so and may need to reduce their watering schedules entirely at certain times of the year. The healthy soil structure attained by adding Humic Land™ leads to an increased ability for the soil to absorb the water needed to hold nutrients, while allowing excess moisture to drain when it has reached capacity (much like a sponge). A soil with a healthy balance of organic matter will be more likely to achieve balance in other ways as well, such as moisture content.
It is important to understand the intricacies involved in keeping crops healthy by feeding the soil in which they are grown. While golf courses differ from farms in many ways, Greenskeepers understandably take much pride in maintaining the health of their grass, just as farmers do their crops. Just as we are seeing in agriculture, sustainable solutions are gaining momentum on the greens. It is becoming increasingly clear that “soil amendments help give turf the strength and absorbance it needs to withstand daily mowing, watering and foot traffic” (4).
Derived from sustainable peat, Humic Land™ offers a more complete solution for your soil than other humic acids derived from leonardite or lignite. When worked into your regular spraying schedule, Humic Land™ can make a world of difference on your greens; creating that lush healthy landscape that will draw in golfers from every range.
- Aim for the Green: Compost & Renewables Revolutionize Golf Courses, https://www.usbiopower.com/newsroom/aim-for-the-green-compost-renewables-revolutionize-golf-courses
- Using Humus on Golf Course Fairways to Alleviate Soil Salinity Problems, https://journals.ashs.org/horttech/view/journals/horttech/28/3/article-p284.xml
- A nutritional balance (Soil management), https://www.golfcourseindustry.com/article/a-nutritional-balance--soil-management-/
- Making amends (soil amendments), https://www.golfcourseindustry.com/article/making-amends--soil-amendments-/