Golf Course Agronomy

All golf courses have one thing in common - their playing surface is turfgrass. Golf course superintendents use the practice of agronomy to maintain the turfgrass and create an ideal environment for golf. "Science of Golf" is produced in partnership with the United States Golf Association and Chevron.

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DAN HICKS reporting: From the Texas hill country at Horseshoe Bay to the sandhills of North Carolina at Pinehurst, site of the 2014 U.S. Open Championships, all golf courses have one thing in common -- their playing surface is turfgrass.

JIM MOORE (Green Section, USGA): One of the cool things about being on a golf course is the playing surface that you're on is living.

HICKS: And just like all plants, turfgrass grows best when planted in the right environmental conditions. It's a job that falls to golf course superintendents and turfgrass managers who use science and technology in the practice of agronomy to create an ideal environment for golf.

KIMBERLY ERUSHA (Green Section, USGA): No matter where you are in the country, you want to make sure that you are selecting the grass that's going to be best suited for the environmental conditions that you have. And by making the right choice, it helps you cut down on the amount of water that you have to apply, the amount of fertilizer, and the amount of pest control products that you may have to apply.

HICKS: In order to survive in the environment they're put in, all green plants, including grasses, require sunlight, oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients.

MOORE: There are certain nutrients that they need. In the case of turfgrass, the one that's most often utilized is nitrogen. Nitrogen has to be controlled most closely by the turfgrass manger because it forces the top growth.

HICKS: Nitrogen, along with potassium and phosphorus, are macronutrients, nutrients given to the plant in larger amounts. They can be found in almost any plant fertilizer. A variety of micronutrients, or nutrients given to the plant in smaller amounts, are also applied to the turfgrass. Golf course superintendents base their fertilization programs on soil tests in order to accurately apply the proper amount that the plant needs. John Jeffreys is the assistant superintendent of Pinehurst Number 2.

JOHN JEFFREYS (Assistant Superintendent, Pinehurst No. 2): We take about ten to twelve samples randomly throughout the green and accumulate the soil in a bucket and mix it up and submit that sample to the North Carolina department of agriculture. And they would send back a result within a month and tell us where we may be lacking, where our pH is, and micronutrient levels.

HICKS: Golf course agronomists also use specialized tools to closely monitor the health of the soil, including a soil profiler. This tool takes a cross section of a putting green to allow the manager to examine the roots and any potential layering, or organic matter buildup, in the soil. Organic matter consists mainly of decomposing roots, stems, and shoots.

MOORE: When you look at a golf course, it's an amazing number of plants out there and they produce a lot of organic matter, and over time, that can develop layers in the profile. And each one of those layers changes the way water and nutrients move down through the profile.

HICKS: Soil is made up of horizontal layers called horizons. On a golf course, the top layers can get compacted, impeding the flow of water and nutrients. To relieve soil compaction, increase air and water movement, and reduce the buildup of thatch or organic matter, golf course superintendents use a technique called aeration to poke holes in the top layers of soil.

ERUSHA: You have a lot of traffic on golf courses because of golfers using it. So some parts of the golf course need to be aerated to increase water movement through the soil and into the soil, and then also increase the air flow in the soils.

HICKS: Aeration allows roots to grow stronger and deeper into the soil as well as providing the roots with the oxygen and nutrients needed to be absorbed into the plant. Over time, the result is a healthier plant and a higher quality playing surface for golfers to experience.

DREW WEAVER (2009 United States Walker Cup Team Member): A great benefit of the game is to get out there and enjoy nature and see all the beautiful things and golf courses are some of the prettiest places in the world I feel.

HICKS: By employing agronomic principles and maintenance practices, golf courses not only become beautiful places to be, but also venues where championship history is made - all right on top of a living plant.

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