It is the beginning of the turf growing season in Ontario. As a superintendent, you have probably been to at least one golf course management conference and trade show over the winter. No doubt you were exposed to new products, new turfgrass cultivars, new equipment or new technology on the trade show floor and perhaps you have heard talks about these new products as well, all claiming to have a positive impact on the putting green surface such as suppression of diseases or insects, slower growing more dense turf, able to compete with Poa annua, less compaction, less thatch, etc.
With this bombardment of new products, etc. are you planning to try any of them? How do you choose those that you want to try? If you try one, will you try it on all of your greens? If you do try one, how are you going to evaluate if it works or not?
Let’s tackle the first question 1 – are you planning on trying any of the new products? A quote comes to mind “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. If, however, you do feel that the quality of your turf could be improved, it might be an idea to try something new.
Now for question 2 – which one are you going to try? I am a numbers person. I will only believe that a product works if you show me the data! Don’t be afraid to ask salespeople if they have any data. Let’s hope they do. Data is good, but it is often from one or two geographical locations (if you are lucky), on one or two different soil types (if you are lucky), on one or two different grass species (if you are lucky) and for one or two seasons (if you are lucky). So, the data says product X works under these restricted sets of conditions. That’s good news and it is a good start.
And here goes question 3 – what about my golf course, at my geographic location, my turfgrass species and my soil type? Well, the next best thing to seeing the numbers is seeing the results with your own eyes on your own golf course. To do that you need to give it a try on a small scale on a couple of representative greens on your golf course before you try it on all 18 greens.
More questions – does product X make your turf look better because it works or has it just been an incredibly easy summer to grow turf? How can you know? You can only know this by leaving an untreated test area. If the treatment is a spray or a granular product, simply put a sheet of plywood down on one or two greens before applying product X to leave an untreated control area. If the untreated test area looks as good as the area treated with product X, then your turf looks good from the simple fact that it has been a great year to grow good grass and you are using sound agronomic practices. If the treated area looks better (greener, less disease, etc.) then you may have a winner. But beware of looking at the test area with a biased eye. You probably need to make some kind of measurement to be certain. Figure 1 below shows a fairway which was treated with a fungicide and Stressgard and the sprayer was turned off at the end of the fairway to leave an untreated area. Interestingly, there was no snow mould breakthrough on the untreated part of the fairway for winter 2016/17.
And more questions –what will you measure to prove that it is helping you grow better turf? How often will make these measurements? How many seasons do you need to make the applications and measurements before you know for sure that the product works? All of these questions depend on the type of product that you are testing and what it claims to do for your turf. If it is supposed to relieve compaction, you better test that. If it is supposed to reduce thatch, you better test that.
The bottom line is – beware of something that sounds too good to be true. Test it first before going all out with a new product, new equipment or new technology. Seeing is believing, but measuring the effect is the best recommendation. Numbers don’t lie.