The Benefits of Late-Season Fertilization - An Essential BMP for Ensuring Plant/Turfgrass Health in 2012!
Growth covers can offer many advantages to field managers
Rust is usually associated with slow-growing turfgrass. It is especially severe on drought stressed sites and compacted soils where perennial ryegrass or bluegrass is growing slowly.
Tyler grew up around golf and golf course management. His dad is the superintendent at Riverton Golf Course in Henrietta, New York. This past summer Tyler worked on the grounds crew at Oak Hill Country Club. In addition to taking classes, Tyler is working part-time on the grounds crew at Muirfield Village Golf Club where Paul Latshaw is the Director of Grounds Operations.
The Toro Company/Jack Nicklaus Turfgrass Legacy Endowment Fund was established at The Ohio State University to provide opportunity for incoming freshmen to enter the turfgrass field. The high quality turf program at OSU provides an outstanding education for those entering the turf industry. The Toro Giving Program has a long history of supporting student education, and this support attracts quality individuals to the turf management profession.
Photograph: Tyler VanLandingham receives congratulations from Dr. David Gardner on being awarded The 2011 Toro Company/Jack Nicklaus Turfgrass Legacy Scholarship.
Now is the perfect time to carry out turf renovation projects! Soils are warm and friable and there are timely rains to aid seed germination.
This seems to be possibly related to the general trend of warming environments. We used to only get complaints about chiggers in Ohio along the Ohio River Valley counties, but they have been increasingly reported in mid-Ohio and now northern Ohio! Chiggers were a fact of life in Oklahoma where I grew up and you always put on insect repellent, especially around your socks, lower legs and pant legs (if you weren't wearing shorts). Even then, you would get a couple of chiggers burrowing into your skin under your underwear bands or other "delicate" areas! LOL! I also suggest that chigger outbreaks are related to small mammal populations as mice, rats, chipmunks and squirrels are the intended hosts of chigger larvae. They can build up incredible populations on these animals (as well as ground-nesting birds, which are less common in Ohio than in the Prairie States). Remember that chigger larvae get onto any warm-blooded animal and try to get a blood meal. On humans, the larvae burrow into a hair follicle and use their mouth parts to rasp through the thin skin to find capillaries. They also secrete an anticoagulant into the wound and our bodies usually set up a quick reaction to this foreign protein which induces swelling. The swelling closes the hair follicle, thereby trapping the chigger larva inside the follicle! The chigger dies and even more allergenic, foreign proteins are introduced. This causes even more intense swelling and itching. Occasionally, these areas get infected and secondary damage can be caused! Not fun!
So, in answer to your question, yes, this is a "good" year for chiggers as the weather and moisture conditions have been good for their growth and reproduction, and we are seeing a significant increase in local field rodent populations! The normal recommendation is to use a DEET-based product on the lower body when out in wildlife habitats (especially tall grassy areas adjacent to wood lots). The data on some of the new alternate insect repellents seems to be lacking related to chigger repellency. As soon as you are through with your activities, it is recommended to get home as soon as possible, place all your clothing in the dryer for 20 minutes (or wash immediately). The person should also take a shower and use lots of soap to try to knock out any chigger larvae before they have burrowed in. Those suffering from chigger bites should use antihistamine products to reduce the swelling and itching and the old standard, Calamine Lotion, can certainly help!
For golf course superintendents and other turf managers in Ohio and across the Midwest, 2011 has been another difficult and brutal summer for superintendents and golfers. Mother Nature, perhaps in a more impressive way than the summer of 2010, again turned up the heat and humidity and coupled with some untimely heavy rains in many areas created summer turf nightmares. Phrases like '"the perfect storm", "equal opportunity destroyer" and "turf loss of major portions" are being tossed around. In Ohio and other areas of the Midwest it was simply a "Consistent Relentless Heat and Humidity Wave".
Daytime temperatures were consistently extreme at 90 degrees F or higher. Nighttime temperatures were consistently extreme at 80 degrees F or higher. Relative humidity was extreme both day and night. Soil temperatures were also consistently extreme at 80-90 degrees F with little if any decline at night. Some golf greens were actually registering 100 degree F soil temperatures. NOT GOOD! This was especially true on short-cut bentgrass/bentgrass-Poa annua greens. Where untimely heavy rains occurred (e.g.. northeastern Ohio), soils became wet and waterlogged taking soil moisture control away from the superintendent. The high humidity both day and night did not allow adequate evapotranspiration (loss of soil moisture by evaporation) for soils to dry out. The roots of turfgrasses under these conditions declined rapidly in wet, soupy, oxygen depleted soils. Roots need oxygen to function, just like us. Essentially, roots were suffocating. Roots, of course, are the plant component that absorbs water and nutrients necessary for normal functioning. It is agronomically difficult and certainly challenging to maintain turfgrass under a limited to no roots scenario. For our cool-season turfgrasses, these environmental conditions were simply a recipe for disaster. All of our agronomic tools and skills make it difficult to provide tournament playing conditions consistently (e.g. green speeds of 10.5 or greater, etc.) when Mother Nature sends this kind of wrath on our cool-season turfgrasses. Even though it is hard to imagine, 2011 set weather records in almost every category as July was the hottest month on record and weather statistics appeared to exceed those of 2010. Simply, cool-season grasses (bentgrasses, annual bluegrass - Poa annua, ryegrasses, and Kentucky bluegrasses) prefer air temperatures in the range of 60-75 degrees F and soil temperatures in the range of 50-65 degrees F for optimum growth and plant health. While it is not uncommon for the latter temperatures in Ohio and the Midwest to exceed these ranges each summer, extremes in heat and humidity are not typically sustained for long periods of time and typically intermittent breaks in these extreme conditions occur during the summer. These intermittent weather breaks and usually cooler, less humid nights gives the cool-season grasses a chance to rest, recover and recuperate. At soil temperatures above 75 degrees F, the roots of cool-season grasses begin to slow in active growth and become less physiologically active resulting in the onset of the hidden turfgrass stress called "root dysfunction". At soil temperatures (80-90 degrees F) recorded in mid June to early August in Ohio and other parts of the Midwest , roots actually began to become dysfunctional, decline, and die back causing additional overall turfgrass stress. All turfgrass mangers dream of deep, white physiological active roots in the summer as they realize this can result in the difference between grass and no grass. High air temperatures physiologically resulted in a significant decline in photosynthesis (the food production process of the plant) of cool-season grasses causing a decline in overall plant vigor and health. High nighttime air temperatures physiologically resulted in an increase in nighttime plant respiration which increased photosynthate/food depletion relative to cooler nights, further stressing the vigor and health of the turf. The high (stifling) humidity and high temperatures, both day and night, resulted in a compounding effect on turfgrass stress. Normally, cooler, less humid nights allow turfgrass plants to recover from daytime stresses. This summer turfgrass plants did not get this environmental nighttime rest. Consequently, the weakened turfgrass was more susceptible to heat stress, diseases and other pests. These extreme environmental stresses are additive or cumulative in weakening the turfgrass plant. The reason that turf managers request some stress relief with maintenance practices under extended extreme stress conditions (2011), like increasing mowing height, mowing less frequently and/or rolling less frequently, skipping daily mowing or rolling, or venting, hand syringing, etc. are an attempt to reduce maintenance imposed stress. Yes, maintenance practices, particularly close mowing, imposes additional stress on the turf. Yes, green speeds and overall playability may be compromised some, but an old agronomist much wiser than most said "a little slower grass is better than no grass". Physiological plant and root decline makes it extremely difficult to manage turf without being on the edge of a nightmare. PLANT PATHOLOGY (DISEASE) PERSPECTIVE Multiple factors are usually associated with turf decline and in most cases factors are additive or cumulative. However, a single environmental or management factor could be the key deciding factor in turf decline and serious problems. Key factors associated with turfgrass decline are listed below. In viewing these factors, please note that golf courses differ in some of the abiotic and biotic factors mentioned and this is true even within an individual golf course, like sand versus push-up greens, percent annual bluegrass from green to green, shade, and air movement etc. • Excessive rainfall in the spring resulting in a compromised, shorter than normal root system entering the summer.
• Record high temperatures (day and night) in July and early August.
• Long periods of high humidity (day and night) which lowers evapotranspiration rates - (slows drying) and creates an optimum environment for many diseases including the most devastating like Pythium, brown patch, and summer patch.
• Heavy rain events in the summer- sites may have experienced single or multiple heavy rain events (like northeast Ohio) resulting in wet, waterlogged, saturated soils causing root decline and dysfunction, especially coupled with high temperatures and humidity.
• Greens with a high percentage of Poa annua (annual bluegrass) which is are our weakest cool-season grass species with low heat tolerance, high susceptibility to diseases and root decline and dysfunction. Some call it the “Poa no-roots annua” and along comes the old phrase “Poa going out” (via stress not disease). Poa annua is much more difficult to maintain under extreme stresses like 2011.
• Courses that were conditioned for special events and club championships in July and August maintaining high green speeds, etc. (cumulative maintenance stress).
• High use of greens and facilities soon after heavy rain events.
• Push-up greens (soil-based) and old greens with poor internal drainage. These greens are difficult to manage at adequate soil moisture without overwateriing. Of course as stated in the agronomic section above, untimely heavy rains just completely takes soil moisture control away from the superintendent. In the extreme heat, soils turn quickly into thick soup as they bake during the hot and humid days and nights. It is very difficult under this scenario to dry the turf system out.
• Greens with any kind of surface or internal drainage problems like low areas, water movement onto greens from surrounds, and/or no internal drainage system.
• As discussed earlier, excessive soil temperatures causes major root decline and root dysfunction.
• Locations with poor or minimal air movement. These locations simply do not allow for adequate cooling and drying of the turf resulting in increased heat stress and diseases. Some superintendents have been using fans to off set this problem and modify the microenvironment. The other alternative is to clear out trees and brush to improve air circulation. Obviously, the latter is a club/course decision but a wise one.
• Greens designs that create wear patterns and/or that lead to excessive soil compaction.
These latter problems and limiting factors vary from golf course to golf course and even within an individual golf course. It is difficult therefore to make comparisons between or among golf courses in a geographical area because of these potential differences and differences in maintenance budgets, play, etc. TURFGRASS DISEASE OVERVIEW (SUMMER 2011) Since most pathogens that cause turfgrass diseases are ubiquitous (always present) in Ohio, the two determining factors for disease development on golf courses are (1) the genetic susceptibility of the turfgrass to disease pathogens and (2) the environmental (weather) conditions that are ideal for disease activity, development and spread. When excessive heat, humidity and wet conditions occur, diseases and disorders are exceptionally “SEVERE”. These diseases include Rhizoctonia brown patch, Pythium blight, root rots, various leaf spots, anthracnose (foliar and basal) summer patch, necrotic ring spot, nematodes, fairy rings, and previously mentioned abiotic disorders like wet wilt, black layer, and algae. They occur alone or in complexes and the 2011summer environmental conditions were EXTREME AND SEVERE and a haven for them all. Our plant pathology team said Pythium blight was more prevalent than they have seen in a long time. This disease under high temperatures and humidity kills turf overnight. Typical fungicide programs were taxed to the limit and some programs based on conditions, stress, and disease pressure simply failed. They are fungicide programs and under the worst of conditions (like described above) they have their limitations. However, Joe Rimelspach, our leading OSU extension plant pathologist and also our chief diagnostician in the OSU Turfgrass Diagnostic Clinic says re-read the “Agronomic Section” because many of the samples coming into the clinic from golf courses did not have infectious turfgrass disease problems. His conclusion from samples and discussions with superintendents was that effective disease management programs to prevent or manage diseases were in place. The most common cause of turf decline and death was the direct result of excessive heat and humidity (day and night) and excessive soil moisture. Mother Nature simply rules the golf course under conditions like the summer of 2011. POA ANNUA DECLINE, COLLAPSE AND DEATH Poa annua is considered to be a weak grass based on marginal heat tolerance and susceptibility to many diseases. New technology especially in the area of fungicides has helped us deal with Poa annua better under moderate stress and disease pressure. However, the summer of 2011 produced consistent EXTREME stress and disease pressure. The old saying “Poa annua going out” was stated over and over in 2011 and confirmed by the OSU Diagnostic Clinic. Yes, there are different biotypes of Poa annua and some may be slightly more heat and disease tolerant than others but under less than ideal conditions management is a challenge. On golf courses across the Midwest where Poa annua was a major component of the turf on greens and fairways major problems were encountered and generally Poa annua just ran out of gas. Decline, collapse, and death of Poa annua was not unusual with the EXTREME weather, excessive rainfall causing wet, waterlogged soils and in areas with poor air movement. Again, just an accumulation of stress factors causing a recipe for major disaster. It should be noted that if areas were damaged this year and allowed to reestablish to Poa annua (especially the annual biotypes), these areas will be very prone to problems in the future. Unfortunately, the more annual biotypes are heavy seed producers so an abundant seed bank will be produced next spring. These are the biotypes most common in problem sites as they are fierce invaders in damaged and non-renovated turf. WHAT NOW?????????? BE CAUTIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IRRIGATION AND HIGH ET For the remainder of August, first be cautious with the existing turf as roots systems are still very shallow making them quite susceptible to dry wilt and drought injury. Mid August has provided somewhat more moderate temperatures but it is still 87 degrees F in Columbus today (August 24) with low humidity and a nice breeze. This weather tends to be very deceiving because evapotranspiration rates are high (.2-.3 “) resulting in the potential for dry wilt and turf loss. This dry wilt potential is even higher because of short root systems that have not regenerated yet. So, even though the extreme heat and humidity have hopefully gone for this year be cautious with irrigation for now. Believe it or not, dry wilt and isolated dry spots are now a potential culprit. Monitor ET rates every day! Irrigate to keep a shallow rooted turf plant alive if dry weather and high ET rates prevail. LACK OF A FERTILIZATION RESPONSE Regarding fertilization, some reports are coming in indicating that superintendents are having a problem getting good fertility responses. Turf is exhibiting slow growth and general yellowing/chlorosis. First, remember that root system are shallow and are not taking up reserve soil nutrients like in a normal year when at this time roots are somewhat deeper and more prolific. The cool nights, milder days and decreased soil temperatures will help that situation in the next few weeks. So, be patient! But in the interim, continue your foliar feeding programs with a FULL complement of nitrogen and other macro and micronutrients. Calculate out your actual pounds of nitrogen that you are applying as a foliar spray per 1,000 square feet.. If the nitrogen rate is 0.1 pounds N per 1,000 square feet or less, consider temporarily upping the N rate more towards 0.2 pounds of N per 1,000 square feet. My experience has been that many labels are recommending less than 0.1 pounds of N per 1,000 square feet (e.g. 0.05 lbs N/M). Also, consider temporarily increasing the fertilization frequency to a week instead of every two weeks. However, if everything is fine then stay the course. RENOVATION Yes, it is time to start considering renovating damaged areas. Use the best agronomic practices available. Try to keep traffic off renovated areas until reasonably established. Standard coring/aerification can be conducted if greens and other areas will not tear up. There is still a little potential for some warm, drying, high ET rate days left in August and early September and pulling up poorly rooted turf may not be the most desirable for a few weeks. LONG RANGE PLAN Finally, develop a long range plan for what I call “PHYSIOLOGICAL,TURF HEALTH AND DISEASE MANAGEMENT FALLOUT”. This involves trying to make a science out of long-range weather forecasting to better define when extreme weather conditions will prevail for extended periods of time in your area and at your golf course. For example, our weather forecaster in Columbus (predicting weather and weather patterns) for Central Ohio indicated early in July that our extreme weather was here for a while based on the jet stream and other criteria. SO, HOPEFULLY THE SUPERINTENDENT AND CLUB/COURSE OFFICIALS CAN WORK TOGETHER TO DEFINE A “PHYSIOLOGICAL, TURF HEALTH AND DISEASE MANAGEMENT FALLOUT PLAN” THAT DICTATES UNDER PREDICTIONS OF EXTENDED ENVIRONMENTAL STRESS AND DISEASE CONDITIONS WHAT SHOULD BE DONE RELATIVE TO COURSE MAINTENANCE, PLAY, CART TRAFFIC, AND OTHER FACTORS THAT WILL REDUCE THE PROBABILITY OF YOUR TURF AND GOLF COURSE BEING PUSHED TO THE BRINK OF POOR CONDITIONS AND PLAYABILITY IN THE FUTURE.
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Written by Dr. John R. Street, Joe Rimelspach & Pamela Sherratt. Photograph of Poa annua wilt taken by Dr. T. Karl Danneberger
Answer: The paper by Wegner and Niemczyk on BTA in Ohio (Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 1981, 74; 374-384) indicates that the females appear to mature eggs in batches of 12 and usually lay 11 to 12 eggs in a cluster. They did not determine the number of batches each female produces, but most guess that they lay two to five batches of eggs and then die. Overwintered adults are usually present in the turf from early May (when Vanhoutte Spirea is in full bloom) and persist for about a month. The second generation of adults usually emerge in late June into mid-July. These lay another batch of eggs for the second generation and die, though there is some evidence that some of the summer generation of adults may also overwinter.
In Canada, there has not been a definitive study of BTA nor its relatives (the Aphodius beetles), but reports from entomologists suggest that the shorter season results in one to one and a partial second generation.
With 2-inch Soil Temperatures Close to 80°F, Rough Bluegrass is Closing Down for the Summer
Leaf spot is caused by several different fungi. The fungus overwinters in the thatch layer or in small lesions on leaf blades. In spring, the fungus infects young succulent leaf tissue and causes the development of small elliptical dark colored spots. The spots eventually turn light tan but remain bordered by a dark brown outer edge. The leaf spot phase of the disease usually does not damage the plant significantly. However, during continuous cool, wet conditions, the fungus invades the leaf sheath and crown. The fungus also may invade the crown, rhizomes, and roots. As daytime temperatures increase, leaves on crown- infected plants begin to turn light green or yellow, similar to nitrogen deficient turf. Eventually these plants die and turn brown or straw colored. This is referred to as the melting-out phase of the disease. Severe melting-out can result in irregular patches of dead turf. Damaged lawns often appear "thin" or uneven and tend to have weed problems. Excess thatch, heavy spring nitrogen fertilizing, excess shade, mowing too close and excessive herbicide applications can promote leaf spot and melting out.
Maintenance procedures to help manage leaf spot & melting out.
- Mow the turf high (2.5 – 3 inches) to provide leaves that produce food for the plant and maintain a healthier lawn.
- Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization in spring which promotes lush growth. Once in the melting out phase maintain the lawn with a complete fertilizer at modest rate to encourage healthy turf and recovery. Often a starter fertilizer is recommended.
- Manage thatch by frequent and heavy core cultivation (aeration) of the lawn. This will also promote a deeper healthier deeper root system.
- Plant resistant cultivars of Kentucky bluegrass. For information on these refer to the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program, at www.ntep.org
- Fungicides can be applied but for best results need to be made early in the disease cycle or as a preventative treatment. This is done based on a history of the disease in the lawn. Unfortunately the most effective fungicides are no longer registered for use on residential lawns. For recommendations check the Ohio State University Turfgrass Disease web site at: http://turfdisease.osu.edu/
Malnourished turf often has a chronic case of red thread. Deficient nitrogen and/or phosphorous fertility levels can result in serious outbreaks.
Red thread management:
- Genetic resistance to red thread infection is limited. Turfgrass varieties with different levels of red thread susceptibility are listed on the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) Web site: http://www.ntep.org.
- The most important nonchemical (cultural) control option involves implementing an adequate fertility program. A good fertility program implemented over two to three years will drastically reduce further red thread problems. If soil is low or deficient in phosphorous the disease is often severe.
- Other cultural practices that promote healthy turf and vigorous growth also help suppress red thread. Outbreaks may be reduced further by avoiding irrigation practices that extend dew periods (such as watering in the late afternoon and early evening).
- Fungicides may be used to control red thread if outbreaks occur on high maintenance turf or high value properties. For fungicide recommendations check the Ohio State University Turfgrass Disease web site at: http://turfdisease.osu.edu/
I do not want to give the impression that there is little education available to greenskeepers and their staff. The Czech Greenkeeper Association (CSG), which was founded in December of 1999 to support education and advance the profession, regularly organizes seminars and workshops and publishes a high quality periodical entitled “Green”. It is also an active member of FEGGA– Federation of European Golf Association. There is possibility to study the subject Management of Turf and Lawn at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague (CZU) or Mendel University of Agriculture and Forestry in Brno (MENDELU) but just as a part of different fields of study, e.g. Gardening.
In the United States where golf has been played for well over a 100 years and enjoyed for the most part popularity among the general population, that has not been the case in the Czech Republic. Although our oldest course was built in Karlovy Vary 1904 almost all the golfers were foreigners. After World War II came the Soviet occupation and golf, as “an entertainment of western bourgeois class” was not allowed during the communistic era. Communist rule came to an end in 1989.
In 1990 eight 18-hole golf courses existed with only 2000 registered golfers. Now we have approximately 90 golf courses with 46,000 registered golfers. Relatively speaking this may not seem like a “golf boom” when you compare the size of the Czech Republic to Ohio (79,000 sq km versus 116,000 sq km) similar population (~ 10 million versus 11. 5 million) with the number of golf courses (~ 800 in Ohio); but given where we started twenty years ago I would say we have.
Currently, we do not have enough golfers to sustain a boom, and until then golf will still be considered a “rich man’s game”. Nowevver, I am optimistic. Czech golf is trying to change this image. In 2010 the Czech golf Association introduced a new initiative called “Play golf, change life”. It is a program of intensive advertisement including billboards of Czech celebrities who describe how golf changed their lives and the availability of low cost golf – courses and availability of lessons. It is hoped that the advertisement blitz will encourage people to try the game, have fun with it, and most importantly stay with it.
Karolina Höfferova is the GlobalTurf Network agronomist for the Czech Republic. She graduated from the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague where she studies horticulture. She also studied Sports Turf Management in Finland and received a degree in golf course management at Elmwood College Scotland. She has worked at Kingsbarn Golf Links, Loch Lomond and spent three months at Jacks Point Golf Course in New Zealand.
Report by Tom James
Despite its significant acreage, The American School in London’s sportsgrounds are far from imposing at first glance.
Quite the contrary in fact. I nearly drove past the intentionally unassuming black entrance gates when I approached the grounds in Canons Park, north-west London.
And it wasn’t merely because, early on a Saturday morning, school sports are out. Discretion seems to be the name of the game, with no signage to guide my way.
The old chestnut that a groundsman is never off duty, proved to be the case again as a sprightly-looking Dan Bingle agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to discuss what has been, for him, an inspiring route into groundsmanship.
It’s a career that he speaks about with passion and eloquence as we explore the finer points of his job as sole groundsman at this prestigious private school, which has its educational hub in the city.
The American School in London (ASL) was founded in 1951 by Stephen L Eckard, an American journalist and former teacher who lived in London. Eckard was working for the North American Service of the BBC when several co-workers encouraged him to found a school in the UK that followed an American curriculum.
The school began life with just thirteen students, and all classes took place in Eckard’s Knightsbridge flat. Within six months, the school had become so popular that three teachers were hired and it moved to a more spacious property in Chelsea.
The school continued to expand, attracting students resident in Grosvenor Square, Gloucester Gate and York Terrace - playing their sport in nearby Regent’s Park and on the lawn of Winfield House, the residence of the US ambassador.
In 1964, the newly formed Board of Trustees decided to raise funds for a $7m building to house all students at One Waverley Place, St John’s Wood, where the school is still based.
The sportsgrounds now lie outside the hustle and bustle of the city centre, just outside Bushey at Canons Parks on land that was once the sportsgrounds of North London Polytechnic College until ASL purchased them in 1993.
Yet, that’s exactly what the school acquired in 2008, after Dan successfully applied for the vacant post of head groundsman at the age of just 27, but already having amassed a wealth of experience that wouldn’t shame a professional twice his age.
Now 29, Dan has worked in the industry for sixteen years, gaining his first taste for groundsmanship at only 14, during a period of work experience at Gloucester City Football Club, while still at school.
“Straightaway, I knew it was the career for me,” he recalls. “I loved the outdoors and was keen to progress in the industry, with football as my preferred route. The head groundsman at the time had clearly spotted some potential in me, as he persuaded me to take my interest further and become trained up properly once I had finished school.”
After completing a National Diploma (ND) in Greenkeeping and a level 2 NVQ in Sports Turf, Dan joined a local sports turf consultant, a post he held for four years before applying for a job on the staff at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire.
“I stayed there for two years and really enjoyed my time, especially as it was committed to high achievement in sport, so there was always plenty to do,” he explains.
“After four years I was beginning to get itchy feet and was eager to work my way into stadium groundsmanship, something that I had always wanted to do since my first taster at school.”
Dan applied for a few jobs at professional football clubs, most notably at Tottenham Hotspur FC, but was finding little success breaking into the speciality he craved, so felt it was time to rethink where his career was taking him.
“I had heard about the Ohio State University programme through some contacts I had, who put me in touch with its head, Mike O’Keeffe, and I sent him a CV to see if I could attract any interest.”
“Shortly before Christmas 2005, Mike called me, expressing an interest in setting me on the programme and asking me whether I would like a placement at the Columbus Crew soccer stadium in Ohio - an opportunity I immediately jumped at.”
In March 2006, Dan set off to the States to start his placement, which saw him undertake an eight-month stint at the stadium and another four months in Phoenix, Arizona, at a baseball stadium used for spring training by the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners.
It was a move that enabled him to gain the experience that would make him a prime candidate for his later role at The American School In London. “My dream was always to work in a stadium environment and I was overwhelmed by the quality in the States, and by the size of the venues I was working in. Mostly though, what hit me was the heat and how the climate opened up my mind to grass maintenance skills in those conditions,” he reveals. “The transition between the winter season grasses and the warm season Bermuda species that take over in April was fascinating to watch. The skill is in the balance between the different grasses, and it’s something that I doubt I will ever experience again, unless I move abroad later on in my career.”
When Dan returned to the UK in March 2007, his fortunes here appeared to have changed, with him immediately landing a position at League 1 football club, Yeovil Town, where he remained for a further year before being recommended for the newly vacant position at the ASL.
“Initially, I was thinking about applying for a post at a Premiership football club, but I was notified of the position at the school by a colleague who said that, with my experience of working with American sports, I should apply, so I did, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
“Whilst at the school, I had to contend with working with a limited stock of quality machines, which made the job all the more difficult,” he notes. “So, I needed to ensure that I would have a decent budget to make machinery purchases. Thankfully, in that respect, the ASL has been fantastic and always accommodating if I feel we need to invest in something. “
His first purchases focused largely on John Deere - an Aercore, 3720 compact tractor and Gator utility vehicle, plus a Major roller mower followed. “I looked at a number of firms before settling on John Deere,” explains Dan, “but the decision centred on two key factors. First, their range was enormous and they could supply pretty much any part faster than anyone else I’d looked at. Second, the quality of their aftercare service and linkage with their dealerships, an attribute that makes repairs and servicing so much easier, knowing that, even in the worse case scenario, we can receive parts quickly.”
Dan is hoping to expand his John Deere fleet by replacing his ageing Hayter triple mower with a fine turf alternative, plus an additional walk-behind cylinder mower for the baseball diamonds.
The ‘love of his life’ though, is an Amazone Groundkeeper, a machine he swears he couldn’t work without. “It’s a wonderful piece of kit,” he enthuses. “A scarifier, great post-match maintenance machine and a handy leaf collector rolled into one - a real Jack-of-all trades.”
For someone as young as Dan to be in a head’s position is rare yet, still rarer perhaps, is his position of having to undertake the programme of turf maintenance himself. “Being sole groundsman can be a difficult burden to shoulder, but I enjoy the work and the change of seasons we have with all the different sports on offer,” he says cheerily.
No man is an island, however, and Dan reveals plans to hire an assistant to help him with the workload - part of a longer-term strategy to create a legacy and a strong grounds team at the school.
“Throughout my years of training, one of the most important things I’ve learned is the value of being inspired and having people above me who were willing to invest time and effort into training me up,” he says.
“I want the opportunity to do that here and help bring on new talent with the same passion as I had.” Until that time though, Dan has to contend with the workload himself.
As you’d expect from an American school, the emphasis on US sports is strong, with baseball playing a central role in the yearly programme. Dan manages four football, three 8-a-side football and one rugby pitch.
Between November and March, another rugby pitch is created and only one football pitch is in service. In summer, he makes further changes to cater for baseball and softball.
Lacrosse is another North American import that’s making a comeback in the UK on the back of a tidal wave of uptake in the US - one that the school is looking to start soon, Dan reports. Luckily, it’s another sport that he has ample knowledge of, having been the primary sporting pursuit at Westonbirt School. “It was one of the few schools in the country that played the sport as its number one, so, looking back, it was a great experience for me to learn the ropes with such a variety of sports.”
Summer term is one of the busiest for Dan, despite the long vacation. The school is one of the founding members of the International Sports Schools Tournament (ISST), and they will be hosting three ISST tournaments this year - rugby in March, baseball in May and football in November. All are three day events, but the number of participating schools from Europe depends on which sport is being played. But, it will be a busy year ahead!
Dan is one of few groundsmen in the country who has to maintain not only one but two baseball diamonds, a skill he honed during his time in the States, and one that requires more time than you’d expect, he says.
”The only problem comes when the surface becomes wet. If I decide to move permanently to the loam, I’ll have to buy covers to avoid the surface becoming too mushy.”
While, in the early 1990s, the school leased the grounds to clubs such as nearby Watford FC for training, nowadays the pitches are the sole preserve of the students, so Dan is spared from having to look after overworked playing surfaces.
But, he suffers in other ways. Worms have created a “massive headache”, he says. “The issue is a bigger one than we can really contend with ourselves, so I use outside contractor, A T Bone, who also come in twice a year to apply our feed application,” explains Dan. “We have few weed problems on the whole and only need to spray once a year, in June.” Natural turf doesn’t cater for all the sports on offer, however. Tennis is played on a concrete multi-use area, while plans are afoot to redevelop the 1930’s clubhouse.
Currently, the site lacks the scope to stage the full range of sports the school offers; hockey, field and track athletics and basketball are all played at other locations around London, but the new developments are planned to bring everything on to one site.
The characterful exterior of the clubhouse will be retained, while inside is created “a modern sports complex”, Dan reports. “The school is keen to retain as many English elements as possible, even though the curriculum and the teaching styles are American, especially among the sports department,” he adds.
Work is set to begin in June, with completion over the summer in time for the start of the new term and football season. Sadly, Dan will lose his shed, also built in the brick and tile style of the clubhouse.
“I’ll become a nomad while work is in progress,” he says, “but, I’ll gain a new shed at the back of the new development and will be able to house all the machinery.”
Dan is excited about the plans ahead and, with the prospect of nurturing new talent once his new assistant comes on board, he hopes he can pass on some of his experiences and draw on those from his own colourful career. “I want to give people help and a chance at a career. I’ve seen the benefits of being pushed to do the training and to be ambitious about long-term goals,” he says.
“My training in the US has, ultimately, had the most profound effect on my career and how I now feel about the industry and where I think it needs to move.”
“The positive way I was treated by Columbus Crew’s head groundsman, Matt Williams, had a huge effect on my attitude to training. He always went above and beyond to make sure I understood everything and knew the reasons behind what we were doing,” he continues.
Dan’s time in the States presented him with many memorable moments yet, arguably, the one that will last longest is during his first fortnight at Columbus Crew.
“Matt asked me to cut the grass on the opening day of the season in front of a gathering crowd in the stadium. It was then that I realised how lucky I was to be there, having been sat in Gloucester a month earlier wondering what my next move should be.”
“The internship opened many new doors to me and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to move on up in the industry.”
Related to April rains we have not had enough sunlight. Some of that affect is seen with Poa annua etiolation in the fairways. Causes for this are often debated but it appears low light conditions often play a role. On golf courses the biggest impact besides on revenue, is the havoc it has caused to scheduled spring cultivation practices (ex. coring/heavy topdressing/organic removal). Many golf courses have postponed and rescheduled to the chagrin of golfers, or the practices have been done under less than ideal conditions.
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