Fairway Maintenance

Allen D. Owings, Koske, Thomas J.  |  4/21/2005 11:55:30 PM

Fairways are about 1/3 of the game.

Dolomitic lime has extra Mg.

Two-thirds to three-quarters of the golf game is affected by the green; thus, your first dollars should go toward a well-performing green.

If greens are 2/3 of the game, the fairways must be the other 1/3. What about tees? As long as it's shaped properly, the turf has little effect on the ball because we hit off of a little wooden pedestal (golf tee). What about the roughs? Well, you're not supposed to be there, and if you are, you deserve whatever you get. Roughs might be mowed in steps to be  more attractive and nurtient-runoff filtering, but those activities take maintenance dollars, and this area is a penatly-zone anyway.

Don't forget about the fairways. That may be a tough proposition for a low-budget course where you are not irrigating fairways or not using a PGR on them.

Even modestly budgeted courses can have well-grassed fairways. If shade isn't a problem, you simply need to have good soil fertility, irrigate as needed and mow properly; nature does the rest. Don't neglect a soil test check every few years; it tells what is most limiting and thus where fertility dollars are best spent.

If you irrigate, use as needed for infrequent but deep (4") irrigation when the root zone is first dry. Water in cycles, if necessary, to get the best efficiency for your irrigation dollar yet still have deep wetting.

Soil fertility is something you can control. Bermudagrass is most productive in a soil pH of 6 to 7. A pH below 5.8 makes bermuda less competitive and encourages weeds and lesser grasses to come in. Lime as needed during the cooler months to maintain a pH of 6. A $7 LSU AgCenter routine soil test will tell you the pH and levels of available Ca, Mg, P and K and some idea about soil salts. A fertilizer program should be based on these values to ensure adequate levels and avoid expensive excess levels. If you need lime, the test will tell you how much and what kind to put out for a given response.

Soil sampling the fairways may be more meaningful than sampling a high-sand green. Sample all fairways and tees at least once to check uniformity and serve as a baseline. Then, sample even-numbered areas on even years and odd-numbered areas on odd years to keep up with the seasonal differences and keep all areas from getting out of line. This saves half the cost of soil testing.

Your choice of lime is calcitic lime or dolomitic (high magnesium) lime. Check the levels of Ca and Mg; they should be about 10 to1 in ratio. If they are skewed, choose the more suitable form of lime. Dolomite costs more but does more.Topdressing lime over grass at more than 1 T/A is risky unless you are in the cold, dormant season. Consider split application or delay until mid-winter; although if you need lime now, you need it now (during the current growing season). Hold off liming from June through about mid-October.

Follow the test recommendations for P2O5 and K2O application. Most soils can get away with one spring application of phosphorus unless soil P is very low.

Potassium (K) may better be applied as a split application. Apply K in spring then in mid-to-late summer. Go into the fall with higher levels of K (winterized turf).

Apply N at a rate of 40-45 lbs./A three to four times during the growing season for common bermuda fairways. If you have a hybrid Tifway 419, it needs about 25% to 50% more fertility; you may fertilize it every month from April to September if you can.

Don't worry about soil micronutrient levels; just get your pH to 6-7 and it should all work out well.

If salt (salinity) levels are high, you must try for high soil-calcium levels and increased irrigation. If your soil pH is OK and you need Ca, add gypsum for the Ca with no effect on soil pH.

Some courses will have fertilizer custom blended and bulk spread by a co-op. That's great, but you can use combinations of an N source, muriate of potash and maybe a 13-13-13 to meet the soil's need just as well. It just takes some strategy and knowledge of what your soils need to perform well.

Mowing should be done properly whether you have a moderate or higher fertility program. Common bermuda is cut at about 1 to 1.5 inch for best sustainability, but non-dwarf hybrids must be cut lower. A 3/4- to 1-inch cut on these hybrids is a sustainable range but will require reel mowers for best appearance.

Because of the 1/3 rule of cut (never remove more than the top third), shorter-cut turf requires more frequent mowings (shorter interval between mowings). Always try to mow when your turf has grown back 50% from its cutting height. This will minimize mowing stress and maintain stand density no matter what grass or mowing height you choose. Mowing heights should be raised 1/4  inch during the fall to better prepare the grass for the dormant winter period.

Keep your mower blades reasonably sharp to avoid ragged cuts. These will create more stress in the plant and can contribute to greater disease susceptibility.

Watch for pest problems, and remember they are most easily controlled if caught early. With early attention, you may get by with using the less high-tech materials and equipment for adequate control.

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