Does Green Sand Inhibit Root Growth?????

First off, wow! Quite the response from the Twitterverse on this subject. I was not expecting such an engaged conversation to commence over the blog, but the constructive dialog is certainly welcome, and after all, is why a lot of us use the outlet.

I'll be as transparent as possible when presenting our situation to the audience, and try to cover all questions that came up.

A) The layer that was created and has caused the root inhibition at a depth of 1.75" in our profile was a 65 sieved sand. The sand was painted green and then kiln dried.

We absolutely believe that the physical properties that correlated with the sand could, and probably are, contributing to the root growth inhibition. Another observation of this sand, but only when painted green, was when it was wetted it became an almost paste-like substance. Without the paint, the sand did not do this. This "pastiness" was part of the reason we moved away from the sand which was supported by university researchers. We're not big fans of trying to grow roots in paste.

Again in regards to the particle size alone, we do know of other situations where that same material (sometimes green, sometimes white) was used for routine topdressing from grow in, and from those individuals standpoints, was a contributor in creating a poorer quality plant.

B) We fully support the comment made that there could be many different factors leading to the root inhibition. Topdressing rate, paint/pigment, particle analysis, kiln dried, all could be playing factors.

We understand that paints and pigments may act differently based on numerous things. Does a pigment coat, and bind to the sand particle in the same manner as paint? I have purchased green sand that was dyed with a paint, but not kiln dried. After a few irrigation cycles and a good rainfall, all of the green had been washed off the sand. It's my understanding the kiln drying of the material helps to solidify binding of the paint to the sand particle. Again, it makes sense that those paint molecules are blocking CEC exchange sites, but so far there is no research we know of to support that. If you choose for this to be your thought process, regardless of particle size, there would be some negative effects from the paint.

If you sprayed pigments over sand, would the pigments wash away after rainfall or irrigation? Again, I am not sure, I have not tested this. And if a paint or pigment is washing off, would your plant potentially be taking it up in the rhizosphere? And would that “washing” alleviate any potential CEC deficiencies on the sand particle? Again, I do not know, but it is definitely something to take into consideration.

And yes, "a visible layer does not necessarily mean a physical layer". Sure, if the green sand was a 45 sieved sand it would obtain the same physical properties of the white 45 sieved sand we use now and potentially may have not caused any issues. So yes, there is a chance that the same situation could have arisen if white 65 sieved sand was used in the same quantity over that same period of time. What we do know is that our ISTRIC tests show that the green 65 layer has not effectively inhibited our infiltration rates in that 2" lift of profile. So if water is infiltrating the layer adequately, what is causing the roots to stop growth at this interface?

There is not much research I know of to support the negative effects of kiln dried sand, but the principals behind it may be contributing negatively. We all know glass is made from sand. I have heard wetting agent product developers say that kiln drying sand is essentially an initial step in creating glass. Basically, heating the sand to those temperatures causes that sand to become more of a glass like substance (however small in quantity), and develop more hydrophobic qualities. Obviously this could be an issue with root growth and penetration.

We could create an entirely new blog and conversation on the negative health effects of kiln dried sand or the positive topdressing qualities it presents, but for now we won’t go there. I digress.

So, is it the paint or the physical properties? In this situation, we cannot positively say. And we are not blaming one or the other. We simply know what the physical characteristics of the sand were, that it was painted, kiln dried, and that it created a negative layer in our profile that inhibited root growth. To alleviate any doubt we went away from both of the characteristics to improve the plant health and have seen a much more positive response in the plant. Also, going back to the original post, when the layer was removed, roots thrived. Using dyed green 45 sieved sand may not cause any issues, but we would rather not chance it.

While we are still awaiting more research to come about dyed sands, there is some limited research on the effects of directly applying paints and pigments to greens. GCSAA published this research 15 months ago. Hopefully this may help you formulate some more of your own ideas and opinions on whether or not dyed green sand is a suitable choice as your topdressing material.


Charles Aubry
Assistant Golf Course Superintendent

A Friendly Reminder

Back in late April we performed some plug work on a few of our greens edges. After removing what plugs were needed from our nursery green, the void was left for the entirety of the summer, and the picture below is what occurred.

With the lateral-by-nature growth of MiniVerde, the grass crept across the void slowly throughout the summer and ended up almost filling the gap completely. This fall after tournament we had some time to go in and repair the void. Upon doing so we came across what was,in all reality, a friendly reminder.

As you can see the roots from the new stolen's that had crept across produced fantastic roots. After some speculation as to why these roots were so much better than what we have on the rest of the greens, we came up with the following.

A few years ago we used a dyed green ultra-fine sand to topdress our greens. After seeing some of the poor results it produced we decided to stop using the sand. As we continued our topdressing program that green sand layer moved deeper into our profile. It currently sits at a 1.75" below the surface. Our roots have a very difficult time penetrating this layer, and the majority of them stop exactly as this interface. The only primary roots we see move through this layer are in aerification holes.

The plugs that were taken from the nursery green completely removed that fine green sand layer.You can see the indentation in the photo. The stolens that then crept across had clean uniform 80:20 USGA construction mix to grow roots in.

Moving on, the indentation left in the green created some issues with mowing and rolling the green. Therefore, the turf was not mowed or rolled at all while it was growing across the void. MiniVerde being a tight, low growing surface to begin with, the HOC never really grew over .200" tall. The reduction in mechanical damage due to mowing, rolling, and any foot traffic was non-existent. Of course, we all know that reducing traffic and stress on the plant is going to lead to an overall healthier plant, but this was certainly a friendly reminder.

As we continue to try to balance membership expectation's and plant health going into winter (and, really at all times), this was a nice eye opener and reminder to lay off the added traffic when we get the opportunity to.

Charles Aubry
Assistant Golf Course Superintendent

New Equipment Manager: Wesley Holsenbeck

We have welcomed another new face to our team! Wesley Holsenbeck was hired on as our Equipment Manager and started with our department on October 3rd, 2016. Wesley has already shown tremendous value and talent, and has continued to help improve our Equipment operation. Please read his brief biography:

Wesley Holsenbeck is a dedicated Equipment Manager. He began his love for golf in 1991 at TPC Sawgrass in Jacksonville, Florida where he was born and raised. He studied in Gainesville, Florida and moved on to broaden his horizons in the Carolinas. After many years turning his craft, he moved back to Florida briefly to resort golf equipment management. Wesley now resides in Atlanta, Georgia where he is enjoying being an integral part of his operation in the Atlanta golf scene at East Lake Golf Club.

The rough is, well, rough. Here's why.

We know the rough is very difficult to play from right now, and we have tried to work the height of cut down as quickly as possible to alleviate that. However, since temperatures were in the 90’s during the TOUR Championship, the rough grew throughout the tournament, and by week’s end we had rough over 4” tall. After discussion with the UGA Turf Team, we brought the height of cut down in ¼” stages, and are now at 2 ¼”. We will stay at 2 ¼” until we are dormant. I will explain this decision below.
Plants, including grass, collect sunlight through their leaves, and then through photosynthesis and other processes, that sunlight is converted into carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are the energy plants use to grow and survive. They are stored in the plant roots. As we enter the autumn season, day length becomes shorter and shorter and light intensity decreases as the sun angle drops lower in the sky. With warm season turfgrasses such as bermudagrass and zoysiagrass, we try to create as much opportunity as we can to collect sunlight during the autumn months so the plant can store as many carbohydrates in the roots as possible before dormancy occurs. Those carbohydrates will be used in the spring when the plant begins to break dormancy. If the plant does not have enough carbohydrate reserves to allow the plant to begin growing in the spring, the plant dies. This is one of the common causes of "winterkill" in warm season turf. This situation is made more dangerous if we have a few "false starts" of dormancy break in the spring - when we get a warm spell that begins the process of breaking dormancy and then we get another frost that re-starts dormancy. If this occurs without enough carbohydrate reserves to break dormancy more than once, much of the turf will not be able to break dormancy.
Our limiting issue with the rough right now is we have now removed 1 ¾” of leaf material from the bermudagrass at a time when all scientific research tells us we should be promoting as much leaf surface as possible. The amount of leaf material removed can best be seen by the loss of green color in the rough. If we don’t have leaves, the plant cannot gather sunlight and cannot produce carbohydrates reserves. To make this scenario worse, every time we mow – and especially when we scalp as we have done for three weeks – the plant uses carbohydrates to try to recover from the wounds created by mowing. It is a very bad cycle for us as we approach this winter. Hopefully, with the warmer than normal temperatures we are getting this fall, and especially this week, we will push out some new leaves and gather some extra sunlight. However, I feel we have pushed our mowing as far as we dare and I cannot in good conscious remove any more leaf material from our rough. Once we have had a few frosts – hopefully after the East Lake Cup finishes on November 2 – the bermudagrass will lose its vigor and will become less difficult to play from. Unfortunately for our members and guests, this is the scenario we have with two televised fall tournaments. At least we don’t grow the rough to 3 ½” before the TOUR Championship anymore!

Ralph Kepple, CGCS
East Lake Golf Club

Making the Difference

The year of 2016 certainly threw its fair share of curveballs at our Agronomy Staff. As we kicked off the New Year our team waited in limbo on the green light to begin an encompassing renovation to the back nine of the course. As we waited Mother Nature greeted our staff with record rainfall in February, forcing progress on our drainage projects to advance at snail’s pace. Finally the light turned green on the renovation and we started…….3 days later. As renovations came to a close in May, Mother Nature was kind enough to greet us again with nearly 1.5 acres of Meyer Zoysia fairways that failed to transition out of winter. Sod projects ensued just in time to get us to the next cross road of 2016 - exceptional drought levels.

We spent the remainder of the summer continuing to grow and challenge ourselves to elevate course conditions year over year. This year we incorporated monthly verti-cutting and topdressing on our fairways, included an additional dryject process on greens (on Memorial Day), and started a HOC adjustment on a nearly biweekly rotation in our roughs.

There are many other things I could continue to banter about; however the reasoning for this post is simple. We try to hold ourselves as a department in a humble, genuine manner. No matter how good the course conditions we create are, we always know there is room for improvement and strive to get there. This year we were able to create the best playing conditions on record for the TOUR Championship. As we reflected upon our hard work we had to ask ourselves, what made the difference? Simply put, and as we all often know, it was the team we had developed within our department.

I would like to briefly point out the changes and impacts each of these individuals had on our success.

First, we terminated our intern program and developed it into a full time Assistant in Training Program. The selected candidates were Davis Watts, Auburn University, and Codie LaPlante, University of Massachusetts.

Davis was responsible for Irrigation Management throughout the summer. I have yet to meet an individual as young as Davis who has the extensive knowledge and capabilities to manage moisture as Davis does. We struggle annually to achieve adequate moisture and coverage in our fairway drain lines. Davis expertly managed the moisture levels on the course in a drought stricken year using sustainable watering practices (a moisture meter and a hose), and did an outstanding job.

Codie was responsible for the majority of the plant protecting applications throughout the golf course, but primarily for making all of the greens applications. Codie grew tremendously over the course of the summer and developed his ability to make accurate and wise decisions when applying products throughout the course.

We incorporated a new Second Assistant Superintendent into the team. This was Dustin Bucher. Dustin came to us from the University of Georgia Golf Course and had past tournament preparation experience preparing for the back-to-back U.S.
G.A. Men's and Women's Open Championships at Pinehurst.

Dustin’s primary responsibility was managing the P.M. staff which was made up of 8 people, primarily college students. Dustin’s primary projects were to complete dry cuts, greens verti-cutting, fairway verti-cutting and topdressing, as well as and trim and detail work in the PM behind our last tee times. Dustin managed the PM Crew extremely well and carried out all of his projects with the highest quality. Dustin’s ability to manage these projects in the late afternoon allowed for other members of the staff and management team to rest knowing the course was in qualified hands.

We redeveloped our Horticulture team and brought in a Golf Course Landscapes Manager/Arborist, and hired on a Property Entrance and Perimeters Agronomist. This allowed us to spread out the workload amongst 3 qualified individuals to carry out the expectations associated with our club's landscapes.

Preston Watts was hired on as our Golf Course Landscapes Manager/Arborist. Preston spent copious amounts of hours renovating our golf course landscape beds and performing surgery on trees throughout the course. His efforts created a playing canopy which allowed players to advance their ball, while still penalized by a poor shot. His efforts have greatly increased the aesthetics of the property and his attention to detail shined through during the TOUR Championship.

As we continue to grow and develop I cannot go without recognizing the already outstanding staff that makes up our team. It is through their countless hours and guidance that the new members of our team our able to integrate into our department with such success. Our average tenured employee in our Agronomy department is 6.5 years and that is something we are very proud of. So, thank you again to a great staff for all of their extensive efforts throughout a challenging summer to create the golf course that they did. We could not be more proud of them!

 Front Row L to R: Codie LaPlante, Danny Ayala, Enrique Cruz, Adrian Moreno, Greta Hill

Second Row L to R: Preston Watts, Hector Arborleda, Jaime Marcia, DeShontey Berry, Tour Championship and FedEx Cup Champion Rory McIlroy, Charles Aubry, Davis Watts, Dustin Bucher, Saul Lopez-Herrera

Third Row L to R: Zaire Lemond, Colin Spellman, John Julian, Ralph Kepple, Jason Tharp, John Banks Woodrick

Not Shown: Mandy Rowell, Chris Lewis, Howard Horne, Kevin Vassar, Hector Lopez, Chris Smith

Charles Aubry
Assistant Golf Course Superintendent

Why are we scalping rough instead of cutting higher?

If  you have recently played at East Lake you may have noticed scalped areas in the rough. This was not a mistake, but a new plan given to us by Bland Cooper, our PGA Tour Agronomist this year. In recent years we have waited until about two weeks prior to The Tour Championship to raise our rough to its final height-of-cut (HOC). What has resulted is inconsistent lies - some balls settled down and some stayed up in the canopy. Bland has told us this is a result of a "false crown" that developes in bermudagrass rough when you bring the HOC up in stages. His solution has been to raise the HOC for 3-4 mowings, then lower the HOC from 1/4-1/2" in order to remove the false crown. What you see in the photos is the result of lowering the HOC from 2 1/4" to 2". To reduce the amount of debris created by this process, for this mowing we only mowed out to our normal spectator rope lines since spectator traffic squashes the rough outside the ropes. We will now bring the HOC back to 2 1/4" until two weeks before the tournament. The expected result is no false crown and tender new tissue that will allow the ball to nestle down consistently.