October 13, 2000
“The grass talks to us. You just have to listen to what it’s telling you.”
For a second there I thought I was back in college in the early ‘70s.
Actually, this Zen-like statement recently came from Stanley Zontek, the Middle Atlantic Region Director of the United States Golf Association’s Green Section.
Zontek visited Shawnee Country Club on October 4, at the request of course superintendent Steve Zeveney and the club’s greens and grounds committee. Periodically the club invites Zontek to review its turf conditions and practices and make suggestions for improvement. The USGA provides this service for its member clubs on a regular basis.
Zontek is a 1970 graduate of Penn State, with a B.S. in agronomy. The West Chester, Pennsylvania resident first began working for the USGA in 1971, and said he has the longest tenure of the association’s employees. This was Zontek’s third visit in six years to Shawnee.
Zontek and Zeveney joined Lida Wells and other committee members on a tour of the grounds. Periodically Zontek would stoop down, whip out a penknife, and carve out a segment of turf to help make his points.
On the 18th green, for example, Zontek cut out a plug to show the members the moss growing on top of the grass. According to Zontek, the velvety plant recently appeared on several Mid-Atlantic greens with a vengeance. For example, the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course in Virginia, site of this year’s President’s Cup, had the same problem two years ago.
Zontek explained that the moss infestation is a result of three factors: “Mowing heights, fertility, and weather.” He said the trend to increase green speed by mowing the greens as short as possible, with mower heights as low as an eighth of an inch, helps produce the moss. “You don’t see it on the fringe, do you? It only appears where the grass is really short.”
In addition, although top-dressing with fertilizer normally inhibits moss growth, this year’s wet weather caused nitrogen losses through leaching. “The fertilizer essentially melted like sugar in the rain,” Zontek said.
Zontek urged the group to deal with the moss quickly, because the problem would spread faster than they would think possible. “Otherwise, instead of talking about how to make the greens putt better, you’ll be talking about how to make the moss putt better. You have to declare war on moss.”
Zontek prescribed a three-part approach—raising mower heights, applying more fertilizer, and Dawn dishwashing detergent.
You read correctly. Dawn detergent.
A diluted solution of Dawn sprayed over the turf in bright sunshine will dry out and eventually kill the moss. Because the moss has no vascular system, the detergent desiccates the plant. Raising the mower heights will slow the greens a bit, but Zontek said that’s a small price to pay to get rid of the pest.
Near the white tees for the 8th hole, some members asked Zontek about the trees that overhang part of the tee box. He endeared himself to these golfers when he suggested that cutting some branches and removing a few trees would be a good idea. “The USGA uses a line of sight guideline to keep branches or trees from blocking a line from the tee box edges to the fairway edges. The club can certainly leave them in place, because it’s just a guideline, but if the USGA held a competition here those branches and trees would go.”
Zontek noted that maintaining good turf for golf is a difficult task in this part of the country. “The Mid-Atlantic is in the transition zone, where it’s hard for cool weather turf to do well, and also hard for hot weather turf to do well.”
Zontek said that Shawnee’s members should be pleased about the progress the course has made in improving its turf and grounds in the last six years. “You really do have a pretty good course here.”