October 31, 2008
If you own a golf course, and someone says you have a really bad case of pythium root rot, that’s about the worst thing they could ever tell you.
This nasty little plant disease is also called “black rot,” which should give the rest of us a pretty good idea of how bad this diagnosis can be.
According to the turfgrass center at North Carolina State University, “For golf course putting greens with poor internal drainage, reconstruction is the only practical long-term solution….”
The folks at Sussex Pines Country Club near Georgetown recently were the recipients of this unsettling analysis, and decided they needed to take that drastic step.
Chester “Bud” Townsend is the newly installed president of the popular golf club, back in office after a long interlude. He lives just off the course, near the 6th hole, and so his interest in the health of the Sussex Pines turf takes on added importance for him.
“For the past several years, we’ve had a green loss or two each year, it seemed,” he said. “We were fixing them one or two at a time. But this summer, a whole bunch of them got sick, so we decided to bite the bullet and reconstruct them all at once.”
The club is in the middle of that rebuilding process, and hopes to have the extensive work completed in time for the traditional spring season opening. The golf holes being rebuilt are at numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 18.
For those familiar with the course, that combination may seem odd, especially since the club only went to an 18-hole layout in 1988. Townsend explained that all of the greens are “push-ups,” even the ones built only twenty years ago. The course builders simply shoved the surrounding topsoil into piles for each hole’s green, and apparently weren’t real picky about what else ended up in those piles.
“The holes that are still in good shape were in areas that were once real good farmland,” Townsend said. “For some of the others, though, you wouldn’t believe what was in there—tree stumps, roots, all kinds of stuff.”
To add to the club’s troubles, its greens did not have modern drainage systems built under them to carry off the excess water. With too much water and too little drainage, the pythium root rot problem can develop, and did so with a vengeance at Sussex Pines.
“The membership is generally supportive of our reconstruction,” Townsend said. “We’re stuck using temporary greens, and you can still have a good time out here. The problem is that there’s no way we can support outside functions on the golf course right now, and we won’t be in competitive market for tournaments until we can reopen with the rebuilt greens.”
The reconstruction isn’t cheap, either, but some members are chipping in, as it were. Townsend said that in addition to the help provided by the club’s bank, several generous club members are providing matching funds to those donated by other club members.
Pro-Aer is doing the work. It requires scraping off the old greens turf and the underlying bad soils, putting into place a herring-bone style drainage pipe system within a stone-based network, adding a deep layer of sand that is contoured to the eventual green design, and growing new turf above the sand layer.
Tim Mumford, the Sussex Pine golf pro, noted that several greens are going to have new or restored hole locations, such as back tiers on the second and tenth holes, and a tight little back left “Sunday tournament finish” location on the eighteenth hole. “Hopefully in April we’ll be ready to roll,” he said. Townsend noted that some greens will also be noticeably smaller, such as on the fifteenth, which will shrink from the prior 9,000 square feet to only 7,000 square feet.
Golf course superintendent Harry Wanner said, “It’s definitely going to be a welcome change. When it’s all done, it’ll be unbelievable.”