By Ken MacLeod
With temperatures today expected to reach 115 degrees in parts of the state or higher and Oklahoma in the midst of the driest period from June 11 to the present in more than 100 years, how are Oklahoma courses, superintendents and their crews coping?
Better than you might think.
While rounds in the middle of the day are definitely depressed for this time of year, golfers are still embracing the mornings, many of which have started in the low 70s. Evenings have been popular as well. And while parts of the state have had some showers, there haven’t been many rainouts.
The best thing about the blast furnace conditions is it has been accompanied by relatively low humidity. Superintendents with bent grass greens love to be able to control the amount of moisture the cool season grass receives. Those we contacted said their bent grass greens are feeling stress but none were experiencing dead or dying green surfaces as has been common in the state during previous summers of this intensity with higher humidity.
“It’s so dry, in some respects it’s been easier to manage,” said Michael League, superintendent and general manager at Meadowlake Golf Course in Enid. “The bent grass has been really good and the roots are in good shape. We’ve been doing a lot of light top dressing and aerating with small tines every two or three weeks. But we’re only halfway through the summer.”
Meadowlake has single row irrigation for the most part so many areas of the rough are not getting watered and the Bermuda grass has gone dormant. Irrigation leaks have also plagued the staff on the old system which is due to be replaced.
At The Oaks Country Club in Tulsa, superintendent Dan Robinson has his staff beginning their days at 5 a.m. and mostly knocking off by noon. That does not include whoever draws the duty of syringing the bent grass greens, a periodic quick blast to cool them off that those who have Bermuda greens are able to dispense with.
“This seems just like 2011 and 2012 to me,” Robinson said of two legendary hot Oklahoma summers. “We already have that August 10 look in our eyes. The last four or five summers have been relatively mild, but we’re making up for it this summer.”
Robinson said at this point he would rather have at least an inch of rain or no rain. He is pumping approximately 650,000 gallons of water a night to the course but has still noticed some areas browning out.
Robinson said soil temperatures even three inches deep on his greens have reached 105 and that bent grass essentially shuts down at 86 degrees. But as long as humidity remains reasonable and diseases are avoided, they should survive even this.
One man who doesn’t have to worry about his greens overheating is Southern Hills superintendent Russ Myers, thanks to the hydronics system that pumps 43 degree water below the grass roots. His temperatures 4 inches deep reach 80 during the day but quickly cool off to 60 at night.
That stress free existence of the bent grass greens doesn’t mean it’s been a stress free summer at Southern Hills, where Myers and his crew have been restoring the damage done by hundreds of thousands of spectators, corporate tents, television compounds, merchandise tent and all the other trappings that go with holding a PGA Championship. The West Nine served as the location of the corporate tent, television compound and many other facilities including parking. Seven of its nine holes have been reopened and sodding of the others is ongoing. The championship course has mostly recovered including the crosswalks and damage done to the rough and walkways by spectators.
“It’s been a heck of a stretch of weather and the stress is mostly on the staff,” Myers said. “It’s been brutal and doesn’t look like much relief in sight. In my time, I’ve never experienced this duration of a hot stretch with no rainfall. The fortunate thing is it has been dry and I’m not hearing much around the state as far as anyone losing greens.”