By David McPherson, PGATOUR.COM contributor
Ralph Kepple is waiting for the TOUR agronomist to arrive. Wacky weather this season —- from basically no winter to a cloudy and rainy summer — has made preparing for this year’s TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola more difficult.
“It’s been a challenging, strange kind of year,” says the certified golf course superintendent, who has worked at East Lake Golf Club for the past 20 years. “We had some issues with our drainage lines early. We have about 80,000 feet of them on our fairways and a couple of lines died early in the season. … We had to do a lot of re-sodding in July because of that.”
Kepple says the Atlanta area had no winter whatsoever this year, which was good news since their Bermudagrass greens never went dormant. The bad news is this was followed by above normal temperatures in June and a cloudy, wet July that saw more than seven inches of rainfall.
“Warm season grasses don’t like clouds, so things weren’t growing as strong as we would have liked,” he says. “The challenge that presented itself in July and August was the limited sunshine made the turf a little stretched as it looked for sunlight -- that hurts your density a little bit.”
August was no better. The sun decided to take an extended vacation.
“There is good and bad to that,” Kepple said.
“We’ve had a lot of rain -- especially timely rain as
every time we started to get dry we got another storm.”
With little sunlight this summer, were there any additional agronomic practices Kepple and his crew implemented?
“There are some fertilizers that claim to help in shady sites, but I’m not convinced they do,” Kepple said. “We pretty much stuck with our normal practices. If anything, we increased our fungicides a little bit because the plants weren’t able to produce the sugar reserves that they normally would and couldn’t photosynthesize as well with not enough sunlight.”
This caused more health issues on East Lake’s greens,
which have been minimal since they converted the putting surfaces
from Bentgrass to MiniVerde Bermudagrass in 2008. “The greens
are shaping up well now though,” he said.
To prepare for the final FedExCup Playoff event, the superintendent has refined some of his cultural practices such as circle-mowing the fairways. This is exactly as it sounds — mowing in tight circles. “This tends to get a lot of that grass that is lying over,” Kepple explained.
The only change to this historic course from last year is the addition of a chipping area off the back-left side of the ninth green.
“We tried the same thing back in 1998, but we had too much shade and it didn’t handle it very well," Kepple said. "We took some trees out when we converted that green to Bermuda, so there is enough light there now. “It will be interesting to see how it will affect play. It presents the players with a few options. The TOUR folks like to say when they have options sometimes it confuses them.”
The one positive from the wet summer means the rough is pretty gnarly.
“It’s probably the most consistent rough we’ve ever had,” Kepple concludes. “I was talking to Stewart Cink yesterday and he said everybody around town’s rough is really good this year, which is related to how much rain we’ve had. Players will have to stay in the fairway. It’s not long -- only about two-and-a-quarter inches -- but it is thick.”