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Herrmann: It's not easy being green in this summer's heat

Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, site of the

Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, site of the 2013 U.S. Women's Open. (2008) Credit: Peter Dilauro

More than any summer in recent memory, this has been a double-stress season for local golf courses. The intense heat that has crested above 90 degrees several times is one kind of stress; the drought is another kind of stress. In fact, call it a triple because of the stress it has put on the greens superintendents who have to deal with the other two stresses.

"It's as tough a one as I can remember," said Doug Touhy, superintendent at Glen Cove Golf Club, who has been in the business 17 years. "It seems like it has been hot and humid, or just plain hot and any time there has been a forecast for rain, it never comes about."

There is more to it than just adding extra water, turf specialists say. Heat stress on grass is different from drought stress. Specifically, heat and humidity can make grass more susceptible to fungus, which grows worse the more it is watered.

And there is more to it than having to endure a few brown spots. Clark Throssell, director of research for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America said it is a national problem this year. Several courses, such as Huntingdon Valley near Philadelphia and Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta, have had to shut down because conditions became too much for the turf to bear.

That there hasn't been a rash of closures on Long Island is a function of the superintendents and crews doing everything from taking turf samples, watering greens by hand and just crossing their fingers and hoping for cool temperatures and a lot more rain.

"I tell people it's like a two-minute drill in a football game, you don't have time to take a breath," said Touhy, who regularly starts inspecting the Glen Cove course in the dark at 4:30 a.m. "You don't want to get it too wet, you don't want to get it too dry." He added that as a Glen Cove city course, his facility has to obey the same water restrictions as residents do.

"They ask me to run water more in certain times of day than others. I have to prioritize: greens first, then fairways and tees," he said. "If we had a two- or three-day rain event, I would love it."

Deron Snyder, superintendent at Bergen Point Golf Course in West Babylon, said this summer has meant 14-hour workdays for the staff. They have cut back on mowing fairways, but on the high-90 degree days, he and the other workers have been hand watering greens - to make sure just the right amount of water goes on, without waste - three or four times a day.

"We're surviving," said Snyder, who used to work at Bethpage Black. He said that last year was a challenging one, too, for a different reason. "In June alone, we closed down 12 days because of the rain. At least this year, we've gotten some golf in."

Even the more temperate spots on Long Island have not been spared this year. Jimmy Choinski is the superintendent at Southampton Golf Club and says that the temperature usually is about 10 degrees cooler than at Muttontown in East Norwich, where he used to work. But this year, the difference has been only about three degrees.

"My biggest challenge has been there have been more bugs this year than in the past. They're eating the root zone," Choinski said. He has had to make sure to fertilize and water enough so that the grass, especially on the greens, is healthy enough to take insect killers and fungicides. "Just like you've got to eat, the plant has got to eat."

Such treatments make greens slower than they normally would be, as did applications he put on them in late spring and a light aeration program (punching small holes) he did recently.

"My members are very understanding, they believe in the program," he said. To help keep putts rolling at private club fast speeds, he said, "I give them an extra cutting before the afternoon, and I roll them more."

When people ask him what they should do for their stressed lawns at home, Choinski tells them to avoid the temptation to put excess water on because that would be inviting fungus. When anyone tells Touhy that their lawn is a disaster, he said, "I tell them, 'So is mine.' "

The superintendents agree there is one sure solution for this rough season: the fall. Long Island courses will come around. "I am looking forward," Snyder said, "to football season."

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