If you were going to choose soil on which to build a golf course, the clay underneath Lake Presidential might be your last choice. Clay particles are the smallest of all soil particles that naturally want to lay as compact as possible. This makes it nearly impossible for roots to penetrate the soil deep enough to withstand the heat of our Maryland summers. The clay soil is naturally acidic impeding the roots’ ability to uptake nutrients and water.
If you played Lake Presidential early last year you may have noticed how wet the course was. Because the water couldn’t penetrate the clay the former Superintendent had to keep watering the trouble areas over and over to combat the heat. Eventually, so much water had been applied that the low areas were drowned while the high areas burned up.
Our goal is to grow turf that can withstand the summer heat. We could seed and sod the few trouble spots, but we know this would only be a short-term solution leading to over watering again. Instead, our new Superintendent has taken the approach of slowly working Calcium ions in between the clay particles to allow water to penetrate and give roots room to grow. Due to its relatively larger particle size Calcium isn’t very mobile in soil, so this requires consistently laying down Lyme and Gypsum over the next few years to create space in the root growing area while slowly bring the pH up to neutral.
Another strategy we are undertaking to work those Calcium ions in between the clay particles is to consistently aerify the soil by pulling half inch around and 3 inch deep plugs from the ground to loosen the soil compaction. Generally, golf courses aerify once in the spring and again in the fall, but we have aerified the trouble spots much more often to help the Calcium penetrate the soil.
This all brings us to the point of this piece – why we’re cart path only. With the fairways receiving so much Calcium and constantly having holes drilled into them, adding even the pressure from your steps compacts the clay particles. Obviously, the weight of a fully loaded golf cart is more compacting, and the effect is especially pronounced where there are limited options of where you can enter or exit the fairway with a cart (think #18 once your cross the water before you go up the hill).
Don’t worry – we won’t keep you on the cart paths forever! Once we’ve established a good root growth that can withstand the heat without constant watering we allow carts back on the course. We may start with specific holes that have the strongest grass, but regardless once the turf has shown it can hold up we will lift the cart path only restriction. We understand this isn’t ideal, and as such we will keep the rates lower this year while we build the fairways back up. We hope to be back allowing carts starting next season, and that you learned something from this. If you have any questions feel free to ask – believe it or not this was the short version!