Winter in the Midwest poses unique challenges for golf course superintendents. But Matt Shafer is accustomed to dealing with those challenges.
Shafer is in charge of the turf at Stevens Point (Wisconsin) Country Club where he recently completed his fourth season.
The club traces its origins to 1925 and opened in 1927 as a nine-hole layout. In 1968, Larry Packard did a redesign and expanded the course to 18 holes that are noted for the abundance of trees, most of them red and white pines.
In 2015 Craig Haltom was brought in to do a renovation that included modifications to putting greens, a state-of-the art irrigation system, and the removal of substantial number of trees, the latter as the result of an issue with the herbicide Imprelis which led to the loss of an estimated 2,500-3,000 pine trees. A storm in June of 2017 resulted in the eventual loss of perhaps one thousand more.
Shafter, a Purdue University graduate, arrived at Stevens Point in 2019 from Lost Dunes Golf Club in Bridgman, Michigan in the extreme southwestern corner of the state.
In short order, Shafer learned how to deal with Wisconsin winter weather.
“Winter is our number one challenge for sure,” he said. “Just getting through the winter up here; you’re just crossing your fingers. As long as you can do that, you’re okay.”
Even after Shafer arrived, the renovation process was still unfolding.
“I’ve actually taken out an additional 400 (trees) since I’ve started,” he said. “You can tell where the trees used to be. (But) everything has filled in nicely. The golf course hadn’t been fully grown in after the renovation when I started. We still had some grass to grow on quite a few holes and the established fescue areas (65 acres) that first year as well.
“It’s matured nicely now. 2021 was our first year where I felt complete.”
“I found out about Aquaritin 19 on Twitter,” he said. “I asked a good friend of mine about it; he’d been reading about it for a while and I read some of the abstracts that were available online when it first started coming out.”
Shafer was particularly intrigued by the low use rate and affordable cost per acre that Aquaritin 19 offered.
“I just thought it was worth it to give a bottle a shot,” he recalls. “They were giving away a free bottle with a purchase. I sprayed it once, and I’ve been hooked.”
Shafer made his first application of Aquaritin 19 to his greens this past May.
“Within a few days (we saw) color improvement,” he said. “After a couple applications I noticed our wilting point being lower. I’m a heavy user of the TDR and our percentages are certainly three percent lower than they were in previous years and then just overall. We had a couple greens that were sodded during the renovation that have never reacted real well to anything I was doing and this stuff just turned them around.
“For whatever reason, I haven’t had to put any granular in on those two that are completely sand underneath them and everything has been a little happier with it.”
Shafer soon noticed improvement in his greens beyond colorization.
“We’ve had green speed improvement as well,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought silicon would have improved green speed as much as it did but you can certainly tell the day of and day after spraying that we’re getting a little bit extra out of them. We’re not trying to improve green speeds necessarily but the fewer inputs you can have to get there is always important.”
Shafer is also noting enhanced rigidity in his greens. “Our grass blades are standing up a little bit taller,” he said.
While Shafer started out applying Aquaritin 19 every two weeks, he eventually switched to Defend. He notes that both products have enhanced his efforts to provide consistent green speeds on a day-to-day basis.
“We try to be consistent day in and day out,” he said, whether it’s Monday, Thursday, or Saturday.”
Shafer has used Aquaritin 19 and Defend exclusively on his greens to-date but is studying the possibility of utilizing them elsewhere in 2023 with an eye on the positive impact they are having on the club’s bottom line.
Cost factored into his initial decision to try Aquaritin 19 last spring in response to the rising cost or fertilizer, specifically Urea.
“(In 2022) with fertilizer prices rising, Aquaritin became a real possibility,” Shafer said, “just with the cost of Urea being so high.”
Since introducing the Aquaritin line to his agronomic program, Shafer is finding himself using less water, something that surprised him.
“Finding a product that is clearly lowering my wilting point is surprising,” he said. “I didn’t expect that.
“The cost of water is a concern, but the reduction in hand watering that I’ve had this year has been huge, almost non-existent.”
Being able to spend less time hand watering allows Shafer to allocate his staff hours for other jobs. During the golf season, which runs from May through October, his crew maxes out at 13.
“It frees myself up a lot,” Shafer said. “We’re a smaller operation. I’m not having to stick out on a hose either in the afternoon.”