Answers to the Atlanta Problem

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The more time GreensGate spends under the public microscope, the harder it is to keep a sense of perspective on the agronomical/meteorological nightmare that, earlier this week, brought the putting surfaces at East Lake to within blades of their playable lives.
 
Most people want to blame someone and not understand the weather facts and conditions, says Ken Mangum. Bentgrass is a cool season plant that thrives in areas and times that have a temperature optimum of 60-75 degrees. That is not summer in Atlanta.
 
Mangums title is Director of Golf Courses & Grounds at the Atlanta Athletic Club. The Atlanta Athletic Club will host the 2011 PGA Championship in August. Its putting surfaces are Bentgrass.
 
East Lake, also in Atlanta, is the stage for this weeks TOUR Championship and the conclusion of the FedExCup Playoffs. Its putting surfaces also are Bentgrass. And because of an extended summer heat wave, East Lakes greens are on life support.
 
Mangum visited East Lake Tuesday and came away shaking his head. When I asked him how it came to pass that East Lakes Bentgrass greens were so stressed and other Bentgrass clubs in the area had relatively healthy grasses on their putting surfaces, Mangum said that was not necessarily unusual.
 
Growing conditions, he said, can vary widely from course to course even when the courses being compared are just a few miles apart. East Lake is even hotter because they are in town, Mangum said. They also do not have as much air and circulation because of the trees around the perimeter.
 
Mangum said he combated the heat at his club this summer by having two fans on every green. It is his experience, he said, that greens must remain cool to keep the soil temperatures as low as possible to promote healthy growing conditions. He said he hasnt been at East Lake on a daily basis and doesnt know to what extent they employed fans during the worst of the heat. But, he said, nobody should blame the weather on (East Lake superintendent) Ralph Kepple.
 
The average daily high temperature at the nearest weather station to the Atlanta Athletic Club between Aug. 1 and Aug 29 of this year was 96.25. The average daily high for that same period a year ago was 90.98.
 
The Atlanta Athletic already has begun experimenting with Bermudagrass green surfaces. And it could, Mangum said, convert to Bermuda by the time the PGA gets there in 2011. The PGA TOUR already has announced that East Lake has agreed to convert to Bermuda for next years TOUR Championship.
 
Bermuda putting surfaces are much more resistant to heat. But the flip side is Bermuda is more difficult to keep flourishing during the winter months. The good news, Mangum said, is that a conversion to Bermuda, under normal circumstances can take place, with full playability achieved, in less than three months.
 
As Atlanta golf official put it, There were four options here: Close the course; change the date; change the weather; or keep the greens cooler with more fans.
 
But the bottom line, the official said, is that Bentgrass is the wrong grass at this time of the year in Atlanta.
 
OPEN POSSIBILITIES:
The FedExCup got a huge boost in credibility not long ago when The Masters announced it would invite the top 30 on the final FedExCup point standings to its tournament next year. This will be in addition to the invitations that go to the top 30 players on the final PGA TOUR money list.
 
The other three major championships'The U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship'havent exactly fallen all over themselves extending similar street cred to the FedExCup.
 
But the USGA could be moving in that direction. Executive director David Fay informed GOLF CHANNEL the USGAs Executive Committee will be analyzing the number of names on the FedExCup points list and the TOURs money list prior to its scheduled meetings in late October.
 
As a rule, we wish to have the majority of the Open field come from the qualifiers, Fay said. The openness of the Open, if you will. . . . We like having no fewer than about 80 of the 156 spots set aside for qualifiers versus fully exempt players.
 
Fay said he has advised PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem that the USGA will likely make a decision on this matter at its October meetings or at the 2008 annual meeting sessions at the latest.
 
SOLHEIM TRIVIA:
The Solheim Cup matches will be played later this week in Sweden. The Cup itself weighs more than 20 pounds, stands 19 inches tall and is made of Waterford Crystal.
 
Meanwhile, Paula Creamer has played in every Solheim Cup event for which she has been eligible. That includes appearances in the Junior Solheim Cup in 2002 and 2003 and the grown-up Solheim Cup two years ago.
 
Morgan Pressel, playing in her first Solheim Cup, never lost a Junior Solheim Cup match, finishing with a 4-0-2 overall record.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - TOUR Championship
  • Full Coverage - Solheim Cup
     
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