The data-driven golf course superintendent

Modern superintendents have a wealth of data at their fingertips. Sifting through it and balancing it with know-how is the challenge.

In the early days of firmness testing, a steel ball was dropped from about head height onto a putting surface, and the depth of the resulting indentation was measured. Photos courtesy of Luke Cella

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of On Course, the monthly publication of the Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents.

We live in a data-driven world, and the decisions you make on the golf course are not immune to this influence. How do you sift through all the data produced and collected every day from your golf course and use it to make sound decisions?

I recently took part in a meeting where superintendents were discussing their decision-making process when it comes to applying plant protectants. This made me think of some of the tools available to superintendents that enable them to collect data. Whether it be chemical use, green speeds or labor expenses, superintendents are constantly putting numbers to their efforts.

Growing degree days

In 1969, a method to estimate heat accumulation by determining daily maximum and minimum temperatures using a sine curve to approximate the diurnal temperature curve was first published. It underwent several iterations, and in 1983, the concept took hold. Researchers Lloyd Wilson and William Barnett of the University of California stated in the opening paragraph of their 1983 research article on degree days, “Questions such as when to plant, whether the crop is developing on time, and when to initiate set control actions are particularly difficult to answer, because the timing it not always the same each year.”

Most superintendents are astutely aware of growing degree days and use them for scheduling applications of plant protectants (including growth regulators for seedhead suppression), some early-spring fungicides and certain insecticides. There are numerous growing degree day calculators out there, and no matter which calculator or model one uses, all of them state in one form or another, “When it comes to growing degree day models, it is important to remember that although they serve as useful guides, they don’t replace scouting techniques or your own observations” (GreenCast, Syngenta).

This article is originally posted and taken from GCM.