College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Public Service and Agriculture; Research

Clemson holds virtual turfgrass field day amidst COVID-19 threat


CLEMSON – Shanks are like viruses, they just show up.

So says the National Club Golfer’s online glossary in describing a shank, which occurs when a golf ball is struck with the heel of a club, usually sending the ball violently to the right.

The virus showing up this time is COVID-19. This pandemic has caused cancellations across the globe, but Clemson turfgrass expert Bert McCarty was not going to let it cancel his annual Turfgrass Field Day. While McCarty and his team can’t do much about shanks, they can share the latest turfgrass research information so that golfers will have prime greens on which to practice and play. With help from the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association, this year’s field day is provided via video.

“I came up with the idea of a virtual field day after having conversations with potential participants,” said McCarty, a professor in the Clemson Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. “They commented about how they always looked forward to seeing the various research trials and hearing about the latest research.”

The Walker Golf Course, where the field day usually is held, was closed because of COVID-19. McCarty worked with Tim Kreger and Allen Knight of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association, to develop a video highlighting research that would’ve been offered during the planned in-person field day. The golf course was expected to re-open May 1.

“We believe it is vital for our members to be able to continue to receive updates on the latest research, regardless of the challenges of the current situation,” Kreger said. “As golf course turf is a living organism; it needs constant attention and cannot just be left alone. Having the field day information available online ensures that all our members and everyone else will have the ability to get current research updates from Dr. McCarty and his team.

“For the past 10 years, our association has been able to contribute more than $400,000 in grants to both Clemson University and North Carolina State University for continued turfgrass research. The education and services their teams bring to our members throughout the year is paramount to our success.”

Steven Kammerer, of the United States Golf Association, said that with all of the restrictions related to the coronavirus, the video is “another example of the leadership and extra service” Clemson’s turfgrass program provides.

“Clemson is one of the leading turfgrass universities in the southeastern United States,” Kammerer said. “Their continuing research addresses issues and problems that golf course superintendents are dealing with and seeking solutions for and use in their decision-making processes. Undertaking and completing this video is much appreciated. With all of the travel and state restrictions around the coronavirus exposure, the easiest thing to do would be to just cancel the field day. I want to thank Dr. McCarty, his graduate students, and everyone who helped put together this video.

The threat of COVID-19 forced the 2020 Clemson Turfgrass Field Day to be held via video instead of the at its usual Walker Course location.
The threat of COVID-19 forced the 2020 Clemson Turfgrass Field Day to be held via video instead of at its usual Walker Golf Course location.

This was the 23rd year for the field day. The video, 2020 Clemson University Turfgrass Field Day, is available on YouTube. Pesticide Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits are approved for Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Professional Training Institution (PTI) credits also are approved for golf course superintendents, as well as CEU credits for Certified Crop Advisors and Certified Professional Agronomists (CCA and CPAg). Information on how to apply for these is found at the end of the video.

Clemson Turfgrass team

The Clemson Turfgrass Team consists of master’s and doctoral students lead by McCarty. Research presented in the video is provided by: Nate Gambrell of Pendleton; Adam Gore, Clemson Extension agriculture and horticulture agent in Abbeville County; Timothy Stoudemayer of Piedmont; Jacob Taylor of Hampton, and Josh Weaver of Columbus, Georgia. In the video, Gore addresses copper toxicity on transitioning hybrid Bermudagrass greens.

“The use of copper-containing products is commonplace in the turf industry whether it be through the use of pigments, algaecides, or fungicides,” Gore said. “While copper is needed in trace amounts for normal plant function, the combination of these products potentially could lead to toxic levels of copper in soil leading to a decline in turf stand density and health. This study is investigating this possibility.”

Taylor presents information about natural alternatives to control annual bluegrass (Poa annua). Treatments consist of a combination of household products or bioherbicides such as:

  • White vinegar, lemon juice and dish detergent,
  • A source of ethanol alcohol and dish detergent,
  • Clove oil, water and dish detergent, and
  • Baking soda and dish detergent.

Poa annua is a cool-season grass that spreads by seed. It has smooth leaves with boat-shaped tips and produces greenish white seedheads that are a problem mainly during spring when – pandemics aside – golf season is going strong. Using natural alternatives for control is good for the environment.

“Natural alternatives for controlling annual bluegrass are needed to reduce dependency on synthetic chemicals and potential herbicide resistance issues,” Taylor said.

Weaver addresses the use of biostimulants.

“Currently, biostimulants are in an unregulated space in our industry,” he said. “Because they are being used often by turf managers, we believe it is important to test these products so that we can show how they perform.”

Gambrell, a Clemson turfgrass technician, covers several topics including a spring dead spot project he is working on with Joseph Roberts, an assistant professor of turfgrass pathology at Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence.

“Spring dead spot is caused by Ophiosphaerella korrae in the southern United States,” Gambrell said. “This pathogen is active in the fall of the year. Our field day demonstration was important for managers to gain familiarity with new products, as well as stress the importance of applying these products in the fall of the year.”

Stoudemayer was on his honeymoon when the video was shot, so McCarty provided information from his study, “Evaluating Biostimulants on TiffEagle Bermudagrass.” This ongoing study focuses on plant health benefits after applying biostimulants.

“Overall, the treatments did appear to act synergistic with the fertilizer,” McCarty said. “Treatments by themselves did okay and fertilizer by itself did okay, but we did see better rooting and better turf color when combining a biostimulant with a particular fertilizer.” 

While this year’s field day was not what they had expected, members of the Clemson Turfgrass Team said it was a learning experience. In-person field days allow them to interact with those in the industry who apply their research on a daily basis, but the video format allows their research to be viewed by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

“We are grateful for Tim and his staff producing this video and allowing us to share our research with those in the turfgrass industry,” McCarty said. “In these trying times, it is important we all work together.”

Golf is a top industry in South Carolina. According to Discover South Carolina, more than 360 courses are located throughout the state.


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