Bermuda fungus eating Clear Creek greens

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Guy Jackson lines up a putt as he avoids a fungus that has infiltrated the fifth green at Clear Creek Golf Course in Bovina. Looking on are fellow players, from left, John Boa, Fred Bayley and Burton Boyd. The fungus eats away at the grass on the greens causing a sandy, bumpy surface. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[9/9/03]Golfers know the most challenging part of the game comes at the green in the putting game just ask Tiger Woods.

It has become increasingly difficult at Clear Creek Golf Course over the last few months as patches of the greens have been eaten away by what is known as Bermuda grass decline.

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This fungus forms black legions on the roots of the grass and eats away at them. With no roots, the grass is easily lifted and removed, leaving only dirt behind.

The greens on holes 3, 5 and 7 have been hit the hardest by this fungus that is associated with different types of turf grass throughout Mississippi.

The result is an unpredictable green, said John Boa, a golfer who often frequents Clear Creek.

“There’s no grass and the ball bounces on it,” said Boa, who spent his Monday afternoon at the course. “It’s tough because it’s uneven.”

Clear Creek golf pro Randy Tupper said officials at the course noticed the problem and sent a soil sample to Dr. Alan Henn, a plant pathologist at Mississippi State University.

“For the past couple of years, our greens have not been responding the way we’d like them to,” Tupper said.

Henn analyzed the sample, made the diagnosis and sent back suggestions for dealing with the fungus.

“The disease spreads in times of plentiful moisture, which describes Mississippi from about September of last year to the current time,” Henn said.

The biggest problem with Bermuda grass decline is that it has no cure, only methods to reduce the spreading, which Henn said is no simple task.

“It’s very, very difficult,” he said. “First you have to eliminate stress. Then, you have to identify other factors and with greens it’s low mow heights.”

The fungus does not show on the fairways and roughs at Clear Creek, but the greens are cut at 5/32 of an inch. Henn said the fungus is only apparent in areas where the grass is stressed and often walked on.

One method to treat the fungus is the chemical azoxy strobulin, known as “Heritage.” When mixed with water and spread on the course, Heritage attacks the fungus at the roots of the grass. But at $380 a quart, it makes for a very expensive treatment.

Henn said researchers are still unsure about how the fungus spreads and where it came from. He said some believe it was always in Mississippi and people have spread it.

“There is a life stage in which the spores can become airborn, but how it travels is unclear,” Henn said. “It may move in golfer’s cleats from one hole to another.”

Clear Creek has made temporary solutions, such as moving the holes and re-sodding the greens, but Tupper said a long-term solution may be to replace the greens altogether.

“The recommendation was for reconstruction of the greens,” Tupper said. “We’re looking into the cost because you not only have the construction cost, you have to worry about growing cost, you’re going to have to worry about loss of income.”

Tupper estimated that replacing nine greens would cost roughly $150,000 for construction.

Any plans for the construction wouldn’t begin until at least May of 2004, Tupper said, and would be limited to the front nine holes.

Tupper said he has not received approval from the Warren County Board of Supervisors and hopes to put together a proposal soon.

For now, golfers will have to make due with the course as grounds keepers continue to do what they can to prevent the fungus from spreading.

“The ball bounces around if you try to putt on it,” Boa said. “But there’s nothing you can do.”