Having maintained golf courses on and off for 40 years, Gary Roush, semi-retired superintendent of Riverside Golf Club in Mason, W.Va., says he tries to hit his pond algae by late April.
“When it gets too hot in the summer it takes just too much to try to take care of it, and it’s too expensive,” he says. “It grows a lot better in the summer than it does right now.”
Roush’s son, Mitchell Roush, now serves as Riverside’s superintendent, but the industry veteran says he still spends every day maintaining issues on and off the turf. For pond algae specifically, the elder Roush says he applies copper sulfate once or twice a year.
Algae present numerous problems for preserving the vitality of course ponds. There’s the obvious issue with appearance, but if blooms go unchecked, they could produce potentially harmful neurotoxins. Superintendents and industry professionals are trying to keep these problems in check, all while doing what they can to save courses money and labor in the process.
Dr. Rob Richardson, assistant professor of crop sciences at North Carolina State University, says that when treating algae, it’s usually best to take a preventative approach rather than a reactive one. You’re using more chemical and labor on the front end, but you’re saving money and time in the long run, he says.
“There may be some algaecides that work a little bit better in warmer water, but you’re generally better off treating when there’s less algae to control than when there’s more,” he says.
Reid Pickering took over about two months ago as superintendent of Amana Colonies Golf Club in Amana, Iowa, the spot formerly held by Ken Ellenson. Pickering says he has treated the algae in the club’s three ponds once this year with copper sulfate and pond dye.
“We had a lot (of algae) right away, but it’s been pretty good ever since,” he says. It hasn’t taken a lot of time or resources to combat the algae, which is common in the Amana area, he says.
Sarah Miller, algae and water quality portfolio leader at SePRO, says it’s best to take a preventative approach against algae. Because many scenic ponds don’t have buffer areas around them, fertilizer and other nutrient runoff can accumulate and fuel algae blooms.
“One of the things that we recommend is to get started early with monitoring, looking at the water chemistry and looking at the nutrient concentration and being a little more proactive,” Miller says.
SePRO manufactures and represents a product called SeClear Algaecide & Water Quality Enhancer, which controls algae and Miller says also contains components that help strip out unwanted nutrients to avoid large algae blooms that could manifest later in the season.
“We’ll typically have folks go out and start treating anywhere from a month or six weeks earlier than has historically been treated, because usually by the time you see the problem and it’s visible to the eye, it’s been there for a while–it’s been building,” she says.
For superintendents who have problems with major algal blooms despite previous treatment, or if they are starting treatment later in the year, SePRO sells a pure algaecide called Captain XTR, which contains chelated copper and Miller says works well on “nastier algae.” Once the algae noticeably subside, superintendents should then switch over to the tamer SeClear, she says.
Superintendents should mix each of these products with water in a sprayer, Miller says. In order to get better coverage, they can spray floating and filamentous mats directly, she says. Each of the products has a mix rate chart that crew members can follow based on the size of the area they’re treating.
Richardson says to apply chemicals carefully. “It is important to know the amount of water that you have out there so you put the right amount of product out and don’t just dump product in or toss bags of copper sulfate in,” he says. “With copper you can kill fish if you’re not careful, so you need to be sure you get the right rate.”
The schedule for treatment should be based on specific course conditions, Miller says. “Typically with algae you’re on a maintenance-type schedule and how often you treat, whether it’s once a month, whether it’s biweekly, that really just depends on the season and multiple factors and which region of the country you’re in,” she says.
Algae types differ around the country, Richardson says. Golden algae, for instance, grows in dry climates but is rare in other climates, he says.
Different species of algae take different forms, he says. Filamentous algae form clumps and other structures, while planktonic algae are less visual and sheen-like and macro algae look like vascular plants with a stem and reduced leaves.
“From a golf course standpoint the surface films and filamentous algae would probably be the most problematic because they’re so visual,” he says. “The filamentous may also interfere with irrigation from time to time, but generally it’s going to be an aesthetic issue.”
That’s why for some of Riverside’s ponds and lakes that are nearer to the green, Roush treats them twice. “Some of them where it’s not really in the play or in sight where people watch or notice that much, I don’t pay it much attention,” he says.
Patrick Williams is a GCI contributing editor.