Nov 18

Chicago Superintendent Feature: “I Hate Ball Marks”

By Pat Jones | How Chicago super Tim Christians uses Zipline in his never-ending fight against mushy greens.

Tim Christians sums up how a lot of turfheads feel about the profession with this saying:

“I don’t love it because of golf. I love it because of golf courses.”

He had another saying when I talked to him recently about his agronomy program at Chicago’s historic Makray Memorial GC: “I hate ball marks.”

Well, sure. We all hate ball marks. But Christians hates even the possibility of them. They are evidence that his greens aren’t firm enough, and firmness is the thing for which he strives.

Christians is an Iowa boy who oversees one of Chicago’s most interesting and busiest daily fee golf courses, Makray Memorial Golf Course.

The core of his agronomic philosophy centers on two things:
– Maximize the impact of growth regulators to minimize mowing and inputs
– Manage soil moisture to minimize constant watering and STAY FIRM

“My biggest goal is to keep turf stress to a minimum. For us, this year was unprecedented as far as the level of golf we had, and the biggest reason I hate ball marks is they create stress. The program gave us firmness. Fewer ball marks, less stress, less disease pressure.”

John Turner, his Aquatrols territory manager, describes him admiringly as a “tinkerer”.

Christians doesn’t dispute it:

“I have a mind that needs constant stimulation. I enjoy the opportunity to play with products before I make a full commitment to them. I’ll do my worst greens with a product someone wants me to try. Or I’ll do a split-app trial with different products on each half. Sometimes there’s a big difference.”

That type of DIY trial led him to start using Zipline in 2019. He immediately saw value of the combination product and committed to it as his go-to wetting agent this year. “It allows you to not have to water in as heavily and that keeps surfaces firmer.” Thus, fewer of the aforementioned hated ball marks and the turf stress that comes with them.

“It’s kind of the best of both worlds,” he says of the Zipline program. “We can water and they stay firm and they just stay consistent. We start the season with a monthly app and we get at least 21 days. Then in-season we go to a biweekly app through September and then back to the highest rate for the rest of the year.”

At season’s end, he still turns to Revolution.

“Every year before we blow out irrigation I put Revolution on the greens. It’s a great ‘bedtime’ product for them because it keeps the moisture in over winter. I’ve yet to have the need to recharge my irrigation system to water late in the year because Revolution keeps them right where they should be for the whole winter. I feel like we’ll be good through mid-May when we start up Zipline again.”

Christians bases his growth regulation program on the growing degree day (GDD) model espoused by Dr. Bill Kreuser of UNL and others. “It’s becoming more common practice for everything to be based on GDD metrics. Properly regulated growth means less mowing and less disease pressure.”

He sometimes uses a combination of three PGRs but his go-to is Trimmit (paclobutrozol). And Dispatch goes into every spray. “When I can get (PGRs) down into my soil, I can get away with mowing way less frequently. This season my greens, tees and fairways were so tight we could get away with not mowing for a week or more and we still weren’t bailing hay.”

Christians says his approach is similar for non-PGR sprays as well.

“For pre-emerge and insecticides I will throw in a little Dispatch. It’s basically in every fairway spray. It’s cheap, it’s easy and it helps me get the most bang for my buck on fungicides.”

Spoiler Alert! Christians is, of course, the son of our old friend Dr. Nick Christians, the legendary leader of the Iowa State turf program. I asked him what his pop had taught him over the years and he said two things: first, that math was a critical skill (he made young Tim do long-division problems before his was allowed to dig into a meal); and second, deep infrequent watering is optimal for turf health.

“I’m a huge believer in deep, infrequent watering. It’s just the best way to go if you can pull it off. Dispatch Injectable really helped with that aspect of our program. We are able to run heads for 30-40 minutes now and still stay firm.”

And firmness is what it’s all about for Tim Christians.

“My moisture management philosophy comes down to achieving a balance that gives you a whole lot of other benefits. When you get that right, great things can happen.”

To learn more about how our soil surfactants and other products can hep you on your course as well, click here.


About The Author

Pat Jones has been writing about the golf course business for 33 years. He also teaches and speaks regularly on the state of the industry and trends in the market. Jones is no stranger to working with the Aquatrols brand having served as an advisory member of the company’s board of directors from 2002-2010. Today, his firm Flagstick LLC provides content, research and strategy to companies, distributors and associations in the market.