When I ask about weeds and bugs, Birdsell takes a deep breath that becomes a sigh. "This is an old course, so we had a lot of weed seeds in the ground," he says. "When you turn over the soil, it exposes all those seeds to the sun and air, and they're busting to germinate."
To discourage their weedy enthusiasm, Birdsell applied Ronstar, a preemergent herbicide, with his preplant mix. These days the weed battle is more of a see-and-squirt campaign, fought with portable sprayers. When Birdsell spots some goose grass gaining purchase in a perfect patch of TifSport, he pinches it with his fingertips and gently pulls it up. "It takes two weeks to a month to kill a weed with chemicals," he says. "Hand-pulled, it's gone." He also keeps an eye out for the brown patches of turf that announce an onslaught of those notorious turfaholics, sod webworms and armyworms. A battalion of armyworms can eat a small fairway between dusk and dawn, with a good-sized green for dessert.
Greenkeepers have a saying: When all else fails, throw ryegrass at the problem. On Oct. 24, Birdsell began overseeding with rye, a fast-growing, fine-bladed turfgrass. The rye will fill gaps in the TifSport and keep the course green in cool weather, when bermuda grass is dormant. "We should see germination of the ryegrass by next Thursday," he says, nudging the accelerator of his nifty new Carryall Turf 2. "With any luck we'll be mowing like crazy from here on out."
Thinking of the divots on the 1st tee, I almost say, "Too bad you can't spray for golfers," but Birdsell is already gone, speeding up the 7th fairway with the calendar hot on his trail.
They call it Gator Golf Day, but Nov. 30 will be judgment day for course designers Bobby Weed and Scot Sherman. Look for the final installment of This Old Course in the Dec. 10 issue o/GOLF PLUS.