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Agronomic Services — News Release


Contact: Catherine Stokes, information and communication specialist
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
(919) 733-2655

Chowan Country Club takes agronomic approach to golf

EDENTON — Five years ago, Buddy Lawrence, general manager and PGA pro at the Chowan Golf & Country Club, assumed the added responsibility of grounds maintenance at the club. Since then, he has been the driving force behind a major renovation that has improved drainage on the course and made it more challenging, while at the same time improving water quality in the Albemarle Sound.

"The key," said Lawrence, "is agronomics — managing water and fertilizer nutrients according to soil type and plant needs."

The Chowan club had longstanding drainage and fertility problems. The turf didn't have enough nutrients and the Albemarle Sound had too many. Fertilizer was constantly being lost due to water movement (rain and irrigation). Excess water and any fertilizer it picked up along the way flowed through a network of ditches and into the sound. Fertilizer expenses kept increasing, while water quality decreased.

Lawrence decided to take an environmental approach. He sought and received a grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund. This money, along with fees from club dues, helped finance an unusual renovation.

The entire 18-hole course was revamped to include constructed wetland areas that could catch and store excess water. The stored water could then be pumped back onto the course through the irrigation system as needed. The wetland areas added aesthetic appeal, increased the difficulty of the course and curtailed the flow of nutrients into the Sound.

"Wetlands are a win-win for us and the environment," said Lawrence. "The quality of the Sound is important, and the renovation has been very cost-effective (as far as fertilizer use)."

To address soil fertility issues on the course, Lawrence began by taking soil samples and sending them to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for analysis. He could not find any record of soil samples ever having been taken at the golf club, and test results indicated a big problem with soil pH. A value of 6.2 is optimum for fine turf production, but samples from the Chowan course were well below 5.0, even as low as 4.2 in some areas.

Lawrence sought advice from Wayne Nixon, the NCDA&CS regional agronomist for his area. Nixon explained how the low soil pH had probably been reducing the efficiency of plant nutrient uptake and interfering with root development. He also explained that soil pH could not be corrected quickly. Since the pH was so low and only one ton of lime could be applied annually, it would take several years to achieve the target pH of 6.2.

To monitor the progress of the lime applications, Nixon advised Lawrence to take soil samples annually. He also suggested using another NCDA&CS testing service — plant tissue analysis. He helped Lawrence collect grass clippings to find out which nutrients the turf needed most.

Tissue analysis measures levels of all essential nutrients within the plants. NCDA&CS agronomists compare these levels to known standards. Tissue testing can identify which nutrients are high or low and even pinpoint deficiencies before visual symptoms can be detected. It eliminates a lot of guesswork and enables the manager to "spoon feed" the turf — to put out only the nutrients needed in the exact amounts needed. As a result, less fertilizer is usually applied, thereby reducing expenses as well as potential environmental consequences.

When tissue tests showed that levels of phosphorus were sufficient, Nixon suggested that Lawrence cut his rate of application in half. Phosphorus is the most expensive fertilizer nutrient as well as a key environmental concern. Cutting back on phosphorus could produce immediate economic benefits, and by using a follow-up program of tissue testing, Lawrence could monitor its status in the turf and decide when application was necessary.

"I think it's outstanding what [the Agronomic Division does] for us, especially with the help Wayne has given," said Lawrence. "Once we started liming according to soil test recommendations, we saw big differences. We continue to try to fine-tune our fertility program, and plant tissue analysis seems like a good way to do that. We may also begin to use solution analysis to track sulfur and phosphorus movement in water."

North Carolinians have access to one of the most comprehensive agronomic testing and advisory services in the nation. Although best known for its free soil testing service, the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division also performs other tests for small fees. The division's laboratories measure nutrients levels within plant tissue, identify plant-parasitic nematodes and provide management recommendations, analyze the nutrient content of composted materials and animal wastes to be used as fertilizer, and test water and nutrient solutions for nutrient content and other chemical properties relevant to plant growth.

To support these testing services, 13 regional agronomists are available to visit growers; evaluate suspected nutrient problems; give advice on sampling, liming and fertilization; and help identify and manage nematode problems. Visit the Agronomic Division’s Field Services Section online at to find contact information for the NCDA&CS regional agronomist assigned to your area.

Agronomist Wayne Nixon is available to provide advice on fertilization, nutrient management or nematode problems in Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Gates, Hertford, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. He can be reached by phone at (252) 426-7210 or by e-mail at


Last Update July 29, 2008


NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division, Colleen M. Hudak-Wise, Ph.D., Director
Mailing Address: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040
Physical Address: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh NC 27607-6465
Phone: (919) 733-2655; FAX: (919) 733-2837

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