TRAVERSE CITY – Elmbrook Golf Course Superintendent Kevin Brown knew pests lived beneath the greens and fairways for years, but the infestation didn’t become a problem until last summer.
That was when skunks, possums and raccoons dug up turf looking for some grub.
“You just kind of worked your way around it,” Brown said. “It didn’t stop anyone from playing golf. We just had some areas that were torn up and some areas that were trying to grow back.”
European chafer grubs started the problem. They chewed through grass roots and killed patches of grass. Brown trapped and relocated more than 30 animals that uprooted the fairways hunting for a snack.
Grub damage isn’t unique to Elmbrook. It increases in northern Michigan as insects like the Japanese beetle and European chafer spread and native June beetles continue to hold their turf. Duke Elsner, small fruit educator with Michigan State University Extension, said the Japanese beetle has been in the region for around seven years, and the European chafer has been here even longer.
Dave Drake, owner of TSR Lawn and Landscape, said grubs have spread and caused more damage in the last two years.
“People are going to wonder why their yards are disappearing,” said Drake.
Both European chafer and Japanese beetles were first found in New Jersey – Japanese beetles in 1916 and European chafer in 1940 – and slowly spread by flying during their adult stages. European chafer prefer dry, sandy, low-maintenance soils while Japanese beetles prefer fertile, moist soils.
“My particular lawn has trouble with European chafer and June beetles, and it comes and goes,” Elsner said. “Last year was pretty light, the year before was pretty heavy.”
Grubs are pretty widespread in the lower peninsula, but the damage they cause depends on infestation levels.
A big infestation can lead to sparse grass, turf that lifts easily off the soil and damage from animals digging to reach the grubs.