Friday, 12 May 2017

A cold, dry spring

Firstly, I am pleased to be writing this post after (some) rainfall at the golf club. Perhaps we can avoid situations like the photo above just for a while at least!

It is fair to say that since the end of March, the weather has been a) extremely dry and b) unusually cold. April showers never materialised. Instead, we had a mix of cold, dry weather and, more recently, warm dry weather. Either way, it was dry. With this in mind, it demonstrates why it has been such a tough spring for getting grass growth and recovery.

As a quick recap, we had the following in the build up to Captain's Drive-In:

The course looked in decent shape and although we didn't achieve everything that we set out to achieve by the end of March, the greens were in really good shape. March gave us some rain, some warmish weather and it was all looking really good going into April.

So the week after Captain's Drive-In, we started our hollow coring (a little early for my liking, knowing what I know about unpredictable April weather). We had some great volunteer help and I must pass on my thanks to (in no particular order): Tom Frame, Len Dilnutt, Chris McHugh, Colin Riley, Barry Barlow, Ray Barnes, Mike Warbuton, John Newns and Wally Wiley.

James was able to get some experience using the Aercore and this will contribute towards him completing his NVQ.

Following the hollow coring, we applied 15-20 tonnes of sand to the greens. And we waited for rain to help wash it in. But it never arrived. Instead, the mercury dropped and then we started to get Northerly winds which are very cold. Air temperatures at night dropped to 3, 4, 5 degrees (meaning the soil temperature was about -1 to 0. Regardless of day temperatures, no growth (and certainly no recovery) will be observed with those night time temperatures.

Hence why the recovery from hollow coring took weeks. The situation unfolded like this:

  • Liquid feeds were applied since it was way too cold to apply a granular fertiliser (the week after coring, we had light frosts). Liquid fertiliser gives slight growth but not enough for proper recovery 
  • We had to use regular irrigation (due to lack of rain) to try and wash the topdressing sand into the greens. But irrigating with cold water onto cold soil just makes the soil even colder and slows down any chance of growth or recovery
  • The seed we put down was waiting for warm, wet weather to germinate. That never arrived!
  • Our greens rollers are currently awaiting repair so we had no proper way of smoothing out the surfaces after hollow coring
  • The cold, drying winds caused the grass plant to just shut down and conserve its energy 
  • More liquid fertiliser was applied but to little effect
  • Most importantly, the poa (meadow grass) just sat dormant waiting for warm soil temperatures. Since our greens are a mix of poa and bent, the bent started to grow slightly but the poa didn't. This just produces an uneven surface and was exacerbated by the hollow coring work
  • Following 2-3 weeks of cold weather, we started to get warmer, drier weather but with cold nights and North to North Easterly winds. So then we had turf that was drying out, trying to recover but still not growing

Hence why the photos above reflected the weather conditions. You can see the patchy growth and lack of recovery. April, by our recorded rainfall data, has been the driest month for 18 months at Poulton Park. That's why we needed to supplement irrigation water with localised hand watering!

To add insult to injury (the last moan I have, honest!), we have had to contend with leather jacket grubs feeding on grass roots and stifling recovery even more. In addition, our irrigation system has developed countless issues recently as it is old and inefficient so that has been another headache too!

The issue we have with leather jacket grubs is that in 2016, EU legislation forced the golf industry to withdraw use of the one insecticide that we had at our disposal to control leather jackets. Now, we don't have any proven products available to use to control them. So scenes like those below will ultimately become more commonplace on our greens in future.

The bottom photo (here on the 5th green) shows where the grubs have burrowed up through the coring holes and eaten away at the plant. Once this happens, you get the situation of dealing with grubs and also birds (crows, magpies) pecking away for the grubs - see the photo below on the 9th green.

All in all, I am not currently the bearer of great news save for the fact that the golf course is playing firm and fast. July playing conditions but with night temperatures of late indicative of January/February as demonstrated by the early morning frost on Wednesday this week.

I will wrap up by saying that things must improve as we get (if we get) a better mix of sunshine, showers and warmer night temperatures. Here's hoping.

Enjoy your weekend and enjoy your golf.