Sunday, 11 June 2017

May & June - Chalk & Cheese

It must be June as the rain is non-stop. This is the 9th green on Saturday, the supposed Day 1 of the Club Championship. Let us contrast this with May as demonstrated in the photo below

Both months have posed different challenges. But let's start with May and we'll answer a few questions with it too. We followed April (cold nights, frosts, drying winds, very dry weather indeed), with quite a warm, dry May. 

The photo above demonstrates the perimeter of the 4th green. Localised dry spot (LDS) was evident on several greens. I think in the case of the 4th green, several issues played a part in this; thatch dries out quickly in the surface and any roots (from shallow rooted poa annua) suffer without constant water. Warm, drying winds will also contribute to turf deterioration. But what is perhaps a bigger issue - and it is very common on parkland golf courses - is tree roots. Ultimately the height of a tree will indicate the width/extent of the tree roots, and tree roots care little for what is in their way, be that a golf green or a land drain, as long as they are able to access water.

The photo above with the screwdriver shows a tree root in the collar that is a yard or two from the dry patch on the green. Coincidence? I very much doubt it. Luckily, we are moving in the right direction with large tree removal like what has taken place in the woodland adjacent to the 4th green as shown in the photo below. When turf (and particularly turf on a golf green) is compromised by tree roots then the question is - what is the bigger priority - trees or the golf course turf? 

Another question asked recently (related to dry patches on greens) was whether the greens had been irrigated. If irrigation was not being used, then surely the whole green would look dry. The fact that the patches at the 4th green and those seen at the 6th green, below, are surrounded by green turf demonstrates that the problem is localised and is not an irrigation issue. I think that the areas affected on the 6th green are partially due to tree roots but also due to the affected area being on a south facing slope. Let's not also forget that sand based golf greens are also prone to drying out too.

At least with the onset of June, these areas are no longer affected. Perhaps if we get a mix of a little rain mixed with a good dose of warm, dry weather then we will be onto a winner!

Other work that has ben carried out includes mowing rough slightly shorter. We are now mowing at 2 inches and this has benefited by making the rough look less patchy, more tight and giving better definition too. Maybe it helps, it being shorter, of helping with recovery shots too. 

We are also looking at other small areas on the golf course that we can improve. The woodland edges near the 7th and 16th tees have been sprayed to knock down weeds and to improve the aesthetics of these areas. A small improvement but that said, it is progress and eventually small things contribute to the aim of continually improving the golf course. 

We are able to present the greens fairly well at the moment but one obstacle we have to overcome during May, June and July are the poa seed heads that are present on the greens. Poa seeds because it is an annual (weeds are annuals and also produce seed heads). The seed heads produced by poa are due to stress (e.g. heat, cold, lack of moisture, lack of nutrient, mowing etc). The problem for golfers is the seed heads can often affect ball roll and give a 'snakey' ball roll. We use a plant growth regulator to tighten up the turf, reduce clipping yields and as top growth is reduced, the seed heads produced by poa sit closer to the surface.

You can see the white seed heads above and they are very noticeable at this time of year. Often, the greens can look 'white' from a distance. The seed heads will eventually set as seed at the height of summer and will produce future generations of poa annua. Getting rid of this weed grass is next to impossible. It is germinated by seed that is often carried by wind and will germinate anywhere. All it needs is moisture and that is in abundance in the UK.

As I write, the Club Championship has been postponed due to the heavy rain of Saturday. Hopefully, the course will be drier next time around which should make for more enjoyable golf and enable us to produce slightly faster greens.

Have a great weekend and enjoy your golf.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Fairways - fair or unfair?

Ok, it's time to address fairway mowing height, their presentation and playability since the topic has been raised again recently.

We purchased an ex-demonstration fairway mower in 2015. It cost a few quid to say the least but has served to improve exponentially the quality, appearance and playability (in terms of encouraging a well struck golf shot to generate backspin and be receptive when landing on a green). 

I purposefully asked the golf club and machine supplier to provide grass boxes for the mower and the reasons for doing so are provided below:

  • The grass boxes collect the grass clippings and, as a matter of fact not opinion, provide a surface that is superior in appearance as the clippings do not sit on the surface
  • Removing the grass clippings will, in the long term, reduce the nutrient content in the soil. This will slow down growth which will enable us to mow them less and reduce associated costs
  • Reducing the nutrient will encourage the finer grass species (bents, fescues) at the expense of the poorer grass species (poa, yorkshire fog, agricultural ryegrasses) rice the finer grass species will thrive in nutrient poor, drier soils
Currently, the fairways are presented at a mowing height of 11mm. We aim to strike a balance to please a variety of low, medium and higher handicap golfers. Ultimately, mowing them lower enables us to get on with other tasks in the knowledge that they won't have grown too much by the time we next go to mow them and also to account for weekends - when we aren't there and, more importantly, when members are playing in competitions.

This last point is important. If we mow fairways at 11mm on a Thursday and Friday (since having 2 staff does not allow the opportunity - given the level of play on a Friday - to get them all mown in one day and still complete other tasks), this will allow for some, but not too much growth over the weekend. This means that for weekend competition play, the fairways will be neither be too short nor too long and thus the balance is struck for all handicap ranges.

The photo above shows a patch of yorkshire fog on the 4th fairway. It is a broadleaf grass and prefers a higher mowing height as it can outcompete the finer grasses being able to expose more leaf surface for grass growth and sunlight. But the problem is is that its does not make for a good quality fairway grass and mowing the fairways longer - at the present time - will only serve to encourage broadleaf grasses (and weeds too) at the expense of the finer grasses.

If we are mowing at 11mm, then the photo above will only contradict this practise since there is no way on this earth that all of the fairway grasses are being cut at 11mm. They can often be rolled flat by the rollers on the fairway mower and remain unmown.

They then flourish and only serve to diminish the playing surface and playability of the fairways since playing off broadleaf grasses from a golfing point of view will lessen the chances of a clean ball strike (e.g. club to ball then take a divot). Any grass that makes contact with the club face before contact with the ball is made will encourage topspin (or a 'flier') at the expense of backspin.

What we need to do, soon, is to scarify the fairways in order to remove unwanted thatch and to thin out the broadleaf grasses. Over time, these broadleaf grasses will be discouraged and that will allow us to mow our fairways slightly longer.

So what we are doing is maintaining the fairways with a long term approach in mind.

But anybody who thinks that a golf ball should be 'teed up' on a fairway is wrong. We do not advocate punishing higher handicap golfers. It is not a case that maintaining fairways at the current mowing height is unfair to them.

Golf is a sport and as a sport it is supposed to be a challenge. Talent always rises to the top and that is part of the challenge. If golf was fair then nobody would finish second or last and everybody would win. But then the same could be said of life too.

We have a plan. It is long term. With the correct maintenance practices, the fairways will improve for everybody. But they will neither be fair or unfair.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The three sides to our ditches

One of our recently joined members approached me a couple of weeks ago to ask about the maintenance of our ditches. Not wishing to fob him off, I explained the situation to him but perhaps not in great detail, given he was golfing and probably wanted to get on with his round.

Essentially, we as a golf club are a 'riparian' landowner of the ditches. They are sited on our land and as such we are responsible for their maintenance and to ensure they are maintained correctly. However, we do not assume total control for them.

Our legal rights are enshrined in common law but we must acquire permission from a third party risk management authority (e.g. Environment Agency) for certain works to them. To explain this better, I have included a link document below which explains the rights and responsibilities of 'riparian' land ownership.

From reading the document, page 8 states our responsibilities (the golf club in its capacity as a landowner) for their upkeep. Clearly, you can see that we must maintain the banks, bed and ensure the water can flow through them properly but not to the extent that they cause a flood risk. Further rights and responsibilities are explained from pages 9 onwards.

The issue we have (as greenkeepers) in terms of maintenance are explained below:

  • We can stream them but in doing so face a health & safety risk by standing on the banks of the ditch with a strimmer
  • Any grass/weed clippings that fall into the ditch will essentially sit there and act as a nutrient for aquatic plants such as reeds and bullrushes
  • Consequently, the aquatic plants will proliferate and cause any flow of water to slow down (as is evident in the photo above at Hole 5/14
If we as a golf club wish to improve the ditches, we must apply to the local risk management authority for consent to do so.

My personal view is that the ditches on golf club land are unsightly. They are not a feature of the golf course. They do not support any real wildlife diversity.  Strimming them only serves to cause them to deteriorate since the resulting clippings will clog up the bed of the ditch and feed the aquatic plants leading to a snowball situation; strim > clippings > nutrient > increase growth > more strimming > more clippings > more nutrient.

So in summary, yes we will maintain them but this leads to their detriment. Only a more considered long term plan can improve them.