Sunday, 21 October 2018

Course Improvements 2018/19

I'm sure by now that the majority, if not all, of members have viewed the sketches and visualisations for Holes 8 and 9, produced by James Edwards. They are on display in the clubhouse for those members yet to see them.

They represent a long term plan of both golf holes. It is unrealistic to expect that the golf club has sufficient funds to implement all of these changes or modifications this winter. Indeed, it is highly likely to take 2-3 years to complete many of these design alterations.

However, the golf club have sensibly engaged and employed the professional services of a golf course architect. James Edwards has an excellent track record of golf course design work in the UK. He is also a former professional golfer and so his credentials are undisputed.

James has produced 2 excellent and credible designs that will serve to improve the overall strategy for both of these holes. This will enable these holes to become highly playable for golfers of all standards, rewarding those who are bold with their play on each hole. Similarly, golfers who take a more prudent route to each green will not be unfairly penalised either. So each design has been produced, using professional expertise (a skillset that is not currently available within the golf club) for the long term benefit of the golf club. 

Of course, members will question the designs (as they are entitled to do so) but in the end, these designs are both impartial and backed with professional credentials. 

In any event, the golf club has stated a desire to have James Edwards oversee the construction of greens 8 and 9. This will provide the golf club with a guarantee of quality and peace of mind that these 2 golf greens and greens' surrounds will stand the test of time, facilitating maintenance and providing golfers with a great golfing test and enjoyment.

We can expect an excellent finish from our appointed contractor, Lakeland Earthworks. They were previously engaged by the golf club to carry out course improvements between 2014-2016 as well as the Environment Agency Flood Defence Scheme that traverses holes 4 and 7.

Please feel assured that this major project work will be well executed by seasoned golf industry professionals. It will benefit all golf club members and visitors, providing 2 new free draining golf greens that will be playable year round.

We hope you are looking forward to these works and please feel free to speak to me with any questions you might have.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Heatwave over?

As we approach the third week of August, it's worth reflecting on the summer of 2018. It was dry. Very very dry. In fact, it was the hottest summer since 1976. I'm guessing that a fair few of our members were either a) not born then or b) were too young to really remember/care about it!

It's safe to say that as greenkeepers, it's been challenging. I would go further than that and say that it was a struggle. I don't mind working hard at all. But struggling is a whole new ball park and not one I'm keen to revisit anytime soon.

I took the photo above, of the 10th tee, at the end of May and by then, we'd already had a dry spell of weather. I was, at the time of this photo, applying some wetting agent to our tees. The way wetting agents work is that they assist to retain moisture in the soil, thereby maximising soil moisture. They also help water to penetrate the surface more readily. But they are not some "miracle cure" in a bottle.

Water, be it irrigation or rain, is still needed to ensure the efficacy of wetting agents. The thing was, between the start of May and the end of July, we had 7 days of rainfall of 5mm or more. Of those 7 days of rain, 4 gave us 10mm or more of rain. So essentially, we had 4 meaningful days of rain in 3 months. No wonder my back garden didn't grow and turned biscuit brown. No wonder the golf course didn't grow either.

Grass growth occurs with soil moisture and soil fertility. The grass roots take up moisture and nutrients from the soil. But if there is no moisture in the soil, the grass won't grow - at all. That was the scenario we faced for 3 long months. Any irrigation water that was applied to greens or tees was, for the most part, negating the incredible evaporation and moisture loss from hot, sunny days that never seemed to end. Does anyone remember struggling to sleep at night due to the heat? Imagine being a golf green or golf tee exposed to heat all day and all night with no respite - and repeat - and repeat etc etc

Hence, our turf just stopped growing. The tees had a nice application of fertiliser at the end of April which, in theory, should have provided growth for 3-4 months. But the amount of water needed to mitigate the effects of the summer was just impossible to apply. We have no tees irrigation and that is the compromise we face during a hot spell. So, if the rate of wear (divots from golfers) exceeds the rate of growth and recovery (requiring soil fertility and soil moisture), the result is going to be tees that get battered.

The greens have also been through the mill this summer. For the majority of May, June and July, I spent every morning from 6.00-10.30 am hand watering our greens. Sprinklers, in that consistency of heat, simply do not deliver the necessary irrigation water that the grass needs. In fact, they get nowhere near the requirement. Sprinklers just mist the surface in reality, providing more of a cooling effect. I remember back to my days working in North Carolina in 1998/99. During the summer months, even with the most sophisticated irrigation systems, we needed to hand water greens in the early morning and then the rest of the day, we would spend time 'syringing' greens - applying a light misting of water via a hose to cool the turf. This would counter the effects of evaporation from the grass plant. It has just been an exceptional summer and I am glad it is over.

Interestingly (or not - you decide!) our greens have taken both a pummelling but also not. The above photo demonstrates the 2 types of grasses that we are dealing with; Bent (darker green) and Poa (the sickly looking one). Bent grass needs very little water, little fertiliser, produces a lovely putting surface and as above, didn't even look like it had been affected by the hot weather. The Poa, by comparison, needs tons of water, tons of fertiliser, tons of fungicide and tons of attention just to keep it alive.

Poa is an annual species. It grows, produces a seed, drops the seed (for next year's crop) and dies in one year. Hence the term annual. Look at it like a bedding plant - no matter how hard you try to keep a pansy or a marigold alive in a hanging basket, it won't matter because it will die.

The issue we currently face, with our golf greens, is trying to convert them to a predominantly bent grass surface at the expense of poa. The overseeding with bent is working but the process is not an overnight one. We still have to manage poa through the transition.

Remember the other issue with poa? Ah yes, the white seed heads that, as golfers, you have to putt over. Then you curse when the ball bobbles. Poa produces a seed head because it is under stress and it is a natural reaction from the plant because it thinks it is going to die. So, with the heat of the summer, all of our greens hand watering has mainly been done to keep something alive that will die anyway. This is the major frustration of this grass species. It generally dominates golf greens that are soft, moist and have lacked aeration + topdressing. Poa is shallow rooted and exploits a gap in the turf where it grows - and produces endless seeds.

We now have firmer, drier golf greens and the bent grass coverage is increasing. Now, we have to ensure that continues. This will form part of the summer maintenance program. Next week, we will aerate, top dress, verti-cut, vertical drain and overseed the greens in preparation for the autumn and winter months. A granular fertiliser was applied this week to kick start growth before maintenance week. Hopefully, the recovery should be good as we are still in August.

This week, we have brought in Tim to do some hedge cutting work with his tractor & flailing arm. We have taken back a lot of growth along holes 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 where the understory was just getting out of control. The results are really positive but we need to do this work every year in order to keep on top of it. Doing it 5 years ago and then leaving it until this year is simply not enough. Sure, it costs a few quid to do but doing it little and often is much better than having to go mental at it every 5 years.

Thanks to all the volunteer assistance this week. Len, John, Tom have all helped with the clear up. John Buffel has kindly assisted with some path work, edging them and removing weeds. Well done John - they look really good.

Hopefully, with the cooler and wetter conditions of the last week or so, we will see the golf course revert back to something more green and one indicative of a parkland course. There will be a few areas that are still recovering from the summer but they should, in time, start to recover. A few tees are being eased back to normality. We will try to baby them through this period until we see the seeded areas recover.

Let's now look forward to the autumn and winter. This should be an exciting period, with greens 8 and 9 being reconstructed at the end of November. We have James Edwards, golf course architect, producing the designs and overseeing the project. His initial design sketches have been approved thus far and we are now awaiting further detailed drawings that will soon be presented in the clubhouse for members to view. Watch this space for more!

Have a great weekend, a great August bank holiday and enjoy your golf!

Friday, 8 June 2018

Oak before Ash

Firstly, apologies for the lapse in blogging. Things are busy at home. Terrible twos have taken away our lovely daughter. Please can we have her back instead of the TANTRUM child??!!!!

So here we are in June, it's summer and it is getting fast, firm and dry.  At the end of April, we still had areas on the golf course that were wet, soft and to be avoided. From one extreme to another in under a month.

As the old saying goes, "Oak before Ash - Splash. Ash before Oak - Soak". True enough, the Oak trees were first out in leaf this year. So let us expect a dry summer. Look on the bright side though, all members will be bombing drives 300 yards (like Dustin Johnson) with all the run on the ball. Handicaps will tumble. Guaranteed no one will complain about having to wear waterproofs or about course drainage issues or course closed. It's a WIN-WIN for everybody. Or is it???

A familiar sight to golfers and greenkeepers at present is the seeding poa. The greens look good but unfortunately the poa takes to seeding in the spring. It is an annual species and as such completes its life cycle in 1 year. The reason it produces seed heads is in readiness for dying. At the end of summer, the plant will die and the seeds that it drops will become next years plant. And thus the cycle continues again...

So, it tends to be a real bind for greenskeepers as the seed heads interfere with a true ball roll, giving golfers a less than ideal surface to putt on. We use a plant growth regulator (PGR) to help with this issue. The PGR prevents vertical growth taking place and instead allows the plant to grow horizontally. As such, the poa seed heads sit that bit tighter to the surface. In the long term, we aim to overseed the greens annually with bent grass. This will compete with the poa and is a far finer grass species - more tolerant of dry conditions, more disease resistant, less demanding of irrigation and fertiliser. An all round better grass species. 

Otherwise, the greens are looking fairly decent. We have applied a wetting agent recently and this helps to maximise irrigation water application (and rainfall - if we get it!!) in the soil profile. The idea is that the wetting agent assists water in penetrating the surface much easier and is held around the soil particles for uptake by the roots. However, it is important to ensure that the moisture is there so that the surfaces remain consistent. Hence why I have been out doing a lot of hand watering with a hose recently. In dry periods, growth slows down and the plant is focused on staying alive rather than growing. Therefore we must help it out with water if the rain does not arrive.

The fairway bunker on the left side of the 3rd hole has been a challenge to say the least. We are still working on it, determined to get it right and, more importantly, to ensure that should the wet weather come, it drains effectively. I had James working on it this week and he took out a bit more clay from well under the base. Guess what - there was still water sitting there from winter! Despite a month of dry weather, the water table had still not dropped! So what we did was to dig a large hole down into the subsoil and place a pipe vertically into it. So James dug down about a metre. And the water that was sitting there just drained immediately!!! So now we are in the process of back filling the soak away with clean gravel. It will get sorted soon.

One thing that we have been addressing recently is the growth on fairways and roughs. Actually, the fairways are doling really well. 4 years of removing grass clippings has helped considerably. We are regularly running the scarifier through them to continue to stress the broad leaf grasses and to stand up grasses for a better quality of cut. But we are also doing something similar with the rough. The idea is the same in that we are trying to thin out the rough, removing material and blowing away the clippings before and after mowing. It is a long process but very worthwhile.

The 8th fairway bunker has bedded in really well and is a much better shape than what it used to be. Given, it is a bit more challenging for golfers but I suppose it is the same for everyone. In the end, all golfers have a choice - either knock your drive over it or lay up. If you knock it in from the tee shot, remember not to do it again!!

It is of course the club's 40th anniversary year in 2018 and we hope all members are enjoying their golf. The really positive news concerns the club's commitment to investing further in terms of golf course improvements over the next few years. This winter, we will re-build the 8th and 9th greens and this will allow us to provide members and visitors with 9 playable golf greens - year round. It is fantastic news and I will provide further updates as we continue the process of selecting contractors. The planning and execution of this project work is so important. We must get it absolutely right without compromise and the intention is to do just that, providing members with 2 stunning greens complexes to finish out their rounds.

In the meantime, please enjoy your golf!

Sunday, 25 February 2018

A cold snap to hasten Spring

As I write, we are heading into what is forecast as the coldest week of winter to date. I remember thinking a few weeks ago that we weren't out of winter yet and just maybe there was a final sting in the tail before we reached April. Step forward February!

The last week or two has actually been quite good, weather wise, and we have all noticed a bit of budding on trees along with snowdrops and other spring bulbs starting to push through. A bit of birdsong has also hinted at an early start. As with March 2017, it may be a false start.

We had a little snow too in February which halted a very disappointing and wet winter. Our rainfall statistics have made depressing reading. Certainly, many local golf courses have endured a similar plight this winter. Weather patterns indicate wetter, milder winters and certainly a mixed bag in summer. It seems also that Spring starts later every year.

I think that next winter might be a good time to execute some drainage installation on certain areas on the golf course. Getting playing surfaces returned to something approaching 'dry' is essential, given golfers want to play year round. Drainage certainly won't overcome torrential rainfall - but it certainly won't do any harm either.

We have recently completed an overhaul of the 2 beds by the putting green. They were looking a little tired, overgrown and unkempt if I'm being honest. Moving into PPGC's 40th year, we thought that giving them both a bit of TLC was the order of the day. A low cost, immediate impact improvement. I managed to snag some lovely lavender from my local Waitrose. I was given some money from Alan Whitty - thank you Alan, and the seniors section - to get a few more shrubs. The 2 others in the bed (above) are Leucothoe scarletta and Berberis 'Tiny Gold'. The contrast of the foliage of the silvery blue Lavender against the crimson/green and yellow of the other two will make a lovely contrast.

We recently finished off the shuttering around the 11th tee mat to finish this part of path area. It now looks a lot more defined and the path is now wider and, more importantly, drains really well after heavy rain. As you may recall, when we installed a new valve assembly, we put a lot of gravel as a soaraway around this area which used to consistently puddle after rain. Now, it is pretty decent.

Last week saw the (near) completion of the 1st green side bunker. It has been a really enjoyable winter project to transform a bunker that was always difficult to maintain and to keep looking good.

The photo above shows it in happier times (dry weather). The photo below shows it at its worst; devoid of decent sand, very poor aesthetically and compromised from a playability perspective - the ball would never gather in the middle of the bunker as it sloped from back to front.

We also found irrigation pipe running through the middle of the base and so we had to re-route that around the back edge which worked out well, considering the valve assembly needed to be replaced as the wiring was corroded among other things.

The part of the bunker that has been filled in and turfed has also had a large soak away installed to keep it dry - the soak away actually sits above the drain that will take water away from the bunker and out too the ditch near the 11th tee.

The above photo is interesting in that it demonstrates how sand splash from years of bunker shots can accumulate and raise the edge of the bunker (light sand on top of dark sandy soil). This became obvious as we were edging the bunker and grading the face & base of the bunker.

A skimming of path grit should hopefully bind to the clay base and provide a more sterile base that weeds will find hard to colonise. It will also help to stop the bunker sand from migrating into the drain.

Now that the bunker has been sanded, we just need a few more weeks to allow it to settle. Dare I say it but a bit of rain will help it to compact!!

We are now progressing with the 8th fairway bunker. That is a little more challenging as it has been pelted with rain and needs a bit more work doing with the drain. That said, a dry week will help us to crack on with it.

Enjoy your (dry) weekend and hopefully a round of golf too!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Looking forward to 2018

We are a good week or so into January and we've finally had a prolonged dry spell - the first for quite some time. It has been good to get the greens striped up and at least presented nicely. Granted, they will not be lightning fast but it is the middle of winter and the main objective for now is to maintain play (and good grass coverage) on the greens.

They have, this week, been verti-drained and this is the first opportunity that the weather has allowed us to do this since our autumn renovation work in September 2017. Don't be surprised that the greens are a bit soft. They've never had much opportunity to dry out since. In the coming months, slitting and spiking will be very useful to keep the greens surfaces dry and to encourage some root growth in preparation for spring.

It's fair to say that the winter so far has been a little bit naff but hopefully the worst of the rain has fallen and now we can look forward to a bit more sun & wind thrown into the mix. I certainly agree with some members who have suggested that we need to crack on with some drainage improvements. Whilst drainage will not totally solve the problems associated with constant, heavy rain, the alternative of doing nothing is not exactly proactive. I think everyone knows which areas need to be addressed. There is no issue with doing the work - we just need a mini digger and a few more raw materials like gravel & root zone. I stress again, doing the work is not hard. Given the necessary resources, it will get done.

The green side bunker was one of our winter course improvement projects. As it was, the bunker was pretty dreadful (never pretty, mind) and not an aesthetically pleasing bunker to find oneself in by the 1st green. So we set about reducing the size with a view to creating a nicer shape, in line with our other renovated bunkers. We did however encounter a hitch - the irrigation ring main running straight through it. So, that had to be re-routed and while we were at it, we replaced the drainage pipe too.

Following this, we had installed a new valve assembly to replace the old, knackered one and this was relocated into the widened path by the 11th tee. Then we just needed to lay the turf to ensure it had a chance to slowly root in before spring. Bunker sand will be added nearer the time and when budgets allow.

Also, we decided to fill in the 8th green side bunker. It wasn't a great bunker and it was sat in shade all the time - never a great idea if you want the sun to dry out wet sand. So at least this area is now a bit more presentable.

Lastly, the 8th fairway bunker got a makeover - literally. Before, it was a terrible bunker with zero drainage capabilities and zero redeeming features. I used to cringe whenever I went past it. The real problems though were that it wasn't very prominent from the 8th/17th tees. I think it's important to be able to view hazards from afar. It gives a hole real impact and gives the golfer a better mental picture of how they visualise their shots. The other issue was one of poor aesthetics and an elevated leading edge. Bunkers should gather a wayward shot with the ball feeding into the base.

To achieve our target, I said to myself "what is it going to look like?". So, I looked at the first bunker on the 3rd fairway and thought, "just like that". Therefore what we did was basically imitate it.

The contouring around the 3rd fairway bunker (above) served as a model for the 8th, below:

I do think that we have achieved what we set out to and I also believe that these 2 renovated bunkers will look fantastic once they are completed. I will, of course, post more photos of the continuing progress at a later date.

To date, we have (woodland work aside) achieved the following from our course master plan over the last 4 years:

  • Remodelled 12 tees
  • Remodelled 10 bunkers
  • Filled in 3 bunkers
  • Reshaped 3 greens surrounds
  • Environment Agency flood defence work at 4/7
  • New permanent winter tee mats at 1, 2, 4, 5, 8
I think that is a productive 4 years work. Throw the ongoing woodland work and new paths into the pot and we have ourselves a much improved golf course.

I know that temporary greens are a bugbear. We don't enjoy golfers having to play golf on temporary greens either but sometimes they are a necessary evil. Over the next few years, they will improve. It is like with everything - they will not miraculously get better overnight. This year, they will improve again and with a bit more budget, patience and time, they will be more playable next winter (should we need them).

James is making great progress with his NVQ Level 2 and he should be qualified in February/March. I have completed a third of the GCMA Diploma in Golf Club Management. Education is important. Golf clubs hopefully recognise that employees who continue their professional development become a greater asset and stay motivated as a result. 

We both hope to see you all on the golf course in 2018. 

Have a great weekend and enjoy your golf!