Friday 6 October 2023

Autumn Report 2023

Hello all

It's October 6th and we are forecast several days of 20 something degrees, sunshine and no rain, at least until the middle to back end of next week. Let's look forward to that as the previous 3 months have been wet. July posted the same amount of rainfall than January, February, May and June combined. August and September didn't exactly crack the flags. Not good.

We've now got Ali back after his operation so we can hopefully start to pick things up again and get some  more consistent productivity. With leaves falling and growth still good, we need to deal with multiple challenges as best as we can.

Greens maintenance week was still carried out. Thanks to Terry for providing some assistance clearing cores, matting topdressing sand in and a few other small tasks. 

Often, this work is carried out following our annual soil tests. The most problematic green is the 5th. In all honesty, the root zone is poor. Although it is sandy, it has a high percentage of fine sand particles. These are not conducive to good drainage. Hence the green is slow to dry down after rain and can hold excess moisture in the top part of the soil profile. So, we hollow cored this green to a 50mm depth and backfilled with our dressing sand - a coarse/medium mix. This should help to draw rain through a bit quicker. Following this, we also scarified it to pull a bit more thatchy material out. The soil test for this particular green showed no real organic matter issues; 2.2% is not an excess. It is simply the poor root zone.

The other greens all received a double scarify, double verticut, were overseeded and fertilised. We just need to remove the seasonally accumulated organic matter and this is always in the top 12mm (0.5 inches) as that is where the majority of growth and excess plant material is based. Overseeding is purely to keep pushing browntop and creeping bentgrass into the sward for a better quality surface. The lack of overly invasive work now means that the recovery from this work is fairly quick. 7-10 days and there is little evidence of any work being done.

The fairway scarifying was carried out, albeit in a mixed weather week. The rain did not help in the slightest. We removed a lot of dry, dead, matted material accumulated in the drought spell. Doing this annually has certainly helped with fairway drainage. If the soil has less thatch in the surface, less water will be held in the surface and so surface puddling in the wetter months will be less of an issue. Do the work, reap the benefits.

We have had a few issues, greens-wise and the first has been a bit of a pain since early July. This, as is visible in the photos, is a black algae-like growth in the surface. It is literally a millimetre thick and is a result of continuous rainfall, heavy morning dew, high humidity and very inconsistent sunlight/drying days. So the effect of greens surfaces sitting damp for long periods encourages the proliferation of it. It generally disappears with sun, warmth and wind. As there has been little of either to celebrate, here we are and because it is not a turf disease, a fungicide will not eradicate it. 

So in season, verticutting and light sand dressing help to overcome this because it is has this drying effect. Now, we cannot utilise these practices because we are beyond the period of recovery for such practices - the mornings are darker for longer, daylight hours are less and soil temperatures are cooling. Therefore aeration and a higher mowing height are more suitable.

Secondly, we've had Take All patch disease (above). It's a soil borne disease and mainly associated with high sand content root zones. So our greens tick that box. Often, the prompt for this disease is a reversion from one extremes of weather to the other ie dry to wet. So we had that between June and July onwards. Tick that box. It affects poa and bentgrass. Tick that box. It doesn't affect fescue. So we have recently spot seeded the affected areas with fescue in an attempt to mitigate this disease moving forward.

The other issue - and this is confined at the moment to the 5th green, is Fusarium (above). A disease that is an airborne spreading disease, it spreads on the morning dew and is extremely detrimental because it is so destructive to the surface, attacking in heavy dews, humid conditions and often greens lacking in wind circulation & sunlight. 

So we have the 5th green here in the photo. Notice the shaded area at the back of the green? Yep, that's where the Fusarium is most prominent. The correlation is obvious. Very little sunlight to evaporate the dew, a very humid and wind-free environment. Trees are nice to a degree but they are not helping here at all. This is where we are at with this green. Multiple issues and the associated problems with the soil and location. Unfortunately, the current range of fungicides is a lot less effective than what was previously available. So without any modicum of tree management in this area, disease will always be an issue on this green between September and April.

I believe the joining up of the 4th and 7th fairways has helped somewhat with the issues on the 4th hole. Balls exiting the golf course into the neighbouring houses was a huge problem. Now that we have grown the rough in down the left hand side of this hole and connected the 4th and 7th fairways, effectively losing the dividing rough, has done well.

Enjoy the autumn, we'll endeavour to keep on top of falling leaves as best we can!


Friday 2 June 2023

Spring/summmer report 2023

Hi everyone

Hopefully, you are all managing to get out frequently and play some golf in some glorious, settled weather. It's perfect for golf and conditions should promote long driving, even for those who don't consider themselves big hitters. Make the most of it as the British weather can flip on a coin as it invariably does.

For greens' staff, it's a time of managing water over the areas that we are able to irrigate. Predominantly, we are talking greens and tees. So expect to see us pulling a hose around. It's Groundhog Day at the moment for sure.

What we are currently experiencing is just one of those pesky dry spells - not drought, at least not yet but a period extending back to the first week of May when we last had meaningful rain. Generally in these conditions, the turf enters this stage of semi-dormancy. There is a little bit of soil moisture remaining but not a lot. So the growth looks a little bit patchy and inconsistent. For many of these areas (tees, fairways, greens, approaches, surrounds, even rough), the soil nutrition is actually good. Fertiliser is applied to the areas that demand the most growth and recovery; greens, tees, approaches, surrounds. But when there is insufficient moisture in the soil, the grass cannot utilise that nutrition because it has to have sufficient soil moisture to keep it alive and healthy. Hence the cessation or slowdown in growth.

Greens-wise, we have a different animal if you will. Obviously, these areas where golfers putt are intended to be short, firm and with uniformity to encourage consistent ball roll. But these greens are based upon a USGA green construction. To the layperson, that is a high sand content golf green. Essentially, a green that drains well and is playable year round. That said, they are extremely labour intensive to manage. With 2 full time staff, they consume a disproportionate amount of labour hours, relative to a regular working week.

USGA greens are notorious for being inert. They don't retain nutrients well and they definitely don't retain water well. So lots of supplemental irrigation is required in dry spells. That combines irrigation with additional hand watering to target any localised dry spots.

We have a soil moisture meter that we use as a tool to determine the soil moisture content as a percentage. We generally aim for 20-30% as a target range but we have to take into account the forecast and weather conditions. Sand based greens can quickly dry out, particularly if sun and wind are thrown into the mix. So it's a balancing act and with these weather conditions, overnight irrigation is generally insufficient to resolve any dryness. You're just misting the green effectively -  a cooling effect. 

We also spray with a wetting agent. These are applied to the green surface and then irrigated into the soil profile. They are designed to help water to absorb better into the soil profile, to get water to be held more effectively by the soil particles, to create better moisture uniformity across the green and to retain water for longer. They don't create water. So they aren't this magical silver bullet that solves the problem. Wetting agents require irrigation or rainfall for them to work effectively - particularly for a sand based green. 

The other issue we have right now is that we are managing a mixed grass sward composition; bentgrass and poa. The former is a dream; the Rolls Royce. It retains a medium/dark green colour even in drought, requires low nutrient and water, is disease resistant and makes for a stunning green surface. It is a perennial and survives year after year. It has more of a broader leaf. 

The latter is a headache. It is a bit like becoming a new parent to a baby. Only that baby never matures. In year 2, you still have a baby so you're in this constant state of stress - never mind the baby! It's the Peter Pan of grasses. Furthermore, it needs constant feeding, constant watering, fungicide, refining - and eventually it will die. It is classed as an annual (poa annua) and for those of you who grow bedding plants, you know that for a season, it's nice but then you buy more pansies or snapdragons the next year. Poa is, paradoxically, the great survivor. It does this by producing thousands of seeds. At this time of year, the greens just look white with all the seedbeds. 

So we have this issue where golfers can often complain about surface bobbles when putting. With a bentgrass green, the ball rolls nicely over the leaf tips. In a poa/bentgrass green, the poa seedheads cause ball roll deviation. It seeds in Spring ready to die in the Summer, establish new growth in Autumn and mature over Winter. Repeat for the next year. So we know it will always die off and the plan each year is to overseed all the greens in Autumn with bentgrass seed. So over time, the bentgrass content of each green increases. But it tends to be incremental. So a conversion to predominantly bentgrass takes time. Long term, if we succeed in a grass conversion to a high percentage bent grass composition, they'll be easier and a lot cheaper to manage.

Managing both together is the challenge. Generally, what you do is provide adequate nutrition and water for growth. The mowing brings the bentgrass down to the poa. The topdressing brings the surface levels up to the bentgrass. Thereafter you have more uniformity. So it's a lot of work but that's just what we have to do to provide good greens for our members and visitors.

As for tees, the challenge is quite tough. They don't have automatic irrigation so we have to hand water them in dry periods. Plus, most of the tees are also a high sand content construction. Again, water retention is the issue. Remember at the weekend, they're not getting any water. So if the weather is hot and dry, they're drying out. They have also been sprayed with a wetting agent to help moisture retention.

Elsewhere, we've been slowly working on approaches and surrounds to try to extend those green-type conditions out further, to try to provide increased shot making for a range of golfer abilities. Hence more topdressing to firm up these areas and create a smoother, firmer surface. That is the aim and it's a slow process but these areas are all slowly improving.

As we head into the next few weeks, machinery will be serviced. Oil and filters will be replaced to keep the machines ticking over. Whilst they are old, we like to think that we can keep the engines in fairly decent condition provided they are looked after. Just like we don't neglect our cars, we shouldn't neglect golf course machinery. recently harrowed the fairways too. The principle is to stand up any grasses that are laid flat as a result of mowing. They are stood up and cut better. The harrowing also pulls out any matted surface debris and acts to thin out the surface. A bit like a light scarification. This is part of the refining of the fairway surfaces to encourage more finer grass dominated fairways. 

Hopefully this has provided you all with a bit more information and an idea of the type of work that is involved in course maintenance during these Spring & Summer months.

Do talk to us if you would like. We are happy to talk to members about the golf course at any time.

Just a brief mention. We've noticed a number of golfers recently taking golf trolleys across greens and tees. The issue here is twofold; firstly, etiquette and secondly, in dry, hot weather that is common at the moment, they can leave wheel marks which can then burn off in the sun. I really don't think it is appropriate for any golfers to be pulling trolleys across tees or greens. It's hardly an arduous walk around a 9 hole golf course and golfers aren't exactly ascending Everest with a golf bag. 

Many thanks and enjoy your golf.

Ben Allen

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Early spring work and reviewing completed winter projects

Hi there members

We're currently 2 weeks into February and it's been dry so far. No rain has fallen since the last week in January. Hence, conditions for golf are fairly decent, given it's still winter.

I just wanted to provide a round-up of what's been going on out on the golf course over the last 6-8 weeks. The weather has played ball so we've managed to get on with a whole range of tasks and project work. I'll try to be concise without getting too 'War & Peace' about things.

We put an access path in by Alex's new teaching studio. It's to enable us to access the putting green with machinery and to improve this area that looked a bit naff after the studio was completed. It took about 4 hours of work for me & Ali. Functional as well as more aesthetically pleasing. 

Ok, so 4th bunker right hand side. Was a bunker, now a surround. The reason for the mound is because there are 3 other mounds around the green and so this balances out the right/left or front/back of this green complex. 

We had to use around 40 tonnes of soil to create this contouring - remember, this was a bunker so that was filled in and then we raised the land in the middle of it. The mound provides a bit of interest for golfers and the run-off to the back right of the green will be extended into this area.

So imagine the (old) surround above being extended further into what was the bunker. You sort of get what we're trying to do. Only the added mound creates the required contouring and will give that element of balance that I mentioned earlier.

It's been dry enough to start harrowing the rough. Terry Broadhurst has volunteered over the last year or so and he started this work the other day. Basically, we harrow the rough to collect the twigs and branches. But the harrowing also acts to lightly groom/scarify the rough. Any dead material will be 'raked' out and this should stimulate a bit of growth after some rain and warmer weather. 

Other second order effects of this work will be to thin out some areas of rough, particularly as growth is strong during the warmer months and the rough gets quite lush, dense and tangly in areas. So it has multiple benefits. 

Because Terry has started to assist us so early, we can get a head start with work that we might otherwise not be able to do. There are many many things we would like to do on the golf course but 2 greens staff can only be in 2 places at any given time. So any additional assistance is welcome.

Talking of a head start, we recently threw around 15 tons of sand dressing on our approaches and some greens' surrounds. So let's dive into the whys. My aim, long term, is to extend the work we do on our greens into the approaches and surrounds. We're trying to achieve firm, dry surfaces in the green and approach complex. So why?

  • primarily for golf shot making - enabling more variety of shots around the green. That might be a putt or a wedge or a bump 'n' run off the surround or the approach.
  • to refine the playing surfaces. Sand dressing provides, long term, a drier more tighter surface to enable better mowing and a more refined surface. 
  • to discourage casting worms. Worms are more dominant in wet, mild weather. In poor quality farmland (that has been developed into golf course land), the worm casts are often claggy and sticky. They stick to machinery, golf trolly wheels and smear. This looks unsightly and causes surface capping. We won't get rid of the worms but what we can do is to try to get their worm casts to have a more sandy texture.
  • to improve surface levels which might be irregular due to ground that has settled and then provides an inconsistent surface for mowing. Sand fills in those gaps, hollows etc and raises the surface level. 
  • to encourage finer grasses to thrive in a sandier, drier soil profile. We want the bent and fescue grasses to increase in these areas so that the texture of the turf is finer. But this can only be achieved in a lighter, sandier soil (think: Links Golf)

The photos explain the process basically.

I'm not particularly concerned as to the timing of this topdressing work so long as we aren't doing it in the period between Autumn and Winter - that part of the year (November to end of January) is not close enough to the Spring whereby the grass will grow through in a shorter space of time. Moreover, the aim is to get plenty of sand out that, over time, we change the nature of the soil profile. In short, plenty of sand over several applications to develop a sandier surface. With the recent dry weather and firm ground conditions, it has been perfect and we are only 6-8 weeks away from expected Spring growth. 

Greens have just been sarel rolled. It provides a pin prick type hole in the surface. It enables the surface to become drier just before we scarify, verti-cut and topdress the greens in our now (early) Spring renovation work. Overall, the aim of the scarifying is to remove a bit more fibrous, thatchy material in the top 10-12mm of the soil profile. The verti-cutting will close up the scarifying grooves and will also rip out the surface accumulation of degraded leaf material over autumn/winter. The sand dressing will fill in the verti-cutting grooves and restore surface levels. Fertiliser will help to recover the surface afterward.

Other work includes some path end restoration (2nd, 4th, 8th tee area) that aims to mitigate wear from golfer & machine traffic as well as tee verti-draining, continued cylinder grinding (mower blade sharpening), machinery servicing & parts replacement and the renovation of the tee markers (cleaning, sanding, applications of paint) to freshen them up ready for the 2023 season.

Ok, I've failed spectacularly in my attempts to avoid a 'War & Peace' literary epic. Note to self - be more concise next time.

All the best and another update soon-ish.


Dealing with bunker sand splash

Hello everyone

The focus of this particular blog and our recent work, has been addressing sand splash from bunker play.

The bunkers/surrounds that have been completed so far are 1st greenside, 3rd left hand greenside, 4th left hand greenside whilst the 8th greenside is currently approaching completion. 

The rationale for dealing with sand splash (as part of bunker renovations) is as follows:
  • to lower the overall depth of the bunker face to its original level
  • by virtue of restoring the original levels, the difficulty of the bunker is less severe for a range of golfing abilities
  • to remove bunker sand that effectively 'top dresses' the bunker surround so that the surround won't dry out/burn off in hot weather
  • to enable the bunker to be replenished with new bunker sand - much of which has been lost to sand splash

This bunker, on the left of the 3rd green, demonstrates perfectly what we have been dealing with. In the top photo, you can see the quantity of sand splash above the finger gouge mark in the profile whilst the bottom photo just shows the sand splash once the turf has been stripped. Yes, that is white bunker sand you can see on the surround.

It becomes blatantly obvious of the effect this has on the bunker once this excess sand is removed and the contouring is adjusted to restore the shape of the bunker to its original construction grade. Since 2015, when this bunker was originally constructed, approximately 5-6 inches of sand has been dressed onto the bunker/greens' surround. So, the comments of the bunker "not having enough sand in" is fair - but it has gone somewhere and now you know where!

The above photos provide an alternative perspective, just for context. The gradient of the contour - from bunker edge to green is considerably different before and after.

Similarly, we have a before and after of the 1st greenside bunker. Consider how less intimidating this bunker now is. More greens' surface is visible in the bottom photo and we are future proofing the surround too in anticipation of continued sand splash from this point forward. It's the Forth Road Bridge analogy but applied to bunkers.

Again, another perspective on the 1st and we also took the opportunity to raise the surround and the significant low spot that is visible in the top photo. With the bottom photo, the surround now ties in a more subtle manner to the surrounding contours. It's a near seamless transition from the approach & surround to the bunker. To golfers (perhaps green fee visitors) less accustomed to the golf course, the changes will be unnoticeable but hopefully members will recognise the marginal differences.

The 8th greenside bunker is the same story. This bunker was constructed in the winter of 2018/2019 when the new (8th & 9th) greens were constructed. 4 years later, we have 6 inches of sand splash on the top of this bunker. It's a well visited bunker, evidently. We are also checking the drainage whilst we do this work as well as lining the bunker with turf (to prevent sand contamination of the drain) prior to adding fresh sand. Again, the bunker will appear more shallow once this is finished. 

Hopefully, this mini-blog explains in a bit more detail the mischief we've been up to on the golf course. For anyone who would like to ask any related questions then by all means drop me an email or ask Ali or myself if you see us out on the golf course. We'll be happy to go through it.

All that remains now is fresh bunker sand, edging and a whole bunch of positive comments from golfers about how much easier it is to play out of these bunkers in 2023 onwards. 

Don't say we don't do anything for you!!

Kind regards


Wednesday 4 January 2023

2022 in review

Happy New Year to those reading this.

We ended 2022 weather-wise, with a less than average rainfall total. 800 millilitres or thereabouts is about 200 ml less than where we should be. That said, it was a pretty decent year for golf as the weather extremes were condensed into the months of February (110ml), September (110), October (124) and November (125). December recorded under these (89). So those months from March to end of August were particularly dry and represented weather conducive to weather-friendly golf.

Coming out of the back of the winter of 21/22, we had undertaken some great construction projects; the 5th/14th tees were amalgamated and extended, whilst the path was rerouted to the right side - an area unutilised previously. Hopefully, this was well received by the members. What is certain is that the usable teeing area is much more futureproof and enables wear to be spread around more easily.

There was a need to lessen the impact of errant tee shots entering the residential properties adjacent to the 4th/13th hole. Hence a forward yellow tee was constructed on the carry. The premise behind it's new location was that any golfers attempting to go left with their tee shots would more likely hit the trees which screen the boundary between the golf course and the residential properties. In effect, it's better for golfers playing from this new yellow tee to aim right towards the fairway and aim their tee shots away from the residential properties. As I have not heard any negative reports, I can only assume that this new forward tee has resolved the problem (or within reason!).

The final project we executed was something that I had wished to do for quite some years. To simplify; we had a back tee (was the 2nd tee, now the 11th tee) that was very small, landlocked and had to accommodate 3 sets of tee markers (white, yellow, red). It couldn't accommodate the seasonal wear. As we couldn't extend backwards, we had to go forwards. But we had to consider the adjacent 1st green and surround. So we incorporated the 1st surround into a new extended tee. All mown at the same height of cut, the 1st surround now segues (in a frictionless manner) into the 11th tee. A new trolley path was added along the boundary  edge. The comments have been very positive. Personally, I am very pleased with the end result. It looks really modern and ties in superbly with the adjacent 1st green complex. A proper win/win!

Another wishlist item was also ticked off in February. The golf club made the decision to purchase a set of Bernhard's grinders. These enable the golf club to sharpen mower reels/blades in-house. The cost/benefit (financial numbers) was a no brainer in the end. 

What the golf club were paying for an external contractor to sharpen mower blades has been replaced by the golf club obtaining the finance to purchase the equipment needed to carry out this work in-house. 

The golf club typically used to budget for around £3k (including VAT) of external contractor sharpening. That expenditure is now redirected into finance repayments. But there is a bonus - we can now use our own grinding equipment as often as necessary. As an example, our tees mower used to be sharpened 2-3 times per year by an external contractor. In 2022, we sharpened the tees mower blades 4-5 times. This makes a huge difference to presentation of playing areas and enables our machinery to use less fuel, minimise parts replacement and reduce inputs of fertiliser & water.

Regarding the figures, the return on investment for this capital purchase is about 7 years. Thereafter, the costs are minimal (time and energy costs) and the equipment is then a true asset on the balance sheet. 

As we moved into the traditional Spring months of March-May, things started to get a little drier. Growth inevitably slows with less rainfall and the golf course took on characteristics more associated with links golf; firm, dry and more aligned with the running game. 

Irrigation comes into its own with these conditions and for greens' staff, the objective is to keep grass alive rather than managing growth. Grass will typically shutdown once soil moisture reserves are depleted and rainfall is not forthcoming. Sun & wind only add to the problem. The issue with tees, in particular, is that wear from divots affects growth & recovery. Since grass needs moisture for growth & recovery, irrigation is then needed in abundance. There is always a compromise in life!

With this in mind, and tied in with our ongoing maintenance/development of the fairways, we continued our program of fairway fertilisation. This has been a long winded process and the aim has been to create slow growth & density rather than encourage quick upright growth. So we have made several applications of fertiliser over the past 2-3 years over most fairways. Longer term, members should have fairways that are more consistent and where the ball sits up more without the greens staff needing enormous inputs of mowing to stay on top of an excess of growth. They are certainly a lot better for it and the feedback has been good.

Greens have continued to provide good results this year. Consistency is key and the work we are carrying out to them now centres around verti-cutting, occasional scarifying and moderate inputs of top dressing. Over the next 2-3 years, they should be extra firm, providing excellent consistency year round. We are nearly there with them and it is pleasing to see the results of our inputs.

As we head into early 2023, we look forward to another challenging year, economically. Whilst membership fees will increase marginally, we feel confident that we can continue to offer members & visitors with a better golf course again. 

Much of our focus revolves around innovation - in effect, streamlining tasks so that they become more effective and efficient. So we must be flexible and open to change in order to meet rising expectations. 

We look forward to seeing you all at the golf club in 2023.

Best wishes

Ben Allen

Autumn Report 2023

Hello all It's October 6th and we are forecast several days of 20 something degrees, sunshine and no rain, at least until the middle to ...