As I am sure all our Season Ticket Holders are aware we recently carried out a huge amount of maintenance on our greens. I have to say this year has gone about as well as we could possibly have hoped for, and I am pleased to report we are well on our way to recovery. Despite three major mechanical breakdowns – at the worst possible time, our greenstaff really went over and above this year, 5am starts and 14 hour shifts ensured both courses were back in play by Wednesday. The nature of the work carried out results in a slight drop off on putting surface quality in the short term and although never a popular move, we will without a doubt see the benefits moving forward through the winter and into next season.
A little re-cap on why we hollow-core greens:
There are many methods in the industry these days to improve surfaces and reduce the organic matter content of greens but few have stood the test of time more than hollow-coring.
But first, though why do we hollow-core at all?
Organic matter is vital in any rootzone in order to retain and supply the grass plant with vital resources such as moisture and nutrients. Without this essential organic layer the plant would wilt and eventually die off. Golf courses can be extremely harsh environments for a grass plant to survive let alone flourish. Mechanical mowing, foot traffic and drought are just some of the stresses placed on the plant; therefore water and nutrition are required in order to aid recovery. On a typical golf green our top 0-40mm organic matter levels should be around 5%. The 2018 readings were almost double our target range at 9% and with our 2019 data due from the STRI any day now I would expect to see a reduction (I will inform STH of results in October newsletter). Excessive organic matter acts like a sponge absorbing and holding moisture leading to soft disease prone greens, disease attacks the grass sward reducing coverage which causes multiple problems, not least poor putting conditions. By bringing the organic matter levels under control we are then in a position to manage our surfaces in a more sustainable fashion by encouraging the finer poverty grasses to colonise in place of broad-leaved high maintenance grasses.
Hollow-coring not only removes accumulated organic matter from the rootzone but when replaced with free-draining sand of the correct specification this will vastly improve the downward movement of water. Historically our greens have been reported to flood after only a few minutes of heavy rain, by incorporating free-draining sand into the surface water will move more quickly down the rootzone which in turn creates a firmer more resilient playing surface. The downward movement of water is paramount to the health of the grass plant, by controlling this aspect we can then begin to dictate which grass species colonise our greens. Currently, our greens are supporting more Poa annua than bent. Last year we began to swing this balance in favour of the more desirable bent grass, this has continued this year with our over-seeding practices. Our main objective is to improve all our surfaces especially greens and maintenance practices such as these are currently unavoidable in order to reach the desired level of playability. Consistency is important, by bringing organic matter levels into our target range we are then in a far superior position to present a consistent product on a daily basis.
Why can’t we core greens in the winter when there is less play?
Well the short answer is we can of course carry this practice out late autumn or even in winter. The trouble with this is that in order for the greens to fully heal we require – amongst other things, adequate temperatures. In days gone by clubs have held off coring greens until much later in the year, by which time the ability for the greens to recover quickly is vastly reduced due to the growth potential of the plant. Growth potential (GP) is the model we use to predict the potential for grass growth (and therefore recovery from practices such as hollow-coring) taking into account forecasted average temperatures. This is shown on a scale of 0-1 whereby 0 represents no growth and 1 signals maximum growth.
Of course the weather is impossible to predict but my research has shown that over the past 30 years at Montrose Golf Links September is the 3rd strongest GP month (average 0.44) behind July (0.63) and August (0.62). The month of October has an average GP of 0.18. Essentially this means if we hold off until October to carry out this essential maintenance, the greens would potentially take more than twice as long to recover. There is never a good time to carry out these operations so the club must find some middle ground by balancing the fixture list with how long the season ticket holders are prepared to putt on cored surfaces. Hollow coring is never a popular move but by applying the amount of sand we have to both courses (over 100 tonnes), we will improve sooner rather than later. Our greens have been receiving very good feedback recently and I can assure you the work being undertaken currently is to improve conditions further, we are determined to give both our members and visitors a better product year on year. By hollow-coring in September we give ourselves the best possible foundation for the coming winter and of course next season. I must point out that our industry is not an exact science therefore a greenkeeper must always use common sense and instinct when scheduling maintenance practices. However, the use of data such as the GP model does, in my opinion, have a part to play, having this information at our disposal allows us not only to make more informed decisions but also explain our reasons to season ticket holders more effectively -communication is vital.
That’s all for now!