Head Greenkeeper Report – January 2019

Head Greenkeeper Report – January 2019

Dear Season ticket holders,

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all the greenstaff here at Montrose Golf Links, we look forward to seeing you all again this year.

After a mild start to the New Year (I know I always start with the weather) temperatures have really plummeted towards the end of this month. This is due in part to the sudden stratospheric warming (SSW). SSW is a relatively new weather phenomenon which has the potential to bring us extremely disruptive weather patterns such as the beast from the east which battered most of the U.K last year. This is caused by a significant rise in temperature 25-50km above the earth’s stratosphere, which can disrupt the normal westerly flow of air bringing us the colder east winds which greenkeepers are particularly fond of. The effects of SSW can take weeks to fully develop but so far we have seen the jet steam pushed slightly south and as a consequence this brings us the cold artic air, resulting in frost. We have been lucky with the weather so far this winter so we won’t complain too much!

Course conditions

Work has continued on the 2nd fairway after the double storm which hit us before Christmas. We have undertaken a huge range of different measures in order to clear the sand from the main playing surfaces and thankfully we are now starting to see the green shoots of recovery. This, as you might expect, has been discussed at great length at board level and MGLL has taken the decision to invest in one of the blowers we had on demonstration so that when this happens again we will be in a stronger position to react. I must point out though that no blower in the world would have tackled the severity of the sand blow we saw on the 2nd last year, this was simply down to the rainfall which followed and effectively cemented the sand. In these unfortunate circumstances, we can only hand shovel the sand out, allow for the top layer to dry and then we blow. In order to protect the grass on the fairway, it is imperative that we hand shovel, to use the front loader of the tractor would damage the surfaces we strive so hard to protect. This, of course, is extremely time-consuming but our main objective must be to protect our surfaces.

With the previously mentioned mild conditions up until the end of the month, this has allowed for the continuation of our planned aeration and reconstruction work. Bunkers are all but turfed, bare areas prepared and ready to be turfed and path work renovation has commenced. Our playing surfaces have received very favourable feedback indeed recently. In terms of our greens, I really feel we are starting to see the benefits of a vigorous aeration (deep-tine and shallow tine) program as well as our almost non-stop top-dressing practices. As a result, greens are draining faster, putting truer and coverage for this time of year is excellent. With regards to fairways, the mild temperatures have allowed for germination of the seed in the final divot carried out by the greenstaff in November, this together with our winter policy of playing off mats will give us a huge springboard for this coming season. The same can be said for the approaches and tees, I thank all of our season ticket holders for adhering to out traffic management policy of white paint and ropes, this has allowed for significant recovery in areas of high wear.

We have spent a considerable amount of time planning for the year ahead, identifying areas of the golf courses where we can improve. With a continued team effort from MGLL, greenstaff, the three clubs and all season ticket holders, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t continue our progress and I for one am very excited about the year ahead.

Irrigation upgrade

As I am sure most of our season ticket holders will know by now our irrigation system on our greens (as well as our water holding tank) are in need of an urgent upgrade. In order to explain exactly why we need a fully functional automatic irrigation system MGLL organised a forum whereby STH could come along and hear a short presentation by myself on this important issue and of course ask any questions. I am glad to say we had an extremely healthy turnout although obviously not all STH could get along. With this in mind I thought I could explain in a little detail here why this is such an important investment.

It was immediately apparent to me as I arrived at Montrose Links we had a serious issue with the irrigation system. Huge areas of our green surfaces were of a brown/yellow colour while other areas of the same green were a deep lush green, signalling a huge disparity in irrigation content. On closer inspection with the volumetric moisture meter this was confirmed as the brown/yellow areas were showing reading of 1% while the lush green areas around 40%, to put this into context our moisture target range is around 18-20%. It should be pointed out that these hugely contrasting readings were on the same green. If a golf green is holding different amounts of moisture, this will result in inconsistent putting conditions it really is that simple. Eventually, if this is allowed to continue, we would be left with different grass species colonising different areas of the same green, lush areas would support coarse grass where moisture deficient sections of the rootzone would support little or no grass at all – our greens would become bare, bumpy and slow.

After some investigation work I came across an STRI irrigation report carried out at Montrose links 2013. This document effectively condemned our greens irrigation and holding tanks citing a multitude of reasons, none more so than the age of the system which is now around 30 years. The estimated life span of this type of installation is 25 years; clearly we are well beyond this threshold. The inadequacies of this ageing system such as leaking pipework, poor pressure and rotting water storage tanks have a direct result on our playing surfaces. Poor pressure results in uneven distribution of water from the overhead sprinklers, while head to head coverage (which ensures the full green receives water) is impossible on most greens. This is exactly why we are seeing such a poor coverage on our greens surfaces and forced us to hand water greens as our main source of irrigation.

Greens before and after hand-watering

Hand-watering, is essential on every top-class golf course in the world. This is usually a relatively quick process with one greenstaff member taking around 4 hours to top up moistures on 18 holes following a base amount provided by the automatic irrigation system the night before. Last year however with the problems encountered we were forced to employ 2-3 greenstaff per day until the hot weather subsided.

This approach is unsustainable on so many levels:

  1. By allocating so much manpower to hand-watering we are unable to improve the golf courses as we would like. In effect, a huge amount of time was spent last year simply keeping our heads above water (pardon the pun), this time could have been spent not only improving greens, tees, fairways and approaches but also the small detail jobs which are so important. By freeing up this manpower we can focus on these improvements.
  2. Hand-watering as stated before should be quick and easy. Here at Montrose it is time-consuming not only due to the amount required by the hand hose but the condition of our irrigation control boxes (see figure 2). Broken boxes, snapped isolation valves and non-existent access handles make this task painfully slow.
  3. Due to the slow process of water application by hand this becomes further problematic as temperatures rise and evaporation rates increase. The sun warms surfaces with increasing U.V intensity; this increases evaporation resulting in less moisture uptake by the plant. By applying the base amount at night when temperatures are cooler this allows the grass plant to absorb more of the moisture being applied. This saves us water, which saves us money and requires far less labour.
  4. By applying water during the day this is also disruptive to play. When hand watering all day it is simply impossible to keep ahead of golf, obviously, there are times when the greenstaff are caught and this is unavoidable however the reason we start so early is to be as far ahead of play as we possibly can be therefore minimising disruption.

Typical irrigation control box on course

We are scheduled to start the preparation work mid-February with the contractor due on-site towards the end of February (weather dependent). This is a major step forward for the 1562 course in terms of infrastructure, which will allow us to dedicate more time to improving both golf courses.

Regards for now,

Darren McLaughlan

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