Head Greenkeeper Report – May 2019

Head Greenkeeper Report – May 2019

The season is now well underway and as a greenkeeper, I am delighted to say we are finally seeing some consistent temperatures together with favourable precipitation rates which have resulted in visible signs of recovery across all surfaces on the golf courses (see pics below). I have spoken previously about the effects of the harsh summer we endured last year and the measures we put in place to not only improve coverage but just as importantly, improve the botanical makeup. Our pot seeding practices with a fescue/dwarf rye mix on selected areas such as tees, approaches and walk-offs, will give the best possible protection to these high traffic areas introducing a more wear tolerant, high shoot density and low maintenance grass species. Ideally, this is a practice we would carry out every month until these the affected areas are colonised by our chosen cultivars but we are no different to most golf courses in that we must work within a budget – especially in the current climate. This means we must do all we can to give the young seedlings that we can afford the best possible chance not only to germinate but indeed to flourish and colonise. With careful nutrition, irrigation and refinement we are confident we can improve the coverage of these once bare areas.

Despite having the little financial resource to allocate to our fairways, we have seen a significant improvement here in the last few weeks. Our aeration and moss removal program have benefited the fairways and with the higher temperatures, more rainfall, and the application of a 6-month slow release fertiliser, these areas are probably about as good as I’ve seen them since my arrival.

Overall we are steadily making progress across all surfaces, not as quickly as we would like but we greenkeepers are not known for our patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and there is no doubt in my mind we are heading in the right direction.

Images of germination from pot-seeding

Quarterly data

Each day we feed our maximum and minimum temperatures, together with our rainfall figures into our growth prediction model. As well as assisting us with course maintenance, I find this very useful when explaining to our golfers the reasons behind our on-course decision making. Some of our on-course regulars would have noticed a slow on the pace of our greens in the past two weeks. This is quite simply down to the flowering of the grass plant poa annua which has suddenly awoken from its slumber. As the following graph will illustrate, (see figure 1) although we have this year up until now had fine golfing weather, we have in fact had very poor growing conditions for grass. Two of our most important resources required for plant growth are temperature and water; these have both been in short supply the first four months of 2019. As we can see below we received a paltry 19 days of rain out of a possible 120, now I’ve said numerous times on these reports how incredibly dry the east coast is compared with the west but I keep being surprised by just how dry it is. Some may ask the obvious question why don’t we just fire up the irrigation system well the short answer is we can’t. Montrose golf links have a water abstraction license for our boreholes from Scottish environmental protection agency (SEPA) which runs only from April-Oct, therefore we have to comply with these strict regulations or we face sanctions. This obviously makes growing grass a little tricky when encountering a dry spring like we have this year.

Figure 1. Data showing rainfall and growth

Not only has this been a dry start but with the exception of the two-week period in February, it has also been a fairly cold and inconsistent first quarter of the year. Again as our graph illustrates you will see from the red line that we have had only three days of what we would consider good growing conditions. Not only do we require good day time temperatures but overnight temperatures affect growth also. For example, if we are into double figures for the daytime, the sky clears, then we see a ground frost then this will cause a fluctuation in soil temperatures which is not conducive to steady growth. This brings us back to the poa. In these dry and cool conditions the poa is growing at a very slow rate, this together with the slower growing perennial browntop bents which make up the rest of our greens sward makes for a fairly even and consistent putting surface. As temperatures pick up and the rain starts to fall, this kicks the poa into life and will begin to out-compete the bentgrass for resources such as water and sunlight. When the poa annua reaches a certain point in its life cycle (around 200 GDD) we see the plant begin to flower under the height of cut – which is why the greens may look a little white or silver. This flowering can affect the ball roll and the pace of the green as the annual plant is past the lean stage and is almost fully developed.

There is a range of practical measures we put in place to counter the effect of the seeding. Our on-going top-dressing program ensures the greens are as firm as possible therefore assisting in the trueness and smoothness of the ball roll. The introduction of our first plant growth regulator (PGR) of the season has been applied to our greens (I will discuss PGR’s next month). Grooming practices such as brushing and verti-cutting are also important weapons in our battle as these actions can lift the seedheads prior to mowing which again will improve ball roll. Ultimately – due to the extreme resilience of this the most genetically diverse grass plant we manage in fine turf, the flowers will keep on coming until I would estimate, due to the forecasted weather, the middle of June.

As I wrote in one of our newsletters last year, we will never rid the greens of poa annua, we can reduce the content but complete eradication is almost impossible. Also as I have mentioned previously, Poa greens are more than capable of producing fantastic putting surfaces, it’s just a case of knowing what do to and when to it. So far this year our greens have received fantastic feedback from both members and visitor’s, this is something we hope we can continue to build on.

That’s all for this month

Regards for now

Darren McLaughlan


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