As the air temperature drops, soil temperatures are also on the way down leading us into my least favourite part of the year – the dormant season. I say this least favourite because the grass thins out and golf courses in general (in my opinion) don’t look quite as sharp. Conversely however, when the sun is low in the sky the links can look stunning as the shadows of the natural undulations can look quite stunning on a clear winter day so it’s not all bad I suppose.
From a maintenance perspective, we will move onto winter course from Friday 1st November where temporary greens will be in operation during inclement weather conditions, winter mats will be in operation on fairways/first cut, winter tees will be set out and ropes/hoops will be in place to direct traffic away from vulnerable areas. We will also have white line areas on our approaches and we politely ask that this is adhered to in order to protect the grass which is going dormant. I will explain in next month’s newsletter the importance of traffic management but this month I would like to talk a little about our latest report from The Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI).
The STRI report can be viewed by visiting https://montrosegolflinks.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STRI-REPORT-.pdf
STRI REPORT 2019
For those who may not be aware STRI is the leading body in our industry for research, data collection and trials of new products. We employ the agronomist to come to Montrose and survey our surfaces which is then compiled into a report which we use to benchmark our progress. These reports cover a variety of topics from grass coverage/quality on our greens, tees, approaches and fairways to quality of bunker construction on our golf courses, pretty much anything we/STRI feel is requiring attention or an area which is showing particular improvement. The single most important part of this report is the organic matter readings. We collect core samples from four different greens which are then sent back to the lab for testing on the content of organic matter within the selected cores (see figure 1 & 2).
Anyone who has been reading the newsletters on a regular basis will know that organic matter reduction is one of our main objectives within our maintenance plan in order to achieve drier, firmer greens on a more consistent basis. This is part of the reason we aerate and top-dress our greens religiously on a consistent basis and preciously why we have hollow-cored the past two months of September 2018 & 2019. The results we have seen this year are quite dramatic. Purely by our aeration and top-dressing practices, not only in the summer but in the winter months we have seen an average reduction of 2.5% in the immediate layer of the rootzone. This may not sound much but there are clubs that would be happy with these results over 3-5 years, we have managed this in only 12 months. As you have seen from the graphs we are slightly above our target range at the time of testing, however this does not include the September maintenance hollow core or the planned maintenance this winter, meaning that by the time we test again next year I would expect us to be around our desired thresholds.
But what does this mean for golfers or every day play? Well as I stated previously everything we are currently doing is geared towards drier, firmer, smoother, truer and more consistent greens. Once organic matter is under control it allows us more of a grip on everything from green speed to the variety of grass species we are able to sow into our greens. For example a green which is regularly holding 40% moisture due to poor drainage and excessive organic matter will support a population which consists predominately of poa annua grass and green speed will not be where we would expect – certainly not on a consistent basis. Greens would have to rolled, sometimes double rolled to achieve the desired green speed – this in itself causes compaction issues. A green which consistently averages 20% moisture, drains efficiently, and is within the desired target range for organic matter content will be conducive to supporting a stand of fescue/bent grass species which will outnumber (and eventually out-compete) the coarser more temperamental poa annua. These grasses are known for producing the finest putting surfaces with the least amount of maintenance at potentially higher heights of cut. It really is a win-win situation.
I must point out that once we reach these targets, and as Saturday 19th October course closure has shown we have a way to go in terms of compaction/drainage, we must continue with our practices albeit in a slightly less aggressive manner. Shallow tine aeration in summer months to dilute thatch while increasing the flow of oxygen and deep tine aeration in the winter months to relieve compaction will be essential for our greens to perform at an acceptable standard. However these tine sizes will be smaller as time moves on meaning less disruption and with MGLL new business plan we may even be in a position to purchase a pedestrian aeration machine over the next 5 years in which case our golfers would hardly even know we had been across the greens.
I have not really talked much specifically about drainage or compaction issues since last winter. In short, as previously mentioned, deep tine aeration (verti-drain) is absolutely essential during the dormant months to increase the rate at which our surfaces drain and to relieve compaction. Compaction is simply the squeezing together of smaller particles such as silt and clay, this can be caused by a multitude of things such as foot traffic, or machine maintenance operations, if aeration is not performed to these depths with larger tines then sooner or later the water will back up the soil profile and lead to surface water which will lead to course closure as we seen last Saturday (see figures 3, 4 & 5). In the past these deep tine aeration practices have perhaps not been carried out as much as I would have liked therefore we are playing catch up to a certain extent. In total 21mm rain fell overnight Friday 18th October, leading as we all know to course closure. I would not expect this amount (unless dumped on us in a very short period) to close a links course, highlighting the fact we still have work to do on the drainage side of things. Over the course of the next two winters, I would expect to see a dramatic improvement in the rate of drainage of our greens much in the same way we have seen in the organic matter tables. This as with organic matter control is an on-going process which will eventually become less disruptive to the surfaces as we reach our target ranges.
Our favourite subject!! My apologies, this is just a very quick reminder that it is not only fixing pitchmarks but the way we fix them. Some STH may have noticed horrible scars all over our greens (see figures 6 & 7); this is due to the pitchmark being pushed up as opposed to in. By pushing the pitchmark into the centre immediately the scar will heal fully. By pushing up this will cause root-break and as we move into a period of slow growth, these scars will potentially take weeks/months to heal.
I hope you can see from the reports that we all have the same objective – to improve the golf courses. We as greenstaff are continually looking to improve the playing surfaces and we really appreciate the help and encouragement we are receiving from STH.
That’s all for another month.
Regards for now,