Lockdown Greenkeeping part 4

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It would seem we are on the verge of golf returning and as a result we have started the process of returning the course to its usual playing conditions. Mowing heights are lowering and mowing frequency is increasing on greens.

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Fairways, semi-rough etc are being mown as required and the dry conditions are keeping growth to a minimum.

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Soil temperatures are increasing quickly and there has been a lot of recovery on the driest parts of the greens. Keeping them moist has been an ongoing challenge and I’ve done a few experiments to see how much water needs to be applied to make a significant difference.

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An old style rain gauge was set up to collect water from the hose and the moisture meter used to measure the differences.

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These readings were taken after an hour of hand-watering on the 10th green. The rain gauge collected water the equivalent of 13mm of rain. This increased soil moisture levels by around 8%, we aim for a target of around 20%. To give an idea, since the beginning of March we have had around 40mm of rain so it comes as no surprise that we are having to apply a lot of water. Recently almost half a week has been spent watering, that is quarter of the man hours we have available. As a result Calum and myself have worked 114 hours over just the last week.

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The greens received a light topdressing to cover the seeding work and hopefully seal in some moisture to help germination.

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Calum has been regularly mowing greens as we gradually reduce the mowing height to smooth the surfaces and increase speed.

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The greens have received the application of granular fertiliser, slightly ahead of how we planned but with the announcement of golf returning and a weather window we worked well into Thursday evening.

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The organic fertiliser was put on manually by barrow (at 37.5g/m²) and watered in behind to help break up the granules. Fortunately for us there was 5.8mm of rain the same night which has worked out perfectly.

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The rough mower has been mowing all fairways at 1″ to clean up the stalky growth prior to cylinder mowing. It has not been without its issues however as we had a hydraulic pipe come off not once but twice and scorch two fairways. This will gradually grow out over the next few months.

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Obviously given our greenstaff of two we are having to make changes to how we operate in order to keep on top of things. Part of this includes reducing the area of mown rough for one. It simply is not realistic for two men to maintain the golf course like usual, hard enough at the moment but when golf returns it will become impossible so corners will have to be cut where suitable. The main focus will be on greens and it is likely that frequency of mowing will reduce slightly on other areas.

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The more productive areas of fairway and semi-rough will be treated with growth regulator to reduce need for mowing. We are fortunate that bunkers will remain no play zones. Activities like spraying weeds, verti-cutting, brushing etc will likely cease entirely for the remainder of the season as there are just too many more demands on the available man hours. The following list will give some perspective on timescales for an average summer week:

  • Greens mowing – 4hrs – 5-7 times per week
  • Surround mowing – 2hrs – twice weekly
  • Tees mowing – 6hrs (by hand) – once per week
  • Fairway mowing – 8hrs – twice weekly
  • Semi-rough mowing – 15 hrs – once per week
  • Hole changing – 2hrs – twice weekly
  • Tee rim mowing/strimming burn – 6hrs – once per week
  • Watering – 10hrs – 3 days per week (currently)

That is a total of around 105hrs for an average summer week which doesn’t include rolling greens, bunker raking, divotting tees, emptying bins, aeration, topdressing, fertilising, equipment maintenance/repairs…

If the rain comes then we will save a lot of time in watering however it will be likely that mowing frequency will increase!

We would ask that the membership bear in mind that by the time golf resumes we will have had TWO staff maintaining the course for 9 weeks and this likely to continue until August.

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Lockdown greenkeeping part 3

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Since the last blog post we’ve had a whole 0.2mm of rain! As a result the course has dried considerably. Wetting agent was applied to the greens before the last bit of rain and its effect can still be seen now, irrigation water soaks in immediately. The wetting of the soil is also much more uniform rather than high spots remaining dry and low spots becoming lush green.

 

The Annual Meadowgrass is struggling with the dry conditions given its shallow roots, the Bent and Fescues however are thriving, their deeper roots still able to take up what little moisture is present lower in the profile.

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While the Meadowgrass is on the back foot we have taken advantage and overseeded the greens. While we would normally sow predominantly Browntop Bent cultivars the current situation has meant we have had to fall back on stock rather than buy in new materials. As a result we have used mainly Fescue with what little Bent we had being used on the weaker greens. At this stage however either is a better alternative to Meadowgrass!!

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We began the seeding works by making holes 1/2″ deep and 1/2″ diameter with the tractor mounted Aercore. Normally a fast machine we had to slow things considerably to make a tidy job at such a shallow depth, a giddying 1.0kmph meant it took almost 2 days to complete.

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The seed mix was then broadcast by fertiliser barrow ensuring an even spread (allowing for the constant wind!) before being dragged into the holes using the metal dragmat. Anything left on the surface is essentially wasted as the seed has to have soil contact to germinate. Without a sizeable hole it is almost impossible to get 100% in but we are happy with our estimated 75-80% in the holes, there was dramatically less seed after 2 passes of the dragmat.

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The continuing winds and lack of rainfall has meant we have had little time to do anything more than hand water to keep the seed moist.

The plan now is to roll the greens to help close the holes a little before applying a light dressing to help keep some moisture in the little plant pots.

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Everyone has their own preferred way of seeding but for me personally i don’t want to fill the holes completely with topdressing. I feel we get a better strike of seed by letting the crown of the seedling form slightly below the surface of the green. By doing this we are essentially creating a higher height of cut for them compared to the established plants around them, 8-10mm rather than the normal 4mm. This means less stress from mowing, rolling, traffic etc as they establish themselves.

Once the seed starts to germinate we will apply a granular feed to boost growth. There is little point in applying it earlier as it would only cause the existing plants to grow stronger and out-compete the new seedlings. We will be applying an organic fertiliser which will not give a flush of growth but rather a longer, gentle feed. We still have products in stock which are applied through the sprayer but in the past we have learned that these provide nowhere near the response we get from a granular feed. They will be used as a supplement throughout the season.

We have lowered the cutting height on greens as move toward golf resuming, 5.5mm down from 6.5mm. This will be lowered again next week to 5mm, low enough to be within reach of our target 4mm but not so low as to cause undue stress on the turf.

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The reduced frequency of mowing given the current staff numbers has meant a frightening increase of stalks on fairways! Happily this is easily remedied by a pass of the rough mower at 1″ cutting height.

A cut straight behind with the fairway mower, possibly in 2 directions will bring them further under control.

The semi-rough continues to grow over much of the course but again it is mostly stalky growth easily tamed by the rough mower.

Over the past few days we have had a small band of volunteers socially distancing themselves and helping to trim sprinklers and weed bunker sand, so a big thank you to them!!

To give some perspective, hand-watering is being done manually using hoses and 3 mobile sprinklers. As an experiment and partially out of curiosity i wanted to see how much water a mobile sprinkler applied so an old fashioned rain gauge was set up on a few greens to gather the irrigation water. It takes an roughly an hour to apply the equivalent of just 2mm of rainfall. This, as you can imagine, does little more than keep things alive given the non-stop Easterly winds which strip the moisture from the soil almost as fast as we can apply it. The wind also has the annoying habit of stopping a sprinkler covering the whole green from a central position meaning even more time is consumed moving sprinklers around.

At almost 2 whole greenstaff it is a real struggle at the moment to complete everything. For example we have a fairway mower still to sharpen from the end of last season, it has coped well up till now but the edge has finally gone from its blades. It is a whole day of work for one person to sharpen the 5 cutting units so it is currently sitting in the shed patiently waiting! Parts for machines have become harder to get therefore we have been cannibalising other machines when needed. So far no major problems so fingers crossed…

Next update soon, possibly around the return of golf…?

Lockdown greenkeeping part 2

4mm of rain may not sound like much but it was desperately needed!

Temperatures are gradually rising as well but we are still experiencing the cold, drying Easterly winds. This has meant a start to the seasons growth but gladly nothing is getting out of control!

Soil temperatures are creeping up and we will soon have warm enough ground to overseed weak areas with intent.

Fairways are thriving at the slightly higher mowing height (15mm as opposed to 12mm) and winter divots are recovering well. There is a full coverage of grass at the moment and only small areas marginally affected by the dry conditions.

Changes to mowing patterns are progressing well and should be completely blended in by the time we open for play (whenever that may be!)

A full cut of the semi-rough has begun and will be completed in the coming week. We are starting to see some nice definition around the course.

The new rough mower is a great improvement on the previous machine. It has a wider cut and changing mowing height is fast and simple meaning much better efficiency. It follows contours well and has a lot of power, we are yet to find an area where it struggles. It copes well around bunkers and tees leaving a clean finish.

We are in the process of repairing a few minor irrigation problems then the majority of our watering needs can be automated.

Tees have all been handmown at the raised height of 12mm. They have also been realigned and squared up. Over time it is surprising how much mowing lines can drift!

More updates in a few days

Lockdown Greenkeeping part 1

Since the start of the lockdown the greenstaff has been reduced to one and a bit. While this was fairly straightforward to begin with demand for man hours has increased steadily. The dry conditions have made this worse with a lot of time spent handwatering greens. To give an example of this it took one man 11 hours to thoroughly soak just 15 greens by hose.

The greens continued to be handmown in order to conserve diesel however this has now become impossible with other demands on time.

With no golf and dry conditions we took the opportunity to apply another topdressing. Completed in one day the heavy sand dressing has almost completely amalgamated into the sward already. The dry weather has meant no sand is being picked up by the mower so no time has to be spent regrinding blades!

We currently have just one pump working which has meant manual hand watering only this far but a required part has arrived and will soon be fitted.

We’re in the process of fixing a main line leak and when both are complete we hope use of the computer system can resume and take some of the watering strain. More likely the rain will arrive at the same time however and use of the irrigation will cease!

We were fortunate that the Spring starter fertiliser was not applied and to date the greens have been receiving small nutritional inputs via the sprayer (when it’s not overly windy!!)

Fairways are being cut as required and we’ve taken the chance to adjust mowing lines and fairway shapes to allow worn areas to grow but also include thicker areas at a lower cutting height.

Mowing heights have increased on greens, approaches, tees and fairways to allow for reduced frequency of cutting given our staff numbers. The rough is being mown as required.

Some welcome rain today but it did little more than dampen down the dust!

More updates will be added as we progress.

Rough management

We’ve been out with the flail collector tackling some of the heavier rough areas.

With the warm and wet summer the conditions have been perfect for growing rough!

The heavier areas have been mown down and the clippings removed which will help speed up play and promote the finer grasses.

Over the last two seasons we have worked on a large area of native rough and the cutting and collecting is now really paying dividends. Coarse grass species are being eradicated and fine Fescues, Bents and wildflowers are dominating which is providing more habitat for insects.

Overseeding work

The recent heavy showers of rain have gone a long way to softening the ground. This has allowed the seeder to cut in properly and give the seed soil contact.

The seed is being broadcast at a rate of 8.5g/sqm and most areas have had a single pass.

The aim is to repeat the process 2 or 3 more times throughout the season. This will maximise the the benefits of the seeding work by ensuring at some point conditions will be perfect. It will also be more economical as we will see which areas are recovering naturally allowing us to use the seed elsewhere.

We have completed around 70% of what is required for the first pass, the rain this weekend will allow us to complete the remainder.

We are using a special seed mix which was created on the back of last years drought specifically with more creeping Fescue present to help fill holes in the sward.

The seeder is our heaviest piece of equipment and we’ve recently modified the lift arms on the tractor to allow it to be lifted more comfortably.

The change has vastly improved use of the seeder and increased efficiency as well as putting less strain on the tractor itself.

Once fairways and semi rough areas are complete we will be moving on to tees and green surrounds with the dwarf Ryegrass mix.

This has had a dramatic effect on the surrounds which were previously hard to keep grass cover on by being much more tolerant of wear.

The area to the rear of the 3rd green in particular has benefitted from this seed mix.

In time we will expand out and eventually maintain many of these areas at fairway height.

Greens grooming

We have double groomed the greens over the last two weeks with some specialist units borrowed from Kingsbarns Golf Links.

With twice as many blades as our own verticut units they remove excess vegetation which in turn smooths the surfaces and increases pace.

Any weak or dead material is pulled out of the sward and removed with the stronger growing grass left standing up to be cut.

To further refine the surface we cut with the brushes down to ensure everything was standing vertically and any last loose material pulled out.

Once a week is more than enough for this treatment as it can stress the turf out quite considerably. Each green had a soak with the irrigation after the cut to soothe it slightly!