Loughgall Golf Club uses compost to improve drainage

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 12, 2011 13:54

Recent wet summers, especially 2007 and 2008, left a nightmare legacy for golf clubs, with ground waterlogged so badly that courses had to close for weeks on end and grass was left uncut because the ground was too soft to take machinery.

To keep turf healthy and maintain continuity of service in the face of these challenges, greenkeepers need to do everything possible to ensure that their courses can cope with prolonged wet weather and sudden influxes of water. As well as poor or impossible playing conditions caused by waterlogged turf, long-term damage to the grass is possible.

Using recycled compost can really help. Compost produced from garden waste such as grass cuttings, prunings and leaves can significantly improve the structure of the soil when used to establish and dress turf, making it easier for water to drain down and helping to minimise the effects of waterlogging.

There is little that can be done about the physical location of a golf course, and some are naturally more prone to flooding than others; for instance if there are rivers nearby. However, good drainage can ensure that fairways do not remain waterlogged after river levels recede. One of the most important components of fairway turf is the soil below. Soil which is made up mainly from silt or clay is prone to become compacted, which means that water has difficulty draining through it. Again, there is not much that greenkeepers can do about the prevalent type of soil in their area – but using compost can make a big difference to its structure and, therefore, to its ability to deal with water.

When incorporated into soil or applied as a turf top dressing, compost both acts as a fertiliser and improves its physical properties. Compost slowly releases nitrogen, phosphate and other minor nutrients into the ground, helping to keep turf healthy.

The organic matter in compost also improves the aggregate strength of the soil – in addition, its open and bulky nature increases its porosity. As a result, treated soil compacts less, water drains more freely and grass roots can penetrate more easily to find nutrients and water.

The soil is also better able to absorb rainfall and irrigation water, meaning that turf is much less likely to become waterlogged. Essentially, the compost acts like a sponge, soaking up, absorbing and dispersing water rather than letting it sit on the surface and damage the grass.

Similarly, in dry conditions, the absorbent nature of compost helps to conserve water. This means that turf will stay greener for longer with less need for regular maintenance and will be more able to cope better with flash flooding. This was evident in recent STRI top dressing trials on golf fairways, where compost plots showed higher levels of moisture in fescue-dominated fairway turf particularly during the dry summer season.

In greenkeeping, compost can be used both to establish and renovate turf. When establishing or seeding turf, compost should be applied 25 – 50mm deep and then incorporated to an approximate depth of 100 – 150mm. Once the compost has been mixed into the soil, a seed bed can be established by lightly brushing seed onto the surface.

Compost can also be used as a top dressing for turf. It can be blended with other materials such as sand to make it suitable for applying to closely-mown fine turf, and fine grades of compost – screened to include particles no larger than 5mm – are available especially for this purpose.

Divots on golf courses can be filled using a blend of compost and grass seed mix. The compost contains nutrients and holds moisture, and the dark colour helps absorb heat from the sun, speeding up germination.

Furthermore, club managers and greenkeepers have no need to worry about the quality of the compost they are using due to a compost certification scheme introduced a few years ago. The Composting Association (TCA) adopted BSI PAS 100 as the specification that composted materials must meet in order to achieve the independently verified certification and use of TCA logo. There are now over 65 sites registered on TCA’s BSI PAS 100 Certification Scheme, offering greater availability than ever before. Details of where to find a supplier of PAS 100 quality compost can be found at www.wrap.org.uk/organics.

Golfers at Loughgall Country Park golf course in Armagh, Northern Ireland, have BSI PAS 100 compost to thank for the improvement in the quality of the fairways and tees.

Opened in 2000, the municipal 18 hole golf course is set in the grounds of the magnificent Loughgall Country Park and is one of the first in Northern Ireland to specify the use of compost.

The par 72 course is set in mature woodland and includes strategically placed bunkers, sloping terrain and water hazards which add to the character and excitement of play. Previously the site of a Department of Agriculture research centre, the ground had been subjected to different levels of chemicals, such as fertilisers, and its poor condition made maintenance a challenging task.

In 2004, Country Park manager, Greg Ferson, approved a trial of BSI PAS 100 compost after hearing about the success of a similar project at Epping Golf Course in Essex. Sourced from accredited producer, Natural World Products, where the golf course already sent its grass cuttings and clippings for recycling, the compost was applied to three fairways and one sand based fairway landing area.

Greg explained: “We selected four different areas of the course with varying soils so that we could establish the performance of the compost in different conditions. On two of the fairways chosen we had an issue with the grass growth and colour and hoped that the compost would rectify this. All suffered from uneven and unhealthy growth, in addition to low nutrient levels.”

Compost screened to a maximum particle size of 10mm was applied using a Dakota 412 spreader.

He added: “Within a couple of weeks the results were already visible. There was a significant difference in the growth and colour of the grass. And on our fairways with clay-based soil, drainage has improved significantly. The compost acts to breaks down the structure of the soil, allowing water to pass more easily though it – keeping fairways green but dry.”

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 12, 2011 13:54
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