Renovate tees, greens and fairways now, says top agronomist

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 11, 2011 15:53

Renovate tees, greens and fairways now, says top agronomist

One of Britain’s top agronomists has said that golf clubs should renovate their tees, greens and fairways as far ahead of winter as possible.

Noel Mackenzie said: “There are a number of key areas where changes take place to the maintenance schedule as winter approaches. The key events for many golf clubs are the last major competition of the summer season and, from a greenkeeper’s perspective, the last greens renovation of the season (which often takes place after the club’s last major summer event). Renovation is essential to: 1. Repair summer damage to the greens and bolster them for winter, 2. Prepare the winter playing surface.

“Most of the time renovation will focus on greens and tees, but on some courses the fairways may also be in need of attention in some way.

“The greens will have been under stress in the summer and the constant pressure of feet and machinery on the turf and soil will have compromised their condition. It is important that the grass (your playing surface) is given the chance to recover and soils have the structure repaired and compaction relieved.

“Greens renovation usually comprises the following activities:

• Intensive verti-cutting

• Possibly aggressive scarification

• Aeration or compaction relief treatment at greater depth

• Overseeding

• Fertiliser application

• Topdressing

“The verti-cutting removes the unwanted lateral growth and some of the dead plant material from the very surface of the soil. The treatment will stimulate the grass to produce new growth. This treatment combined with deeper scarifying helps to prevent dead plant material being buried by subsequent topdressing. The scarifying also removes thatch already buried in the soil and helps to open up the surface for the topdressing to mesh into the existing rootzone or soil material and provides a seed-soil contact opportunity for better grass germination and establishment following seeding work.

“The aeration options are considerable and only likely not to be completed if very deep and aggressive scarification is undertaken to a depth exceeding 8mm or more using the newer Graden or SISIS deep scarifiers. Hollow tine aeration or deeper solid tine spike and heave compaction relief treatments are often favoured at this time. The hollow tining is usually undertaken to remove thatch and/or to mix soil/topdressing as part of a programme of soil exchange. Compaction relief work, using spike and heave machinery like a Verti-Drain, TerraSpike or Soil Reliever, helps to re-structure the soil after its natural structure is damaged when the weight of players and machines forces the soil particles together thereby closing the pores for water and air to be held in. Both aeration treatments tend to be disruptive to the playing surface and timing these to a period of good seed germination and a topdressing opportunity is helpful.

“Overseeding policy should be contingent on the conditions and environment the course is exposed to. In recent times there has been a trend to push Fescues and while this might work in some locations it will not be universally appropriate. Similarly, ryegrasses are also being used in some locations but the results are mixed and such approaches should be carefully assessed, especially as some of the most frequently used cultivars are not the best. For most clubs the overseeding will be either pure bent or bent and fescue mixes.

“Fertiliser may or may not be employed depending on how the renovation work falls within the general fertiliser schedule and the severity of the renovation itself. The establishment of seedling grasses does appear to be enhanced if careful and low fertiliser inputs are employed, but like seeding, the matter is contingent on other factors at the course.

“Topdressing application then follows with the amounts applied varying from a tonne to maybe 2.5 tonnes per green depending on the treatments employed. This application of bulky, inert material should help to smooth the surface and contribute, in a general and long term sense, to the overall objectives of the topdressing policy. Essentially, the material used should be as consistent as possible to that employed previously unless there are very good reasons why there should be any changes.

“So, a good renovation taking in most of the points above should protect and improve the greens for the winter. However, like visiting the dentist there can be a little bit of pain involved for the benefits to be reaped later, that pain representing itself in a mildly disrupted putting surface for a few days to a week or so. Renovating early is essential to make sure that the grass can recover quickly, the biggest mistake is to leave it too late and then suffer slow recovery in colder weather that prolongs the poor putting surface.

“The tee and fairway areas also need some tender loving care at the end of a busy summer. Divoting may be all that is required but full renovations may be an option on some surfaces. In the case of fairways the renovation may involve scarification, overseeding (drill seeding is preferred) and light fertiliser treatment.

“However, the same principle applies; the sooner the work is completed under optimum recovery conditions the faster the course gets back into a good condition for members and visitors.

“After renovation the greens recover and mowing heights are increased. The amount of height increase should be dependent on the species of grass on the greens and the construction type of the surface. The important point is that increased grass length is necessary because when the grass stops growing it starts to wear away and the extra length therefore gives a longer spell before it is all gone. In the south in recent years there have been a number of very mild winters and growth has continued past Christmas with only three to six weeks of little or no growth in the new year. In the north or at altitude the situation will have been different but still a shorter non-growing period should have prevailed.

“There are many clubs which do not use winter greens these days, at least in the south. Their use can be advantageous but to be worth doing they must be done well. Simply mowing out a bit or rough or approach is not acceptable because the surfaces are so appallingly bad as to be embarrassing to a club. A tiny amount of care can vastly improve a winter green no end ensuring good grass cover and blemish free surface for players. The benefit to a club of using these features is that during wet and frosty conditions the course can be open but the condition of the main greens is not compromised. This is desirable because compaction of the soil or stress in the grass can last for months after it is caused and using a winter green can avoid/reduce that problem leaving the main greens in better condition for the main season.

“Many courses suffer from disease in the autumn, especially if they have annual meadow grass dominated greens. A few courses claim to suffer no disease for certain reasons but these are few and far between. Some disease damage must be accepted but hard disease hits should be considered more carefully. Players and members should be aware that disease problems will upset the greens staff far more than they realise and comments should be carefully channelled to the chairman/woman of greens or secretary/club manager. Negative comments made directly to the greenkeepers will slow their work on the course and cause bad feeling that may affect motivation of the team.

“I anticipate that this year, if the conditions are right, may be a more severe one for disease problems. The reason for this stems from the apparent delay in the use of fertiliser that most greenkeepers have fallen into this year following the cold dry spring, which hampered growth. A number of course managers have contacted me in mid-late summer and expressed concern at the apparent failure of their greens to get into condition this year. Closer enquiry reveals that insufficient fertiliser has been applied, in two instances just one foliar feed since March! I anticipate that a number of courses will enter the autumn with turf in sub-optimal condition due to not having the necessary nutrients available thereby leaving the grass vulnerable to disease attack from Fusarium or Anthracnose in particular.

“Winter golf is a compromise in this country, we do not have the climate to maintain good grass growth all year and so we must accept a reduced quality of surface during the winter months.

“Equally, we must accept some periods of disruption and less than ideal putting surfaces in the late summer and early autumn if we are to enjoy the best facilities that can be made available under our less than ideal winter conditions.

“It is incumbent on the club’s management, course manager or the proprietor to communicate to members that works are done for their benefit to ensure the winter condition of the course. Furthermore, such information can be tailored to ensure that player expectations are reasonable. Education of members as to why work is done and what can be expected from the course is fundamentally important.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 11, 2011 15:53
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