January 2019

As we say our goodbyes to 2018 and welcome the new 2019 season, we are currently experiencing a very unusual period of mild weather for the time of year. It has been ideal for you golfers to get out on the course regularly and also for us to continue working our way through our winter tasks, which I will explain in more detail later. This month’s update will also include some information about the weather (because greenkeepers love talking about the weather) and hopefully some helpful insight, understanding and reassurances on the problems we are currently experiencing on the greens from fusarium outbreak and scarring.

Over the autumn and winter period we have suffered severely from constant fusarium disease activity which has caused all the greens surfaces to become uneven and unsightly at times due to the carring left from the various outbreaks we have had. The fusarium scars we experiencing on the greens Although fusarium outbreaks have become regular occurrences at Mortonhall due to the ideal environment we have here, (high thatch, high levels of play, meadow grass coverage, high moisture, compaction and humid conditions) the period we are having at the moment has been the worst any of us can remember. The reason for the high levels of activity is mostly down to the greens being highly stressed after the drought months we had throughout summer, which was extreme to say the least. It was then closely followed by heavy downpours. Take the August rainfall total for example, we had 70 mm fall during the month which is fine and on par with the average total but the total amount fell in only four days. Basically, we got a great dollop of rain, rather than spread evenly, which then flooded the course and washed any applied fertilisers and fungicides away through the soil and produced a massive growth burst. This put immense pressure on the health of the plant and initiated fusarium activity.
Fusarium scarring Fusarium scarring

The stress on the greens as well as the unusually mild winter we are having has also meant the disease is constantly getting ideal conditions to develop and spread. Normally through the winter period we get sharp frosts and low temperatures which help knock back the disease, but at the moment we are just not getting any help from the weather. I know this is not what you want to hear as it will mean you would need to play on winter greens but we (the greenkeepers) could really do with some prolonged hard frosts for a couple of weeks to help stop the growth and spread of this disease.
The scarring on the greens will unfortunately be present for the foreseeable future as we do not have high enough temperatures or growth to fill in the gaps left in the turf. When suitable conditions arrive we will plug, repair, seed and dress problem areas to deliver a smoother surface. In the meantime future light top dressings combined with mowing and rolling will hopefully improve the situation.

What’s The Future

In the past we have treated disease outbreaks with fungicides when they show signs of outbreak. Unfortunately, the fungicides on the market are becoming less potent and effective now due to the EU Commission’s decision to withdraw certain active ingredients from general use as they decided that they posed a risk to the environment, the wildlife and to human health. The contact fungicide that we used mostly was very much like an antiseptic cream for humans, as it was a case of when there was disease activity on the greens we would apply instantly and the fungicide killed it and stopped it from spreading. This, however, this is not the case anymore as contact fungicides are now banned. The withdrawal of certain chemicals from sale is not necessarily a bad thing as this will make our course more environmentally friendly, but it does mean we must change the management of our greens and focus on maintaining healthy surfaces using a more cultural approach as this will be the best form of control and defense.
The goal we have in the future is to create greens which are sustainable, taking into account the challenges of environmental pressures, weather patterns, chemical legislation and the demand for year round golf. To achieve this we need to focus on delivering an environment which supports a sustainable model. By producing the correct foundations (good drainage, good top dressing applications, lower thatch levels, lower nutrient inputs and sensible mowing heights) we can then improve the sward composition, minimise disruption, achieve consistency, and have year round
performance and health on the greens, while reducing the costs. A management programme for the greens has already been drafted for the 2019 season and we are hopeful that it will improve the general health of the greens and provide greater resistance against fusarium, climate change etc.. Basically the approach we are trying to introduce with this maintenance programme for 2019 is to
develop a preventative approach across all the green surfaces. Using appropriate maintenance and materials using a risk assessment mentality, we will look to limit the ideal conditions that fusarium disease flourishes in, so we can keep one step ahead of any future outbreaks.

Winter Projects

This winter we won’t be undertaking large projects like we would normally do, such as installing drainage or levelling tees as we have been focusing on our Bunker Project. The installation of concrete and sand took us well into December to complete and that is normally the time that we would be well into our winter projects. We didn’t want to start any major jobs in the middle of December just in case the weather took a turn for the worse with low temperatures, heavy rainfall and snow (drainage work and tee levelling is nearly impossible in these conditions). Thankfully,
we will still be kept busy with jobs that we can work through in times when the weather conditions are not ideal. The projects we will be working on in the coming months will include much needed renovations to the practise nets, clearing along pathways and continuing work on our Tree Management Plan. Even though these tasks are not as exciting and interesting for us as undertaking drainage work etc.,they are still extremely important jobs to make the golf course better.

Bunker Project

We have whacked and firmed in all the bases and faces of the new bunkers which was time consuming and quite honestly not very enjoyable but the end product is exactly what we were looking for. The next step in the process is to install the final 2inches of sand to the bases of the bunkers and we have completed this process in 3 bunkers (7th, 17th and 18th). As I mentioned last month we were going to completely finish a couple of bunkers with the correct depth of sand as a trial to see how the bunker and sand reacts to the weather over the winter months and highlight any issues well before the start of the new season.

New Bunker
The whacker plate has been putting in the hours in the last month.

Having the correct depths of sand in these bunkers has also given us the opportunity to try a couple of different methods on how to rake the bunkers. So far we have tried our normal method of raking and also a smooth rake around the edges method, which is a bit more time consuming but could be an option for us if our normal method is not suitable for the new bunkers. At the moment the normal rake will be used but we will get a better idea of what works best when we get the bunkers back in play and see how they perform.

raking method 1 Raking method 2

The initial gradients that were excavated and shaped into the faces and back edges of the bunkers prior to concrete installation were extremely important to how the bunker works (all thebunkers slope into the centre of the bunker where the drains are) and these initial gradients are also extremely important to how the bunker plays (all golf balls should roll into the centre of the bunkers). This means we must maintain these bunkers by raking to a standard that gets the best results regarding playability and to limit the chances of your ball coming to rest on a bunker face or back edge.

Clearing The 18th Path

Over the years the gorse down the right side of the path towards the 18th tee has become overgrown and untidy, and the fire damage that occurred during July has meant that the area is earmarked for some much needed attention. We have started to clear a 2 metre area along the path to make the walk down to the tee a little less enclosed and it has made quite a difference. Taking the gorse away has also given us the opportunity to edge the astroturf back to where it should be, which has made the path much wider (weeds and grass had encroached up to 2 feet in some parts of the path). Another major plus point is that we have exposed the hand rail so you can use it without the worry of being stung by gorse and brambles.

Clearing the gorse back has also given us a better view down the right side of the fairway from the yellow and medal tee as the overgrown gorse had limited the view of any pushed tee shots. There is also a couple of sycamore trees that have grown up in amongst the gorse that really shouldn’t be there and are stopping your view down the right side so we will take them away when we are working in the area. We have still got a little bit to finish from the winter tee down to the end of the path but it shouldn’t take us too long to complete when we get back to it. When I’m going on about paths you will notice that most of the astroturf paths have been covered in a layer of sand to limit the chances of slipping or falling over the coming months. These areas can become quite hazardous during the winter as they become quite greasy and susceptible to frost. Applying a blanket of sand across the paths is not very aesthetically pleasing to the eye, I admit, but it works very well in limiting any hazardous conditions. The sand has also got rock salt mixed through it to limit the chances of the paths freezing.

Aeration Work

Over the last month we have really done some fantastic aeration work over many areas of the course. This is an extremely time consuming job so we very rarely find enough time to blanket verti drain across the course but luckily we have found the time this winter. We have verti drained all the aprons (takes up to an hour per apron) and went over many other areas, such as parts of fairways, walkways and areas of rough.

Aeration Work
One of the most beneficial tasks we will do this winter

We aerate to relieve compaction in problem areas, and it is essential to help poor drainage, poor root depth, poor soil conditions and drought. The compaction we get on the course is mainly reated by everyday activity, traffic from golfers and cutting machinery. To relieve this problem we punch holes into the surface to a depth of up to 10 inches. This process opens up the compacted soil allowing better water and air flow with the benefits including improved drainage, better intake of moisture and nutrients, better soil structure and healthier rootzones. If the conditions are suitable we will continue to aerate, starting with whole fairways over the next few months.

2018’s Extreme Weather

In 2018 we experienced a wide range of extreme weather patterns. If it wasn’t the onslaught from the Beast From The East, it was relentless downpours and in the summer we had a drought for 2 months followed by storms Ali and Callum battering us with high winds and floods. It clearly shows us that our climate is becoming more volatile and erratic due to either the nature of the jet stream changing or climate change occurring (no matter what Donald Trump thinks). Whatever the cause is, the challenge for us is how to deal with it as it looks like these extremes of weather are
going to continue.

Rainfall (mm)

 2012201320142015201620172018Av.30 years

The main issue we had with the weather last year revolved around rainfall. We simply did not get the regular rainfall we required to keep the playing surfaces healthy and presentable. The above monthly figures and end totals show that the amounts were a little lower than normal but nothing too much to worry about.

However, these totals don’t tell the whole story. From May to September we had virtually no rainfall for weeks on end and as I have already mentioned the totals for these months were from only a few days of rainfall (we got many heavy downpours instead of regular rain) which was not ideal if you are trying to produce balanced growth. An example to highlight the reduced rain we have had since May is by looking at Elf Loch. Normally at this time of the year the pond is at full capacity and we need to open the outlet pipe and drain to stop the 2nd fairway from flooding. At the moment the water level is nowhere near where it usually is. A few months ago the level was alarmingly low and areas of the bed were visible. It is now starting to fill up gradually and will continue to rise when we eventually get the rain that we are accustomed to.

Greenkeeper Review 2018

Since we have left 2018 behind, I thought it would be a good idea to make up a little video review for the past year as a way to show what changes we have made to the course through the year, the standards we have delivered and the exciting times ahead for us and the course as well as showing we had a little fun along the way. It is also a perfect format to show some of the exciting experiences each of us has been a part of over the year and hopefully highlights the dedication and enthusiasm we have for the club and our jobs. Would like to point out for insurance purposes, no
greenkeepers were harmed in the making of this video.