The recent weather has given us the opportunity to have an uninterrupted run at improving the presentation of the course by frequent mowing schedules and carrying out the necessary maintenance on each of our playing surfaces to keep the areas on the course to a high standard.
This month’s update will mainly focus on the playing surfaces out on our course and to highlight some of the work which has recently taken place on them and why we do it. Hopefully it will give you all a better understanding and insight on what goes into producing the course surfaces to our desired standard.
Our aim is to deliver our greens to be consistent with regard to speed, smoothness and firmness all over the course. At the moment the greens are largely consistent with good grass coverage; however, it could be better with the odd area still suffering from uneven growth. This issue is improving due to the liquid fertiliser we applied two weeks ago. It is also pleasing that the areas we hand spiked and seeded last month are now growing healthily and filling out the scars that disease caused over the winter months. With a bit of consistent rainfall over the coming weeks the surfaces will start to kick on with good growth and colour and we will be in a good place for the rest of the season.
Verti Cutting to thin out surface has become regular recently
We always get a meadow grass burst around mid May and this year has been no exception. The sudden burst of meadow grass is in relation to the current year’s growth potential or in a slightly more geeky term Growth Degree Days. When the years accumulated average temperature hits the figure of around 180, the meadow grass growth flourishes (I won’t bore you with a detailed description of this, but if you google growth degree days it will help explain it).
Our greens are predominately Meadow Grass (75%), which is the white coloured patches you see on the greens when it is flowering (May to June), the 8th and 18thgreens being the worst hit normally. Meadow Grass thrives on parkland golf courses like ours, due to the high compaction, high growth and soil type present. It has a folded boat shaped leaf which is coarser and presents more drag on a ball roll compared to finer grasses resulting in slower and less smooth surfaces. Although it is called a grass, it is in fact actually a weed and we could really do without it on the greens, but the control of it is virtually impossible due to its vast breeding potential.
A single Meadow Grass plant produces around 6 seedlings per annum, which produces 36 seeds per seedling, which has a potential annual seed dump of 13,060,694,016 seeds per single plant (and yes I needed a calculator to work that figure out). Don’t be terrified with this number as not all the progeny will survive, but it will give you an idea of how difficult it is to keep on top off,when the seeds start to emerge on the greens. The problem will die down around mid June and up to that time we will carry out regular verti cutting (this is done to help reduce the populations by dislodging and removing Meadow Grass seed heads before they germinate and in turn limit its spread).
We are currently mowing the greens every day at 3 mm, verti cutting 2 – 3 times per week and rolling 2 – 3 times per week. The average green speed over the last month is 8.6ft, which is not too bad for this period of slightly unevengrowth and meadow grass coverage (we aim for between 9ft and 9.5ft in height of summer).
Improving consistency and pace on the greens is not as simple as cutting the grass shorter or rolling more, as dropping the height of cut dramatically and rolling too often will only prove detrimental to the health of the turf and in the long term result in problems with disease, grass sward and firmness. We have found that regular verti cutting (sometimes twice daily) is very successful in reducing the thickness and populations of meadow grass, which drastically improves green speed and more importantly green smoothness. We will continue to carry out this method until the meadow grass problem calms down.
The video clip below was taken on Friday 23rd May (Ladies Open Greensomes) and it highlights how well the greens were running that day, following a double verti cut the previous morning. The green speed and smoothness levels improved considerably after the work was carried out. Click on photo to view how smooth the ball was rolling and how impressive my putting is.
The tees at Mortonhall receive more wear and tear than any other area on the course and it is a constant struggle to deliver smooth, healthy and good looking teeing grounds with so much traffic and shade to deal with, especially on the par 3’s.
The aim is to provide firm, level areas with good grass coverage and deliver good recovery rates from divot damage. We patch the tees continually during the growing months (twice weekly) and use a good marker rotation method that spreads wear evenly over the teeing ground. We are thankful for the help we receive from the members using the divot boxes situated on the par 3 tees and we ask you to please keep up the good work. The tees are cut 2 or 3 times a week to keep them tidy – the height of cut being 10mm. We plan to apply fertiliser and spray wetting agent to them in the coming weeks to help with the recovery rate.
Fairways and Aprons
The fairways are the main focal point of any hole as it is the first thing that catches your eye from the tee, so it is important that the fairways look good from afar along with being firm, smooth and consistent to play from. The height of cut on the fairways is 12mm which we feel is short enough to get some roll out from your tee shot but enough grass to get a good lie when playing a shot. The fairways are cut 2 or 3 times a week.
We mow the aprons 2 or 3 times per week at 8mm, which we feel is an ideal height for the transition between apron and green (at this height you can putt without the drag of the ball being too much and you can pitch with confidence as there is a bit of grass underneath the ball). Like the tees, we plan to apply wetting agent in the coming weeks to improve water holding capacity and improve aesthetics.
Last year we tried something different in the form of spraying growth regulator and we employed a contractor to come in and spray all our fairways with a product that acts as a growth regulator to try and ease the problem of excess growth on the fairways. The product is designed to inhibit vertical growth and divert grass growth downwards into the root system and improve development and health. This in turn produces a thicker, healthier sward (in layman terms it stops grass growing so quickly but makes grass growth thicker, resulting in less man hours cutting). This practice proved a huge success, so we applied the growth regulator to all our fairways and aprons again last week. Last year the only downside we had was that the fairways lost their colour a touch, so to counteract this problem, we mixed fertiliser through the spray tank at the same time. After only a few days the growth regulator has started working, with vertical growth slowing down and both fairways and aprons holding their colour without having excessive growth.
Rough and First Cut
The largest area we need to cut on the course is our rough areas which we cut once a week and then go over the longer areas again if time allows (8, 9, 11, 12 and 15 normally). We cut our first cut (the 2 widths of mower that is the transition between fairway and semi rough) twice weekly. The aim for us is to produce rough areas that are consistent throughout the course and we feel that we achieve this successfully. The height of cut we use is 44mm (1 ¾ inches) for the semi rough and 21mm for the first cut, which we feel is an ideal height for us to keep on top of and to be a challenge for the golfer without it being too brutal.
We have 2 slight issues at the moment when maintaining the rough and first cut areas. The first is the amount of growth we are experiencing at the minute, resulting in areas needing greater levels of mowing attention. The areas that are especially thick also need blown with the tractor mounted blower (again 8, 9, 11, 12 and 15 are the most problematic). The other issue we have and it has just turned up in the last few weeks is the appearance of weeds in the rough (mainly daisies, dandelions and clover). At the moment the problem is not at a level that we need to act on, but we will monitor the situation and act when necessary and apply a suitable herbicide.
Since the school and university term is coming to an end, I thought it would be a good time to give an update on the three greenstaff who are currently undertaking courses at Elmwood College. Education is crucial to our own development and that of the golf club, as it not only give us the knowledge to carry out our work to a high professional standard but also keeps us up to date on the latest greenkeeping methods, and legislation. It also greatly develops staff member’s confidence, experience and understanding of our industry.
The modern greenkeeper doesn’t just cut grass now as we need to be agronomists, environmentalists, mathematicians, ecologists, IT specialists, PR officers, mechanics and marketing experts to name a few. We must continue to learn and push ourselves to develop our knowledge as the golf industry is changing yearly and we need to be prepared for any changes to benefit ourselves and our golf club
Team Education – Gary, Shaun and Grant
Gary – SVQ Level 2 & 3
Gary is currently working through his apprenticeship with us, which includes attending college on a week’s block release every three months to work towards gaining his SVQ Level 2 & 3. The course is designed to gain the essential skills needed to have a successful career in the sports turf industry. The majority of the practical work is completed at Mortonhall, which we then assess him on and give feedback to his course tutors. The rest of the studying is done in the classroom. The course is completed over 4 years and Gary has done 18 months so far, with positive feedback received from his tutors, along with his outstanding pass marks in assessments and excellent work he carries out day to day on the golf course. It’s clear he will be a fine asset to our club in the coming years. He has already achieved his Pa1 spraying certificate and working towards his Pa2 in the very near future.
Shaun – Higher National Diploma (HND)
I have been doing this course through online distance learning, which basically means all the work is done at home in front of a laptop screen. The course comprises 18 units which is completed over a period of three years (I have passed 9 units so far). The course is designed to push its participants outside their comfort zone and broaden their knowledge with units such as Managing Turf Grasses, Soil Science, Managing IT and Human Resource Management. I know these units sound a barrel of laughs but they have been extremely beneficial to me in regards to my work as it has greatly recharged my passion for my job, raised my confidence levels, given me a greater understanding of golf course ecology and it has brought me from being a complete novice with a computer to being able to put together Power Points and word documents like the one you are currently reading. Another plus point for me completing this course has been getting the opportunity to become an R&A Scholar through it and helping me work towards achieving my goal of gaining a Continued Personal Development (CPD) Milestone.
Grant – Higher National Certificate (HNC)
Grant has also been undertaking this course through online distance learning, which needs a great deal of his own time to be put aside so he can complete each of the 12 units required to pass the course. The course is over three years and he has passed 4 units so far with flying colours and received excellent feedback from his tutors throughout. The course content includes units on Golf Course Budgets, Design and Construction, Turfgrass Ecology and Supervision and Management which will clearly be beneficial to Grant and Mortonhall in the long term as he can put the huge amount of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm gained on the course, into practice at our workplace. Along with the new found knowledge, other positives about completing the course include improving your own personal development through participating in the CPD Scheme and the opportunity to ask questions and network constantly with the other like minded greenkeepers who are also undertaking this course.
There is one negative with all this further education stuff however, as our conversations have now become incredibly dull. We used to talk about football, golf and going to the pub, now most of our chats revolve around weather patterns, plant protection, graphs, pie charts and integrated plant management (riveting stuff you’ll agree!)
By Shaun Cunningham