I am going to try and stay positive in this blog and not to continually complain about the desperate weather we have been enduring. It is however going to be extremely difficult to give you all an update of what we have been up to over the last month, without mentioning the prolonged periods of difficult weather we have experienced. With intense storms, heavy rainfall and snow accumulations continuing to batter our area, it has been a very tough start to the year for the greenstaff, the course and the membership. The conditions have sadly continued to affect course playability and disrupt our planned work and maintenance, resulting in being behind schedule on where we planned to be at this time. These conditions have got to change sometime and when they do we will get back to preparing the course for the coming season.
On a positive note, the daylight hours are getting longer and higher temperatures will surely follow in the coming weeks. When these two key components to grass growth start to work together, underfoot conditions will begin to dry out and growth patterns will begin to kick in.
Just as the course had started to recover from Storm Ciara, it was then confronted by Storm Dennis, bringing more heavy rain and strong winds, all of which helped last month to be the wettest February on record in the Edinburgh area. This resulted in the course field capacity being at its limit and in turn poor playability, recovery rates and limited maintenance on the course followed.
Now water is a good thing for a greenkeeper, as it is the most essential ingredient of golf course presentation. Without it the grass can’t grow and yet, too much can bring catastrophic consequences. When grass is submerged by water, the grass has no access to oxygen which basically starts to suffocate it. Heavy rainfall amounts in winter months is more problematic for us as the temperatures are low and soil moisture is not burnt off as quickly or used so much in plant root uptake (evapotranspiration) as it does when temperatures are high.
At the moment the course is as wet as I have seen it during my time at Mortonhall and by looking at the February rainfall chart above you can realise why some areas of the course are so wet. The heavens delivered 183 mm of rain in the last month with the average rainfall for February being 49 mm, which we nearly had in one day (43 mm when Storm Ciara hit). If you are loving the rainfall data, I’ve got one more useless piece of information for you all – over the last 5 months, we recorded 80% of the days as wet days.
As already mentioned, field capacity on the course is at its limits. The drains installed throughout the course are working but the sheer volume of draining water is making it difficult for them to cope. Just as the place starts to dry out after a few windy days and no rain, we get another deluge of rain and we are back to square one. These weather patterns cannot go on forever and I am positive if we get a prolonged dry period you will start to see the course dry out and playing surfaces begin to improve pretty quickly.
By this time of year, we have normally been mowing areas throughout the course occasionally to deliver some definition on greens, tees and fairways. Sadly during the last few months this has simply not been the case as it has been virtually impossible to negotiate a machine around the course safely, and we would be doing more harm than good trying to cut these areas (damage turf, poor cut and stress on grass). Again over the winter months we would normally be undertaking frequent aeration work over all playing surfaces with our verti drain, procore and spiker. This has not been possible with the surfaces being too saturated to work on as there would be a definite danger of the machinery damaging the turf.
When ground conditions improve, we will be out enhancing all playing surfaces, with various methods (regular mowing, light top dressing and aeration), aiming to get the surfaces back to their best by the start of the season. The greenstaff would sincerely like to thank all the membership for their ongoing support and patience during this extremely difficult time.
We have managed to work through a number of important tasks over the past month to keep us warm. We have been continuing to work through the snagging list from the CIP work, which involves mainly repairing the areas on the 4th and 10th holes. The areas have been prepped and we are getting turf delivered very soon to complete the 4th fairway and area at 10th green (by the time you have read this blog, hopefully the turf will have arrived and these areas will have been completed). When these areas are finished it will leave us only the area to right of the 4th fairway to be completed. This area at the moment is still a touch too wet for us to prepare for turf but we will have this done as soon as possible.
10th Bunker Done and Dusted
We have installed sand to the desired depth at the 10th bunker, which interestingly marks the end of the CIP work as that was the final piece of the jigsaw to be completed. The bunker has been ready for sand for a number of weeks now but the underfoot conditions meant having to wait until we experienced a hard frost so we could transport heavy tractors and trailers across the course without making too much damage on route to the 10th. When we were in the area, we managed to plant 8 trees to replace the Leylandii that was felled last year. The established trees we planted are a mixture of Cherry, Beech and Rowan, which we hope will enhance the area in the future, improving character and separation between the 9th fairway and 10th green (between here and the 14through, we have planted 90 trees this winter).
Tree planting between 9th and 10th
Another snagging issue we repaired was the water run off and resulting rutting that was occurring on the right bunker at the 13th green. You will have probably never seen the problem as you will need to be a long way off target to be passing this area, but it was becoming a serious problem (every time it rained, there was an area outside the bunker where soil was getting washed away). To limit the problem, we installed a gully pot and drainage pipe to take surface water away without too much damage to the new turf or bunker.
Drainage at 8th
If you have played the course in the last couple of weeks, you will have noticed the new temporary water feature we have got on the 8th hole. We were first made aware of the problem when a constant flow of water starting entering the first bunker on the fairway. What we first thought was a blocked drainage pipe nearby turned into something much more serious when we started digging and soon realised there was a major problem. If you click on the photo below you will find a video link highlighting the amount of water flow we were experiencing.
After some investigation we worked out that the constant flow of water was coming from a large rubble drain a few feet under the surface. This rubble drain certainly pre dates the golf course and would have been used by farmers to successfully remove water from their land. This drain has helped us enormously over the years draining the left side of the course but it was unfortunately damaged during the construction of the fairway bunkers (unknown to us). What basically happened is that the rubble drain had been broken, so the water flowed down the drain until it reached the area where the bunker was constructed and had nowhere to go. The pressure of the water then backed up until it found its way to the surface.
If the new bunker was positioned 2 yards to the left we may not have been in this position, but we are, so this problem needs to be rectified urgently. We managed to divert the flow into an existing nearby drainage pipe which has helped but unfortunately the flow is too strong and the clay pipe cannot handle all the water flow. The next step is to install another drainage outlet which will run from the problem area across to the rough to the left of the 9th hole, where we will dig a huge sump for the water to sit and hopefully drain away naturally. This action is our top priority and by the time you read this blog we will be working on this area to improve the problem.
By Shaun Cunningham