April is a historically unpredictable month – we can never quite forecast what we are going to get. This year, despite temperatures being on average a couple of degrees lower than normal, we had an almost ideal mixture of dry conditions interspersed with rain just when we needed it. This spell of helpful weather has allowed us to do a lot of work which will stand us in good stead for the season – the greens, tees and aprons have been aerated and topdressed with sand, our wetting agent program has been implemented just as we would have hoped and we have had time to patch a lot of areas in the fairways which have sustained rabbit damage over the winter months.
The greens and tees look a bit lean at the moment, but we have avoided feeding them too much at this early stage as it has been too cold for the plants to use what we would have otherwise applied. We always judge our applications based on temperature and conditions rather than by following a rigid schedule based on the calendar. It is a costly waste to apply fertilisers that a semi-dormant plant cannot utilise – these products inevitably end up leaching to the sub-sand before they can be taken up by the roots.
The only disappointing feature of this colder than average April was the poor recovery of the 5th green. Despite regular overseedings and applications of a clever cocktail of feeds, we have seen precious little comeback from the battering it took from the winter storms. As of last week, though, it has definitely taken a turn for the better and I have high hopes that with a bit of the heat forecasted for May we will soon make massive strides towards the restoration of full grass cover.
Turf Nursery…The Second Coming
Over the course of the last year we have used every last block of turf from the 1500sq.m turf nursery that we constructed in June 2014. This project has been an unqualified success, but now that we have used up our precious supply, we are going to have to start all over again!
I have already cleared the debris from the site with an excavator, so the next job is to loosen up the rootzone with a tractor-mounted rotovator. Because the rootzone is compacted and bound together by turf roots, it would be impossible to create a successful seedbed without doing this. When we built the nursery, we imported enough topsoil to create a 6 inch depth of rootzone, which we formed by mixing the soil at a 50:50 ratio with indigenous links sand. That might seem like a strong mix to those of you who are used to hearing about the famous (and in my opinion pointlessly inert!) 80:20 USGA mixes. But the “soil” we used which was stripped from a site near the shoreline already contained a proportion of sand.
We set our turfcutter to strip turf at about a 2-inch depth, so we still have 4 inches of good material to play with, which is just enough. Next time we do this we will need to start again and import more soil, but on this occasion we will just set the rotovator to 4 inches and go for it. Once the rootzone has been loosened up with the machine, we will rake the lumps out of it by hand and simply spread seed over it using a fertiliser spreader, then rake it again to cover that up. All we need to do after that is apply a pre-seeder fertiliser, make sure the whole area stays damp during the germination phase, and wait for it to turn green!
Last time we seeded the nursery we experimented with different grass species, but we were so successful growing fescue on this rootzone that we are going to concentrate on that this time. For those of you that like details, we are going to seed half of it with Barenbrug`s Bar Trio, and half of it with Bar22. Bar Trio is a mixture of extremely salt tolerant fescues, designed to be used on fine turf surfaces near the shoreline, while Bar 22 is my favourite mixture for patching fairways as it almost perfectly mirrors the natural turf at Machrihanish Dunes and requires very little nutritional input.
We should be ready to undertake this work within the next couple of weeks, but it depends entirely on the weather. If there are any strong easterly winds in the forecast, we will delay this task until they have abated. I`ve seen an easterly wind strip the topsoil off a field in a single day and I definitely don`t want that happening to our nursery!
The Side-to-Side Roller and the IMP
A member who is a friend of mine recently asked me on behalf of another golf club whether I would recommend they purchased a side-to-side roller. You know the machine I`m talking about, the unstable-looking red and yellow thing with the handle on the front that you see greenkeepers at every big club bombing up and down the greens on. It is an interesting question, and it reminded me of a famous disclaimer our industry have used for years which goes something like this:
“[side-to-side rollers] can improve greens surfaces when used as part of an integrated management program (IMP)”
That is a classic management-speak “get out of jail free” card, but in the case of the greens iron it is absolutely true. You cannot buy and use one of these, do nothing to counteract its compaction action, and expect your greens to be faster and smoother without suffering any negative effects… life just does not work like that! Anybody who thinks about it can surely see that a greens-iron used repeatedly without due diligence will lead to surface tension and a reduction in the ability of the rootzone to breathe and to clear water from the surface.
I am not saying that the greens-iron is a bad thing. Quite the opposite, I love mine. What I am saying, though, is that if you are going to use one as part of your management regime, you are going to have to also increase the frequency of some other facets of your “integrated management program” to make up for it. Successful greenkeeping is all about maintaining the status quo – if you can keep everything you do in a perfect balance then you can make steady and relentless progress towards your ultimate goals, but conversely, if you step out of line you can quickly find yourself locked into a downward spiral that inevitably results in poorer turf condition and the requirement to introduce invasive remedial practices and spend more money to fix the issues that you yourself have created.
So what conditions do you have to create to ensure that you can roll on a regular basis without impacting negatively on the health of your turf?
Firstly, you need to topdress regularly with a suitable sandy material that will not easily bind together. If you just start rolling on top of the organic material that sits in the upper portion of most turf rootzones, you will squash that organic material and compact it to the point where air and water cannot penetrate. If on the other hand you topdress at least monthly with good quality material, the roller will never come into contact with organic matter but will instead be rolling loose sand.
Think about the beach, and the difference in smoothness between the wet sand at the low tide mark that has recently been ironed out by the sea and the sand at the high tide mark that has been trampled all day by kids and dogs. A golf ball will come to a standstill almost immediately on the uneven sand, but will run forever down the freshly washed sand. This is precisely what the side-to-side roller does but it can only do this if it has loose topdressing around the crown of the plant to work with.
The other thing that is obviously crucially important is off-setting the compaction that the roller causes. Regardless of whether or not the roller has enough loose material to work with, it will inevitably squash everything together, so if it is to be used regularly you will also have to aerate more regularly than before. Luckily for us, the action of the aeration equipment that we use these days has become so smooth that we can use 8-10mm solid tines and follow that up with a simple roll from a handmower, and the average golfer would hardly know we had been there at all. Gone are the days of the old spoon-tines that would have members gnashing their teeth for weeks!
Every golf course is different. Some clubs may have been lucky enough to inherit a perfect rootzone and may already have been doing all the work that is required to allow them to integrate a greens iron into their program. Some clubs at the other end of the spectrum may have such a thick layer of dense organic matter and such a low budget that they could never hope to create the conditions necessary to get the best out of the machine and would only induce catastrophic damage by trying. Most courses lie somewhere in-between, but you need to think seriously about what extra work needs to be done in order to offset the impact that introducing one of these machines will inevitably have.
Like most links greenkeepers who work in an inherently sandy environment, I use my roller to great effect. In the shoulder months, I can dramatically increase green speed for a single day competition without having to lower my cutting height and subsequently impact on the health of my greens. During the high season, I can roll twice a week in conjunction with the same number of cuts at the same cutting height I have always used and easily produce a smoother, firmer, faster surface than I ever could have hoped to produce in the past.
Like everybody else I have rules though – I have learned from experience when I can “get away” with breaking out the greens iron and when I need to leave it in the shed to avoid negatively impacting on the health of the grass. Using common sense to work within that perfect balance is all part of creating our own IMP!
I`m sure you know that the driving range has been waterlogged and closed for almost the entire winter…well, good news, it is back open! Opening hours for May will be 9am to 5pm, so come and make the most of the opportunity to work the idiosyncrasies out of your swing.
Largs Golf Club
I’m happy to announce that following a kind arrangement with Largs Golf Club, Mach Dunes members may now golf at Largs for just a £25 green fee. I hope our members take advantage of this and go play on one of the finest parkland courses in Western Scotland.
Mach Dunes Golf Club