Thursday, 29 July 2010

Benchmarking Progress

We were recently visited by Steve Gingell, a turfgrass agronomist from the Sports Turf Research Institute. We use the STRI for help and advice on all agronomic matters. An agronomist would normally visit us once each year to assess the condition of the turf and suggest possible ways to make some improvements. 
This year for the first time during the visit Steve undertook a series of measurements designed to objectively assess the quality of the putting surfaces. The 5th, 9th and 17th were chosen as indicator greens and five different tests were carried out to each surface. 
The firmness of each green was measured using a Clegg Impact Hammer

Steve Gingell explains the Clegg Impact Hammer
The firmness of the putting surface is critically important with regard to its receptivity/ball holding characteristics, smoothness and year-round playability. We aim to create consistently firm surfaces which are receptive to a well struck shot played from a tight lie but which do not become uneven under play. A suitably firm surface allows a ball from a well struck shot to release, check and quickly stop. Poorly struck or shots played from longer grass should be less easy to control and  be prone to rolling through the green. Aeration and top dressing  are two key greenkeeping practices that improve surface firmness in a green. To carry out the test the silver weight is dropped down the yellow tube and the resistance it is met with when it strikes the turf is measured giving a numerical value of firmness. The target range for our course is between 100 and 120 gravities. All our greens fell within this range. 

Volumetric Moisture Content

Andrew Ricketts measuring soil moisture
This is measured using a Theta Probe which averages the moisture content in the top 60mm of the soil profile. The higher the reading the wetter the profile readings above 45% normally being at field capacity. The soil moisture readings were taken next to the measurement for surface firmness. There is a direct correlation between surface firmness and volumetric moisture content with wetter surfaces always tending to be softer. Our moisture readings were consistent from green to green and withing the desired range for a links course. 

Organic Matter
Core samples were taken through the soil profile to assess the organic matter (thatch) beneath the selected greens. Organic matter holds moisture resulting in soft surfaces when wet and overly hard and unresponsive when dry. It also increases the symptoms of dry patch during dry weather and can promote and contribute to the presence of superficial fairy rings which are an issue on some greens at the moment. The test results showed that our organic matter content is very marginally on the high side. This test was actually taken in the summer of 2008 and results have improved since then. Once again aeration and top dressing are key operations in the management of thatch.

Green Speed

Oliver Pennington uses the Stimpmeter
Green speeds were measured using a Stimpmeter. This method measures the roll of the ball from a standard delivery carried out in multiple areas of each green.The longer the average measurement the faster the surface is deemed to be. All the results were factored using the Bredy equation to remove the effects of slopes within the greens. Our greens showed reasonable consistency and were all within the target range of between 9 and 10 ft for mid summer.

Surface Trueness/Smoothness

The trueness meter in action
The most important aspect of any green is that it provides a smooth and true surface for as long a period possible throughout the year. We try to create a surface which does not deflect a ball from its intended path causing snaking and does not cause bobbling due to unevenness. Smoothness and trueness was measured using a newly developed trueness and smoothness meter which gives a reading in millimeter deviation in each direction per linear meter. The measuring device, which resembles a pimped trolley jack, was pushed across a 10 meter green section at a steady pace in two directions. In the photo above PGA professional Mike Deeley tries out the device under the watchful eye of Steve. The readings showed the 5th green to be the smoothest and 17 the least smooth. Greenkeeping practices that improve smoothness include top dressing, rolling using lightweight turf irons and the promotion of healthy, dense grass plants through adequate nutrition. Golfers can play a big role in maintaining surface smoothness by choosing to diligently repair pitchmarks.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Fairy Ring Activity

Despite the fact the greens remain smooth and in generally good order it is noted there has been a marked increase in the presence of dark green rings on the putting surfaces known as fairy rings.

 Dark rings visible on the 18th green

Although these fungal pathogens tend not to cause the turf any actual harm, they are very unsightly and the ball reacts slightly differently on the lush green rings compared to the adjacent lighter areas. A chemical control is available but it is difficult to apply it correctly. It must be sprayed onto the soil below the affected grass on two occasions four weeks apart when the rings are active. To get beneath the turf we must tine the greens to open channels into the soil and then spray the chemical down the newly created holes. Top dressing can then be used to help reinstate a smooth surface with the greens fully recovering in a week or so. Four weeks from the initial application we would need to repeat the process – tine greens, apply chemical, top dress and wait for full recovery to take place. Clearly, carrying out these processes at this time of the year is far from ideal from a playing perspective. In the coming days and weeks we host a number of important events along with several ladies and gents medal competitions. We need to balance the need to rid our greens of this largely superficial problem with that of the short term performance of the greens in this critical phase of the playing season. It would seem that by the time we have a suitable space in the club diary to carry out the work, it will be past the period of efficacy for the chemical. On balance this treatment will be best carried out in the early part of summer 2011, assuming of course the rings return next year.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Controlling Bracken

We have taken steps recently to begin to control bracken in selected rough areas around the course. Bracken is a highly invasive species of fern which is widespread throughout many of the out of play areas on the golf course. The plant has the potential to form huge dense stands of monotonous vegetation which dramatically lower the ecological value of the inhabited areas by stifling the growth of almost all other plant species. Interestingly, the large stands of bracken which cover huge areas are often made up of only one plant with each stem connected via a massive underground rhizome system buried deep in the soil. This fact alone makes effective control of the plant extremely difficult.

It is worth pointing out that we recognise that in certain circumstances bracken can have a positive impact on both ecology and golfing aesthetics. It can provide both height variance and texture to out of play areas and can also provide a valuable nesting and roosting habitat for several bird species. Even some plants species can thrive under the bracken canopy provided it is not too dense. In fact size, density and location of the bracken stands are what dictates the ecological and aesthetic value to the area. Due to this we have selected specific areas where we deem control to be appropriate.

In many of the areas where shade has been removed with the clearing of holm oak and degenerate gorse, bracken has taken over. Areas such as the right hand sides of the 7th and 18th holes, which have previously been subjected to clearance works, have been selected as areas suitable for bracken control following rapid ingress into the newly created open spaces. In both of these locations chemical control has been carried out to stop the bracken dominating.

Chemically Treated Bracken Dying Off

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Establishing Marram

The Marram grass planted in the dunes on the left side of the 11th fairway following the tree removal last year has established well. The difficult spring and early summer weather meant that planting success was far from certain but thankfully things have turned out well. Nearly every Marram plug has taken and most are now thriving.

Of all the small pockets we planted the ones on the backs and sides of mounds and in hollows have taken best of all. The shelter from easterly winds provided in these areas has allowed the young plants the ideal environment for growth. Plants on mound tops are doing less well but most have still taken and continue to grow and spread albeit more slowly. For the time being we continue to request that players take a lift and drop when they land in the Marram plantations (marked by a white line) to help provide the most protection possible to these still vulnerable plants.

Further planting will be carried out on hole 11 in the autumn to add more texture to the lovely dune formations in this area.

The image above is of a section of the area next to the 6th tee which was previously home to a copse of the invasive Holm Oak tree (Quercus Ilex) and virtually nothing else. In 2008 we removed trees and scraped away the brash on the ground to expose the sand below. This was followed by extensive planting of Marram grass plugs and the introduction of some gorse plants. 

As you can see from the image above the gorse has established very quickly and has already spread over a significant area. Our aim for this area is to provide a fairly open, species rich dune grassland so with this in mind we will shortly begin chemically controlling further spread of the gorse plants. I am very surprised to be considering gorse control measures so soon after introducing the plant but it just goes to show how aggressive the plant is when provided with favourable conditions. If left unchecked the area would be completely covered in gorse which would be to the obvious detriment of biodiversity, just as it was with the Holm Oak tree before we intervened in 2008.

New Tee Signage

The tee signage on the course is being replaced with new bronze plates. On white tees these will be mounted on locally sourced granite boulders, which are felt to be in keeping with the natural look and feel of the course.

Yellow and red tees will have their bronze plate mounted on the underside of the existing granite plinths, which will be sunk into the tee surface so as not to cause any issues with health and safety. The non-intrusive look of the “mow over” style of tee plate is again in keeping with the natural feel of the golf course.

Blue tee markers will cease to be used on the championship tees with the white tee markers being placed on the championship tees on occasion instead. Members should pay close attention to which tee surface is in play on holes 9, 13 and 15 when playing in competitions.