We have just entered March and I would say the condition of the course is good, yes we have some wear on areas of heavy traffic but this is to be expected when the course has been open to play all winter save 2 days. The tee boxes and approaches have been aerated, cut and are awaiting a heavy application of sand at the next available opportunity. This will be followed up by an application of granular fertiliser when soil temperatures reach the required level. Fairways are well rested and have returned to normal play. They will shortly be receiving a clean up from the tractor mounted sweep collector followed by a their first cut of the season. Again once temperatures allow the fairways will receive a fertilise. The greens have faired very well over the winter considering. You wouldn’t think it but this winter has been quite hard on the greens. Last winter was perfect, it was dry and offered plenty of opportunities to spray with nutrients and little amounts of fertiliser, meaning that we could maintain them as we seen fit. This year whilst being dry we have also received prolonged frosts and high winds. Together these act as a double-edged sword by both placing stress on the greens and stopping us from applying nutrients/fertiliser to maintain plant health and relieve added stress. So a great winter for golfing but plenty to think about for us green keepers.
A big part of green keeping is thinking ahead, while we have been hard at work with winter projects we have also being looking into and planning the season ahead. As a team we believe that we must have a destination in our sights and a plan in place to reach it. Three years ago the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) was brought in to consult and help us set out a plan of reducing the Organic Matter content (OM). We created a 2 year plan to reduce OM to current recommended levels, the Graden sand injection machine was bought and the rest is history. If only it were that simple, yes the Graden reduced OM levels but that is not the secret behind the success of the greens at Ponteland. Reduced OM content has many benefits and the biggest has been that it has prolonged the window of opportunity that we can work on the greens allowing us to increase the workload intensity. Over the 2-year period of reducing the OM content the team were constantly researching and trying new methods of management on the transforming putting surfaces. The greens from 5 years ago are different to the greens we have now because through installing drainage, hollow coring and Graden we have reinforced the foundations that they are built upon and evolved our maintenance regime.
This brings us up to last year, last year with the OM content under control the aim was to push the greens. See what they were capable of, take them out of the safe zone and see how they react. Now that we had this new foundation we had to know where the limits were in terms of both performance and management. It was a successful year and I do feel we pushed both of these limits, in doing so we however created the obvious question. Where inside those limits should we maintain the greens for daily play and various standards of competitions? This is judged mainly on feedback from the members and for the most part I think we have a good balance… for now as opinions are ever changing.
Back on point and to forward thinking whilst carrying out winter projects.
Where do we go from here? We need a destination/goal so that we don’t loose focus and get lost along the way. Rory Mcllroy has a saying that “better never stops”, I love this and he is absolutely right, it doesn’t and neither do we.
This year’s aim is to streamline our maintenance regime. Maintaining the greens inside their agronomic limits and to the standard the members hold upon them. Work smarter and cost effectively. By streamlining the greens maintenance program hopefully we can free up time and money to invest else where on the course like tee boxes, approaches and fairways. I am confident that we are running a tight ship and how much we can reinvest our time and money to improve other areas whilst maintaining the greens to the required standards remains to be seen, but there is always room for improvement because #betterneverstops!
The season hasn’t even started yet and we have failed! Or at least we would have failed. I mentioned the STRI earlier, they had been hearing about the greens performance we are maintaining and wanted to pop in for a visit to see how far we had come since their last visit. Adam Newton and Richard Windows came for a walk around the course and we had a great conversation about the challenge we have undertaken and where we wanted to go from here. Adam had visited himself the previous month to take a sample from one of the greens to measure the current OM content. He brought the results with him on the second visit where we discussed our plan for the year ahead. Originally we had planned to hollow core the greens this spring because it had been over a year since they last received either a hollow core or a pass with the Graden machine and since the Graden machine is now obsolete on our greens hollow coring was the sensible option. However now we had the results back from the OM test, the results of which can be seen below.
The STRI have the largest database of golf greens in the world and within that database our results came back in the top 14% of Parkland courses in the country. Now that we have these results it shows that there is no need to hollow core all the greens this spring and to do so would cause a great deal of stress and disturbance for little benefit. Further more to do so would go against this year’s plan of producing the best surfaces smarter and cheaper. Not only do these results highlight a change in our planned spring renovation but they also highlight the need for further testing on the greens. We have managed to maintain the greens to a good standard using what tools we have available but to really get the best out of the greens, budget and man hours it is essential to collect data and using that data formulate a plan that will produce the best results from our efforts. Some of the data that we will be collecting are as follows.
- OM Levels
- Soil pH
- Nutritional levels
- Root development
- Compaction levels
- Infiltration levels
- Moisture levels
- Sward density
We are fortunate to already collect some of this data but aiming to collect all of this will provide a fuller understanding as shown by the reviewed spring maintenance plan. We are currently looking into ways of recording this data and as we near the completion of winter projects we are very much looking forward to the start of the season.