Golf Course Maintenance
The golfing year is now often a full one, with minimal time for major maintenance work on your golf grass. When major works such as ditch clearing, fairway replacement or golf course drainage are required, they are likely to be best carried out in the winter months where minimal disruption to play is possible. Lesser works such as aeration, slit drainage/sand banding or general maintenance are less disruptive. Grassform offer a complete golf course maintenance service, tailoring a maintenance schedule to suit your exact needs.
The following is a general advice guide produced by an independent sports turf agronomist for monthly maintenance. This schedule can apply to most golf courses, but will obviously depend on soil type, weather patterns and management policy and various other site specific factors.
For professional advice on how Grassform can work with your requirements and improve your golf course, please contact us
Arrange for the irrigation system to be commissioned now or very shortly if the weather allows. It is important to bear in mind that we could be facing another summer drought and an efficient system is essential. Eliminate leaks and ensure that the system is programmed to deliver the water that is actually required on each area. Shaded and sheltered areas for example should receive less than those that are in full sunshine. High and low areas of the same green need to be irrigated at different rates, can your system do this? A thorough check by a specialist irrigation company is invaluable as they will give the system a full health check and provide you with details of what is needed to keep the system working at its best. If your system is getting on in years they might also tell you that it is time to plan its replacement.
Many of the old PVC systems lasted 15-20 years before they were due for retirement, the newer systems should last much longer and are good value for money. If a replacement is due the next few months should be spent deciding what is required for the future. Are there other areas to include in the system, walk off routes for example? Are there other sources of water to bring on line? Is a borehole a possibility and is fairway irrigation worth considering? Having carefully thought about what is needed from the new system bring in the designer to get it onto paper and invite tenders.
This can be done over the next few weeks with a view to installation starting in September when the system is likely to be less in demand to keep the course alive. All equipment should be thoroughly prepared for the coming season so that failures don’t cause major headaches. If your machines are 2 years old change the hydraulic hoses, it’s not a 100% guarantee but new hoses are less likely than old ones to leak and damage the turf. Whilst looking at your equipment update your inventory and condition assessment. A detailed record of downtime and repair costs should also be kept as justification for replacement when the time comes.
Given a reasonably typical year this month should see the end of winter and the onset of better ground and air temperatures that we know will soon encourage growth. If we get a mild spell of several days apply a light tonic to encourage some early growth, this can produce smoother surfaces more quickly and might even help to avoid some of the problems that beset our courses at a time when the Golf Masters appears on television.
Thinking of smoother surfaces and trying to balance the growth rates of different grass types in golf greens a growth retardant may well be part of the answer. With some good results last year it is worth looking at or trying on some areas, tees, greens or around bunkers for example. You need to start treatment at the beginning of the season to get the full benefit and so as the grass comes into growth and is stress free you need to be ready to start the programme of treatment.
Dry Patch has also been an issue on many courses and you should be prepared for this too. An early application of wetting agent will be far more effective because the ground is moist, penetration will be much more effective and the benefits will be felt throughout the season as the wetting agent programme is followed.
As with many aspects of greenkeeping the greenkeeper has to be well ahead of the game, if the job is seen to need doing it may well be too late.
It’s now past the most miserable time on the course, growth is imminent and it is time to tidy up the mowing and get the course ready for the season ahead.
Next month is usually the best time to spray against broadleaved weeds on the golf course. A contractor can be brought in and will be quick and usually effective. It can reduce pressures on your time as well as taking away a few of those health and safety concerns that come with chemical use. If you are going down this route this is probably your last opportunity to book the contractor, leaving it too late may sacrifice effectiveness.
- Reduce your usual nitrogen feeding as this encourages too much leaf and less root growth. Increasing potassium levels can however help by improving the plant’s ability to take in water from the soil.
- Don’t apply chemicals that may affect grass root growth, herbicides could be damaging or less effective if dry conditions prevail.
- Continue the aeration programme to encourage root growth and air/water movement down to the roots.
- Ensure the mower cuts cleanly; a poor cut can increase water use.
- Raise the cut and mow as little as possible.
- Reduce traffic wherever possible
- If your water supply is likely to be at risk then it is never to late to start thinking about alternatives for the future; harvesting rainwater, constructing a reservoir or borehole.
- Confine irrigation to crucial areas, the greens for example, and ensure that golfers are aware that brown fairways are not the end of the world or the grass.
- Fairways with shallow soils should be programmed to receive topdressing to improve soil depth and deep aeration to increase rooting depth.
This should be the start of good growing conditions and warm weather, it might also be the start of yet another prolonged dry spell so be proactive and draw up a strategy to minimise water use this year. Be sure that you forewarn golfers about your strategy and what they should expect if the worst happens.
Is this the month when members will become more concerned with speed and how their golf course compares with the others they play? Without wishing to go down the route of excessively close mowing as the first reaction to golfers comments you should consider:
- Reducing nitrogen applications and convincing golfers that green is not always the best colour for grass.
- Reducing irrigation so that the surfaces firm up and the roots have to work a little harder for their water.
- Hand watering so that the water goes where it is needed rat5her than collecting in low spots.
- Regularly verti-cutting without overstressing the surfaces.
- Regularly top-dressing to maintain a smooth, free draining, surface.
- Regularly aerating to ensure that surface water is quickly removed.
- Stepping up your programme to remove surplus organic matter.
- Brushing before mowing to aerate the surface of the golf green but also to lift the grass into the mowers and produce a cleaner cut.
- Rolling to iron and smooth the surface.
- If that still isn’t sufficient for your golfers, reduce the height of cut in gentle stages but be aware of potential damage to the root system.
If you don’t have a Stimpmeter for measuring the pace of your greens, get one, keep it a secret from golfers otherwise it can become a rod for your own back but use it to give confirmation that what you are doing produces results.
Warm weather brings out the golfers, it also brings out disease and there is never a time when the greenkeeper can relax knowing that his grass is safe and well. In recent years there have been disease outbreaks that have taken even the most experienced greenkeeper by surprise; many had never seen Dollar Spot until 2005 introduced it with a vengeance.
Maintaining a healthy sward is the key to avoiding many diseases, avoid excessive stress, keep nutrition balanced and as low as necessary to maintain healthy grass. When strange symptoms do appear get them checked, they may be nothing, they may be serious but it’s just as well to know which. Weather conditions may bring thatch fungi into prominence but it might also be the turn of Rhizoctonia, Take All, Anthracnose or Leaf Spot. You need to know so that the correct remedial action can be taken.
You can do a great deal to avoid some diseases simply by avoiding stress. Your feeding and irrigation programme are central to this but so too are other aspects of maintenance, mowing height in particular. Cutting too close for long periods can be very stressful and may be just enough to tip the balance in favour of the disease.
The month when it should be compulsory for golfers to go on holiday! In most parts of the United Kingdom this can be a perfect time to get on with remedial works such as hollow coring and overseeding greens.
Ground and air temperatures are usually good and thus there is a very high probability that recovery from the work will be rapid. Recovery may take 2 weeks in August but, if the work is left until mid to late September, recovery may take 4 to 6 weeks or even longer. Disturbance to play can be much less at this time of the year but not all courses are quiet in August. On a busy golf course renovation work may have to be delayed or undertaken in stages if golfers will not tolerate disruption to their game.
If the work is completed in August the grass should be stronger, quicker to recover and there will be less need for drastic treatment later in the year when recovery might be poor.
Why undertake remedial work at all. It’s a good opportunity to fix things that have gone wrong or to avoid things that may go wrong. There should be a reason for all that you include in the programme, for example do the greens have: -
- Compaction problems.
- Too much surface organic matter.
- The wrong type of grass.
- Poor water retention..
- Poor drainage.
If so you may decide to include:
- Hollow tine aeration.
- Vertidrain type aeration.
- Adding polymers or other soil amendments to the greens after aeration.
- Deep drilling and backfilling.
Fusarium seems to be appearing regularly through the year these days and where a persistent problem is a feature, apply a preventative spray with a systemic. Avoid high nitrogen feeds and keep the surface of the greens as dry as possible by aeration and brushing.
At this time of the year we expect temperatures to be falling and dews to be increasing. There is less pressure on water resources and if renovation work has gone well there may even be more time for planning, hopefully before the leaves begin to come down. In recent years many parts of the country had very little leaf fall until early November and then it came with a vengeance.
One aspect of the golf course that needs to be reviewed every few years is the provision of teeing grounds. Golf tees are often the forgotten part of the course but they need maintenance too. As play increases on some courses it is clear that tee size is proving inadequate. At others the greenkeepers are struggling to maintain reasonable tee condition and it may simply be that golf tee size rather than maintenance is inadequate.
For a 30-40,000 round per year golf course the average par 3 hole should have around 400m2, par 4 and 5 holes may get away with less but all holes would benefit from more if space is available. With larger tees the finer grasses will be able to cope but if size is inadequate the only recourse is to rye.
Take account of neighbouring trees, tees also need light, trim, prune and remove branches or trees where necessary to maintain turf condition.
If size is the issue look at rationalising tee area, merge smaller tees into one larger tee or extend the tees. Developing grass winter tees will also be more popular than mats if the space is available. Starting golf tee construction projects at this time of the year should ensure adequate time for completion before next season. Golfers don’t like projects that overrun and don’t like courses where there is always a construction project underway; make sure your timing works and that everything will be completed in good time so that you don’t get distracted from mowing when the season starts.
In recent years many greenkeepers reported persistent moss problems on their golf greens. The usual chemicals did not appear to work and the invasion was continuing and spreading without hindrance. Treatment in some cases had been attempted during the summer, according to reports dichlorophen had failed to halt the spread. Not all of the greens were wet, not all were shaded and not all were poorly aerated or drained.
Moss may have been present simply because the grass was weak and couldn’t resist the invasion. Cutting too sort is a major cause of such invasion but so too is inadequate feeding to balance the effects of wear and tear. If moss has become a problem a few things to try would include:-
Using dichlorophen in cool rather than warm weather, it seems to work better.
If the dichlorophen still fails you might like to follow the example of one French greenkeeper who used a small hand spray and treated the moss patches every week with dichlorophen. Persistence eventually paid off and the moss disappeared. Other successful strategies include positioning the holes near the worst areas of moss and allowing golfer traffic to wear away the moss.
As we get further into winter conditions the perennial problems of winter or frost greens and trolleys will raise its ugly head again. How many times do we hear that the course next door never closes its greens and never bans trolleys?
This month prepare your winter golf policy but think carefully about its implications. There is no doubt that playing golf on frosted greens causes damage to the plant. There is doubt as to whether the extent of the damage is acceptable or not and the answer to that question is one that is very specific to each course. Ground conditions, weather pattern and level of play will all come into effect. 3 golfers on frosted green may not be the end of the world but 100 golfers every day could be. The damage cause may be a few footprints which soon grow out in spring but it could also be 2-3 weeks delay in the greens coming into their summer condition because of root dame caused by playing on greens as the frost was coming out. If the golfers would rather have winter golf than earlier summer greens that is their choice and hopefully they will remember who made the choice.
Ideally close the greens until the frost is out of them but regularly inspect the greens and update golfers so that they know what is happening and why.
A trolley on the course in winter is also something that is very site specific. If there are areas where golf traffic is forced into narrow, poorly drained, routes trolleys can do a lot of damage but if the course is well-drained, wide and open the damage may be minimal and acceptable. The winter policy should be sensible
Leatherjackets don’t always affect every course and of those that are affected some have such a small invasion that it doesn’t justify the cost of spraying. They can grow to 3-4cm in length and have a voracious appetite for grass roots and stems. Treatment in early November or at any time through to next April, when conditions are suitable, can reduce the headache.
Tree lined golf courses can be beautiful, the trees can also be major source of work and there are many greenkeepers who groan at the thought of leaf-fall. Leaf sweepers and blowers have made life easier than it used to be but there are still several weeks of leaf collection ahead. Once the leaves are down have another good look at the trees which need pruning or thinning and produce a schedule of priorities. Dead, damaged and diseased wood should come out first of all and then selective management to remove those that cast excessive shade or restrict air movement across the fine turf. Don’t forget to look at tree roots as well as overhanging branches, they can creep into greens in 2006 we found some oak roots that extended more three times the canopy spread.
Trenching to prune roots will reduce competition but they will be back and this should become a regular feature of the maintenance programme to keep tree roots out of golf tees and greens where water is readily available.
With poor light, surface moisture and shade to contend with greens in poor locations will struggle to maintain density. Algae may invade and further weaken the surface. If the cause of the problem can’t be removed, tree-shade for example, use a soil amendment as a topdressing to dry the surface. Amendments such as porous ceramic or diatomaceous materials can help the grass to recover and give it a fighting chance.
The end of one year, mid winter, and the start of the next. It’s a time for tying up loose ends from one year and planning for next season. A time to take stock of what happened and what went wrong. What can be done to avoid a repeat performance?
Project work will be underway, whether it is tree felling or tee construction, and plans should ensure that it is going to be completed on time.
The fixtures for next year will no doubt be cast in stone but did they leave space in the calendar for maintenance? Whilst we can’t predict the weather we can leave a slot for maintenance at times when the weather is usually better. You may have to argue the case and do it well in advance of diaries etc being produced, if you’re too late for this coming season start your committee thinking about the next one.
Mid winter is also the perfect time to note and record the location of poorly drained areas where some form of drainage work will be necessary during drier weather and ground conditions. Traffic routes are also going to suffer much more at this time of the year and if your winter policy allows trolleys then you need to monitor the effect they have. Paths may be necessary for the future and what better time to make a decision about this than when damage is at its worst. With mud and erosion fresh in the golfers minds prepare a scheme to overcome the problem of golfer traffic and put it forward to the budget committee before the problem fades into the past and the deeper recesses of their memories.
Many thanks to George R Shiels, Independent Sports Turf and Landscape Agronomist of www.mcmillan-shiels.com