The lowest of the low!

Alistair Beggs BSc Honsin Golf

AlistairBeggs.JPGThe constant demand for ever-faster surfaces (and, in my experience, some of this is coming from greenkeepers and not just golfers) is doing this industry nothing but harm. The most recent advice I read in some journals and magazines is to cut at 2mm on a regular basis and give the members what they want. What rubbish!

There are no prizes for cutting your greens at a height so absurdly low that nothing other than weeds will grow. This is not sustainable, it is not sensible, nor is it necessary, irrespective of the soils, the grasses, or the environment you have.

It is a researched fact that mowing low reduces the capacity of the plant to photosynthesise. Once this basic metabolic activity is compromised so is the general health of the plant, and weakness and decline is inevitable thereafter. The decline may take longer on some greens than others, but the result will be an agronomic and playing disaster - the last thing any club needs in the present climate!

Effective course management is all about finding a balance between the requirements of the golfer and the requirements of the plant. T'was ever thus. However, whilst the requirements of the plant have largely stayed the same over recent times, the requirements and expectations of the golfer have changed immeasurably. There is an insatiable hunger for speed at all costs, fuelled by television and tournament golf. Unfortunately, the plant we rely on is not designed to be pummelled and thrashed by man and machine on a week-by-week basis and, unsurprisingly, it needs a break from time to time.

As golfers we like nothing more than playing on firm, well paced putting surfaces where the ball rolls true. I maintain that these characteristics can be achieved without recourse to absurd mowing heights. The best greens in this country comprise native browntop bent and fescue grasses with annual meadow grass, mown at around 4mm (for routine play) and, perhaps, a little lower for special events. With occasional rolling and verticutting in the correct circumstances, alongside regular topdressing, these greens provide good natural pace without needing to be mown any more tightly.

Perhaps, rather than being prescriptive about heights of cut, we should focus more on the performance of our greens. This means measuring the quality and speed of roll so that these key elements deliver for the golfer. At the same time, we should be measuring the health of the component plants in order to achieve a performance balance between the surface and the plant system. It's not about height of cut it is about performance. So, let's refrain from talking specifics, particularly when it comes to height of cut.

The adoption of the 2mm recommendation across the country would ruin many of our courses, and create an abundance of drought and disease prone turf. It would do very little for the finer grasses we work so hard to encourage, and would promote annual meadow grass which, as a ruderal species, would thrive in a highly pressurised environment.

Top players are becoming increasingly vocal about the failings of annual meadow grass under tournament conditions around the world. In the UK, with its wet, maritime climate, the water retentive thatch it produces, along with its incessant seeding, are real problems when it comes to producing smooth and firm surfaces throughout the day. It would do nothing but harm to golf course budgets at a time when clubs have to be ever mindful of costs and, in some cases, it would lead to already well-paced surfaces becoming unplayable.

Finally, in a climate where there is a desire to make golfers play more quickly to shorten the time it takes to play a round of golf, it would be the death knell for pace of play. Most golfers simply cannot cope very well with stimpmeter speeds in excess of 9ft, so giving them 10 or 11ft would make an already slow game even slower.

Sadly, I have seen with my own eyes, and too many times over the last twenty years, the results of prolonged low mowing in this country. It does nothing for the plant, the golfer or the reputation of the clubs who practise it. Resist it at all costs and, instead, focus on a holistic and sustainable programme of work, which will deliver good performance for the player, for the plant and for the pocket.

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