I read an article in the last edition of Pitchcare advocating a high height of cut, with the emphasis on double cutting to produce acceptable green speeds. It got me wondering; what method will be tolerated by members and produce acceptable green speeds?
As budgets have tightened over the past four or five years, and labour levels have been reduced at many clubs, I have to question whether any of us have the manpower to go out and double cut greens? Sending two mowers out to cut at midday (as mentioned in the article) is not feasible with my staff levels. The increase in play that we are all witnessing only adds to the difficulty. On top of all of this, the weather this summer has been appalling. How can we produce acceptable green speeds with the odds stacked against us?
My philosophy, which I've talked about for many years, is based around a low cutting height. Basically, I control green speeds (and performance) with my cutting height and then produce a maintenance plan to back it up, not the other way round as has been the traditional way of doing things in this country. However, here I am reading yet another article saying that my type of method is wrong and you need to keep heights at 'acceptable levels' (whatever that means).
Another buzz word we hear all the time is 'stress'. Agonomists tell you not to 'stress' the grass plant with extremely low heights of cut. I hear the word constantly and it drives me crazy. What does it mean? I have managed greens for the past decade at extremely low heights of cut and have always maintained 100% grass coverage. Am I stressing the grass plant out? Everything we do to turf (cutting, rolling, walking, etc) damages the grass plant. The key, for me, is not to discuss 'stress' but to talk about your greens' performance. Stretch their limits but always maintain 100% grass coverage.
This year has been a challenging one for many turf managers. June was the second wettest month since I started at Ealing in 2006, April was the third wettest and, as I write this, it's still chucking it down! Because of all this rain, it has been hard to cut once let alone twice a day. The rain has been good for growth, but I see and hear of many courses that are struggling for decent green speeds. What can we do about it?
Well, here is my solution for those with small budgets and a restricted workforce. It applies to clay based, parkland, push-up courses that the vast majority of us manage:
1) Keep the heights tight. Think like a golfer. If you want quick greens shave them down! Makes sense, heh? But, be consistent with it. Choose a height and don't chop and change it.
2) Always cut against the grain. I hate to see stripes in greens. You don't want them looking like your back lawn! Cutting against the grain will produce an upright plant and reduce 'nap' in the greens.
3) Carefully consider when you topdress. Even though topdressing will produce quicker, slicker surfaces in the long term, in the short term your greens will slow down. If you have a big competition coming up, don't topdress in the ten days leading up to it.
4) During the season, move over from granular to foliar feeding. The key is to be in control of growth and not to let it control you! Shots of Nitrogen, applied little and often, will keep the plant healthy without slowing the greens down.
5) Use plant growth regulators such as trinexapac-ethyl (Primo Maxx, Clipless, etc) mixed in with your foliar feeds. During the peak growing season it should, ideally, be applied every seven to ten days, but at least every two weeks.
6) Watch your aeration. Yes, the long-term benefits will be there for all to see, but short term your surfaces will be softer.
7) Control your water (not much luck this year!). If we are ever lucky enough to need our irrigation systems again, take control of your moisture content. Soil moisture probes will help you to apply water at the right time and stop the surfaces from getting too wet and slow!
These recommendations will allow you to produce good speeds without the need for high labour inputs. They are based on no rolling, single cutting and eliminates the need to brush. Green speeds will be maintained at ten feet or above. I think the golfers will be quite happy with that!
Greg Evans is the current Course Manager at Ealing Golf Club. He has helped to turn around the clubs fortune from a very negative situation pre 2006 to an extremely healthy one now. Golf membership has increased steadily for past several years and visitor income has gone through the roof with the past year seeing a 42% increase in revenue.
Greg also runs a consultancy business focusing on golf course solutions. To contact him please go to his website www.gregevansmg.com