December Golf Diary

By Laurence Gale MSc

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Air temperatures are now dropping, with many golf courses experiencing early morning frosts. It is important to prevent people from walking over the grass surfaces (preventing surface damage to the sward) during frost conditions. Courses should be kept closed during heavy frosts.

What happens to turf in frost conditions?

Frost on the grass leaf blades tells us that the water inside the leaves is frozen. Remember that 80+% of plant tissue is made up of water, the primary component of plant tissue. When this water is frozen, foot traffic on the turf causes the ice crystals in the cells to puncture through the plant's cell walls, thus killing plant tissue.

When they are frozen the leaves of the turf get easily bruised by player's feet. After thawing, the affected turf turns black or brown and becomes sparse. The turf can often remain thin for long periods if damage occurs early in the winter. The fine turf on greens becomes more susceptible to disease and the putting surface becomes very uneven.dec-golf-diary-muxton--foot.jpg

More long-term damage can be caused when play takes place as the turf is thawing after a prolonged freeze. Under these conditions the top surface of the turf may be soft, but the underlying soil can still be frozen. Root damage occurs easily from a shearing action as player's feet move the soft top surface against the frozen sub soil.

The process of damage to the turf normally occurs in the following pattern:

  • Bruising and damage to the leaf.
  • Loss of turf colour.
  • Severing of grass roots.
  • Compaction of the soil.
  • Thinning of the swards.

The decision to close the course or parts of the course should be down to the Course Manager / Head Greenkeeper. Effective communication is essential to inform all parties of their decision. This is usually in the form of signage and messages to confirm the reason and the expected time the course or parts of the course will be closed.

Ground conditions are changing, especially on the heavier clay soil courses where soil profiles can become saturated . Some golf courses may be implementing winter path restrictions ensuring the golf traffic is kept to dedicated paths and tracks to prevent unnecessary grass wear or damage. This may also involve the restriction of using buggies and, in some instances, trolleys on the course. Winter tee mats and temporary greens may also come into play with many golf courses resting their competition tees and greens.

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Other tree and woodland work may include some crown lifting, the removal of low hanging branches to allow access for mowing operations.

Some clubs will have started their winter construction/repairs work. This is often associated with drainage improvements around the course or may include refurbishment, new build or extensions to bunkers, tees and greens.

Most of the tasks detailed can be undertaken with a limited budget. Local conditions and circumstances will need to be taken into account. If any members are undertaking any specific work not detailed, please let us know by adding a comment in the section below the diary.

December Maintenance Tasks for Golf

Natural Grass

Task

Frequency

Reason

Aeration

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When conditions allow

Greens. Aeration of tees will continue throughout the winter when weather conditions allow. A wide range of solid or slit aerators are put to use on the greens. Its essential to keep the greens aerated to maintain air and gas exchange in the soil profile. Thus improving the drainage capabilities of the greens.

Tees. Aeration of tees will continue throughout the winter when weather conditions allow.

Fairways. When the ground conditions are favourable, aerate with solid tines to increase air and gas exchanges in soil profile. Encouraging deeper rooting of fairway grasses is important. Deeper rooted grasses are more likely to overcome stresses in the following year.

Amenity areas

Weekly

Tidy up any flower and shrub borders around the club house and entrance.

Brushing/Sweeping/ Caning

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Daily / Weekly

Greens & Tees. Prior to mowing the surface should be thoroughly brushed. Continue to brush greens and tees daily to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut on the dry grass.

Bunkers

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Daily / weekly

Inspect, weed and rake bunkers. Repair any damage from rabbits or other animals, maintain sand up the face of the bunkers to prevent erosion and sand loss. Some golf courses experience flash floods during heavy rain fall, leaving many bunkers in a poor state (washing out sand from bunker faces). Repair works may be necessary.

Bunker construction work may be ongoing in December, subject to ground conditions allowing for transport of materials around.

Course Inspection

Daily

Inspect greens, tees, flags and hole positions for damage or vandalism.
Vandalism often increases during the winter months particularly as the nights draw in.


Diseases

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Daily / Weekly

Greens , Tees , Fairways. Keep an eye on fungal disease attack. Cool, moist and even mild conditions can still be experienced in December, favourable conditions for an outbreak of disease. Use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.

Divotting

As required

Greens, Tees and Fairways. Repair any divots and scars. Mix grass seed with a soil /sand rootzone and back fill the divots and scars with soil /seed mix. The seed will still germinate in favourable weather conditions

Drainage


Weekly

Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.

It is during the winter months that most golf course managers / greenkeepers can evaluate the condition and performance of their drainage systems.

Fertiliser programme

If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured)

Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results.

Fertiliser programmes are not generally carried out after December due to the change in air and soil temperatures as most turf grasses usually start to become dormant, slower growing. However, some greenkeepers may apply some liquid iron to keep the turf healthy and strong. USGA greens often do require some top up feeding during the winter to maintain nutrient status of the green.

Footpaths

As required

Keep all footpaths clean and free from debris, check any step details and hand rails ( Health & Safety).

Harrowing / raking

When conditions allow

Fairways. Harrowing/raking helps restore levels and keeps surfaces open.

Hole Changing

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As required

Changing of holes should be carried out regularly, however frequency will be dependant on a number of factors, green size, green construction, tournaments, amount of play and condition of the green. During wet periods it is likely the hole will wear more quickly, resulting in a crowning affect and surface wear. This wear is more apparent if the green has thatch problems. The hole will tend to wear quickly and form a depression caused by the placement of the golfers feet. You may be looking to change the hole positions more than three time per week during wet periods.


Inspect Course structures

As required

The Course, Clubhouse, Car parks. Check and repair fences, seating, shelters, bridges, litter bins, shoe and ball cleaners, signs, and tee boxes.

Winter months are generally a good time for general repairs and maintenance of course structures and features, summer furniture (wooden seating / benches) can be collected in from the course, and repaired stained or painted.

Irrigation

Daily and weekly

Although the winter wet weather has begun to kick in, there may be the need to utilise the sprinkler system during December if using wetting agents. Remember to check and monitor all sprinkler head controls/valves to see that they are working, and check the spray patterns and timing of each and every sprinkler head. Also check any manual systems, hose pipes, sprinklers and pumps.

Leaf collection

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As required

Leaf clearing will be a daily routine for a couple more weeks. Modern machinery, especially the hand held blowers are a valuable tool for moving leaf matter. Most golf courses have a range of sweepers and blowers that can be used for leaf collection.

Litter / debris

Daily / Weekly

Greens , Tees and Fairways. Inspect and remove debris from playing surfaces. Litter, twigs and leaves. Regularly empty litter bins/tee boxes.

Machinery (Repairs & Maintenance)

Daily / Weekly

Inspect and clean machinery after use, service and repair damaged machinery.

Marking out

Weekly

Mark out trolley areas, out of bound site areas and range markings.

Materials

Monthly

Estimate and order seed, loams and fertilisers, fuels and other consumables.

Mowing

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As required

After autumn renovations most course managers/greenkeepers will be looking to increase mowing heights on greens and tees by 1-2mm, with many factors dictating the height of cut, soil type, grass species and golf traffic.

Other tasks that complement this work involve the use of grooming and verticutting units to remove unwanted thatch and side shoot growth. The frequency of grooming is fortnightly and verticutting monthly.

Mowing frequencies will vary from daily to twice weekly operations dependant on the growth of the grass and the standards set by the course manager. Mowing heights may vary depending on local conditions, type of course, course expectations, sward type and mower type. The mowing heights are a guide, and will be subject to local weather conditions, but remember not to remove more than 1/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time the better the results further on into the next season.

Greens. Mowing height should be maintained at around 6-8mm.

Tees. Mowing height should be maintained at around 10-15mm.

Banks. Mowing height should be maintained at 22-30mm

Fairways. Mowing height should be maintained at around 15-25mm.

Rough, Semi rough grass areas. Mow and tidy up these areas. Reduce build up of clippings by cutting little and often with a rotary or flail. Mowing height will depend on type of course and the standard of play required. Mowing height of cut during the winter between 50-100mm.

Pest control

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As required

The opportunity to control weed growth by using chemicals products is now not viable due to the lower light levels and fluctuations of air and soil temperatures in December. The efficiency of using systemic products will be greatly reduced and, in most cases, will not work effectively when the plants metabolism has slowed down. Other cultural practices can be undertaken, usually in the form of hand weeding and hoeing (bunker weeds).

Pests scrounging for food can cause a lot of damage on turf surfaces. Foxes have been known to regularly dig up old hole placements, night after night. Moles and rabbits are still very active in December. See the following articles on moles and rabbits.

Birds feeding on grubs and larvae of insects can cause severe surface damage. Reducing or stopping their food source is a viable control method to reduce pest damage.

Ponds, lakes and streams

Weekly

Inspect all water features on the course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter.

Tee boxes, pegs

As required

All tee boxes, tee pegs and competition markers should be inspected daily, cleaned and moved to new positions as required.

Top dressing

As required

Greens & Tees. Ensure you have enough top dressing material for any renovation or repair works carried out.

Weather Stations

Daily

It is important to keep daily records of information collected. Keeping a diary of air temperatures, sunlight hours,wind speed and rainfall are essential. This information is a valuable resource for making important management decisions.

Wetting agents

As required

If wetting agents are being used they are generally applied monthly throughout the season.

Wetting Agents do help water infiltration, it is important that these wetting agents are watered into the surface to help move the agent down deeper into the soil profile.

Woodland & conservation areas.

As required

Strong winds can damage trees on golf courses. Inspect and repair or remove damaged trees and/or limbs. Take note of any fuller tree branches which may need autumn pruning to reduce weight. Check deer and rabbit guards on whips and saplings. Make a thorough check of general shrub and tree health and contact your local arboriculturalist if required.

Artificial Tees and Mats

Artificial Grass Systems

Weekly

Many golf clubs will now be changing over to winter tee mats. Preparations involve cleaning and washing these surfaces and making sure they are safe for play (level and secure).

Keep surfaces clean, regular sweeping and brushing. Remove any algae and moss from surface.

Sand filled systems require regular brushing to maintain manufacturer's recommendations for sand levels and pile heights.

Rubber Tee Mats

As required

Keep clean.