For most, there has been an interesting start to the season, going from a wet and cold period to a very dry period within four weeks. The combination of drying winds, high temperatures and little or no rainfall for the whole of April has affected many courses, particularly those which have limited watering facilities.
If soil profiles, particularly sandy soils, are allowed to dry out too much they often become water repellent (Hydrophobic), a state when soils can become difficult to re-wet. Often, the first areas to suffer are the high exposed grass areas on greens, tees and fairways. You may need to spend more time hand watering these problem areas.
However, the long term affect of drying greens could be the deterioration of surface playability. The surface could begin to break up, particularly on sand predominant greens. Sand becomes unstable when in a dry state and the surface can become bumpy. Different grass species will respond differently under drought conditions, growth rates will vary depending on habitat and root structure, thus promoting an uneven surface. Once the soil goes beyond a certain drying stage you are likely to encounter dry patch symptoms, whereby the soil becomes hydrophobic, being unable to absorb water. The water simply runs off instead of soaking into the soil profile.
Water will also always wash off from the high spots into the low areas, so the low spots tend to remain green and lush. This variation of dry and wet areas will affect surface playability
Once soils become hydrophobic they can deny adequate water movement to other areas of the root zone - often resulting in water deficit stress, with symptoms that include a general decline in the biological health of the plant which, in turn, affects shoot and root growth.
You may need to consider using wetting agents to aid recovery or help prevent these problems occurring in the first place. Many Greenkeepers now utilise wetting agents on a monthly basis to keep the rootzone in good condition.
The movement of nutrients in the soil is also dependant on the moisture state of the soil; dry rootzones will slow down or even prevent nutrients being accessible to the plant. This, again, will result in plant health decline.
If you do not have adequate watering facilities it may be beneficial to raise the height of cut by 1mm to keep a little more grass on the greens during these dry periods. It may slow the game down a bit but will help sustain your green through these difficult times.
It is important to water correctly, under or over watering will have a detrimental affect on plant health. You need only to apply enough water to replace what has been lost by evapotranspiration. Depending on the aspect of your green, soil type and herbage cover you could be losing anything between 3-5 mm of water per day. This will need to be replaced by watering .
It is important to water evenly and to depth, you want to ensure the water gets down beyond the rooting profile, at least between 100-150 mm. This will encourage deeper rooting as the green dries and the roots go in search of the descending water.
Also, check your water quality, what pH is it ? is it suitable for your green? Check filters on recycled water systems. Poor water quality will affect plant growth and sustainability.
Most greenstaff will have already applied a spring/summer fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9/7/7, and will be looking to apply a summer fertiliser, reducing the N and P inputs to maintain a balanced growth during May. At the end of the month an application of a slow release fertiliser will see you through June and July.
The issue of water restrictions in some parts of the country will no doubt affect many clubs this year. Clubs who come under these areas must keep abreast of the current restrictions and check whether they apply to you.
There are still some clubs that do not have an automated watering system and hand water only when really necessary.
May Maintenance Tasks for Golf Courses
Aeration/When conditions allow :-
Amenity areas /Weekly :- Tidy up any flower and shrub borders around the club house and entrance.
Brushing / Sweeping 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.
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.
Diseases, including Moss & Algae Daily / Weekly :- Greens, Tees, Fairways. Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Scarring of the playing surface is normally reduced as grass growth is usually dominant and vigorous in May, reducing the need to use fungicide treatments. However, there may be a need to apply a preventative fungicide treatment in the event of important competitions or matches.
Divoting/ As required :- Greens, Tees and Fairways. Repair any divots and scars.
Drainage / Weekly :- Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.
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.
Most grounds staff would have applied a spring fertiliser dressing back in March and, depending on weather conditions and type of greens, will have already applied or considered applying another dressing of fertiliser to balance growth. Cut back on the (N) nitrogen input and (P) phosphate elements, and apply something like a 8/0/6 NPK fertiliser.
Generally USGA sand based greens tend to be more hungry for fertilisers compared to the pushed up soil greens. Most course managers would then look to colour up the greens with an application of iron and seaweed products prior to competitions and tournaments. Many course managers like to use straight compound fertilisers that act instantly to the conditions, rather than use slow release products that can initiate or stimulate growth when you don't want it.
The choice of materials and how well they work can be dependant on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and and air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.
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 keep surfaces open.
Hole Changing / As required :-Changing of holes should be carried out regularly, however frequency will be dependant on a number of factors, green size, greens 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 golfers' feet. Most golf courses are changing their hole positions at least three times a week.
Irrigation / Daily and weekly :- Ensure that automatic watering systems have been serviced and repaired ready for the new season. 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.
Soil and air temperatures during May are likely to increase, affecting the rate of evapotranspiration (water loss from both the soil and grass plants), and increasing the likelihood of the ground and surfaces drying out.
It is very important that irrigation is uniformly applied, to keep the grass plant alive and healthy, and to prevent dry patch occurring.
Litter/debris / Daily/ Weekly :- Greens, Tees and Fairways. Inspect and remove debris from playing surfaces, e.g.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 / As required :- May sees the mowing operations in full swing with the aim of reducing the height of cut of the greens, by the end of May the greens will be at their summer height (3.5-6mm). Other tasks that complement this work involve the use of grooming and verticutting units to remove unwanted thatch and side shoot growths. The frequency of grooming is fortnightly, with verticutting monthly.
Mowing frequencies varying 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 season.
Pest control / As required :- Weed growth is very active during May requiring the use of selective herbicides. These are more effective when the plant is actively promoting growth. Moles and rabbit damage; repairs as required.
Ponds, lakes and streams /Weekly :- Inspect all water features on course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter.
Seed bare & worn areas / When conditions allow :- Greens, Tees and Fairways. Over seeding of sparse or bare areas can be continued, the rise in temperature will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.
Ensure you use new seed as old material may not give you the required germination rates. Remember, bents and fescue grasses require higher soil temperatures for successful germination.
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 and Tees. Ensure you have enough top dressing material for any renovation works that may still be carried out in May.
Wetting agents / As required :- If wetting agents are being used they are generally applied monthly throughout the season.
Woodland and conservation areas / As required :- High and strong winds can damage trees on golf courses. Inspect and repair or remove damaged trees. It is important to inspect trees regularly (heath & safety) to reduce the likelihood of a golfer being struck by tree debris.
Artificial Tees and Mats
Artificial Grass Systems / Weekly :- Keep surface 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, all temporary winter mats to be cleaned and stored away.