With the end of summer renovations now completed, most golf Course Managers/Greenkeepers are preparing their courses for the winter period.
Daily maintenance is ongoing with the added burden of leaf clearing. Most tree-lined courses have deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the autumn. The job of clearing these leaves is essential and often becomes a daily chore for up to 6-8 weeks. Many greenkeepers pray for strong winds to help blow the leaves off the course or into corners for collection.
Some clubs will have started their winter construction/repairs works. This is often associated with drainage improvements around the course or may include refurbishment, new build or extensions to bunkers, tees and greens.
Invariably most clubs end up undertaking some bunker refurbishments/repair works. Bunkers get a lot of wear and tear both from golf traffic and the weather, especially on links courses where bunkers are exposed to high wind turbulence resulting in wear and erosion of the bunker faces. Many clubs look to refurbish and reconstruct bunkers on a rotational basis. The life expectancy of a revetted bunker on a links course is about five years before they need reconstructing.
As for drainage works on tees greens and fairways many clubs, in recent years, have gone down the road of undertaking the work themselves.
Warm weather coupled with the cooling night temperatures has instigated some heavy dews being formed on grass surfaces. Dew is water in the form of droplets that appear on thin, exposed objects in the morning or evening. As the exposed surface cools by radiating its heat, atmospheric moisture condenses at a rate greater than that by which it can evaporate, resulting in the formation of water droplets.
These dews help promote ideal conditions/climate for fungi growth within the playing surfaces. Daily inspections for disease is essential, along with some daily operations to remove this dew by either dragmatting or brushing of the surfaces.
Fusarium patch remains arguably our most common and most damaging turfgrass disease seen on golf greens .The fungus that causes fusarium patch, Microdochium nivale, is able to live saprophytically on dead and decaying organic material and, therefore, is able to respond rapidly to ideal environmental conditions that allow it to cause disease.
The fungus will grow most actively under high pH conditions, but any small increase in pH, even under generally more acidic conditions, will allow the fungus to grow more quickly than other organisms which normally ensure a healthy balance in the rootzone. In addition, this fungus is capable of growing at temperatures just above freezing and is not actually killed by frost.
The ideal conditions for rapid growth of this fungus and for fusarium patch development are repeated cycles of frost and thaw, or constant cool, damp weather when turf growth is slow and the sward remains wet. Over the past few years, the winters have allowed many cases of 'aggressive' fusarium patch disease where treatments aimed at managing the it have apparently failed.
Due to the constant presence of this fungus and its ability to dominate the turf under cool, wet conditions, it is imperative that swards which are prone to fusarium patch disease are managed throughout the year to try and minimise favourable conditions from developing in the winter. Fusarium patch disease can and does develop all year round on certain turf areas, and where this is the case, it would be well worthwhile looking at nutrient input, the rootzone and surface drainage as possible reasons for the constant problem
November can also bring a change in the weather, with often storm-like conditions bringing in strong winds that can cause structural damage to trees and property. Be prepared, ensure all your staff are trained and prepared to deal with tree damage on the course. Ensure all equipment is maintained and sharp and ready for use. Also ensure your staff are up to date with their chainsaw training and are certificated. If not, procure the services of an approved aboriculturalist or tree surgeon.
November is the month when a number of tasks are undertaken in readiness for the oncoming winter's play - setting up winter tee mat positions and demarcation of winter trolley walkways.
Aeration is the key to keeping the golf course open throughout the winter periods, especially on heavy soil courses. Various aeration programmes will continue when conditions allow, using a whole range of tines, solid, slit and hollow tines. The size of tines used will also range from large 300mm deep x 25mm vertidrain tines, down to 100mm pencil micro tines.
November Maintenance Tasks
Aeration - November is a busy month for greens aeration. 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.
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 - 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 - 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 experienced flash floods during heavy rainfall, leaving many bunkers in a poor state (washing out sand from bunker faces). Repair works may be necessary.
Bunker construction works may start in November to make use of the good ground conditions for transporting materials around.
Diseases - Keep an eye on fungal disease attack. November still remains a prolific month for disease due to the onset of heavy dews on the playing surfaces in the mornings. Use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Divoting - 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 - Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. November often sees the start of any drainage refurbishment works, making good use of any firm soil conditions when transporting materials across the course.
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 November 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.
Footpaths - Keep all footpaths clean and free from debris, check any step details and hand rails (Health & Safety).
Hole Changing - 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.
Most golf courses are changing their hole positions at least three times a week.
Irrigation - Although the winter wet weather has begun to kick in, there may be the need to utilise the sprinkler system during November. 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.
Machinery - Daily Inspect and clean machinery after use, service and repair damaged machinery.
Mowing - 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 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 - 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 November. 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 November. 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 - Inspect all water features on the course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter.
Artificial Tees and Mats - 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.