Many clubs will be well into their winter works programmes, budgets permitting. This is often associated with drainage improvements around the course or may include refurbishment, new build or extensions to bunkers, tees and greens.
For me, the winter period is one of the busiest and demanding times of the year for greenkeepers, not only having to contend with the day to day running of the course, but managing to complete planned winter works during a shortened working day and the prospect of poor weather dictating what work can be done.
Most leaves will have fallen by now, so a last big tidy up before Christmas usually sees the back of this annual task. The job of clearing up these leaves and debris will be a priority. Allowing leaves to rot on your sward will lead to turf damage. Switching, brushing, blowing or caning the greens each morning will be a priority task to remove any leaf debris and early morning dew.
Many greenkepers are now trained to use chainsaws, enabling them to carry out tree works on their courses especially when ground conditions prevent other work being done. There is always plenty of tree work to be done with the bonus of having a nice warm bonfire to burn the debris.
Air flow around greens and tees is important. It helps reduce the incidence of disease, moss and algae problems. Felling trees is often a contentious subject, some people will fight against it, often ignorant of the reasons why it needs to be done. In most cases, it is about thinning tree plantations and removing poor specimen trees.
Other tree and woodland work may include some crown lifting, the removal of low hanging branches to allow access for mowing operations.The timber can be put to many good uses, some clubs sell it on for fuel, use it as footpath edging or create log piles to encourage wildlife.
Key Tasks for December
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.
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. Height of cut during the winter between 50-100mm.
As we progress through the month, air temperatures are likely to lower, with many golf courses experiencing morning frosts. It is important to prevent people from walking over the grass surfaces (preventing surface damage to the sward) during frosty conditions. Courses should be kept closed if possible during heavy frosts.
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 the 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 on 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.
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.
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 the nutrient status of the green.
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.
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. It is 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.
When the ground conditions are favourable, aerate fairways 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 during the following year.
Soil sampling is an important part of groundmanship. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf.
There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main three tests to consider are:
Particle Size Distribution (PSD): this will give you accurate information on the soil type and its particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.
Soil pH: It is important to keep the soil at a pH of 5.5-6.5, a suitable level for most grass plants, and a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.
N:P:K: Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.
Heavy rainfall will have washed and leached out soil nutrients, especially on sandy and free draining sites. The loss of nutrients from the soil profile inevitably puts the sward under stress, decreasing the plant's ability to withstand an attack of disease.
During December, disease pressure from Fusarium, in particular, is likely to remain high for many inland courses. The key with all disease control is to avoid putting the turf under stress from both an environmental and management aspect.
As soil temperatures fall then the mode of action from chemical control needs to be one of curative as opposed to systemic, as well as preventing further attacks. Select a product that is appropriate for this time of year.
The recent wet November weather will have increased worm activity on many courses. Earthworm activity can often persist well into December if temperatures remain favourable. Earthworms can survive in a wide range of conditions, but most earthworm activity is dependent on the quality of food available.
Worms like plenty of Organic Matter (OM), therefore greens with a high thatch problem tend to encourage worm activity. Soil pH also affects where earthworms are found. In strongly acid or alkaline soils, earthworms are rarely seen with a pH less than 4.5 or greater than 8. The soil texture will also affect the number of earthworms; they prefer clay soils and are less frequently found in sandy soils.
Earthworms are by far the most common pest to affect turf quality at this time of year. It is not the earthworm that causes the damage, but the cast which is brought to the surface. Recent updated studies reveal no real progress on their control other than the use of Worm Suppressants.
Regular sand dressings will help to reduce numbers, but that is a long term process and one that only yields a reduction in activity. Leatherjackets, or rather the grubs, are the next most common pest than can afflict damage on turfgrass, whereby emerging larvae feed on the roots of turf.
Both algae and Black Layer continue to be the most likely turf disorder at this time of year, and both have been mentioned in detail in previous articles. Both are a symptom of poor growing conditions caused by poor drainage and a lack of oxygen in the soil. Both can be treated chemically, but it is the condition in which they exist that needs to be changed.
One of the biggest investments made by any golf club is in thier machinery portfolio, with high levels of expenditure made on their mowing fleet. A ride on triple cylinder mower can now cost in excess of £25,000, so when you concider most clubs have several of them in their fleet, you can soon build up a hefty machinery investment running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
So, it is important we look after and maintain these valuable machines, carrying out regular servicing and repairs.
It is also important to get your staff trained to use specific machinery/equipment.
Most clubs do have wash down facilities; it is important to inspect and clean machinery after use.
Maintain a stock of consumables for your machiery, replace worn and damaaged parts when necessary.
Provide adequate storage space for machinery, secure machinery with good locks, and record make and models or, better still, take pictures of your equipment.
Pitchcare provide a range of courses suitable for golf courses. In most cases, the courses can be held on site using the club's own equipment and machinery.
Some of the courses available are:
Chainsaws - CS30 and CS31
H&S Refresher Training on Combined Turf Care Equipment; Tractors and Trailers; All Mowers (Ride-on and Pedestrian)
Machinery Courses on ATVs; Tractors: Brushcutters/Strimmers; Mowers (ride-on and Pedestrian)
Pesticide Application (PA courses)
Stem Injection of Invasive Species (Japanese Knotweed etc.)
Basic Trees Survey and Inspection
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.
Inspect, check and empty all litter bins
Time to organise winter servicing of machinery
Keep stock of all materials
Tidy mess rooms and sheds