The recent snow and continued wet weather has, in no doubt, tested the patience of both the golfers and greenkeepers in most parts of the country in recent weeks. With one of the wettest winters on record, many courses are in a state of saturation (when the soils are full of water) and often prone to flooding.
This has meant that for some greenkeepers it has restricted the amount of work being achieved out on the course. Not only has it restricted some maintenance regimes but it has put a stop or hold to any winter works, such as bunker, tees, greens and path construction works.
For many courses the wet weather has culminated in them having to close, with no golf being played due to wet and waterlogged greens and fairways.
It is often just a case of waiting for the course to dry out naturally and being patient.
Also, many courses are just recovering from snow cover, again leaving them prone to flooding and lying wet. Once the snow begins to thaw, you will have to keep an eye on the condition of the course with regard to flooding or saturated playing surfaces, keeping play off surfaces until they are again playable.
Once the snow has gone and the course is accessible to vehicles again, it's back to finishing off winter construction projects, revamping tees, bunkers or cleaning out ditches or ponds. It generally starts to become a rush to complete these works before the onslaught of spring renovations that are only a few weeks away.
It is best to reduce vehicle movement around the course, especially when ground conditions are wet and saturated. Working on and in wet conditions will, and can, do untold damage to grass surfaces. You may also need to control the amount of golf buggy and trolley movement, or restrict them to designated paths to reduce unwanted wear and tear.
The use of artificial winter tee mats can also help control wear and damage on tees. Many golf courses try and maintain play on their greens all the year round, however this is not always possible. The opportunity to have a temporary green or enlarged apron area can often be taken to accommodate play during inclement weather.
February is a good time to complete any tree or woodland works. Any tree works must be undertaken by qualified, trained personnel. If your staff are not suitably qualified in tree surgery and/or operating chainsaw machinery, you must employ specialist contractors to carry out these works.
It is often best to complete tree and woodland works before the trees and woodland begin to flourish with growth at the end of February/early March.
Remember to ensure that all your machinery has been serviced and ready for the new season. Once soil and air temperatures begin to rise, grass growth will begin in earnest.
February still gives you some time to carry out repairs and maintenance to fence lines, seating and other structures around the course. You may get some favourable weather for painting and repairing these structures.
Diseases can still occur in February, particularly after snow cover. It is important to keep dew off grass surfaces. Allowing the sward to dry out helps prevent disease attacks. The use of switching canes and brushes can be used to remove these dew deposits.
There is still a lot of leaf debris around on most courses, high winds can often blow this debris onto the greens. Daily brushing will help keep the greens free of debris.
High winds can often cause structure and tree damage. It is imperative to inspect, record and make the site safe. Any structure or tree debris that has fallen down and can be considered a hazard must be fenced off or removed in the interests of public safety.
Brushing: Continue to brush/switch 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.
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 coming 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.
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 times per week during wet periods.
Useful Information for Brushing and Mowing
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Aeration: Of greens, tees and fairways is ongoing when conditions allow. A wide range of solid, hollow or slit aerators are put to use on the playing surfaces. It is essential to keep the greens aerated to maintain air and gas exchange, and to alleviate compaction.
Useful Information for Aeration
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Diseases: Keep an eye on fungal disease attack. Cool, moist and even mild conditions can still be experienced in February, favourable conditions for an outbreak of disease. Use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Useful Information for Pest & Disease
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Soil testing: February is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance
Ideally, if you have not had one done before you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.
Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil Ph. With this information you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enables you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Fertilising: Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant. USGA greens often do require some top up feeding during the winter to maintain nutrient status of the green.
Soil temperatures should and will begin to rise towards the end of February/early March, enabling the grass plant to make use of any fertilisers being applied. The grass plant's transpiration/respiration rates need to be active to initiate movement of soluble solutions from the soil into and through the plant's tissue.
Useful Information for Soil Tests & Fertiliser
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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 experience flash floods during heavy rain, leaving many bunkers in a poor state (washing out sand from bunker faces). Repair works may be necessary. Continue or undertake bunker construction works, subject to ground conditions allowing for transport of materials.
In recent years, we have seen a number of new bunker lining products out on the market , although not always a cheap option, there long term performance may be worth considering.
Course Inspections: Inspect greens, tees, flags and hole positions for damage or vandalism. Vandalism often increases during the winter months.
Drainage: Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.
Water features: Inspect all water features on the course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter. Check all ditches and brooks, make sure the water is running easily, remove any debris that may affect the flow of the streams, brooks or ditches.
Recent stormy wet weather will have contributed a lot of surface water into drains, ditches and water courses. However, when large amounts of water are running into these outlets in a short period of time, it can often result in flooding parts of the course which may in turn make the course unplayable.