After what can be described as being one of the best summers we have had for for a number of years, many clubs have reaped the benefits of this glorious weather with plenty of activity seen out on the golf course, both in the numbers of golfers playing and the sheer amount of work the greenkeeping staff have achieved to keep the course maintained.

Many greenkeepers will be hoping the good weather will continue untill they have completed their autumn renovation work; a vital activity in providing a good playing surface for next season.

Failure to complete autumn renovations or undertake vital repairs will only result in further deterioration of playing surfaces. It is also imperative to complete the works quickly to make good use of warm soil temperatures that will aid seed germination.

Golf course facilities are expected to provide all year round golf. To ensure greens are playable in the winter months, appropriate renovations are key to improving their condition.

One would expect that many courses will have already completed their renovations, back in late August and September, however these optimum times may well have been compromised by other factors, thus delaying the opportunity to get the work done.

Key Tasks for October
IMG 3898

Autumn renovation involves a series of operations and inputs that are initiated in sequence and complement one another. The success of any renovations is dependent on a number of factors:-

The current state of the sward and soil profile will determine and prioritise the extent and nature of the renovation works required.

Groundsman/Greenkeeper's knowledge and experience.
Resources available - machinery, staff.
Water resources.
Availability of materials and products.
Availability of specialist services - contractors, consultants.
Planning and time - the window of opportunity.

Planning and preparation are key elements towards achieving your objectives. In most cases, the level of inputs required for your autumn maintenance will be dictated by how well your facility played/performed and recovered during the season.

It is important to order your materials early, ensuring they are available and arrive in time for your planned renovations. I have seen many instances when contractors have arrived to carry out their specialist works, and the materials have not arrived on site. Order early, ensure you have given suppliers the right delivery address and you have the appropriate access available for the delivery of these materials. Ensure they are stored safely on site.

The objectives of end of season renovations are:
To repair worn areas.
To prevent a build up of thatch layers (scarification).
To restore surface levels (top dressing).
To alleviate compaction (aeration).
To re-establish sward densities (overseeding).

Application of pre seeding/autumn fertilisers to promote sward establishment.

October is a very busy month for most greenkeepers, with the last opportunity to complete a number of autumn renovations on greens tees and fairways before the colder weather sets in. Before you start any work, it is best to take a core sample from your greens so you can ascertain their current state. A visual inspection of the core will allow you to see the level of thatch / Organic Matter (OM) you have and to what depth.

The advice is to measure the content of OM at a range of depths with an acceptable tolerance being recommended. Target OM levels:
0-20mm 6-8% OM
20-40mm 4-6% OM
40-60mm 2-4% OM
60-80mm 2-4% OM

An excess of OM will lead to poor hydraulic conductivity, soft putting surfaces, increased disease problems, loss of green speeds and poor all year round playability.

Appropriate renovation work will help reduce and control thatch / OM levels in your swards.

Various aeration programmes will also be commencing, using a whole range of 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. However, the weather will be the deciding factor for when these operations will be started.:

Greens. A key month for greens aeration as it forms part of the autumn renovation programme. A wide range of aerators are put to use, from star tines, vertidrain tines to hollow tines; the choice or combination of tines will be dependant on the outcomes required. Hollow tines are used to remove a core of soil from the green which then allows the opportunity to topdress with some new materials, a process that offers a good soil, air and gas exchange in the soil profile.

Tees. Aeration of tees will continue with solid or hollow tines, in line with autumn maintenance. Aeration works continuing throughout the winter when weather conditions allow.

Fairways. When the ground is capable of taking the tines, and before it gets too wet, aerate with solid rather than slit tines to reduce chances of surface cracking.

With air temperatures still averaging around 10 °C in most parts of the country, seeding is still a viable option. The opportunity to overseed worn areas and reintroduce new cultivars must be taken whilst these temperatures remain favourable for germination. Areas to consider are tees, green surrounds and fairways.

Most courses would have oversown their greens in August when the air temperatures were higher, more suitable to the sowing of bent/fescue grasses. However, this recent spell of mild weather will have no doubt influenced some disease attacks with red thread, fusarium, leaf spot and fairy rings being quite common.

Keep an eye on fungal disease attack. October 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.

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.

Keeping a daily diary of work carried out on the course is essential, as these records will be a valuable reference for future management of your course. Keep details of who worked and how many man-hours are spent on the task/activity along with what materials were used. With the advent of digital cameras, take the opportunity to take photographs of these activities and/or problems you find on the course. They often become valuable resources/evidence at a later date, and can be used to promote the course or explain why you have chosen to carry out certain works.

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While temperatures remain in double figures, grass growth will continue, resulting in the need to continue the regular mowing regimes on the course.

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

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 year.

Greens. Mowing height should be maintained at around 4mm-8mm.
Tees. Mowing height should be maintained at around 10mm-15mm.
Fairways. Mowing height should be maintained at around 15mm-25mm.

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.

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.

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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.

As part of the autumn renovations, most groundstaff will be applying their autumn fertilisers to maintain some vigour and colour, aiming to cut back on the (N) nitrogen input and increasing (P) phosphorous elements to encourage root growth. Generally, USGA sand based greens tend to be more hungry for fertilisers compared to the pushed up soil greens.

The choice of materials and how well they work can be dependant on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.

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

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Pest and Diseases
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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 October. 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.

We are also heading into a period of the year when disease pressure is generally high, particularly Microdochium nivale, otherwise known as Fusarium patch, therefore it seems appropriate to review the techniques used to control Fusarium.

Fusarium affects cold season grasses in the Northern hemisphere. Three common turf grass species grown in Britain are susceptible to Fusarium: Annual Meadow-grass, Poa annua, Perennial Rye-grass, Lolium perenne and Creeping Bent, Agrostis stolonifera.

Many golf greens are composed of a high proportion of Annual Meadow-grass enabling the Fusarium to spread uninterrupted, which can lead to the surface going into the wintertime in poor putting condition and improvement is likely to be slow. This has historically been one of the main concerns for greenkeepers.

Fusarium starts in the autumn as small orange to red-brown circular spots 1-2 cm in diameter. When the fungus is particularly active, the patches have a brown ring at the outer edge. The centre of the patches may become pale brown/yellow. White/pink mycelium may be observed on the outer edge of the patch matting the infected leaves together, this is often used as an indication of high activity.

Fusarium is naturally present in soil and thatch as spores and mycelium even during the summer although it is not active at temperatures exceeding 20°C or when there is insufficient moisture. Like most fungi it requires suitable conditions before it starts to germinate or spread and damage other grass plants. Mycelium spread into adjacent plants or spores are carried on the wind or in moisture.

Fusarium initially attacks the exterior cells of the grass plant; older plants growth contains more lignin and is less vulnerable to Fusarium, whereas young growth is more susceptible. This has implications for timing of fertiliser applications to minimise flushes of growth when the disease pressure is high.

When approaching autumn, it is advisable to use slow release forms of fertiliser. Routine and sequential applications of phosphite, as part of an integrated disease management programme, significantly reduces the incidence and severity of the disease. This alternative to the use of iron as a turf hardener is becoming more popular. Use iron prudently to harden plant cells off and make them less susceptible to disease.

Care must be taken when applying iron in the form of iron sulphate, as swards that are dominated by Annual Meadow-grass tend to have received an abundance of fertilisers that contain a high proportion of ammonium sulphate. High levels of sulphur can lead to 'black layer'. Black layer is a deposit of metal sulphides caused by the activity of anaerobic bacteria. The anaerobic bacteria produce hydrogen sulphide which is highly toxic to turf.

Because Fusarium can survive within the thatch layer, it is good cultural practice to minimise this layer through aeration. Monitor thatch levels and aerate to achieve desired levels of oxygen within the sward. Air flow over the turf can also help reduce the incidence of disease. Drainage will help facilitate the flow of moisture away from the surface.

Regular top-dressing can help dilute existing thatch levels however heavy applications of top dressing are to be avoided as this can engender stress which can lead to an outbreak of Fusarium.

A large array of fungicides has historically been used, although this armoury has been reduced in recent years as products have been taken off the marketplace. There has also been an increase in disease resistance due to the over reliance upon specific groups of fungicides. Therefore, it is useful to adopt a strategic approach when utilising fungicides to derive the best use for what is a relatively expensive resource.

Consider utilising good cultural practice to minimise reliance upon herbicides; the code of practice states that you should 'ask yourself whether you need to use a pesticide or whether there is another method of control or combination of methods you could use.' Appropriate use of the correct fungicide at the most effective time will minimise the potential damage done by Fusarium. Fungicides target Fusarium at different stages and use different modes of action.

The practice of mixing different fungicides together to improve efficacy is a subject that deserves separate consideration. Suffice to say that pesticide labels aren't merely guidance but a legal document. It is an offence not to follow the statutory conditions of use of a pesticide. Broadly fungicides can be categorised in the following way:

Preventative fungicides are particularly effective at inhibiting Fusarium before it becomes firmly entrenched. Where a history of disease exists and the potential for disease is high, preventative fungicides can be used to prevent Fusarium becoming a problem. This can reduce the overall use of fungicides by tackling the disease when relatively low populations exist.

These operate within the plant using various different modes of action. Preventative fungicides would include: Heritage Maxx, Instrata, Banner Maxx, Dedicate and Throttle. Medallion is a fungicide that unusually targets the presence of Fusarium on the leaf, in the thatch and in the top of the soil and therefore can be used to break the cycle at many points.

A curative fungicide is a fungicide that whose specific mode of action makes it particularly effective at arresting the progress of the disease quickly. Fungicides applied when the first symptoms of disease are evident have been shown to be more effective in disease control than allowing the disease to become established.

Treating effectively with an appropriate fungicide will reduce the potential for future outbreaks and limit the need for further applications. Curative fungicides would include: Interface, Chipco Green and Medallion.

Preventative and Curative
Some fungicides provide a blend of active ingredients and therefore can be viewed as both a preventative and a curative. These include the following fungicides: Instrata, Banner Maxx, Dedicate and Throttle.

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Winter works

It will be also important to begin planning your winter works, arranging the delivery of materials and resources to ensure they arrive on time for your planned works.

Many course managers are now implementing and carrying out much of the winter work themselves, particularly course drainage and tree works. The advent of small affordable plant such as diggers, trailers and trenchers, and a variety of chainsaws, has made this option possible, thus saving clubs money.

I believe it important to plant additional trees each year to keep the course evolving. October is an ideal time for moving large trees; the use of a hydraulic tree spade allows you the opportunity to safely replant large trees up to 35ft in height or with rootballs up to 5 tons. October will be the only time that courses could withstand the movement of these trees without damage to fairways and access paths using the large machinery involved.

Also, in recent years many course managers have implemented a tree survey and set up a long term maintenance programme for the upkeep and management of their trees and tree plantations.

Bunker construction works may start in October to make use of the good ground conditions for transporting materials around.

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Water features: Inspect all water features on course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter. With regard to streams and brooks it is important to keep them clean and free of unwanted debris, autumn leaves and twigs are generally the biggest problem.

  • Irrigation: 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.

  • Trees and Woodlands: 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.