Happy New Year to you all. I hope we see a change in the weather soon, and get some better weather fronts in January to help dry out many of the saturated parkland and heathland courses.
It has certainly been difficult for many course managers trying to ensure their course remains open for play. However, once soils get saturated they are prone to damage; quite often courses are closed, not because the greens are wet, but due to the condition of the fairways and traffic routes across the course.
Many parts of the country have endured periods of wet weather, resulting in the local soils becoming saturated and remaining wet for long periods. Every time it rains, the water tops up the already saturated ground, resulting in local flooding of land in the low spots; even the brooks and streams have become full to bursting, often adding to the problem.
With the soil full of water, the drains are at capacity and in full flow, which again adds to the flooding problems. To help alleviate the potential of flooding, it would pay to invest some time and money in ensuring all your drainage ditches are kept clean and able to cope with this influx of water. Also, keep your brooks and streams clear of debris and free flowing.
With golf now firmly an all year round sport, the Christmas break often sees an increase in golf traffic on the course, which can result in additional wear and tear. It is important to keep a check on pin placements, as wear around the hole position can increase during wet weather periods.
The use of golf trolleys can also increase wear on areas of the course, particularly along the pathways from greens to tees. Restricting the use of trolleys or providing designated trolley paths can minimise damage.
The use of artificial winter tee mats can also help control wear and damage. Many golf courses try and maintain play on their greens all 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.
Diseases can still occur in January, 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 in January 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.
Winter construction/repair works are ongoing. This is often associated with drainage improvements around the course or may include refurbishment, new build or extensions to bunkers, tees and greens.
January is also a good 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.
Key Tasks for January
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.
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 alleviate compaction.
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.
Inspect greens, tees, flags and hole positions for damage or vandalism. Vandalism often increases during the winter months.
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.
Fertiliser programmes are tailored to suit the grass plants needs, in recent years we have seen a number of new products / bio stimulants that can be applied during the winter months to aid recovery and help the plant resist disease pathogens .
Most turf grasses are 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 of the green.
Fertiliser programmes are tailored to suit the grass plant's needs. In recent years, we have seen a number of new products, such as bio stimulants that can be applied during the winter months to aid recovery and help the plant resist disease pathogens.
Most turf grasses are now dormant, slower growing. However, some greenkeepers may apply 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.
Now 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 size, determines how vigorous your plants are.
Earthworms may be a problem, particularly with the recent heavy rains, so regular dragbrushing will be necessary. Brushing can be daily when conditions are right. Regular aeration to keep the surface open will aid drying. A drier surface may help towards reducing the effects of the earthworm activity near the surface.
Diseases have been widely reported, particularly Fusarium. These outbreaks have been mainly due to the heavy dews and changing climatic air temperatures we have recently experienced.
The combination of early morning dews, warm and wet weather and diminishing daylight hours increases the risk of fungal disease outbreaks. The right conditions to trigger these disease attacks are weakened or susceptible plants, a disease-producing organism (pathogen usually fungi) and weather conditions which favour the formation of fruiting bodies and spores (moist, mild wet conditions).
Most cool season turfgrass diseases spread via water droplets. Plants also release excess nutrients via their stomatas (gutation) during night hours when there is no sun and rarely any wind to evaporate it. These exudates become mixed with the dew water and become the perfect food source for disease pathogens in their early stages of development.
The majority of diseases that are occurring now have responded to the unusually warm weather conditions. Boundary layers around the leaves have stayed very moist and humid. Relative humidity is important for spore germination and penetration of leaf tissues, and constant wet conditions will allow the development and transportation of active fungi spores.
The first step in turfgrass disease management is identifying the true nature of the problem. Diseases are only one cause of turf loss, and disease control measures will do nothing to alleviate damage from other causes such as management, wear or plant stress. It is therefore essential to determine whether the problem is disease, and if so, which disease.
The three disease factors: susceptible grass/host, pathogen, and environment, provide the evidence for disease diagnosis. Symptoms are the expression of the susceptible grass to the disease and can take on a variety of forms.
Symptoms may appear on the leaves as small, circular, tan-coloured lesions surrounded by brown or purple borders (leaf spotting); as yellow, red, or tan blotches over most or all of the leaf blade (blighting); stunting; wilting; or as a brown or black rot on the crowns and roots. The appearance of these symptoms will also vary depending on the type of disease, the severity of the attack and the developing stage of the disease.
Early identification of the symptoms is essential for good disease management, however the best form of management is using preventive, cultural turf maintenance methods that reduce the ideal environmental factors that these diseases require for development, e.g. regular brushing/switching of the grass to remove excess moisture, regular aeration to allow gaseous exchange and water percolation.
Over the years, we’ve developed many methods of removing dew from playing surfaces, from dragging hose pipes over pitches to switch canes on bowling and golf greens. However, these laborious tasks have been superseded with the development of brushing attachments that can be fitted to both mowers and gators to speed up operations, though hand switching also gives you an opportunity to get close and personal and keep an eye on what’s happening.
Other cultural methods to help reduce disease pressure would be removal of thatch, which harbours pathogens, by verti-cutting and end of season renovations, as well as checking mower blades are sharp to provide a precise cut of the leaf blade and reduce the potential for disease.
Identification of these diseases can sometimes be difficult in the early stages of attack. It’s often only possible to recognise the type of disease when the fruiting bodies of the disease produce structures such as spores, mushrooms, or mycelium (small, thread-like filaments produced by fungi) that can be seen without the aid of a microscope. A good example of this is Red Thread (Laetisaria fuciformis) where the distinctive red filaments can be seen amongst the grass.
Site characteristics and turf management practices have a large influence on disease management. Factors such as air movement, drainage, soil conditions, and the amount of sun or shade, slope, fertilisation and aeration programmes are important in influencing the development of turf diseases.
It is important to remember that pathogenic fungi can survive and remain in a dormant state in plant debris and soil until favourable conditions arrive again to stimulate another disease outbreak.
The pathogens that cause these diseases are always lying dormant, waiting for the ideal conditions to become active. Once these spores are activated, and have found an appropriate host, they are able to grow and reproduce themselves, spreading new spores and infections to other areas of turf. This cycle continues whilst favourable conditions prevail.
Understanding and implementing works that can break up the disease cycle will help reduce the opportunities for disease development and outbreak.
When it comes to disease identification, there is as much emphasis on you, as the turf manager, to provide appropriate turf samples for analysis as there is for the lab to accurately identify the problem. In most cases, the best place to remove a turf sample for analysis is from the leading edge of the symptoms, where the affected or discoloured plants give way to healthy turf.
It is also important for the lab to be able to see what the general composition and condition of the sward is like and what the rootzone profile is like and, for those reasons, a 90mm diameter core sample, taken to a depth of approximately 60mm using a golf hole changer (or similar) makes for an ideal sample.
If possible, email photographs of the symptoms so that the lab can get an idea of how the problem is developing - a good picture can often tell so much more than a detailed written description.
There are a number of excellent laboratories that offer disease recognition, along with some good weather services that offer disease watch forecasts. One we recommend is Syngenta’s Greencast service.
Common diseases that can be active and cause concerns at this time of the year are: Red Thread, Fusarium and Dollar Spot. Click on the following link :- Disease Watch to see information about these diseases.
It is important to have identified the disease correctly, so that an appropriate fungicide can be selected. Using the wrong fungicide or wrong application rates can lead to a number of problems; not only would it be a waste of time and money, the effect on the disease is likely to be negative and may well exacerbate the problem by making the disease more resilient to the active ingredient applied.
By the end of January servicing, repair and overhaul of mowing equipment should nearly be complete. Sharpening of reels and replacement of bottom blades are a key requirement, therefore it is important that all such replacement parts are in stock and readily available.
The start of the year is also a good time to have an early spring clean, conducting a thorough clean up of mess rooms, toilets and garages. It is good Health & Safety practice to keep garages and working areas clean and tidy.
January is also a time to reflect on the work achieved and what you want to plan for next year. Many golf clubs have their budgets set in January, so it is a good time to prioritise your spending .
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.
Inspect all water features on the course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter.
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.
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.