May will be an extremely busy time for most greenkeeping staff. Increased soil and air temperatures will induce a flush of grass growth that will need to be controlled. Increasing the frequency of cut and reducing the height of cut will be the order of the month.
Presentation of the course should be a high priority, ensure mowing machines are correctly set up and mowers are cutting cleanly and evenly.
As with most natural grass playing surfaces, weather plays the dictating role in what your maintenance regimes will involve, and the frequency of these operations.
Key Tasks for May
May sees the mowing operations in full swing with the aim of reducing the height of cut of the greens; by the end of month the greens will be at their summer height (3.5-6mm). Other tasks that complement this work involve the use of grooming and verti-cutting units to remove unwanted thatch and side shoot growths. The frequency of grooming is fortnightly, with verti-cutting monthly.
Mowing frequencies can vary from daily to twice weekly operations dependent 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 3.5-6mm.
- Tees - Mowing height should be maintained at around 10-15mm.
- Fairways - Mowing height should be maintained at around 15-20mm.
- Rough and Semi rough grass areas - Mow and tidy up these areas.
Changing of hole positions should be carried out regularly, however frequency will be dependant on a number of factors; green size, greens 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 golfers' feet. Most golf courses are changing their hole positions at least three times a week.
Light topdressings of sand/rootzones are essential for maintaining surface levels preparation and again, 'little and often' being the ideal practice. Aeration should also continue, using a mix of micro, needle or star tines which give maximum effect and almost zero turf disturbance. Sarel rollers are another alternative; the main objectives being to 'vent' the rootzone and to allow water to move quickly from the surface and into the rootzone, thus encouraging the turf to root deeper.
The combination of drying winds and higher air temperatures will increase the rate of evapotranspiration. If soil profiles, particularly sandy soils, are allowed to dry out too much they often become water repellent (hydrophobic), a state when soils can become difficult to re-wet. Often, the first areas to suffer are the high, exposed grass areas on greens, tees and fairways. You may need to spend more time hand watering these problem areas.
The long term affect of drying greens could be the deterioration of surface playability. The surface could begin to break up, particularly on sand predominant greens. Sand becomes unstable when in a dry state and the surface can become bumpy. Different grass species will respond differently under drought conditions, growth rates will vary depending on habitat and root structure, thus promoting an uneven surface. Once the soil goes beyond a certain drying stage, you are likely to encounter dry patch symptoms, whereby the soil becomes hydrophobic, being unable to absorb water. The water simply runs off instead of soaking into the soil profile.
Water will also always wash off from the high spots into the low areas, so the low spots tend to remain green and lush. This variation of dry and wet areas will affect surface playability. Once soils become hydrophobic, they can deny adequate water movement to other areas of the rootzone - often resulting in water deficit stress, with symptoms that include a general decline in the biological health of the plant which, in turn, affects shoot and root growth. You may need to consider using wetting agents to aid recovery or help prevent these problems occurring in the first place. Many Greenkeepers now utilise wetting agents on a monthly basis to keep the rootzone in good condition.
The movement of nutrients in the soil is also dependent on the moisture state of the soil; dry rootzones will slow down or even prevent nutrients being accessible to the plant. This, again, will result in plant health decline.
If you do not have adequate watering facilities, it may be beneficial to raise the height of cut by 1mm to keep a little more grass on the greens during these dry periods. It may slow the game down a bit, but will help sustain your greens through these difficult times.
It is important to water correctly; under or over watering will have a detrimental affect on plant health. You need only apply enough water to replace what has been lost by evapotranspiration. Depending on the aspect of your green, soil type and herbage cover, you could be losing anything between 3-5 mm of water per day. This will need to be replaced by watering. It is important to water evenly and to depth, you want to ensure the water gets down beyond the rooting profile, at least between 100-150mm. This will encourage deeper rooting as the green dries and the roots go in search of the descending water.
Also, check your water quality, what pH is it? Is it suitable for your green? Check filters on recycled water systems. Poor water quality will affect plant growth and sustainability.
There are still some clubs that do not have an automated watering system and hand water only when really necessary.
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.
Most groundstaff would have applied a spring fertiliser dressing back in March and, depending on weather conditions and type of greens, will have already applied or considered applying another dressing of fertiliser to balance growth. Cut back on the (N) nitrogen input and (P) phosphate elements, and apply something like a 9+7+7 NPK fertiliser. Many greenkeepers are also resorting to using a programme of base feeds topped up with liquid fertilisers.
Generally, USGA sand based greens tend to be more hungry for fertilisers compared to the pushed up soil greens.
Most course managers would then look to colour up the greens with an application of iron and seaweed products prior to competitions and tournaments. Many course managers like to use straight compound fertilisers that act instantly to the conditions, rather than use slow release products that can initiate or stimulate growth when you don't want it.
We have also seen, in recent years, some greenkeepers going down the route of applying compost tea formulations with a top up of tonics and seaweed extracts. However, whichever route you take, the key is to apply a balanced feeding programme to maintain plant health.
The choice of materials and how well they work can be dependent on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and and air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.
Monitoring the performance of your playing surfaces is a key skill that should be adopted by all Groundsmen and Greenkeepers. With the aid of modern technologies, tools and a camera, you can now monitor the performance and the condition of your sward in many ways.
For many years, the turf industry has promoted the use of Performance Quality Standards PQS to ascertain the standard of sport pitch maintenance.
It is important to survey and measure the performance of your facilities; with modern technologies we can now measure all manner of aspects of the pitch/golf green or artificial pitch to ensure it meets any stated guidelines by the sports governing bodies.
These can include measuring sward height, composition of grass species, soil temperature, weed content, levels over a 3m level, hardness and infiltration rates (porosity) of the soil rootzone.
In recent years, we have seen the development of GPS mapping devices that can measure, chlorophyll , moisture content and deviation in levels. Soil tests will also help determine soil type, nutrient status of the soil, organic matter content, CEC capacity and soil pH.
Keeping a record of these parameters will help you have a better understanding of what is going on within your playing surface and enable you to make better decisions on what maintenance inputs you will need to undertake to maintain surface playability.
Weed growth is very active during May, requiring the use of selective herbicides. These are more effective when the plant is actively promoting growth. Always follow manufacturers' guidelines.
Moles and rabbit damage repairs can be undertaken as and when required.
Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Scarring of the playing surface is normally reduced as grass growth is usually dominant and vigorous in May, reducing the need to use fungicide treatments. However, there may be a need to apply a preventative fungicide treatment in the lead up to important competitions or matches.
Golf clubs invest a lot of money in buying equipment, they genarally have large fleets of mowers and other course machinery such as sprayers, top dressers, aerators and many other small mechanised hand tools, all of which require regular servicing and maintenance.
Having a good wash down facility is an essential tool for keeping equipment clean, there are a number of companies who spcialise in the installtion of these facilites.
In recent years, we have also seen clubs investing in their own grinding machines for keeping the mowers sharp; running mowers with sharp blades improves the quality of cut and ensures the plant is kept stress free.
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
More details about all the courses can be found here, or you can email Chris Johnson for information.
Bunkers / Daily:- Inspect, weed and rake bunkers.
Course Inspection / Daily:- Inspect greens, tees, flags and hole positions for damage or vandalism.
Ponds, lakes and streams /Weekly:- Inspect all water features on course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter.
Seed bare and worn areas / When conditions allow:- Greens, Tees and Fairways. Over seeding of sparse or bare areas can be continued, the rise in temperature will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless. Ensure you use new seed as old material may not give you the required germination rates. Remember, bents and fescue grasses require higher soil temperatures for successful germination.
Tee boxes, pegs / As required:- All tee boxes, tee pegs and competition markers should be inspected daily, cleaned and moved to new positions as required.
Top dressing / As required:- Greens and Tees. Ensure you have enough top dressing material for any renovation works that may still be carried out in May.
Wetting agents / As required:- If wetting agents are being used, they are generally applied monthly throughout the season.
Woodland and conservation areas / As required:- High and strong winds can damage trees on golf courses. Inspect and repair or remove damaged trees. It is important to inspect trees regularly (heath & safety) to reduce the likelihood of a golfer being struck by tree debris.
Machinery (Repairs & Maintenance)/ Daily:- Inspect and clean machinery after use, service and repair damaged machinery.
Marking out / Weekly:- Mark out trolley areas, out of bound site areas and range markings.
Materials/ Monthly:- Estimate and order seed, loams and fertilisers, fuels and other consumables.