Key Tasks for December
As ever, the advice below is very much weather dependent; with frost or flooded areas, it is better to keep off.
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 areas 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.
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 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.
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.
As we head into the festive period, we can hopefully look forward to spending quality time with friends and family, resting and taking stock ahead of 2022. It has been a tough year for many as we continue to navigate through the pandemic and try to overcome the challenges we all face. Whether we ever return to ‘normal’ or what the new normal is, we will get there, wherever ‘there is’, in time.
Early December is forecast to remain cold, with daily temperature lows consistently below 4 degrees Celsius. This is amongst a mixture of clear days and forecasted rain, which could also lead to snow showers and overnight frosts as low temperatures drop around freezing, which is set to continue through to the end of the month. The decrease in temperatures has meant that growth potential has now decreased, and growth will be limited. Consequently, this will inform any decisions around what inputs to apply to the plant. The low temperatures should minimise the probability of disease outbreaks, notably Microdochium nivale (Fusarium patch). However, that shouldn’t mean that this turf disease is forgotten about. Also, as light becomes less available to the plant, a low sun trajectory means shade and damp environments become more of the norm, which is ideal for the development of mosses and algae, not only on turf surfaces but hard surfaces too, which can require careful management.
The rain which is forecast in the middle of the month may lead to surfaces becoming saturated, therefore it is essential to try and maintain an aerobic soil for as long as possible. This is best achieved by carrying out aeration practices at the appropriate time and in the most suitable ground conditions. Taking machinery over surfaces when conditions aren’t suitable will cause more damage than bringing benefits, and sometimes the hardest decision is to stay off the turf. Subsequently, poorly timed operations can lead to surfaces being wetter, through water being held in the soil profile rather than being allowed to drain away. Where fertilisers containing sulphur have previously been applied, ensuring aeration work has been carried out will avoid ground conditions sitting too wet for a period of time, which can lead to anaerobic conditions and the formation of black layer, which will have a negative impact on turf conditions and health.
With soil temperatures dropping lower, there may be a limited requirement for plant nutrition, unless in an environment where you can create more artificial growing conditions with extra light and soil temperatures. Nitrogen applied should only be to encourage recovery from wear, and should contain the correct nitrogen source, which will be plant available. Biostimulants, seaweed, fulvic acid and amino acids may still be used to elicit a beneficial defence and stress response from the grass plant, although when temperatures are low, soil applications should be evaluated for their effectiveness, and consideration for foliar application for more efficient uptake.
The recent increase in soil moisture, after a relatively dry November, means that worm casts continue to be one of the most damaging issues for turf managers. The mild weather has meant growth has continued, but areas have been uncut for concerns over creating what could only be described as a mud bath. Activity may slow as temperatures decrease which would provide some relief; however, with still no legal controls for earthworms this is hopeful thinking. Any product which is applied to directly affect them is done so illegally. The advice continues to be, to carry on with cultural management where possible.
2021 has been a year of getting back on track, adjusting to new ways of working and pressing on. 2022 will throw more challenges at us, particularly with expected price increases across the board, not only in our industry but also in our lives, alongside continued supply and delivery constraints. But as we have seen it 2021, we will as an industry and individuals meet these challenges head on and continue to provide excellent playing surfaces for the sports industry.
Enjoy the Christmas period, and a well-deserved break where possible. Take time to reflect on moments from the last year and what’s ahead in 2022.
Have a great Christmas and New Year!
B.Sc (Hons) | BASIS | FACTS
It is important to maintain machines by carrying out regular servicing and repairs.
As grass growth slows down, use the time to take some machines out of operation for an overhaul.
- Inspect and clean machinery after use.
- Maintain a stock of consumables for your machinery, replace worn and damaged parts as necessary.
- Secure machinery nightly with good storage facilities and strong locks
- Record makes and models and take pictures of your equipment as additional referencebetter still, take pictures of your equipment.