Greens smoothness is everything when it comes to giving golfers a better playing experience, according to STRI agronomist, Henry Bechelet. He believes getting it right can elevate a golf course from simply being good, to being something really special.
Speaking at the 'Playing Consistent - Staying Consistent' spring seminar series, organised by Everris, Jacobsen and Syngenta on golf courses across the country last week (26 - 30 March), Mr Bechelet highlighted results of the Syngenta Golf Player Survey that had identified smoothness was the top demand for player satisfaction, with out and out speed the least important factor in performance of greens.
"And if the focus is on smoothness, it means that we don't have to destroy our greens for the sake of pace," he said. "We can work on good agronomy and management that is geared around turf health, and producing surfaces that perform every day, all year round."
With the seminars' innovative new format of morning presentation and afternoon practical workshops, Mr Bechelet used the STRI Trueness Meter™ to demonstrate the significant impact of mower set up and adjustment in delivering consistent smoothness of greens.
Using the new Jacobsen Eclipse mower with its unique infinitely variable clip rate, he showed that too low a clip rate - leaving a larger gap between cuts - could lead to a riffling effect that slows ball roll. As the clip rate increases smoothness generally improves, but if it gets too much then the smoothness can begin to decline.
"The beauty with the new technology is that once the optimum clip rate has been identified and the mowers set up, the clip rate automatically remains constant no matter how fast or slow the operator works, so we get more consistent putting performance across the green and between the greens," he reported. The set clip rate will typically vary between courses according to grass species composition, greens' design and specification, along with the speed desired by players - but once established can be set as constant across the course.
Gina Putnam of Jacobsen highlighted that with the pedestrian Eclipse mower, course managers are finding they get absolutely consistent performance, no matter who is tasked with hand cutting the greens. And where the technology is employed on the company's ride-on Eclipse greens mower, the clip rate - and therefore the greens' performance - remains constant even where operators start off slowly, speed up across the centre of the green and then slow down as they approach the collar.
"We have been receiving great comments and observations of improved greens' performance from the variable clip rate system. Now, with the aide of the STRI research, we can quantify exactly what can be achieved and the optimum settings to enable greenkeepers to deliver the satisfaction of consistent playing greens," she added.
Meeting players' demands for quality
Dr Simon Watson of Syngenta added that the company's Golf Player Survey could be instrumental in helping greenkeeping teams to secure the necessary investment in the course and improving turf quality. "The findings of the independent survey are now freely available on the GreenCast website, in a format that greenkeepers can use with club secretaries and Green Committees to argue the case for investment in the course," he said. "It can help focus efforts on key areas that really influence golfers' choice in where they play, and the satisfaction that will keep them coming back."
He highlighted that the new Syngenta wetting and water conservation agent, Qualibra, will have an important role in maintaining consistent playing surface quality this season. "The survey highlighted the adverse effects of Dry Patch on players' appraisal of both the smoothness of putting surfaces and visual appearance. Using a wetting agent programme through the summer will be essential to prevent and relieve the symptoms of dry patch, as well as make the optimum use of irrigation and water resources over the summer."
During the seminar Dr Watson outlined the technical attributes of various wetting agent options, including the differing roles of penetrants and polymers. "If your sole intention is to move water away from the surface and you don't have any concerns about Dry Patch or retaining water in the soil profile, then a straight penetrant would be the best choice.
"If you are looking to retain soil moisture to improve the efficiency of water resources and optimise plant health, however, the polymers are the product of choice. But polymers, on their own, are limited in efficacy in getting water to where it's required, and holding it consistently and evenly in the soil profile."
With Qualibra the wetting agent components of both penetrant and polymer are combined and act in a complementary way. Dr Watson showed how the penetrant fraction delivers the water movement from the playing surface, which ensures it stays firm and playable, but also prevents soil becoming too wet and saturated. Furthermore, the penetrant helps to give a more even distribution of the polymer through the soil profile, which in turn enables it to hold soil moisture where it can be better utilised by turf roots.
"As an effective water conservation agent, it holds soil moisture deep and evenly that enables healthy roots to grow more vigorously and achieves more efficient irrigation use."
Dr Watson reported trial results have shown that Qualibra is more effective in getting soils back to optimum soil moisture and with significantly less irrigation than other wetting agents tested, but avoids holding too much water that could adversely affect turf health or playability.
Balanced nutrition avoids stress
Lewis Blois of Everris reinforced the message that relieving stress on turf plants is key to Integrated Turf Management plans that will help maintain more consistent playing surfaces. "With a better planned approach we can optimise the timing and quantity of inputs and management practices to reduce stress on the turf. That can enhance turf quality, minimise potential impact on the environment, and cut costs for the club."
Speaking at the John O'Gaunt Golf Club event in Bedfordshire on Thursday 29 March, Mr Blois urged greenkeepers to have soils regularly sampled for their nutrient status and to tailor fertilizer applications accordingly. "The aim is to provide a consistent and even supply of nutrients that matches plant growth and demand. Improving efficiency, with more of the nutrients taken up and utilised by the plants, minimises leaching, run-off, lock-up and waste."
Avoiding peaks and troughs in nutrient availability with a balanced slow release of nutrients also encourages healthier turf plants, which are more able to withstand stress, wear or disease and will maintain better playing surfaces, he added.
Mr Blois reported results of Everris trials where a SierraformGT slow release fertilizer programme resulted in a 27% reduction in disease infection, compared to just 8% reduction with a conventional fertilizer programme. Furthermore, when a wetting agent was also added to further reduce stress on the plants, the disease reduction was over 46% better than untreated.
With nitrogen (N) inputs this spring, Mr Blois urged greenkeepers to look at levels of nutrient availability over the course of the application period, rather than the N content per se. "Although at 22% N SierraformGT slow release fertilizer may initially appear high, the combination of immediately available AS, followed by the slower release of Urea and then three further releases of Methylene Urea N, means that nutrient is consistently available to the plant over the duration of the application that will optimise uptake and utilisation. There may be less immediate N availability than a higher dose of a typical 8% N conventional product, which in practice could be more susceptible to environmental loss and waste."
Syngenta is one of the world's leading companies with more than 24,000 employees in over 90 countries dedicated to our purpose: Bringing plant potential to life. Through world-class science, global reach and commitment to our customers we help to increase crop productivity, protect the environment and improve health and quality of life. For Australia specific turf agronomy and product information go to www.greencast.com.au
Everris®, formerly known as Scotts, is an ICL Specialty Fertilizers Company, part of the ICL group with more than 11,500 people globally. Working in partnership with customers and hand in hand with nature, Everris® is passionate about optimizing plant and turf performance. It takes great pride in the integrity and precision of its world-class product portfolios and strives to remain an open and customer-orientated organisation. With market leading brands - including Sierrablen®, Greenmaster®, Sierraform®GT, Greenmaster®, Levington, Humax and Osmocote®, - Everris enters the market as the leading player in the ornamental horticulture, turf and amenity, and specialty agricultural sectors. Web: www.everris.com
With nearly 90 years of experience in the turf maintenance industry, Jacobsen has built a legacy of precision craftsmanship, legendary quality of cut and unmatched expertise. Dedicated solely to delivering perfectly groomed turf, Jacobsen equipment is used on some of the finest golf courses, sports fields and other formal turf areas across the United States and the world, through an extensive distribution network and the international Ransomes brand. Additional information about the company can be found at www.ransomesjacobsen.com