Two recent articles in the Pitchcare magazine, the first written by Greg Evans, Course Manager at Ealing Golf Club in South London, and the second by the STRI's Richard Windows and Henry Bechelet on their 'Disturbance Theory' have sparked some very serious and intense debate.
Consultant agronomist, Kevin Munt, felt that the 'cleverly juxtaposed' articles were 'journalistic genius' and, via the BIGGA website, posted his concerns on these contrasting viewpoints.
Over 21,000 posts, and two weeks later, easily the largest thread the industry has ever seen, the furore eventually died down.
Greg has challenged greenkeepers with his belief that very short cuts (2mm) on putting greens are not only sustainable, but should be employed more widely. As a top level amateur golfer himself, he believes that golfers now demand the greater challenges presented by shorter, faster greens.
The STRI's Disturbance Theory strives for greenkeeping Nirvana by managing environmental pressures on golf greens.
It is fair to say that the two views are at opposite ends of the scale and, to an extent, idealistic. But, it is important to note that Pitchcare believe that there is no 'perfect' way to manage sports turf, whether its golf, football, cricket, bowls or lacrosse, as each venue will have its own underlying environmental and topographic constraints.
What is important is that we offer our readers articles that will stimulate them into considering whether the practices being carried out are of relevance to their facility. Whilst we concur that sustainability in golf is a worthy goal, we accept that there is more than one way to 'skin a cat'.
So, ever eager to facilitate debate, Pitchcare has invited Greg Evans to explain, in greater depth, just how he has succeeded in achieving his version of sustainability.
This is followed by the final article on the Disturbance Theory by Richard and, finally, we also invited Kevin Munt to explain what 'got his goat'. Read on ...
THE SHORT CUT!
It seems that my previous articles appearing in this journal have caused "a bit of a stir." Dozens of emails and phone calls have been received from fellow greenkeepers wanting to find out more, some were congratulatory and some were not. At the same time, there is a very interesting dialogue occurring on the BIGGA bulletin board, arguing the pros and cons of the approach I advocate to greens maintenance.
In this article, I will elaborate further on two of the most critical aspects of my maintenance programme, fertility and water. Future articles will address practices such as overseeding and machinery.
In the past, some greenkeepers who attempted to maintain low cutting heights fell into the trap of overfeeding and/or overwatering their greens to save the grass plant from certain death. We now know that no matter what height of cut, overfeeding and/or overwatering greens simply creates new problems such as thatch, disease and soft, spongy greens.
The science of greenkeeping continues to move forward. Greens need a balanced energy programme. Grasses, like all living things, have requirements which will vary during high stress periods. There are many factors that can affect the health of a grass plant and an appropriate nutritional and watering programme is essential or the health of the plant will suffer. Weak swards will allow anthracnose, red thread, dollar spot and other diseases to set in if the correct balance is not found.
This article begins with the plants sources of energy. Some greenkeepers struggle to find the right balance, discovering that, if the energy sources are wrong or applied too heavily, it will lead to other diseases, such as fusarium, from high thatch content. But, the energy sources, nutrition and water, are the first key steps to reach sustainability of the plant.
I base my fertility programme around soil analysis reports prepared independently before the season starts. These reports record what has happened to the soil over recent years and indicate what I need to focus on in the year ahead. Some fertiliser suppliers will provide this type of analysis free of charge and then design a programme specifically for the course. However, suppliers have a vested interest in selling their own products and there may be more appropriate products available elsewhere. By all means accept their free soil analysis report, but cross check it with an independent report. Soil analysis reports are relatively inexpensive and, for peace of mind, well worth the cost.
The need for flexibility
Over the years, the most important thing that I have found with a fertility programme is the need to remain flexible. Some greenkeepers get stuck with nutrient numbers or overly rigid fertility programmes.
Very wet summers have prevailed in South East England during the past two years and I needed to adapt my planned programme during each year. Prolonged, overly wet weather conditions cause problems such as the leaching of nutrients through the soil. Nitrogen and potassium, for example, are very soluble. I increased the dosage of these two nutrients to counteract the leaching effect. On the other hand, high levels of iron and sulphur in wet soils will make these compounds toxic to the plant.
An increase of aeration is needed to allow oxygen into the soil to balance this out. The flexibility that I needed to introduce into my planned fertility programme during each of these past two years was based on my experience and knowledge of this course gleaned from the soil analysis reports from prior years.
I am frequently questioned about my feeding regime for greens. I apply roughly the following quantities per hectare of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium during a normal year:
I am flexible with my fertility programme and these figures change from season to season. I am also noticing that my greens are becoming a little hungrier. This is not through the low cutting height adding stress, but a result of the change in the soil profile through my heavy sanding programme. However, the benefits of the reduced thatch content and firmer greens created by the sanding programme far outweigh this negative effect.
Due to the negative press generally surrounding the overfeeding of greens, some greenkeepers severely limit their NPK inputs. I am of the opinion that this could cause problems in the future, with weakened swards and increased disease. However, I do not encourage greenkeepers to just 'throw on' the fertiliser. Fertility and irrigation are the plants energy sources and their application is critical.
On many high maintenance courses with big budgets, the greens can often be sprayed as intensely as daily and fed at intervals depending on the fertility requirements. This is high end practice and only an option for courses with big budgets and adequate staff. Their feeding and irrigation programmes can be planned scientifically with the results readily apparent throughout the season. But, less well resourced courses can also benefit from the lessons being learned elsewhere.
The primary aim of my fertility programme is to obtain a relatively constant seasonal growth pattern. Too much fertiliser at once produces a flush of growth but can lead to high disease pressures and slow greens. Too little growth results in weaken swards. To produce relatively constant growth, I put my greens on a six-week fertility programme.
Application starts with one base feed at a low rate, followed by two liquid top up feeds. My "rule of thumb" is little and often. I find that this application programme keeps the greens lean but healthy. A good ongoing indicator of success is the colour of the greens. If they are dark green, then you are likely to be applying too much fertiliser at once. Yellow greens indicate that you are not applying enough. A light green is, for me, the perfect colour.
Organic or inorganic?
The popularity of organic fertilisers began to decline several years ago, but are definitely making a comeback. These types of fertilisers are a rich source of nutrients for the plant, with many micronutrients and favourable acids included in their makeup.
As a greenkeeper plans the fertility application schedule at the start of each season, I believe that both organic and inorganic type fertilisers should be included. Both have a role to play. I predominantely use organic feeds in spring and autumn, when deep tining of the greens is also scheduled.
By applying an organic feed at this time, it allows the fertiliser to get down to the roots. Also, this is the time of year when most greenkeepers are overseeding. I have found that the best preseeder is an organic feed which contains lots of primary and secondary nutrients.
The inorganic fertilisers available today are becoming more advanced. Foliar feeds are relatively new to the sportsturf world, but they have already become an integral part of many programmes. A feature of a foliar feed is that it goes straight into the plant, somewhat like injecting a needle, but predominantely through the leaf. This gives the greenkeeper greater control as wastage is reduced. The downside is that it is high maintenance, requiring lots of spraying. As a result, I like to apply a granular base feed first and follow it up with liquids. This way the intensity of the spraying can be reduced, while still keeping the plant healthy.
Another advantage of foliar spraying is that it can be tank mixed with other products such as seaweeds or plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx. Primo Maxx is a great product which helps control top growth by putting a lot of the plant energy into the root system. By doing this, it has the advantage of reducing Poa Annua seed heads that appear every spring. These seed heads tend to cause slow bumpy greens at this time of year. If you start this programme early enough, coupled with a low cutting height, bumpy greens will be eliminated.
Another factor to bear in mind, when designing and implementing a fertiliser programme, is organic matter build up. A survey conducted in America a few years ago, concluded that on a normal maintenance schedule, with an average fertility programme, the plant will produce 22% more organic matter than the previous year. However, this type of organic build up can be broken down with verti-cutting, sanding and aeration programme. Organic build up can lead to thatch and, ultimately, slow, bumpy greens. As a result, feeding programmes should never be planned in isolation, but in tandem with the verti-cutting, sanding and aeration programmes.
Irrigation has become a hot topic over recent years and some greenkeepers proudly tell how little water they put on to their greens. By all means be on the lean side when watering but, as with fertility, the plant has requirements. Don't fall into the trap of starving greens of water. Even fescue needs water to survive.
As with the fertility programme, I recommend the little and often approach when irrigating. I tend to restrict the use of sprinklers to a light watering early in the morning if conditions dictate this. I follow this up with selected hand watering. Although hand watering is quite labour intensive, dry patch can be kept at bay while allowing the greenkeeper to stay more in tune with his greens.
This sort of preventative maintenance affords the greenkeeper an additional opportunity to spot disease, giving him the ability to take remedial action quickly when necessary.
Hydrophobic soils present serious problems for golf greens, especially smaller ones with stress areas due to high golfers' traffic. Summer aeration is imperative to help alleviate these problems. Taking the surface tension out of the top layer will allow more oxygen down to reach the roots. Summer aeration, combined with a good hand watering programme, is the best way that I have found to reduce the pressure on these high stress areas.
Water balance sheets
Water balance sheets are becoming more popular. They allow greenkeepers to calculate water loss or gain on a daily basis. In the past, greenkeepers have just relied on their own experience and skill to apply water. Experience still counts, but can be improved upon with water balance sheets.
Gone are the days when irrigation systems were turned on in late May and switched off in early September. The plant has needs which vary for all sorts of reasons. This might mean that the plant requires a couple of millimetres in early March or October to keep it healthy, and this is where a water balance sheet helps to diagnose the moisture requirements, and takes out the guess work.
The right balance
Fertility and water are the key energy sources, and greenkeepers know that they require balance in quantity and application. Too much feed or water and the greens quickly become soft, leading to organic matter build up and scalping. Too little and the plant will just wilt away.
The maintenance programme also requires planning and balance, where aeration, sanding and verti-cutting help make a very tight cutting height sustainable. To sustain the very short height of cut increasingly demanded by golfers, these maintenance operations must be coordinated and integrated with the fertility and water programme.
From my experience, I know that greens cut at a constant height of 2mm can remain healthy and sustainable. The same can be said about a grass plant that is cut less aggressively, and few, if any, will dispute this claim. But, if a greenkeeper's energy sources are unbalanced or out of harmony with his maintenance programme, his greens will be poor, whatever the height of cut.
Greg Evans runs the Complete Golf Solutions consultancy company. He can be contacted on 07951 157208 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
YOUR PRIDE AND THE GOLFER'S JOY
It's interesting to reflect back. The first Disturbance Theory article was "Changing the Nature of your Greens" and it started with a bold ambition ...
"Our objective is to help you understand that the nature of the environment controls the composition of the sward. With this understanding you can take better control and bring improved quality. If you can see how nature works you may become a better part of it. You need to be able to adapt. We want you to start formulating your greenkeeping strategy in terms of managing environmental pressures. We mean to get you thinking about your greens differently."
We were younger then. We don't know how successful we have been but we gave it a go. This is the final Disturbance Theory article and it is the one where we try to draw everything together.
Picture this. Your greenkeeping plan is formed in your mind. You picture the ideal surface then form a plan to set about achieving it. The imagined ideal surface will draw from your understanding of the style of the course, the required playing qualities (the take, release and hold of the ball), the prevailing climatic conditions and the resources available. You will see what is needed and what is possible, then aim for a realistic target.
Sward species composition should be a key consideration for your ideal putting surface because it has a radical impact on surface playing qualities, its susceptibilities and the maintenance requirements. You shouldn't overlook the different grass types when deciding about the future development of your greens.
In the zone
If your decision is to strive for an ideal putting surface that contains an increased proportion (or complete dominance) of the browntop bents (Agrostis capillaris) and/or fine fescues (Festuca rubra spp.) then the Disturbance Theory is here to help.
With our articles and lectures we have tried to arm you with a simple understanding of plant growth strategies to help you to manage the environment in favour of the desired species blend. This way of thinking will allow you to make progress without having to compromise on playing quality.
What becomes clear by following this path is the need for flexibility. If you are going to successfully change the sward composition you will need to be able to work within the dynamic environment and try to keep it within the desired zone. This article will tell you about the journey towards the fine grasses and what you will need to do along the way.
To favour the development of the browntop bents and fine fescues in UK golf greens you will need to master four distinct stages of greenkeeping. Each step has different objectives and they each require a particular method to succeed. Put simply, each stage must be completed before moving on to the next. We think that the failure of greenkeepers to make significant progress with the finer grasses is because the approach isn't phased in the right way. This article is about setting and maintaining your focus.
The four phases
We think that the four different phases of greenkeeping are:
Phase 1: Lay the foundation
Phase 2: Manage the establishment
Phase 3: Pressure the Poa
Phase 4: Prevent re-invasion
Each phase has specific objectives and they require different tactics to complete. Take your time to complete each stage before trying to move on. You will need to be patient. Objective measures can tell of progress towards target areas.
Phase 1: Lay the foundation
The first leg of your journey is the starting point for most - putting surfaces with annual meadow grass (Poa annua) dominance, an organic matter rich turf base and less than ideal drainage. Playing qualities can be variable throughout the year and the surfaces are vulnerable to extremes of weather and disease attack. You want to change the nature of your greens.
Your primary objectives at this stage are to improve drainage and reduce the organic matter content of the soil profile. This will immediately improve playing qualities, especially through the winter. It will also create an environment where the finer grasses can start to flourish.
Try to get through this stage as quickly as possible, so spend your energy informing your club and the players of your intentions. Explain the procedure and sell the benefits of success. Tell them that, if carried out correctly, this stage won't last forever. Better greens for longer in the year is a fairly compelling objective for most golfers and golf clubs.
If your underlying drainage is really poor, you need to be thinking pipe drainage or even green reconstruction.
Work against the organic matter by hollow tining (with big enough tines) or deep scarification, integrate topdressing and aerate like mad. Don't worry about disturbance at this stage because there is nothing to save. Ensure you change the reason for the thatch accumulation in the first place by amending the previous fertiliser or irrigation programme.
If shade is a problem then thin or remove the trees (under guidance of an ecologist or tree expert).
Turn the situation around as quickly as possible to keep the golfers happy. Sample organic matter content through the soil profile to monitor progress and to review the success of the methods being employed. Work towards specific targets.
You complete this stage when you have created a surface with an open aspect that is founded upon a sandy and free draining soil. The greens are already better and now you can start thinking seriously about changing the grass types.
Phase 2: Manage the environment
With the foundation in place you can start with the art of greenkeeping. Changing the sward species composition to establish the browntop bents and fescues requires subtle management of the environment. Here we begin overseeding in earnest and setting the environment required to shepherd the seedlings into established plants. We also want to allow the established plants to flourish. This is achieved by preparing the surfaces in a different way.
Our knowledge of the plant growth strategies tells us that constant damage (disturbance) will favour the annual meadow grass while the finer grasses prefer more settled conditions. We reduce the need for aggressive treatments with the judicious use of fertiliser and irrigation inputs to keep growth and thatch production under control (plant growth regulators?).
We begin preparing the surfaces through topdressing, brushing, rolling and less aggressive mowing and verticutting to keep disturbance pressure to a minimum. We continue to aerate to maintain the optimal soil conditions but without it being detrimental. We still provide firm, fast, smooth and true surfaces for the golfers to enjoy but we start doing it in a different and less damaging way.
Successful overseeding requires you to be pernickety. Use quality seed and apply it at the correct rate when there is a chance of success. Be sure to place the seed to the correct depth (with soil contact) and give it enough space to come through. Hold back the competition from the existing sward before overseeding with the use of plant growth regulators. Manage the establishment considerately to give the new seedlings a chance to take hold. A healthy and settled environment, with minimal stress, is the order of the day. Stress is no good for new seedlings, so ease the pressure from the environment.
This tends to be the longest phase but it isn't endless. Take heart that you have already improved the situation beyond recognition through Phase 1.
As the finer grasses establish, and assume dominance, your mind will start thinking about hastening the process by stressing the annual meadow grass out. You should only move to the next stage when you are sure that you can lose the annual meadow grass without losing playing quality beyond the patience of the players. Think hard before moving on.
Phase 3: Pressure the Poa
This is the phase where we start playing with the pressures. Through Phase 2 you will have become attuned to the idea of managing environmental pressures and, through this stage, you will start to employ that understanding in a more forceful way. The objective here is to force the poa out.
Through this phase we are still looking to favour the fine grasses so our surface preparations remain focused on minimising disturbance. We continue to prepare our surfaces primarily with topdressing, brushing and rolling (with occasional verticutting only as necessary) but also look for the chance to use stress against the annual meadow grass.
At this time we use our understanding of plant growth strategies to play on the strengths and weaknesses of the different species. The browntop bents and fine fescues have developed a far greater ability to withstand an element of stress than the annual meadow-grass. None are true stress-tolerators, so don't apply too much stress for too long or the favoured species might also suffer.
Use stress in a short-term and controlled fashion to weaken the annual meadow grass without damaging the bents and fescues, and then take advantage of the situation by overseeding.
We do have different forms of stress to play with. Constraining water and nutrient availability (and promoting soil acidity) can all be used to exert a positive selection pressure onto the sward. Be very careful though because extreme stress can directly damage the desired species and it can also encourage disturbing disease and pest attacks. The safest method in the UK is to restrict water availability for a short time at the end of the summer. The finer grasses are naturally strong in this area and will be able to cope. This can be used on the run up to overseeding and then quickly eased afterwards to aid establishment.
Restricting fertiliser inputs can also help weaken annual meadow grass but should not be used at the expense of recovery.
After stress we need to take advantage of the situation quickly. We can use gentle acidification stress with the use of ammonium sulphate based fertilisers. Just take the annual meadow grass out of its comfort zone while keeping the finer grasses within theirs. Manage environmental pressure to select the desired species.
Interestingly, at this stage, we do not want to use products that improve the stress tolerance of the annual meadow grass. A constant reliance on phosphate fertilisers should be avoided for this reason. We must also ensure that the soil doesn't become water repellent by being dried out too much.
In this phase we hasten the development of the finer grasses by taking opportunities to push the annual meadow grass out and then overseeding to take the open ground. You know you have reached the end of this stage when you are more concerned about preventing annual meadow grass invasion than forcing it out.
Phase 4: Prevent invasion
When we achieve a dominance of the finer grasses (or indeed have started with a newly established one) the objective is to prevent deterioration in the form of annual meadow grass invasion.
Its reproductive strategy is second to none and produces seemingly magical seeds that can find, and take advantage of, any sward openings and at any time of the year. Knowing this, we must work to minimise the formation of gaps within the sward and also make the turf base unattractive for the germination and establishment of seedlings.
In this phase we maintain the development of a dense and healthy sward with the appropriate use of fertiliser and irrigation inputs and with the use of plant growth regulators. We must try to prevent direct damage to the sward by managing wear properly and by being vigilant with our pest, disease and dry patch control strategies. We should not contribute to any form of thinning by keeping unduly aggressive treatments to a minimum. We continue to overseed to fill any gaps that do appear.
Regular topdressing, using an appropriate sandy material, will have served to create a dry and sandy turf base that is not favourable to the successful germination and establishment of annual meadow grass seedlings. The use of sulphate of ammonia based feeds will have acidified the seedbed to help in the same way.
Of course, we must continue to manage the soil profile. Continue to spike or prick as necessary to keep the surface receptive to water infiltration, to aerate the soil profile and to allow the integration of topdressing as needed. Take care by using the most effective and least harmful method.
Annual meadow grass will invade at times so we need to revert back to the methods learned in Phase 3 to push it back out again. Use appropriate stress without it becoming too damaging.
You are now managing the natural ebb and flow of sward species composition. You are successfully handling the tricky environmental balance that favours the development of the bents and fescues over the annual meadow grass. You have reached the high ground and you have got here by taking nothing for granted. You have stayed focused on achieving your goal. When does it end?
So, this is where the The Disturbance Theory ended up. How did we do? Are you thinking about your greenkeeping in a different way or left cold by it all?
It doesn't matter now. Just know that sward species development is about creating a favourable environmental balance and understand that you can influence proceedings. The different species will respond to your environment, so manage the one that you need. Above all, do it in a way that continues to make the surfaces better and better no matter what. In the end, we just hope that the greens become your pride and the golfers' joy.
Forgive us for the mistakes and the gaps but we think that enough is enough.
Thanks to Megan Hood (NZSTI) for joining in and helping.
Richard and Henry may be contacted by email at email@example.com (Subject: I think your mistakes are….).
Megan is contactable via nzsti.org.nz (Subject: Maybe you could shed some light on this for me…)
THE NEED FOR SPEED!
Pitchcare's cleverly juxtaposed articles in last months magazine on heights of cut for golf greens inspired me to rustle up some views on the topic from within the greenkeeping profession. Hence, I posted a thread on the subject of the Windows/Bechelet versus Evans approach to mowing heights for greens on the BIGGA website forum to see what the mood was out there at the 'coal face'.
Well the thread has had over 21,000 'views' to date, making it by far the most popular thread ever. I guess that the two articles were also the most thumbed pages in Pitchcare last month as well.
This goes to show that green speeds are the single most emotive topic in golf course maintenance, and rightly so. After all, the whole reason for playing the game, and thus having greenkeepers, is to put your ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible.
Having got this overwhelming response, I thought that I would keep the ball rolling!
Blue Sky or How high!
Firstly I would like to comment on one element from each of the last articles. While the STRI's article was pure common sense, built around the age-old disturbance theory, it was couched in 'blue sky' terms that are unrealistic in most practical applications. A statement like "to favour the development of browntop bents and fine fescues in golf greens you simply have to set the correct environmental conditions" is far too simplistic.
There is nothing 'simple' in setting environmental conditions, even those under our control, and establishing bent/fescue dominant swards is very tough - achievable, but tough. I am also a realist and believe that the Disturbance Theory only works if you already have a bent/fescue sward that does not need 'fixing'.
On the other hand the article by Greg Evans worries me greatly, because it gives entirely the wrong message to club members. The approach to 'protecting' a short course is to have your greens at tournament level stimpmeter readings for as long as possible, is in my opinion irresponsible.
Whilst I admire Greg for sharing his views with everyone, and being brave enough to talk openly about an approach that other course managers may well be operating, I still consider his article dangerous in the hands of the unqualified!
While I support the efforts of Pitchcare, I hope not too many club committee officials, or the low handicap 'keep 'em fast brigade' get to read Pitchcare.
The quick and the dead
The 'low mow' approach to gaining pace has been around since the early seventies. In 1984 I started at Hankley Common Golf Club and started mowing the greens every day; a first. Then I started cutting at 3/16" (4.5mm) all summer and, for the Open Regional qualifier in 1985, lowered the height of cut to 1/8" (3.5mm) for the whole week of the event.
Whilst the greens were faster and truer from that moment on I probably started the decline of the fescue content in the greens. In those days if you cut your greens at 1/8" for more than one week it was seen as poor greenkeeping practice. Shouldn't it still be?
Of course, you can get good pace out of a fescue/bent green at a higher height of cut than you can from an Annual meadow grass green.
In the late eighties, for the World-Match Play Championship, I cut the greens on the West course at Wentworth three times a day and rolled them with a turf iron as well each day in October, so I am not unfamiliar with the low mowing of Poa annua to gain speed. By the way, we never got them over 11 on the stimpmeter and 10.5 was the norm. Is that all! I can hear Course Managers saying, and those that have are part of the 'need for speed' syndrome.
nfortunately, fast stimpmeter readings have gained bragging rights within the profession, badges of honour, marks of skill, however, they reflect neither.
The difference between tournament preparation for green speed and what Greg Evans is carrying out is vast. His club does have other options. Ealing Golf Club can try to improve species composition for a more stable and, more importantly, predictable future.
I knew that I was going to pay for it with diseased and dead Poa and poor grass cover all winter. Not something I would have recommended to my club if I had a choice. With a pure Poa annua sward and a televised tournament at both ends of the season there is little hope of establishing anything other than the old enemy!
Greg Evans and, more importantly, any other Course Managers who consistently cut their greens below 3mm, have other options than the one that will, undoubtedly, lead to stress and disease in the plant and, heaven forbid, in them as well.
After all, are they not digging the greens up on the West at Wentworth this May due to poor surface consistency? A change to colonial bent is on the way I understand, must be something in it!
Value your liberty
As a brief aside while on the subject of Poa annua and its ability to adapt. Greg is taking advantage of Poa annua's ability to adapt its growth habits to cope with close mowing. There is no other grass in the world that can do this so quickly, and no other grass that can do it below 2mm.
Now a word of warning on this. Besides all the usual problems with cultural stress causing disease/anthracnose etc., I have seen a lot of sub perennial type Poa plants that are subject to consistent close mowing, adapt themselves into very short, very fine leaf forms that have an almost clump like appearance. These plant types also have next to no root and can be easily lifted out of the turf. All I say is that if you take liberties with Annual Meadow Grass it will take liberties with you.
Don't measure speed, measure practices
As a 'meter' the stimpmeter just tells us what is fast, medium and slow. Not that many greenkeepers relate a speed to the term when they say "my greens are like lighting". So, what is fast and, more importantly, what is a sustainable height of cut that will please the majority of your membership throughout the playing season?
Again, these questions are not easily answered, as a stimp reading of 9 may be great for most memberships, while others will want 11 all summer. The best use for the stimpmeter is as a management tool for recording green speeds using differing cultural practices. Monitor speed variations when using groomers, light sand dressings, turf iron operations, changing irrigation rates and lighter fertiliser applications, as these will all help to keep your height of cut up while maintaining pace. Also, use the environmental factors of wind and sun to gain pace while maintaining more leaf blade on the plant.
So, is 3mm, 3.5 or 4mm the right height for regular summer mowing? Mowing height figures are always bandied about by greenkeepers, again, at times, with an element of 'beat that'. In reality, when it comes to pace they mean nothing, as species composition is the main dictator of consistent pace.
In isolation your height of cut is a subjective measurement, as all the other maintenance practices that you undertake on your greens will also have a bearing on their pace. So, make them the starting point for consistent pace and not height of cut.
What is your job?
If it is the Keeper of the Green then you should be very aware of the next section of this article.
Greens are a part of the course for two very important reasons; one, they are the ultimate target and two, they contain the ultimate target.
As such, they are the only playing surfaces on the golf course that have to provide two separate playing qualities. Greens provide the only element of the game that requires the ball to stay in constant contact with the turf while in motion, while also having to 'receive' the final lofted club shot. This dual performance requirement contains the 'rub' when it comes to greenkeeping or keeping greens.
Greens have to, and should, repel the poorly stuck approach shot and favour the shot struck with back spin, while also running true and fast when used for putting. So, I feel that, when deciding on a long-term management approach for greens that provides these two elements to the golfer, we should ask three questions:
1) What is the best grass sward composition that provides these two important elements?
2) What are the most favourable maintenance regimes that maintain these grasses?
3) What medium should these desired grasses be grown in?
Of course, it isn't just that simple, but what grass or grasses were you thinking of when asked these three basic questions? I bet Poa annua grown in local soils didn't jump right in there as your first thoughts. This is because they are not suitable, sustainable, easily managed, cost effective or fun to work with. Plus they do not provide naturally resilient targets or offer natural pace.
So, surely, it is the Greenkeeper's job to provide the grass species and, where possible, the growing medium that will provide this natural pace and resilience. Cutting Poa annua at 2mm is not going to get you there, but then neither is implementing the Disturbance Theory if all you have is Poa and 'push ups', and that is still the majority in this country.
The management of Green speed is a balancing act, so act on balance
I believe that it is, of course, as ever, a balancing act between what is acceptable speed and consistent sustainable conditioning. So, whom do you believe? In my opinion the STRI's pair have penned the most agronomically sound and responsible article.
However, if you are not blessed with a fine stretch of sandy dune land or heather covered acres, do not expect their "Nice dream" to become a reality. As for the Greg Evans approach of mowing at 2mm for as long as practically possible; brave and fast, but then so were the Light Brigade.
Kevin Munt can be contacted at www.kmgcgolfconsultant.com/
Or on 07810 47362