Whitley Bay Golf club is situated at the north east corner of the ever popular seaside resort. It is surrounded to the north and west by rolling fields, with views to the east of the coast and Whitley Bay Lighthouse and visitor centre.
The course is widely regarded as one of the finest and most challenging in the north east, due to its undulating fairways and burn running through, which requires a good drive and carry to successfully negotiate several holes
One thing I have always loved about the greenkeeping profession is its lack of hard and fast rules when it comes to maintenance and management programmes. These vary greatly, are site specific and, in many instances, down to the personal decision of the turf manager. The only rules which all successful managers follow are the traditional ones and, in my opinion, there is not a successful turf manager out there who is not a modern hybrid of the Gingerbread men. As much as some don't like to admit it, they all use traditional sustainable foundations to base their modern programmes around.
Since the likes of Tom Morris put forward his management strategies, the world has definitely progressed. As with all successful practices, inside and outside the greenkeeping profession, they don't change or vanish, they simply evolve and improve. The modern greenkeeper benefits from:
- Improved Scientific Research
- Improved Technology
- Improved Machinery
- Improved Support
- Improved Education and Understanding
4mm is a sensible height to cut
I recently had a great conversation with a fellow senior greenkeeper who had played my course. He commented that the surfaces were unbelievably good, but expressed his opinion that I was mad cutting my greens constantly less than 3mm, as that is not a natural healthy height to be mowing and I was asking for trouble. I knew what was coming my way! Sure enough he added: "My greens are running really well too, but nowhere near as low as that height of cut (HOC). They won't be anywhere near that even for my club championship and, whatever I cut them down to, they will be back up to 4mm the following day."
A previous course I managed was a typical parkland where Poa wants to be king and always will be, so embracing it and enjoying it as my targeted mono species, producing site specific Poa reptans around proven management techniques, is my most sensible and only choice.
This left me thinking about HOC and how, no matter what type of course, species of grass or practices followed, no greenkeeper will ever cut their greens at a sensible HOC which has not needed some input, chemically, culturally or mechanically, to sustain playing surfaces and healthy grass coverage. Grass wants to grow freely, so no chosen mowing height is natural. Why not use all modern technology and machinery to your advantage? The benchmark HOC of 4mm was more than likely determined by machinery limitations and not contentious Gingerbread greenkeepers back in the day.
We are skilled professionals trained to push the limits, allowing us to achieve the ever increasing expectations of our customers. If this is possible at 6mm then that's great; if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, not just the select few! After all, producing true, fast playing surfaces is one of our biggest challenges and we need to use all the modern technology and machinery to our advantage in achieving this. Within these limits and narrow margins of error, you will find the Holy Grail - consistency.
This parameter lies somewhere between the acceptable upper and lower target standards. Chasing the upper target constantly is somewhat unachievable and can lead to the gap widening and conditions becoming inconsistent. Discovering your maximum achievable standards and ensuring these are continuously raised will ensure consistent customer satisfaction.
A consistent HOC is key over the actual specific choice of height and essential to the success of any programme. This allows the plant to build up an understanding of its growing environment - don't chop and change. Think of it this way - compare John Daly and Adam Scott. They can both perform on their day, but Scott, the more dedicated professional, performs consistently week after week. He manages his daily intakes and pushes himself hard. His body becomes ultra-efficient, vastly out performing Daly.
Don't be silly I hear you say, but think about it - it makes sense.
During the summer months, both plants and biology require more oxygen, so give them what they want - air and lots of it! During a cold winter and bad weather, as long as conditions are not saturated and hydraulic conductivities compromised, leave them alone.
We take for granted that our bio stimulants (seaweeds) arrive neatly in a 20 litre container ready to work their magic. Fifty years ago, many courses sourced the seaweed from local shores, washing, and lying on putting surfaces, leaving nature to do its job. Does this mean they were doing anything different to us? Not at all - we use what we have available based around traditional proven practices.
Over a century ago, teams of skilled tradesmen braved the elements raise-forking greens, with very similar results of subsurface fracturing to modern day verti-draining. Technology, time scaling and task efficiency have evolved this cultural practice into something that meets modern expectations.
With today's focus on scientific detail, proven mythology and sustainability, it would be naïve to rule out the most proactive elite businesses reverting back to this minimum impact, centuries-old approach.
Time after time I hear the management plans of small clubs aiming for the introduction of a mono species into perfectly acceptable surfaces. Where budgets allow, such selection can be justified producing first class surfaces well suited to their surroundings but, for 99% of us, do we need to go to such extremes and can we work with what we have and evolve what wants to be there naturally with very similar results?
Surely this is sustainable turf management?
Imagine if it were possible to produce firm, fast, healthy turf with a natural disease and drought tolerance just using all natural species available at a specific site.
It is. All modern turf managers must aerate, scarify, topdress, apply additions and mow at a height which has a detrimental effect to turf, no matter what the species is. Why not create the growing environment and let nature do what it does best. Over time, traits will evolve, tolerances will change and all species will adapt to survive in the growing medium which is created.
Understanding the environmental impact placed on each site specific golf course is imperative to its success; this allows the creation of a harmonious environment with equilibrium between happy grasses and faultless playing surfaces.
As the golf industry continues to suffer, its unknown future is worrying, financial sustainability has never been more important. Look at what you have and what it needs to get you where you want to be. Who knows, in creating the ideal environment for current species through good traditional maintenance, sward composition may naturally change - FOR FREE.
Modern greenkeeping has a new angle, producing today's educated tradesmen, who understand the importance of science behind their profession as keepers of the green. This, used in partnership with the traditional fundamental mythology of yesteryear, makes a winning combination in any situation.
We are all the modern day Gingerbread men. Sustainable? Definitely.
What's in the shed?
3 x John Deere 2500 greens mowers
1 x John Deere 2653 triple mower
1 x John Deere 3245C fairway mower
1 x John Deere 3235 fairway mower
1 x Lastec Articulator
1 x Kubota F3680 out front flail
4 x Toro 1000 Greensmasters
2 x John Deere 260 pedestrian greens mowers
1 x Wiedenmann Super 500 Flail Collector
1 x Kubota Tractor (Loader)
1 x John Deere Tractor
1 x Iseki Tractor
1 x John Deere Gator HPX
2 x John Deere Pro Gator
1 x John Deere HD200 sprayer
1 x Hardi sprayer
2 x Knapsack sprayers
1 x John Deere Aercore
1 x Wiedenmann XF Terra Spike
1 x Sisis Multi Slit
1 x Dakota 410 topdresser
1 x AFT 45 Trencher and Gravel Cart
1 x Toro 1200 Turf Iron
2 x Bernhard Express Dual 400 grinders