Clover, Clover, Clover
It's been a strange season for us with regards to weeds. Each year we buy a bulk of herbicide (weed killer) to tackle the clover, lesser trefoil and other weeds which this course is prone to, and usually for the most part it's pretty successful. We always spray around mid-May when the weeds begin to flourish and by June they're mostly gone.
In the past we've allocated enough budget to do about 50% of the rough areas and a few fairways. 2017 was no different, in fact we purchased another 10% of spray to try and gradually expand the spraying.
Unfortunately, the weather beat us this year.
We sprayed as usual in mid May, but to our dismay, by mid-June there was over twice as much clover and lesser trefoil coverage than we have ever had after spraying. After closer inspection, a huge portion of this was on areas that had been sprayed with herbicide, which should have been clear of weeds! After some more investigations it was discovered that because of the slow start to the growing season (due to the cold, dry weather - also the reason the greens took longer to recover) there was a lot of weeds that weren't growing so the herbicide didn't achieve the full effect. This basically meant that the exercise was a very costly waste which is extremely frustrating for us.
Clover is a golfer's worst nightmare! So we're putting this right in 2018!
We're preparing our 2018 maintenance budgets and have taken the decision to increase investment quite significantly into materials; including increasing our weed killer budget by more than double. We've resided to the fact that we're always going to have to battle with clover and lesser trefoil due to the type of land the course is built on, so we need to bring much more water to the fire to get on top of it!
Right now as we stand, we would say that the greens aren't where we want them to be. With USGA greens we've always prided ourselves on firm, well drained greens that provide a great growing surface for fine grasses. While this is still true for some part, we need to increase the work that we're doing on them to get them back to where we want them to be.
Firstly, let's talk about disease. Green number six has been notorious over the past couple of years for suffering from big outbreaks of Fusarium Patch - the Greenkeeper's biggest enemy. Fuzz (as it's commonly called) thrives on moist, warm conditions which is why it is always prevalent in Autumn.
Why does the 6th green suffer the most?
We've recently had a company in to take some soil samples to find out if there is a difference in the soil make-up, as this could be one reason it suffers more than other greens. An imbalance in nutrients can lead to the turf becoming stressed which increases the likelihood of a disease outbreak.
Secondly, we are starting to suffer with thatch problems on some of the greens which adds to the problem of threatening disease. After consultation with various head greenkeepers at other courses, and some meeting with industry experts we have made a plan to increase the aeration and topdressing in 2018 to bring the thatch level down. With excess thatch, the surface stays moist for longer, and the roots tend to shorten meaning the grass becomes more susceptible to stress. By taking out cores and adding more sand into the surface, the greens will drain better (like they did 2-3 years ago) and also promote healthy, long root growth.
In conclusion, we will be coring the greens twice (spring and autumn) in 2018, and topdressing with sand both times. We have taken the decision to hire in a top dressing machine for each of these rather than applying manually to achieve a better, more consistent coverage and also take less times before each green is back in play.
Extra spiking will also take place on the 6th green this winter to help the surface remain dry, as well as applying a chemical penetrant, designed to pull the moisture away from the surface.
The 7th green had an issue recently which was caused by the spiking machine pulling up an area of turf on the left side which was suffering particularly from Dry patch. Unfortunately this was a catastrophic error that we did not foresee happening, and it is with deep regret that this occurred. We have been as quick as possible to repair the area, but it will take time to establish. We have put a small netting around the area to attempt to keep wildlife away and also keep golfers from walking on it. If you could please respect this area we would very much appreciate it.
We have had some comments about the tidiness of bunker edges this year, and that they haven't been kept to the same standard as 2016. Whilst we have not spent as much time on the bunker edges, we still believe the quality of the sand and sand levels have improved on last year, but definitely agree that presentation is important and 2018 needs to see this become more of a priority.
This winter we will continue to press on with bunker work, and have provisioned a budget to bring in another 90 tonnes of bunker sand for renovation. We will be going around the course and prioritising the worst bunkers to do the work on, and aim to renovate 12-15 bunkers, most of these being large ones.
We have had a company come in to quote for a full bunker liner installation, the same as what is used on courses such as The Celtic Manor. This would cost us around £1,500 per bunker on average, and for the time being we feel that this kind of money would be better spent on other parts of the course (weed killer, extra rootzone for coring, etc), however it is good to know for future reference how much it would cost for a complete bunker liner system.
Humps on 12
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the bunkers that were filled in last year on hole 12, which we'd like to clear a few things up about. We first came up with the idea back in early 2016, to get rid of the bunkers and put something in their place that would still be a similar hazard but require low maintenance. One option was to fill them in and plant Gorse, but some thought that would be too punishing; another was to plant heather as a similar idea, and; the last thought was to just grow the grass a little longer across there so that people can still find their ball but the rough would be enough to consider another option to avoid.
When we first filled them in last summer year we were ready to prepare to seed but received a lot of negative feedback that we hadn't put enough material there and that they were too flat. We then took the decision to put more than double the material on there to raise them higher, which meant we had to wait another full winter before it was dry enough to take these huge loads of soil across (otherwise the machinery would have torn the surrounding area up). A total of 350 tonnes of earth has been put into this area.
We have now finished the mounds and have seeded the areas. Once they are established in Spring we will look at whether to plant heather or to let the grass grow a little longer, and will canvass opinions of golfers on this. The main thing is we get these back in play as soon as possible, because they have been out of play way too long already.
The problems with dead patches of turf on the edge of the putting green has been causing us a great deal of frustration this year. The black patches you see on the green are areas of completely dead grass, which will never grow back. It needs to be removed. Until now, our only option has been to seed areas like this, but it's difficult to get the seed to establish without closing the full putting green.
We have now managed to find a company that supplies fine turf of the exact same specification as our greens, with an 80:20 mix of Fescue and Bent grass. We are going to make arrangements for buying some of this turf and replace the dead areas on the green so that we can look towards having a fully healthy and completely open putting green as soon as possible.
We have another batch of 6,000 driving range balls due to land in the next few days, and we hope to have these in play within a week. Many of the older balls which are looking very tired will be pulled out and replaced by the new balls.
We are also looking at ways to enhance the outfield of the range, as the three main targets have not survived the prevailing wind very well. We are looking at enhancing these existing targets with some new PVC on the frames and also adding a couple more, shorter range targets in the next couple of months.
This Greenkeeper's Report seems a little doom and gloom compared to past reports, but we are keen to stress one thing. After the 2017 season we recognise many areas where we can improve going forward, and we are determined to do so. With a bigger budget and better planning we can solve the few issues that we surround the course: clover, disease on greens, bunker improvement, and the putting green issues.