Early October has given us a flush of mild, sunny weather that has been fantastic for turf growth and final recovery from the ills of a hot, dry summer.

As I pen this piece we have had almost an inch of rain for the month which is slightly below the long term average for the month and the forecast for the remainder of October is looking dry and bright at times albeit a little cool, expected as the year progresses.

A slow moving low pressure system gave us spell of rain and fog through the middle weekend which when combined with the cool temperatures of the time put a high degree of disease pressure from fusarium onto fine turf surface: greens, approached and tees.

Greens

A shift towards winter management procedures has been underway since our last course update with the outcome of these changes primarily being to give the turfgrass plant a higher degree of stress tolerance. The two major changes to procedure are:

  • Mowing height has been raised in two increments up to our current 5.5mm. The main benefit of raising the mowing height is to allow the plant a larger leaf surface area which in turn will allow a greater opportunity for photosynthesis and energy production. We are enabling the plant an opportunity to develop a higher degree of stress tolerance through this season of reduced temperature and light levels and increased moisture levels.
  • Reducing the frequency of mowing is the second strategy employed, this time for stress reduction through physical damage to the leaf. To maintain surface performance we substitute mowing for rolling or ironing which gives us a smooth surface without the stress of mowing.

Disease management encompasses these cultural changes plus we are using dew removal and calculated fertiliser, trace element and bio-stimulant applications to reduce both the incidence and impact of fusarium. Once again, increasing bentgrass populations in our greens does provide a sward that has higher tolerance of fusarium infection.

Aeration will continue while there are soil temperatures sufficient for root growth.

Bird Damage

I am sure that everyone has seen areas of turf around the clubhouse, ninth and eighteenth holes that have been damaged by rooks and crows tearing up turf over extensive areas. The birds are feeding on chafer grubs that are living just under the surface of the turf. Until 2016 turf managers had access to an insecticide that we could use to treat the grubs and hence prevent bird and in some cases badger damage across turfed areas. From August 2016 the licence for this insecticide product was revoked and using or possessing it became illegal.

There are a number of sustainable, non-chemical solutions to solving the grub problem and I am employing the following remedies but these are long term solutions that will not provide immediate relief.

The primary, direct treatment is the use of a parasitic nematode that specifically targets the chafer grub. We apply the nematodes in a water solution to the affected areas and the nematode population will establish and exploit the grub population each season. Research has demonstrated control to be effective for a number of years.

The second treatment is promoting a particular wildflower that hosts a wasp which predates on the chafer beetle and hence the chafer grub. We have been working to establish a population of these flowers close to the clubhouse areas from seed collected from other areas of the course.  Creating biological pressure on the grub from two different sources should see a reduction in grub populations and consequentially a reduction in bird damage.

In the meantime we are renovating through seeding to encourage turf recovery to restore these areas.

Worms and Casting

A very seasonal topic and one that does impact play, presentation on the golf course and turf health which as a golfer you will need be aware of limitations that have been placed upon turf managers.

There is no argument as to the high value that worms have to soil ecosystems, and based on this the decision was made by DEFRA and their European counterparts to completely withdraw from sale all worm suppressant products from both agriculture and amenity markets. Mirroring the situation with insecticides, we now have no access to any worm control products.

All healthy soils contain worm populations which bring substantial benefits including degradation of organic accumulation and natural aeration. The downside to beneficial, healthy populations is that as soil moisture levels increase certain species of worm move to the surface to cast their waste. Managing these casts is the challenge to all turf managers.

From a greenkeeping perspective, the most effective way to manage casting is physical dispersion by whipping the surface with a swish rod, an extremely labour intensive operation. Over a long-term perspective, increasing the proportion of sand in the rootzone surface layers through regular topdressing will discourage worms from making their way to the surface which will reduce casting. Finally, choosing fertilisers that acidify the soil will also discourage worms from making their way to the surface.

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