It seems too late to say this now but Happy New Year everyone! Winter has been moving on, with it the challenges that our weather brings.
Moving through November, we were in good shape with the course coping well with high traffic levels. December saw 65mm of rainfall, which overall doesn’t break the bank – however, looking at the daily breakdown, most of the rain fell in two spells with a notable spell at the end of the month. Therefore it made a 65mm month feel like a 100mm month and so at this point we started to see a real impact from traffic on the course which warranted action. This was addressed through a trial of a composite course.
Nicky and I have been working together and are putting together plans that make this 9-hole composite arrangement fit within the whole restriction plan including use of trolleys, buggies and carry-only. The feedback from playing the composite course I have received from all of you has been very positive, thanks for the support.
So moving on from those points, let’s look at what’s happening on the ground. I often hear through the winter calls and comments asking “why isn’t drainage being installed across the course, surely this will solve the problem” amongst other questions and comments. In answer to these, I will say that there is drainage installed in all areas of the course that require it, subsoil, piped drainage with gravel infill. Overall these drains do work correctly and remove ground water from affected areas effectively. Each winter our team spend time rodding and maintaining these drain lines to ensure that they are flowing and working correctly.
The primary problem for us in winter isn’t caused by groundwater, or the water table which these drains manage well, it is down to infiltration of surface water into the soil. Taking the combination of soil type, water content and heavy foot traffic does lead to a situation where the soil surface is being puddled by footfall and creating an impermeable layer of fine soil, exactly the method that is used to construct canals which tend to be quite watertight.
Adding to this equation, because of the recent removal of all worm-control products, we have seen a huge increase in worm casting activity which is leading to an accumulation of fine, sticky soil on the surface.
As a demonstration of the situation, when I dig a hole in these wet areas, the soil is dry and friable 100mm down there is no excess water there, it is all sitting in the top 25mm of soil.
How are we managing this? Our topdressing programme though the summer is playing two roles; first, it is increasing the proportion of coarser soil particles that will in time lead to increased pore space and more effective infiltration. Second, is that by increasing sand content we are discouraging essential earth worms from casting on the surface. Additionally, moving away from the dreaded gypsum which the dark shoe wearers among you have grown to despise, we are applying a liquid solution which applies the same chemistry to clay soil particles and pulls them together to increase pore space and therefore increase infiltration. Heavy footfall while the surface is wet undoes this work and leads back to puddled surfaces with poor infiltration.
We are working proactively to improve wear tolerance and soil performance in these conditions and we are seeing improvements. It needs to be considered though that, over the last two winters, we have been seeing roughly twice the average footfall on the course each week – this puts a huge pressure on the land.
Height of cut on the greens was raised earlier than in previous years and I have detailed this in December. There was benefit to timing the raise when we did by giving the turf a chance to grow into the new height and bank a bit more while it was still actively growing. We did succumb to some fusarium disease through during the later part of December when moisture levels were high in both soil and air (prime conditions for fungal infection). We have made one additional fungicide compared to last year while still maintaining historically low levels of fungicide usage which can only be viewed as a positive reflection on species composition improvements, reduced fertiliser inputs and overall cultural management of our greens.
A reminder that we will be renovating the greens in the week beginning 28th February, roughly four weeks away. We will be hollow coring, topdressing, overseeding into the core holes and finally running the small solid tines over the surface. Flags will be on temporary holes placed on either fairway or approach.
Looking forward to a busy year and a little bit of spring sunshine.
Yours in sport.