After discussions with Jeff, I am aware that some of our members have a variety of questions regarding the presentation of the golf course through the latter part of this year, and specifically the plans in place to make improvements over the winter months. I trust my report will cover those questions and I give you all the assurance that every effort is being made to repair and prepare the course for next year.
As many of you have experienced, we had very heavy rain throughout November with the monthly total currently sitting at 140mm. With further rain forecast and temperatures remaining mild, grass growth continues, creating a situation where required mowing has been challenging at times because of surface conditions.
Worms are fantastic for soil conditioning as they are natural aerators. They also break down organic matter to produce nutrition for grass and plants and indicate a wider population of life in a soil.
There is negative however, as they cast their excrement on the soil surface and these castings are sticky when they wet, making them difficult to disperse before mowing. They also smear the turf surface when walked on or driven over. As we are still cutting due to mild temperatures, this has been highlighted more this year. The castings hamper mowing, creating much more wear to mowing units, causing a muddy, smeared turf surface which impacts presentation and reduces rainfall infiltration further compounding the situation.
Thankfully, it is quite a short season, this year being September and October before subsiding as we reached November. Unfortunately, we now have very limited opportunity to control the worms or reduce their castings. It has now been five years since DERFA revoked the licence of the only worm control product available in the UK. Since then, all managers of natural turf facilities have seen a year-on-year increases in worm casting.
The best we can do is to try to brush the castings from the turf, but unless they are dry, they merely smear rather than break up. We will be trialling a mechanical, rotary brush in December to test its effectiveness.
Golf’s governing bodies including the R&A and PGA are aware of the huge impact worm casting has on play and are actively exploring solutions to support greenkeepers across the UK.
We have seen severe bird damage to turf areas around the clubhouse and to small areas of fairways and rough. The crows and rooks are feeding on the larvae of chafer beetles which are living and growing from eggs laid by the beetles in early summer. Like worm control products, all insecticide product licences have been revoked by DEFRA in recent years. We have attempted to reduce the grub activity through alternative methods.
There is a hint of hope in addressing the grub issue though, in a product which has been given an emergency licence to control chafer grubs. It is however only effective at a particular stage of the lifecycle of chafer beetles. We will apply for a licence for this product which will be applied in May/June when the larvae are susceptible to control. We will follow this up with applications of specific nematodes.
This has been a challenging year, with record low levels of rainfall throughout 2022. Only now, in November are we seeing prolonged rainfall. This was exaggerated by issues with the irrigation system at the start of season, prior to the arrival of the heatwave, leaving us with very low soil moisture, at a critical time.
Spring was cold and dry, which hampered grass growth and the recovery from a busy winter season. As we moved into summer, we experienced the hottest and most extreme drought the UK has ever seen. These conditions were very hard on all plants, with trees dying, crop yields at a record low and golf courses, parks and gardens scorched. Once the technical issues with irrigation were resolved, we were irrigating daily at up to 500,000 litres per night. Unfortunately, some turf did die and we did lose coverage.
When we eventually received rainfall and the high temperatures subsided, we saw good recovery. To address the areas of damage, we aerated extensively, maintained irrigation, fertilised sensibly, and drilled 300kg of seed across tees, approaches, and fairways in addition to our regular course work.
I appreciate that areas on the greens suffered localised damage from drought. Four greens have been completely aerated and overseeded and the rest have had extensive spot treatments to the surfaces, including scarifying, spot spiking and localised seeding to encourage regrowth.
Given how late in the year it was when were able to undertake this work (falling soil temperatures reduce the rate of seed germination) recovery has been strong, germination of seed has been wide, and we are in a good position going into winter.
Throughout the winter we will be undertaking the following work:
Spring will see further recovery work to address outstanding issues from the summer in addition to winter wear and tear plus our regular, spring renovation work. Undertaking this work through the winter will not yield results as strong, spring growth will be required for full recovery:
Focusing on upgrading irrigation heads to the latest models, will ensure more consistent water distribution across all surfaces. We will begin with greens, which has seen most of the heads already upgraded.
Approaches will then be addressed, followed by the fairway heads, which will be upgraded in order of irrigation requirement, based on the soil type they are located on. This is a labour-intensive task with each head having to be dug out and detached from the pipework. This work will take place over the next three seasons.
As a gentle reminder and personal request, I ask that you all take collective responsibility in the presentation of the greens and bunkers. With most rounds now being played by members, would you please make every effort to repair your pitch-marks and to rake the bunkers, including your footprints after you have played out.
Please consider those players following you, as the green staff will not return once they have been prepared earlier in the day. Our team work on bunkers every day of the week except for those periods of prolonged wet weather.
Yours in sport,