Sunday, 20 December 2015

Playing the numbers game!

Golf is one of those sports that's all about the numbers. It's normal 18 holes numbered 1-18, it has a Par, Stroke index, scores, number of players, numbered balls and even rules by number!! Driving stats, greens in regulation, putts taken and ball trajectory are all parts of the game now. We even use GPS to know our exact distance from the flag so we can hit that 132.5 yard shot we have in our bag!!
Anyone who's played with me will know there is always potential for a high number to appear on a score card too

So it should be no surprise that we the greenkeepers are obsessed with numbers too. 

Some of these maybe obvious things like the speed of the green using a stimp meter. This is tool for greenkeepers use to set the speeds up for the golf of the day. (I will blog more on this as its a big subject). It helps us give more consistent greens. It's important we don't use this as a weapon to just drive speeds as this can have a detrimental effect on the grass plant itself. I mean the golf is meant to be played on grass not soil. Always remember the saying 'the quick and the dead!'.
Another number count we are collecting is grass density. This is carried using a 1 inch square on the green and me on my hands and knees counting. This helps to show me if fertilisers are giving what we want (too much or little). 

We also look at how many boxes we have cut off certain areas of the course almost daily this is called clip rate. It can be measured into jugs and weighed or just a simple counts of boxes. 

I measure GDD (growth degree days and Growth potential). These help us to show how the growth is changing on us and helps us correct it. This is based on a maximum v minimum air temperature, then we get the mean and minus the base number. 
The base number is set by the temperature the grass plant starts to grow at. 
Growth potential helps to show when the plant is going to grow and its rate on the day. It could be 10% or 100% depending on the figures but it's always best practice to apply when the plant is more likely to take the product (food) on through it cells as it grows. Above shows the growth potential since from October- December you can clearly see we have only had one cold spell so far this winter. 

Soil temperature are measured for growth rates and how to aid them if possible. 

Rainfall figures are collected daily. This gives us a good comparison day on day, week by week, year by year. We know for example that we had 82mm of rain in November 2015 compared to the average of 76mm but compared to last years 104mm it wasn't to bad but we ve had 380mm between August -November, now that's wet but it's still none stop as we head to Christmas!! 
This data also shows us how many rain days compared with previous years or months. Remember sometimes the amount of rain days can be more of a problem than rainfall. This is because the plant/soil doesn't get time to dry out causing more issues. 

November was also the dullest on record for the last 80 years with a total of 36 hours of sunshine total for the entire month. Light levels is one of my next data collection list.

Moisture levels are measured too. All year round. This helps us to keep the plant alive in the summer (at that point we look at ET rates, evaporation) to get an even number throughout the day. In the winter this can indicate poor drainage, when work is required to increase air in the profile and where our problem areas might be. 

Below you see photos taken while testing  the green. After getting a high reading off the surface I wanted to test the soil profile to see where the problem area was. This showed the moisture content at the bottom of the hole cup to be 22% (dry) the middle section was 36% (medium) the top 38% (still medium but slightly high) the surface reading was over 50% which is very, very wet indeed. 

The results of the test showed the moisture was holding at the surface rather than in the soil. This was good to find out as wet soils need drainage but wet surfaces need OM removed or deep aeration. 

We then decided to slit tine as this would allow a deep aeration but wouldn't open up the surfaces allowing more rain into the profile. This reduced the moisture level instantly giving us breathing space from any problems. This just showed how using the data can improve our surfaces and how it helps shape our decisions. 

We measure infiltration rates (the speed water moves into the soil profile) & percolation rates (the speed it goes through the soil profile). 

Things you might not have thought of...

Our machines are measured in hours not mileage. These are recorded daily as part of the pre start check sheets and these hours are monitored for servicing and life expectancy of machines. 

The machines have a different number of blades, different thicknesses and a number of different units. Depending on the area to be cut. Our greens mowers have blades like razors with up to 15 blades, tees and aprons use 8 blades and so on and on to our rough mowers that use rotary blades. 

Our heights of cut or HOC are measured in mm. We look at heights of cut in the terms 'bench' (bench set) v 'actual' heights (on the greens using a prism).These can be adjusted daily if needed and adjusted on greens to 0.05 of mm and that can make a difference to the ball roll. Madness I know!! 
The changes can be made for performance or weather reasons. The quality of cut is monitored daily. This is checked in the mornings as part of our starting checks and we also use magnifying glasses to check the quality. If needed cutting blades are sharpened using grinders or back lapping (another whole blog to come but they are spun in different directions one is ground off to sharpen the other spun the other way and paste added to get an edge to cut from. They have the correct cutting angles checked hoc checked and put back together each time. 

Staff hours- simple yes but we record details of where we spend our time and how long things take. This helps us to plan better and to keep working to be more efficient and effective. 
Interesting: the data shows we spent over 27% of our total staff hours on greens since June which isn't surprising as its the main playing surface. The data showed we spent more than 500 hours cutting greens in the last six months (helped by the mild Autumn) and over 300 hours on aeration. I don't expect either of them to change in the coming years. If anything that figure will increase as we look to increase performance. The purchase of new machinery will aid better quality surfaces as the modem machines have a better cut quality. Aeration recovery will be quicker as the machines on order will speed up that process. For example the top dresser can carry twice what had before but the same weight per wheel as before. Meaning less time filling up. So the hours are going to be spent better. 

 Bunkers come in a close second with 19.8% of our time. 160 hours were spent just edging bunkers (that's one member of staff edging bunkers for 40 hours a week for a whole month since June!) and this is a hazard. To help us improve this next year we have purchased some new Strimmers to allow more of us to help spread the load and get finished before the golf. We lost a lot of time this year waiting on golf as we didn't have enough Strimmers to stay ahead. We will also be using growth regulators on these areas too. 
Another interesting note is Course at 12%. Course is just time spent clearing leaves either by blower or trilo off the course. That's roughly 800 hours of picking up leaves. That's 100 working days since October spent by the team on that dreaded leaf wars. 
Now what would have been interesting would have been the data from leaf clearing in the past. Now the woodland project has been carried out and the purchase of two machines which are used for leaf clearing that I know from previous experience are much quicker than the older versions. How much time have we saved? Is there anywhere or way we can improve further? 

We have recently measured noise and vibration on our machinery. This is for the health and safety of staff as vibrating machine can cause life changing illnesses. These tests can indicate how long staff members can do various tasks and when they will need to break and rest. 

We also use data tags on any of the machines that have high exposure limits so the operators know how long they can be exposed to before swapping tasks or resting. 

Other testing includes soil analysis and planning of nutrient inputs. These give us a snapshot of what is going on in the soil and with the thatch levels. From this we can plan our fertiliser programs for the coming year. We can then look at the club diary and plan our applications around that. 
We do this so the growth rates are dropping away when the major tournaments are on so greens play better  on the day as the growth isn't slowing them down. We aim to spoon feed (little and often) the greens to try and minimise flushes of growth and give us an even growth. For example this year our data showed straight away we preformed better during the club championships with less Nitrogen being applied in our mix. Moisture levels were also slightly lower than other tournaments (due to rain) so I got to see an ideal set up and one we have set as our target. 

Aeration also is a numbers game. We plan and look at tine sizes, styles and spacings to workout how much top dressing we need to get on or surface area we wish to hit. This coming year for example we wish to carry out two big hollow cores, six smaller ones and two deep scarifications. This will effect 86% of the surface area. Now that's a high target but it can be done in a way to minimise disturbance but the results of we achieve our target will be amazing. 

Even our sands for bunkers, top dressings and rootzones are all checked. Particle sizes, depths and bulk density are taken into account and planned into our schedules to achieve our goals within budget. 

Sprayer set ups are also number intensive. Chemical mixes, pressures, nozzle selection, area, speed, wind, drift and jug tests (I will explain in another blog) are all taken into account before we start to spray. Calibration sheets are done and records of what has been sprayed recorded. This is a legal requirement for some sprays but also good practice. We also have trial areas at various parts on the course where we will or won't apply things and test to see if they are working. From this decisions can be made to see if the investment was worth it and we got what we required from it.

I hope this little blog has given you an insight into some of our numbers that we the greenstaff are constantly dealing with to improve the course. I know talking numbers isn't always fun but the data we are collecting now will shape the future. 

One thing this winter has already taught me about Stoneham is where our next projects need to be (for example draining the 17th fairway)  and how we improve areas year on year. I have some data to start now and have already started to use it to improve us as a team. 
The greenstaff are great at collecting information and are using it too. 

There is so much more I could add to this blog but it might bore you even more. Like so many jobs there are hundreds of parts to our job (including health and safety and that's an even bigger blog to come) but I will still get asked the question I always get asked. 
What do you do? I am a greenkeeper... Oh you just cut grass then... At this point I laugh with them and just say YES... It would take to long to explain :-)



  1. Matt, great insight into the amount of work that is going into optimising the condition of the course. Am wondering though how you actually go about capturing all these data points and then processing them, as this could end up taking hours/days every month in itself? It sounds like its crying out for some sort of IT solution where you just plug in the numbers and it churns out all the reports/graphs you need to spot trends and make decisions.

    1. Thanks Georgie for the comment. Always great to get feed back and thank you for the question.
      I will blog soon about the different ways we collect the data but I must say it doesn't take as long as it sounds!
      The tools we use give us the figures instantly (I took most along to the greens forum) and I can then input these into two different computer programs both cloud based (I am hoping one day these will be available on just one but until then I use two). Ground2control a time management system with added data for golf course managers and the other is Turf reports. This is through Google and can be made bespoke to each club. They both take a couple of minutes of uploading a day or when we collect the data (most imputing I do at home I must add. I take a picture on my phone or right a note on it) but then they give us graphs, break downs against targets etc.

      I feel that for any business to improve you need to first look at where you are and plan how you going to get there. Golf clubs or courses are no different.
      We can then set targets and check what we are doing against target. This way we are not wasting time and money. It's easy to spend years going in the wrong direction or not making the progress we could.
      Also weather data is also fantastic to help see if playability is improving and also helps us to inform if problems arise.
      Collecting data, doesn't replace the touch and feel of Greenkeeping but allows us to make better decisions. It's the modern way to run any golf club and can save time and money if done correctly.
      Like you said otherwise it could take weeks to process but luckily for me this is something that others are doing too and we can use the sites to help us.
      As we move into the future we will get to a stage where the greenstaff will upload info from a tablet etc as they go out in the mornings making it even more efficient rather than double doing. So even the data collecting is being looked at to see how we can improve that and save time! I am getting very sad :-)
      I hope this helps but I will go into more detail on the blog of our tools.


  2. Thanks Matt....sounds like its actually more advanced than I thought it might be. Cheers.